Red, hot and blue (thank you Cole Porter) describes our surroundings over the last few days as we left the freezing temperatures of Yellowstone and headed south. Red for the rocks and sands of Utah (there is quite a pink dusting on my bare feet as I type), hot with 32 - 38 C being the range the past few days and blue for the magnificent cloudless skies that look so beautiful in contrast with the red.
We left Yellowstone early afternoon after viewing wildlife on our last morning, so we chewed miles for an afternoon and stopped for the night in Rock Springs. Warmer weather and scorpion souvenirs on sale in the campsite reception tells me we're in an entirely new set of elements and makes for a more thorough torch sweep of the ground on the way to the bathroom in the night. The open range vistas of Wyoming gradually gave way to redder and redder earth and suddenly the rocky escarpments of Utah that we will see plenty of over the next few days. The road dipped briefly into Colorado through the town of Dinosaur and we rode the Stegosaurus Parkway back to Utah.
Camped next to the Colorado River on the outskirts of the town of Moab, UT for two nights to visit Arches National Park. These arches are instantly recognisable from millions of photos and Utah license plates but are just so impressive in person; particularly when you've completed a 146 m vertical climb with an 8kg baby on your back just to reach one of them! I write of Delicate Arch which we tackled first thing to avoid the heat of the day. The climb up there was ridiculously steep over red slick rock with no shade and a dodgy path but the arch at the top was very beautiful in the slanting morning sun.
Anasazi petroglyphs, Arches
We walked the Devil's Garden Trail, seeing Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch and then on to Landscape Arch. This last one was probably my favourite; the longest arch in the park and now very skinny thanks to large slabs snapping off onto bemused onlookers below. One chap had the presence of mind to take a photo just as a huge piece fell and this photo is displayed below the arch that - regrettably for those inclined to a game of rock arch chicken - you can no longer walk under.
Pine tree arch
We ended our day with a visit to the nearby Dead Horse Point State Park, a small but spectacular park. The legend goes that the scrubby plains, ending in sheer cliffs to the Colorado River below, were used as a natural corral for capturing mustang. The park is best known for being home to the cliff that Thelma and Louise drive themselves off. The corral part of the park thankfully has sturdily constructed walls but even peering over the edge gives you that squiffy feeling.
Dead Horse Point
Dead Horse Point State Park
A Lion King moment, Dead Horse Point
Our next destination was just over the border into Colorado; Mesa Verde National Park. Meaning 'green tableland', this is an elevated area of land with a flat top rising steeply from the plains. Mesa Verde was occupied for 700 years by Native American Puebloans who farmed the flat tops and built dwellings into the cliff faces in natural alcoves; some whole villages of more than 150 rooms. These dwellings remain largely intact as the Puebloans left the area abruptly (one of the mysteries of Mesa Verde) and we visited two different villages; Long House and Cliff Palace. Both involved steep scrambles up and down modern paths, ladders and steps cut into the rock, so it defies imagining how families young and old came and went on a daily basis using only hand and toe holds.
Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde
Long House, Mesa Verde
We camped up on the mesa and the next day wound back down to the plain and took a spur of the moment decision to visit Four Corners - an arbitrary dot on the map marking where the borders of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet. It is on Navajo Nation land and Navajo artisans sell art, jewellery and pottery in a square around the obligatory seal on the ground for photo opportunities.
Back on track we returned to Utah, back to our familiar red stone and entered Monument Valley. What followed was a game of traffic chess where cars battle to get 'that shot' from the road with no cars in front of them to ruin the photo. I'm happy to say that we won that particular game and at the iconic moment where we crested the hill with Highway 163 stretching away before us toward the famous sandstone formations, we had an empty road to enjoy.
That shot, Monument Valley
We drove around the monuments and continued on a short while to our stop for the night, a campsite in a spectacular location in Rock Door Canyon that displayed Monument Valley through a v in the rock. With no light pollution the stars that night were amazing and as Arthur helpfully decided to wake at 5.15am the next morning, we got to enjoy a silent and beautiful sunrise over the red canyons too.
Sunrise over Monument Valley
Someone happy to be up to watch the sunrise, Monument Valley
We head west from here to Zion National Park for more hot, red rocks. As Arizona and Nevada lie ahead of us, I'm sure there is hotter to come.