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USA 2008
Secrets of the Southwest

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Saturday, 6th September
Flight Düsseldorf - Detroit - Denver

Once again we got drawn to the American Southwest, this time to explore less trodden paths that can mostly be reached via dirt roads only, or on foot.

Our flight from Düsseldorf was supposed to leave at 1:15 p.m., however, when we arrived we realized that it had been rescheduled to 4 p.m. which meant that we would most likely miss our connection in Detroit. We finally took off at 4:30 p.m. and after 9 hours flight time we arrived in Detroit. It was 7:45 p.m. local time. Our connecting flight was probably taking off right now. Airline staff was already waiting with hotel and food vouchers. A shuttle bus took us to the Clarion Hotel Detroit Metro Airport. At 5 a.m. German time we finally fell into bed... At least we were able to cancel the Drury Inn Denver East ($76 plus tax) that we had booked for the night of our arrival in Colorado.

Sunday, 7th September, approx. 30 °C, sunny
Denver - Georgetown - Rifle Falls State Park - Grand Junction
Total miles
: 303
Accommodation: Super 8, Grand Junction

Our flight to Denver the next morning took off at 9 a.m. We had a view of Chicago from above and just before landing in Denver at 10:15 a.m. local time we could see the Rockies in the distance. We had booked a Midsize SUV with Alamo but when we arrived at the choice line we were allowed to take any car we chose and there were the larger standard SUVs only, so we picked a Chevrolet Trailblazer, brandnew with just 180 miles on the speedometer.

It was 12 p.m. when we left the airport area. We drove west on the I-70, stopped in Idaho Springs and in historic Georgetown. After crossing the mountains we reached Glenwood Springs (due to our late arrival in Denver we didn't get to hike the Hanging Lake Trail). It was 4 p.m. already, nevertheless we took the short detour to the Rifle Falls State Park ($6 per car).

At 7 p.m. we reached Grand Junction where we had booked the Super 8 motel  ($65 plus tax AAA rate) for two nights. We didn't feel hungry, so we simply had a salad from Safeway for dinner.

Monday, 8th September, 28 °C, sunny
Colorado National Monument - Rattlesnake Canyon

Total miles: 102
Accommodation: Super 8, Grand Junction

This morning we drove to the western entrance of the Colorado National Monument ($7 per car or national park's pass $80). After checking road conditions with the visitor center we turned off on the 4WD road to Rattlesnake Canyon. After about an hour on this road we reached the trailhead. We took the Lower Trail which leads to the bottom of several arches along a 2.2 miles long trail, called the "Parade of Arches". Instead of returning the way we came we took an unusual and slightly risky route by climbing through the last arch to the top and onto the Upper Trail. After 3.5 hours we were back at the car. More information on the BLM website.

For the return trip we shifted the car into low gear and made it safely back to the park road. We stopped at the viewpoints in the western part of the monument before heading back to our motel. We went to Applebee's for dinner (spareribs and steak).

Tuesday, 9th September, 23 °C, cloudy, rain showers
Onion Creek - Arches NP (Tower Arch, Landscape Arch, Windows Section)
Total miles: 190
Accommodation: Inca Inn, Moab

We drove west on I-70. The weather didn't seem too promising today. We took the exit to Cisco and continued in the direction of Moab. We passed by the Fisher Towers and took the turn-off to Onion Creek Road, a mostly easy dirt road which leads through a red canyon landscape. At Taylor Ranch we turned back.

After this 2-hour detour we booked tickets for the Fiery Furnace ranger-guided tour in Arches National Park ($10 per car) before we continued into the park and turned into Salt Valley Road towards the Klondike Bluffs. After approx. 7 miles on this dirt road we reached the trailhead to Tower Arch. At 1:45 p.m. we started on the trail. A few rain drops were falling. This was a beautiful and pretty short but partly sandy hike of less than 1 hour, and Tower Arch was well worth it.

Afterwards we drove to the Devils Garden section and took the short trail to revisit Landscape Arch. Finally the sun came out and bathed the red rocks in a beautiful warm light. We drove to the Windows Section and walked to the different arches there before finally heading into Moab and checking into our pre-booked motel Inca Inn ($66 plus tax AAA Rate). We had dinner at the Moab Brewery ($28 plus tip).

Wednesday, 10th September, 23 °C, mostly sunny
Secret Spire, Canyonlands Island in the Sky (False Kiva and Upheaval Dome), Gemini Bridges
Total miles: 136
Accommodation: Inca Inn, Moab

This morning we drove to Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky section. After a short stop at Mesa Viewpoint we turned off onto a dirt road that led to Dubinky Well Road. We passed by Tombstone Butte and saw a sign "Spring Canyon Point". Not long after that we had reached the Jeep trail to Secret Spire. The last bit we did on foot. Not so easy to find the Secret Spire, even with GPS.

Back on the main road we entered Canyonlands National Park. It was 12 p.m. when we stopped at the Green River Overlook. We parked at Alcove Spring Trailhead and took the wrong path to False Kiva which is not marked. But eventually we did find it. We reached the sheer drop-off of the canyon rim and took the path that leads up under the alcove. From this secret spot you get a great view across the canyonlands. For the return trip to the car we just needed 30 minutes. Trail description

Then we drove to Upheaval Dome and walked to the First Overlook. By now it was 4 p.m. Afterwards we drove to Grand View Point and Buck Canyon Overlook. It was 5:45 p.m. when we left the park.

To return to Moab we took the dirt road to Gemini Bridges. This is an easy road until the bridges but beyond that a high clearance vehicle is required. We it took 1.5 hours to cover the 14 miles distance. The road was a bit tricky but we managed to reach highway 191 just before the sun set.

We had Mexican food for dinner at the „Hacienda“ restaurant right next to our motel.

Thursday, 11th September, 28 °C, mostly sunny, a short rain shower
Arches NP (Fiery Furnace, Eye of the Whale Arch), Sand Flats Road, La Sal Mountains
Total Miles: 136
Accommodation: Inca Inn, Moab

At 10 a.m. we started on the ranger-guided tour of the Fiery Furnace in Arches National Park ($10 per person). The hike was a total of 2.2 miles, at a slow pace, but some climbing was involved. It took 3.5 hours with the group of 34. The guide also pointed out why it is so important to avoid stepping on the fragile biological soil crust.

After this we drove to Delicate Arch Viewpoint. We did the short hike to the upper viewpoint but quickly ran down again when thunder and lightning came up! We fled the rain shower and drove to Balanced Rock. Here we turned onto the sandy 4WD road to the Klondike Bluffs. It was 2:30 p.m. We drove the 1.9 miles to Eye of the Whale Arch and explored the area on foot. Afterwards we drove back to Moab and onto Sand Flats Road up to the La Sal Mountains and towards Castle Valley. We were back in Moab at 7 p.m. Here we met with Mike who was staying at the same motel and we went for dinner at the Moab Brewery together.

Friday, 12th September, 22 °C, sunny
Dinosaur Tracks, San Rafael Swell, Crystal Geyser
Total miles: 304
Accommodation: Super 8, Green River

We drove north on Highway 191 and visited the Sauropod Track Site which features original dinosaur tracks. At 9 a.m. we stopped at Subway in Green River to get sandwiches for lunch, before we continued on the I-70 towards the San Rafael Swell area. We visited Black Dragon Wash with Indian pictographs on the canyon wall. Back on I-70 we stopped at the Spotted Wolf and Black Dragon Canyon viewpoints. At exit 131 we took the dirt road to Head of Sinbad, another beautiful pictograph panel. Dutchman Arch was close by. Next was the Lone Warrior panel. Here we had our lunch.

Back on I-70 came a few more viewpoints: Ghost Rock, Eagle Canyon, Salt Wash. At exit 99 via Emery and Moore we drove to the Rochester Rock Art Site, which shows Indian petroglyphs, not painted on but carved into the stone.

At the end of another dirt road we reached Wedge Overlook with a great view of the canyon below. It was 3:30 p.m. Along Buckhorn Wash Road we discovered a dinosaur track (not so easy to find) and we had a look at the Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel before we got back onto I-70 to Green River. Here we visited the Crystal Geyser before checking into the Super 8 motel ($63 plus Tax AAA rate). We had dinner at the Tamarisk Family Restaurant.

Here are more details about the San Rafael Swell.


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