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Under the starry sky of Utah

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 25 °C
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After another very cold night in which it was very useful to have the heating system in our camper van, we left Mesa Verde the next morning while it was raining.
By the time we arrived in the Colorado Welcome Center in Cortez to stock up on maps and information, the rain had subsided. Still, we continued to have nice vistas of rain showers in the distance.
On our way towards Utah, we stopped at Dove Creek to get gas and used the opportunity to shop in the local supermarket and have lunch at the deli. The food was good, inexpensive and the place was full of locals, which was a sight in itself.
Once again we stopped at the first welcome center we saw in Utah and were now all set to go to the Natural Bridges National Monument. The scenery on the way there was already great and made us stop several times to take pictures.

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So eventually we arrived a bit later than originally anticipated and got to learn at the park headquarters that the campground is already full. Upon their advice we turned back around two miles and used the dispersed camping up along the dirt road to ‘Deer Flat’. What a great spot alone in the landscape without anyone around us! And all for free…

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We were lucky to stay dry, but just a couple of miles north of our spot was quite a rainstorm going down. We were happily sitting on a ridge observing and counting the lightning strikes and the following thunders. And Sam even managed to catch two of them in pictures. As the clouds were eventually also above us, we did not see the starry sky of Natural Bridges, which was inaugurated about 10 years ago as the first Dark Sky Park worldwide for its lack of artificial light sources. But never mind: anyhow there would not have been a chance to see the milky way, as the moon is almost full these days.

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The next day was dedicated to the Natural Bridges. The first bridge was the largest one and is the second largest in the world (behind Rainbow Bridge at close by Lake Powell). It was clear that we did not want to limit ourselves to the viewpoint, but that we’ll attempt the 0.6 mile and 500 ft altitude hike to the bottom. And it was definitively worth it. Already on the way down it was a really nice hike along the steep overhanging walls of the canyon and a bit further down we were already presented by the vistas of the bridge. My personal favorite was standing underneath the bridge and looking up against the sky realizing how enormous it is. And in addition it was nice and cool down there. Whereas on the way down the flora was more desert like, down there we were surprised to see lush green, large trees and a very refreshing climate.

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The second bridge is the youngest of the three, therefore still very thick and less eroded. We limited ourselves to the viewpoint in this case.
But at the last bridge we wanted to head down again. Actually we realized that the course of the water had changed since the bridge formed and consequently it is not really a bridge anymore, but a freestanding arch without any water running underneath it. That had the big advantage that we were able to head further down to the current riverbed and had a spectacular view of the full formation.

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There were more spectacular vistas to come. Driving down towards Mexican Hat we took the turnoff to the dirt road leading to Muley’s Point in order to enjoy the vista from the 1100 ft drop-off over the goose-neck meanders of the San Juan River towards Monument Valley.

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A bit later we went down exactly that 1100 ft drop over a gravel road call Moki’s Dugway. It’s incredible how this road was built into the steep walls. From down below it is hard to see that there’s a road.

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Down in the valley we took the turn off into the Valley of the Gods – once again a recommendation of the German couple we had met in Santa Fe, a really good one! The Valley of the Gods is sometimes called the little sister of Monument Valley. But contrary to Monument Valley it is public land, it is possible to camp there. Most likely that camping location will earn a spot in the top 10 camping locations of this trip – maybe even in the top 3, let’s see. And once again: this marvelous campsite does not cost a cent!

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It was really hard to leave that marvelous spot the next morning. But we were rewarded by even more gorgeous sights.
After having been to the Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley seemed way too touristic and crowded. In addition, given to the strong winds, it was rather unpleasant, so we limited us to driving the Monument Valley Loop. The rock formations were surely spectacular, the road reminded us more of the back country roads of Namibia which were mostly better in shape than the roads in this major tourist destination… One could even assume that this is linked to the business that can be made by offering expensive rides in open pickup trucks for all tourists who cannot or do not want to attempt the loop in their own vehicle.

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Still, it was very clear to us that we definitively did not want to stay in the campground at Monument Valley. It would have been located exactly on that most windy ridge on a gravel lot where one RV was parked next to the other. And it would have cost 42$ per night without any hookups. Sorry, no way we’d be doing that…
So thanks to Dave’s hint to use freecampsites.net, we identified a good alternative option to camp for free at Navajo National Monument. After a drive of about an hour we arrived there and were happy to hear that there are still enough spots free in the campground. We decided to go to the sunset loop and picked a slot which featured a large sandy area for Max to use as his playground.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:56 Archived in USA Tagged bridges sky monument of utah valley gods national natural Comments (1)

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