Our base of operations was Blanding RV Resort ($28/night with Good Sams). This was a pretty central location for all of our day trips. We would leave early in the morning and return around dusk.
First caper: Edge of Cedars Museum and ancient pueblo, a state of Utah run park on the outskirts of Blanding. The ancient pueblo was built and occupied from AD 825 to about 1225 AD. The museum has a vast collection of Anasazi (Ancient Puebloan) artifacts. The most fascinating was a macaw sash from around 850 AD, which had survived in full color and form. Many sculptures are on the grounds and they are marvelous. There is a 1000 year old restored Kiva (ceremonial building) and one can enter through the roof by ladder. I’m so glad we put this on our lists of must sees!
On the way to Natural Bridges National Monument we made a few additional stops for hiking. The first stop was Butler Wash Ruins, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It was a hike over rugged desert terrain and shear rock and about 1.75 round trip. Ray hiked part of the way but due to altitude and breathing issues he stopped and waited for me. I made it up to the cliff dwelling ruins that dated from about 950 AD to 1130 AD. They too were abandoned but experts aren’t sure of the reason. Modern Hopi’s claim them as ancestors and continue with their cultural ways. The Hopi ask that you treat the Ancient Pueblos with respect as they are sacred grounds. The hike is worth it, just remember to pace yourself and take plenty of water.
Second Stop: Mule Canyon Ruins, managed by the BLM. Some covers have been built to help preserve these over 700 year old ruins. They were also abandoned around 1025 AD.
Natural Bridges National Monument, established in 1908, is Utah’s first monument. The three bridges are named to honor the Ancient Puebloans:
“Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu.” The area of the bridges was a sea about 100 million years ago. Striations in the rock show this. Shell and fossil sea creatures have been found here. The bridges were cause by erosion from running water after the plates collided some 10 million years ago. This is a great place to hike for views. Spectacular! Sipapu Bridge:
On the way to Kachina Bridge, we stopped so that I could hike the Horse Collar Ruin Trail (1 mile round trip). It was an interesting trail with some areas walking on slick rock with no barrier on the cliffs. Horse Ruins are Ancient Puebloan structures on a cliff above the Colorado River drainage. These ruins were also deserted around 1025 AD. Possibly part of a mass migration due to many years of drought.
Then, there we were at Kachina Bridge!
On to the next shenanigans! We took the Moki Dugaway access to Valley of the Gods. The Moki Dugaway reminded me of the Road to Hana on Maui, without the lush tropical seascapes. The Moki was shorter, in the desert and completely dangerous, especially if you met a car on the narrow dirt lane. The Moki was built in 1958 by a mining company out of Texas. It is 3 miles of dirt switchbacks. It was exhilarating and exhausting….. no kidding.
With adrenaline pumping, we made it to The Valley of the Gods, a sandstone valley in San Juan County, Utah. This ancient landscape has buttes, mesas, columns, and balanced rocks. As of December 2017 it is no longer part of Bear’s Ears National Monument but is still protected by the BLM. The road through the Valley is 17 miles of bumpy dirt roads. We were fortunate to be there with just a few other tourists. It’s worth a look and I enjoyed it, right down to meeting a German tourist who was spending months here to complete his bucket list as he had just finished cancer treatment. He was around 40 years old and had an awesome attitude about living life.
Next stop: Sand Island