Recently we took a trip to Colorado and Utah. Naturally, it was so much different than the Midwest, not a lot of greenery and a whole lot more rocks, mostly red rocks.
It was a very different kind of beauty. Even if you are like me and not so much of a desert person, you still have to appreciate the vastness of that part of the world.
We saw four of our national parks including Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado; Canyonlands, Arches and Capital Reef in Utah as well as Dead Horse State Park in Utah. After 4,149 miles, 946 pictures and memories too many to count, we are blessed to have had this adventure that will be with us for the rest of our lives.
Rocky Mountain National Park was a snap decision on our part and it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. We were headed for Denver when Ron remembered that some friends had visited the park several times.
So, we got off I-80 and headed for Estes Park. We saw some great scenery on the way by taking the backroads and saw some of the most beautiful peaks in the Rockies.
From there we headed to Moab, UT with the intent of seeing Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. On the way there we saw a sign for Dead Horse State Park, which is where wild mustangs were rounded up, the best culled out and the rest left to die of thirst even though the Colorado River was right below them. This was a hidden gem that wasn’t on our itinerary.
Ron has made several trips to ride the trails around a little town called Antimony in Utah, a tiny town about three hours southwest of Moab. Let me say that the large national parks around Moab were beautiful but this little piece of the world captured my heart.
It is a tiny town with a population of only 168 (yep, you read that right!) but a great big heart. It is tucked away in the Dixie National Forest, which straddles the divide between the Great Basin and the Colorado River.
We rode the Ranger on a few trails that offered scenic views of plateaus, various fir and aspen tress, sagebrush and grasslands. We went around Jones Corral Guard Station, which has been used by generations of Forest Service employees working the surrounding back country. It sets on Mount Dutton on the edge of a meadow with spectacular views.
We rode to the summit of Mount Dutton on Mount Dutton Road, one of the highest and most treacherous roads in Utah because it is a gravel 4wd track. On top of Mount Dutton there is a small communication structure, which is located 100 yards away from the highest point. Although the northeast is blocked by forest, views to the west and southwest from the summit included Powell Point and much of the Aquarius Plateau… simply breathtaking.
The next day we drove a little further south near Panguich and rode in Casto Canyon, which is a miniature Bryce Canyon. Spires of orange and red rock rise up to form the canyon walls amid pine and cedar trees. Needless to say, the views here are also breathtaking.
What I liked about both of these off-the-beaten-path trails is that we were basically alone to take in the beauty. In Arches National Park we were literally in line behind other visitors on the trails.
Here, it was just us and nature. On both trails we only saw six other people total in the two days of riding. Yes, it is a little different knowing you are alone in this vastness, but if you come prepared, it has its advantages.
With no television or other connections to the outside world, you would think that evenings would be boring, but the better word would be exhilarating. We sat outside in Adirondack chairs and watched the starts emerge. It has been a long time since I have seen so many stars that shone so brightly. The Milky Way was so close that you could almost reach up and touch it!
Antimony only has one country store with a small café where locals gather for coffee, one church and a two-room schoolhouse. We were in luck as the second night we were there the town was having their annual Dutch Oven potluck. The main courses were all cooked in Dutch ovens and most everyone in town gathered at the local park by the fire station.
We were welcomed like we had lived there all our lives. The year has been unusually dry out there, even for Utah, so that was the main subject of conversation.
Of course, everyone knew everyone else and the main thread that we heard over and over again is that the folks wouldn’t live anywhere else, in spite of the harsh living conditions. One rancher summed it up by saying, “We’ll get through this year just like we always have and always will.”
On our way home, we were traveling on I-70 just west of Vail, CO, when a flashing light warned us of a crash east of Vail that closed the freeway. We got off and waited a while and then saw there was another road going south that would add miles to our trip but would at least let us make progress.
It turned out to be one of the prettiest drives that we have taken. Had not the road closure changed our route, we would have missed out on seeing Pike’s Peak and all the scenery.
This is what I love about the road less traveled. I am not taking anything away from the better-known national parks like Arches, Bryce, Zion, etc.
But, in the whole scheme of things, I will choose these lessor-known out-of-the-way places. They offer equally gorgeous views, a chance to really connect with nature and rare opportunities to get to know the local folks who are the backbone of our country.
Yep, a full tank of gas in the pickup, a cooler with drinks and snacks and the camera and we are ready to head to the backroads for the best life opportunities that this country has to offer.
Photos property of Lois Hoffman.