The moon that we had so enjoyed the night before greeted us as we left our hotel room the following morning. Something about that pale blue against orange rock says home to me like few things I know.
That said, I must confess that I have never really explored the part of Utah south of Moab and east of Lake Powell. One day does not an exploration make, but it was enough to know that failure was a huge mistake.
We left Monument Valley in the morning, and headed for a little place nearby called Valley of the Gods. It is not Monument Valley, but is quite picturesque for a place not even set aside as a state park.
It has broad vistas like these, a roughly 30 mile dirt road that is easy to drive, boulders to climb, lizards to chase, and a quiet that is all to rare.
Fall was in evidence even here, in this dry desert, among the tough old cottonwoods that somehow find water in the dry washes that run through this place. Life is so fragile yet so resilient in the desert -- it is part of what makes it a special place.
From there, we headed over to a nearby state park, called the Goosenecks of the San Juan.
The winding depths of the canyon speak to a remarkable permanence in a place like this. How long that water has flowed, slowly and implacably carrying away the tiny weaknesses in rock and dirt to the sea of Cortez and perhaps beyond, leaving these magnificent oxbow bends a testimony to millennia of labor.
The backdrop to both this place and the Valley of the Gods is the thousand plus foot escarpments of Cedar Mesa, which runs for hundreds of miles through these windblown table lands. It was there that we headed next.
Little did we know that our road, Utah route 261, would convert from asphalt to dirt and take us right up the face of those cliffs, but it did. We made it, and here is the proof:
The picture below should give you a sense of scale -- see if you can pick out the blue pickup truck.
The views were more than a match for the easier than expected climb up what is known as Moki-Dugway, but they had nothing on our next destination, a place I had not heard of before: Muley Point.
It was hazy when we visited, smog from as far away as LA and as close as the four corners power plant obscuring the view. Still, what a view it is. Here you are not only up the thousand plus feet of Cedar Mesa, but gazing out over the two thousand foot depths of the San Juan River canyon, the far side of which contains all of Monument Valley. I have been to the Grand Canyon many times, and if this view does not surpass that magnificent place, it certainly belongs there. One day I shall come to spend the night here under the stars, and wake to see the view before the sun reacts with pollution to create obscuring smog. I am sure it will be nothing short of spectacular at sunrise.
On this day though, hazy or not, it provided a fitting end to a fantastic trip.