Wait, you say. Why is there a travel post on this planning, creative problem solving and decision-making blog?!
The answer is simple. Reduce stress! Become more creative in three steps pointed out that we can rewire the circuits and become more creative by pursuing three specific strategies:
- Bombard the brain with novel experiences and learn to see differently
- Tame the stress response and overcome fear
- Develop social intelligence and persuade others to accept your novel ideas
A recent trip to Four Corners with my wife, Pat, directly addressed bullets one and two above. I was so amped up by this trip that I was compelled to blog it!
Day 1: Grand Junction, Colorado
We arrive in Grand Junction, Colorado, meet our nephew Evan and head straight to the Colorado National Monument for a short hike and beautiful canyon views. This is just a warm-up for our legs and for what is to come. If you dropped the Colorado National Monument into Canyonlands National Park, you’d have a hard time finding it.
Day 2: Fisher Towers, Sketchy Andy and Castle Valley
Up early for the drive to Utah, we follow the Colorado River as it cuts through the red rocks, stopping for a dramatic hike to Fisher Towers. “Sketchy” Andy Lewis — the slackliner who was in Madonna’s half-time show — is 800 feet up on top of Titan, America’s tallest free standing tower, and ready to base jump off the slackline when the weather turns, a hail storm rolls in and they rappel down instead.
Disappointed, we continue down the Colorado to the Moab Brewery for a pint of Derailure Ale and a bowl of vegetarian chili. Refreshed, we end the day at the Castle Valley Inn where we enjoy a beautiful view of the iconic Castleton Tower and then into the hot tub. (We think the Castle Valley B&B has the best view of any B&B we’d ever stayed at. But then again, we had yet to arrive at the Valley of the Gods B&B!)
Addendum: weeks after the hailstorm interruption, Mr. Slackline did perform on Titan. Watch the video to see what we missed.
Day 3: Natural Bridges, Muley Point, the Moki Dugway and Valley of the Gods
After a long, relaxing drive through wilderness on Utah 95, we arrive at the Natural Bridges National Monument for a splendid hike down and along the White Canyon by the Sipapu and Katchina natural bridges, past primitive Indian petroglyphs and up over the Cedar Mesa. Back in the car, we continue down the Trail of the Ancients, divert onto a jeep trail out to Muley Point and take in breathtaking views of the San Juan River goosenecks and Monument Valley in the distance.
We then descend 1300 dramatic feet on the Moki Dugway’s steep, gravel switchbacks to the Valley of the Gods B&B, an historic ranch house built by Navajo masons of stone and timber from an abandoned oil derrick. The B&B is the only structure within the 360,000 acre Cedar Mesa Cultural Area. If there is a better view off a front porch anywhere in America, someone, please tell us about it. Then to Bluff, Utah for a dinner of ribs and chicken at the Cottonwood Steakhouse.
Day 4: Valley of the Gods, the Goosenecks State Park, Honaker’s Landing and Monument Valley
Up shortly after 6 a.m., we watch the sunrise and then spend half a day exploring the Valley of the Gods, including a hike up a wash past the Lady in the Bathtub butte. We meet a German physicist who excitedly announces that he spent the previous day in Monument Valley but thinks the Valley of the Gods is more spectacular.
We hop in the car and head to Goosenecks State Park for views of the San Juan River deep within the austere, forbidding canyon walls. On a tip, we take a jeep road out of the park to the John’s Canyon rim 1200 feet above the San Juan River and hike mountain goat-like to Honaker’s Landing, about four hundred feet above river. From any point on this trail, we wonder, how is there a trail on this canyon’s rugged walls and where is it going?
After returning to the rim, we head into Arizona and onto the Navajo Reservation for a drive though Monument Valley. We marvel at the scenery but wonder whether John Ford went there because these were the nation’s most iconic mesas and buttes or whether we are there because he made them so.
We head to the Swinging Steak in Mexican Hat where the cowboy doing the barbeque — after being asked if there is only outdoor dining tonight — responds disdainfully,
I am sure it does not help matters that I am wearing a lime green Columbia quick dry shirt and a Mountain Hardware jacket. The meal was disappointing, but, newly sustained, we beat it back to the B&B for some exceptional star gazing. A 16 hour day!
Day 5: Canyonlands National Park Needles Area
Back to Bluff, north on 191 and then west 28 miles through the jaw-dropping Indian Creek Recreation Area — a lush valley surrounded by monumental canyon walls and full of cattle ranches — to Canyonlands National Park.
There we take a spectacular 7.5 mile hike among the Needles in Elephant Canyon and Chesler Park. Combining the majesty of Zion and the magic of Bryce Canyon National Parks, the Needles offers up a phantasmagoria of memorable views and a five-hour adrenaline high.
On our way out of the park, we take the obligatory side hike to an Anasazi ruin and then back up 191 to Moab, the Desert Hills Bed & Breakfast and into the hot tub.
Day 6: Arches National Park, Gemini Bridges and sunset at Dead Horse State Park
We spend a relaxing day at Arches National Park where we meander 6.5 miles through the Devil’s Playground and chuckle at a bus load of Russian oligarchs hiking in business shoes with their shirts off. Later, we jeep trail to Gemini Bridges and then travel up to Dead Horse State Park to hike the rim trail with its spectacular views of Canyonlands Islands in the Sky, the Colorado River goosenecks, the Needles, the Shafer Jeep Trail (more on that later), and the sunset. Exhausted, we collapse at the Desert Bistro for one very exceptional meal, and back into the hot tub.
Day 7: Arches, four-wheeling, dinosaur tracks and the Red Cliffs Lodge
Back to Arches, we hike through the Park Avenue canyon and the Windows area, navigate a challenging jeep trail out of the park, happen upon and walk among 165 million year old dinosaur tracks from the Jurassic period, and pass a search and rescue team going to save a mountain biker seriously injured on the slickrock. Following the Colorado below Moab, we pass dozens of rock climbers and hike up to Corona Arch where we miss the “arch swinging” climbers by just one day. Extreme bad luck again. The day ends at the Red Cliffs Lodge on the Colorado for a view up river to Fisher Towers silhouetted by the setting sun, a fine Idaho Red Trout dinner and an overnight.
Day 8: Canyonlands National Park Islands in the Sky, a harrowing descent and a La Sal Mountain cabin
Back down the Colorado, we meet birders who point out upwards of a dozen Great Blue Heron pairs nesting in a single tree and then ascend to Islands in the Sky where Ranger Kathryn makes the incomprehensible geologic history of the otherworldly landscape comprehensible using music as a metaphor. She ends with Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and, honestly, tears are forming.
We take various hikes around the rim for views of Deadhorse State Park, the Needles, the Colorado River goosenecks, the Green River, and the La Sal, Abajo and Henry Mountains. After hiking up to Upheaval Dome, we become adventurous and return to Moab by way of a sometimes harrowing, white-knuckle, sweaty-palms, 32-mile, four-wheel adventure down the Islands in the Sky 1000 foot cliff face on the Shafer Trail’s tight switchbacks. We end up looking up at Deadhorse State Park where we had earlier looked down upon the jeep trail.
Continuing to the rim of the Colorado goosenecks, we four-wheel along the river to Moab and then up to Whispering Oaks Ranch and our cabin in the La Sal Mountains — where Patty announces that she wants to curl up in a fetal position and suck her thumb — into a hot bath, and then feasting on the Moab Brewery take-out ribs and Desolation Ale growler before ending the day with more stunning star gazing.
Day 9: Back to Grand Junction by way of Paradox Valley and the Dolores River
Heading south and then east behind the La Sal Mountains, we enter Colorado’s Paradox Valley, pass the Bedrock General Store (of Thelma and Louise fame), successfully complete a nervous search for a gas station, ride along the Dolores River and through spectacular mesas to Gateway, Colorado for lunch at Gateway Canyons Resort.
We end the day back in Grand Junction for dinner at Le Rouge where we plan our next red rock canyon country creative recharge: Capitol Reef National Park, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
By the numbers:
1300 miles on our Jeep Patriot, including 36 miles of four-wheeling
42 miles of hiking
2 national parks
2 national monuments
2 national recreation areas
2 state parks
1 Indian reservation
2 cultural areas
Lost track of the number of national and state forests
3 B&Bs, 1 lodge, 1 mountain cabin and 2 nights at Evan and Ashley’s
Many, many gallons of water
An occasional Utah microbrew
1 ridiculous trip