Day 1 – March 26, 2022
My travel bucket list has included a tour of Utah’s national parks and monuments for quite awhile now. I even had a map listed on my page on this blog for future trips & dreaming, but I hadn’t quite made the trip work out in the scheme of all my other adventures. So how cool is it that I managed to delete something off that list, and make it reality?! Honestly, this trip was beyond mind blowing and definitely is worthy of bucket list status. I even told someone “this was up there with my first time in Iceland.” As a person that is a wee bit (alright, hugely…) obsessed with Iceland, that’s big.
So without further ado… Commence the eleven day mind-blowing, utterly exhausting, but wonderful Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona tour through Curecanti National Recreation Area, Canyonlands National Park Needles District, Natural Bridges National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument!
Eric and I got an earlier start than expected thanks to him driving straight through from Spokane to Cheyenne, with a stop to get the truck tent from Go Fast Campers installed on Trail-E (it isn’t a Heidi blog if the vehicles aren’t named…). 10am we turned towards Chick-fil-A for breakfast, and then made a quick stop at Safeway for the last minute items (only to discover they only carried distilled water…) before the journey south. Day 1 was really a big transit day across Colorado to almost-the-Utah border, but that didn’t mean we didn’t see amazing things along the way!
Eric chose the more scenic route of taking Highway 285 across Colorado, and then going through Gunnison and Montrose to our overnight spot outside of Uravan instead of I-70, which I am grateful for. 285 is a super beautiful drive it if you ask me (all those years of racing the Gunnison Growler made me a fan!), and I-70 traffic is not fun.
Our first stop was in Fairplay, which is the location of the South Park Heritage Area. Yep, South Park, Colorado! (And cue the theme song that I obnoxiously sang over and over for 20 minutes…) The visitor center was closed so we were thwarted on our passport stamp mission, but they had big pre-made packets of maps and brochures available for the taking at the door that we grabbed. We also took a peek in the Little Free Library, and found a book on “outdoor cooking” that seemed promising until we realized the recipes were for fancy things like braised artichokes and poached salmon. Not the camping recipes we were going for on this trip….
Onward we headed, dropping into the valley that frames the Collegiate Peaks. I soaked in not driving for once, and nabbed photos of Mount Yale, my first Colorado 14er I hiked, and other mountain scenes.
At Monarch Pass we took an opportunity to grab photos with the continental divide sign, and stretch our legs in the absolutely humongous gift shop. I had only been here previously to use the restroom before heading off on a mountain bike on Monarch Crest, so we took our time browsing. I was heckling Eric about the oxygen canisters for sale, and the cashier had some sound advice…
“You have to breathe out until it hurts, then inhale.”
I’m not sure if this is correct medical advice for altitude sickness, but it made for a noteworthy moment in the travel journal.
Originally we debated adding in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to this leg of the trip, but since it was later in the day and was a very long, eight and a half hours of driving type of day, we scratched it so we could give it the attention it deserves another time. But we were treated to driving through Curecanti National Recreation Area, adding a new NPS unit to our lists (but once again, a closed visitor center thwarted our passport stamp collection).
Curecanti NRA consists of three reservoirs along the Gunnison River. Mostly we just cruised through, taking in the late afternoon scenery. Dillon Pinnacles did catch our attention, so we stopped for photos at the trailhead and boat launch, and to take another stretch of the legs. On the shores of Blue Mesa Reservoir (one of Colorado’s largest lakes), Dillon Pinnacles are eroded volcanic breccia and Blue Mesa Tuff. A four-mile long hiking trail can get you much closer than road views from Middle Bridge and the lookout, if interested.
The views kept on coming as we wound our way towards Montrose, and then turned south with the San Juan Mountains on full display. I am hoping I can take a trip later this year to the San Juans to knock off a bunch of climbs, so I enjoyed searching for my future summits on Peak Finder, rambling on about “Uncle Padre” and “Sniffles.”
Daylight began to fade as we headed back west, traveling through tiny, unknown Colorado towns such as Norwood which led to guessing games on population and me trying to find the answers during brief blips of phone service.
Just as the sun was saying its final goodnight, we made camp above the Dolores River, excited for our first night in the GFC tent. Tomorrow the real adventure begins!