An awesome start to Summer Break 2017: A drive spanning 2,995 miles, 47 hours, and five states over six days—including four states in 10 seconds—exploring amazing areas of southwestern USA! This road trip focused on five sights: Arches National Park, Four Corners Monument, White Sands National Monument, Gila Cliff Dwellings, and Petrified Forest National Park.
Day 1: 14 Hours, 950 Miles to Moab, Utah
From our spot in the San Francisco Bay Area, we drove directly to Moab, Utah, with brief stops for refueling and potty breaks. We left at 10 AM PDT and arrived in Moab around 1 AM MDT, a total of 14 hours on the road! Bethany and I sang songs, played goofy “I Spy” games, and had conversations on topics ranging from My Little Pony to mountain formation. A few times, I caught her staring out the window, with a look of deep thought on her face…perhaps she loved the views, or maybe she was hypnotized by the scenery buzzing by.
Day 2: Arches National Park, Utah
We woke up early and headed off to Arches National Park to beat the crowds at our first destination within the park: Delicate Arch. This arch is Utah’s icon, and its likeness can be found on almost every Utah vehicle license plate.
We arrived at the trailhead about 7:15 AM, and after a half mile or so, the first ascent on slick rock was upon us. Aided by a relatively cool temperature of around 70°F/22°C, Bethany handled this steep section of trail with ease. The next half mile of the trail was an easy ascent to a ledge, which at times was somewhat narrow and maybe a little worrisome at first (for me, anyway) because of its location next to what would be a long fall to the bottom of a canyon, but none of this fazed Bethany as we hiked around a wall of rock to eventually witness the beauty before us! Delicate Arch’s opening is 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, making it the largest free-standing arch in the park, and we sat for a few minutes to simply gaze at this breathtaking natural structure. We later crept down to the arch itself, lied on our backs underneath it, and treated ourselves to a dizzying perspective of the arch above us (and perhaps photo-bombing hundreds of pictures in the process, sorry!). This hike was 3.1 miles round trip, and definitely a highlight of our visit.
Our next stop at Arches was Balanced Rock, which features a 128-foot high rock tower, with a 3,600-ton boulder “balancing” on its pedestal. This was a short quarter-mile round-trip walk up to and around this massive sandstone structure, and it is quite a sight to see.
Just when we thought it might be difficult to match the awe-inspiring beauty of Delicate Arch, we discovered that Double Arch comes pretty close! Double Arch has the tallest (112 ft/34 m) and second-longest (144 ft/44 m) arch in the park, and it takes a personal visit to truly experience the vertigo-inducing heights of the arches high above. Bethany enjoyed a short climb to the bottom of the smaller arch, and we were treated to a view of the landscape before us.
As the day became warmer, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at the Visitor Center, with its interactive displays and informational booths. Bethany declared that she had a great day!
Day 3: Four Corners Monument
Our next destination was Alamogordo, New Mexico (10 hours/615 miles away), for an overnight stay before heading to White Sands National Monument. Our first stop on this leg of our trip was Four Corners Monument, located on the intersection of the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona, and the only place in the USA where four states meet at one point. Along the way, I tried to provide Bethany a brief background of the composition of the United States and the size of California, to give her a reference as to why it would be an interesting experience to be standing in four states at once; I think the lecture worked, given her hilarious poses on the state borders. We also had a great time people-watching, as many visitors gave their best attempts at memorable photos while straddling four state lines.
Day 4: White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
A long time ago, I remember poking through a book at my elementary school’s library and coming across a picture of white sand dunes at White Sands National Park, and thinking how much I would love to visit the place someday; after a few decades I finally had the chance! Of course, seeing this place in person is just so much better! We were lucky to have a blue sky framing the landscape, which Bethany thought resembled snow. While the dunes were definitely not snow in this New Mexico desert, we still attempted a little sledding! We found a good spot to give this a shot, and after several attempts we were able to cruise down the hill on our sleds at a decent speed! After trudging up/sliding down the dune for a few hours in the heat Bethany seemed oblivious to, I decided that we both needed a break in the air-conditioned Visitor Center—to which Bethany reluctantly agreed—before heading off to Deming, New Mexico (4 hours/215 miles away). NOTE: Check for Highway 70 closures before planning a trip to White Sands National Monument!
Day 5: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico, and Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
The drive to Gila Cliff Dwellings from Deming is approximately two hours, and includes great views of beautiful New Mexico wilderness. Bethany was eager to see the “rock houses” built in the cliffs in the Gila Wilderness, and the 1.7 mile round trip hike was well worth the effort. In the late 1200’s, people of the Mogollon Culture decided it would be a good place to call home; they built rooms, crafted pottery, and raised children in the cliff dwellings for about twenty years, before leaving the area behind. Over 800 years later, Bethany and I arrived, exploring the rooms they abandoned centuries earlier, and we were impressed with the planning involved in the construction of these cliffside dwellings. Notably, despite the 90°F/32°C heat outside, the shade inside the cliffs felt comfortable!
During our 6 hour/325 mile drive to Holbrook, Arizona for a planned overnight stay to visit Petrified Forest National Park the following day, Bethany and I agreed that all the hours spent on the road were becoming tiresome. With plenty of daylight still left, we decided to make a short stop at Petrified Forest en route to Holbrook, and shave off a day of our trip.
At Petrified Forest, we visited the Rainbow Forest Museum and hiked the short Giant Logs Trail, which are lined with some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. Next, we headed to Agate Bridge, a 200 million-year-old fossilized tree that fell across a small canyon. These two sights alone inspired us to come back to this park in the future, but with more time and energy!
Day 6: 14 Hours, 885 Miles to Petaluma, California
And just like how we started off this journey, we finished by driving directly back home, with stops for gas and potty breaks. We reminisced about different parts of our trip—sand sledding at White Sands being her favorite activity—and discussed plans for a possible return to Utah in the future. Bethany was a great road trip partner, and overalI we both had a blast!