Leaving Grand Junction, take I-70 West. But we don’t advocate seeing the Interstates. When you get to exit 214, follow Utah 128 south to the Colorado River and Castle Valley, another very pretty drive that leads to Moab.
Arches National Park is just north of Moab. The park’s red sandstone has over 2000 stone arches. An arch is a hole eroded through stone by wind. A bridge is a hole eroded through stone by water. But wind and water contribute some to the erosion of each.
There are hiking trails. There are driving trails. Regular readers know we like to picnic; a picnic near an archas the sunset turns the red rocks into flames is unforgettable. Prehistoric people, pioneers, prospectors and explorers have left graffiti; theirs is historic; that left by the guy yesterday is not, so as always, protect the park.
Moab caters to tourists. We recommend a jet boat ride down the Colorado River canyon. It can be done in a half day, gives a unique view of the canyon walls from the bottom and can be done as part of even this quick overview trip.
On the same road is your first glimpse of Canyonlands National Park, the portion known as the Island in the Sky District, a large mesa with great views.
Three of Canyonlands four geographical districts can be seen on this itinerary. There are many roads only accessible by high-clearance four wheel drive vehicles, and the districts are not connected. Rough back roads on the west side of the river are the only way to get to the Maze District. It really deserves a minimum of a three day camping trip and is not part of this itinerary.
Leaving Moab heading south on US 191, one can drive county road 133 to see the Needles Overlook. The Needles District itself is accessed by Utah 211 just north of Monticello. On the way in, stop at Newspaper Rock State Historical monument. At the end of the road, one can see where the Green River comes out of Wyoming to join the Colorado, and if you have the right vehicle, there are canyons to explore and a river overlook.
It is a pretty drive into the Needles District, but it is the drive out that gives the best view of the formations for which it has been named.
If you took the jet boat, you have been in or close to the fourth district, the River.
Monticello is a small town, but a good base for your visit to the Needles District. We drove on to Blanding for the night before heading to our next stop, Natural Bridges, Utah’s first National Monument. On the way out, we took a side trip to the Bear’s Ears.
Natural Bridges has three long stone bridges named with words from the local Puebloan culture: Sipapu; Kachina; and Owachomo. It is hard to imagine in this desert that these bridges were carved by streams.
Driving into the area, one can see The Bear’s Ears, two squared-off mesas at the top of a mountain. A dirt road leads up to the narrow valley between the “ears,” but if you are there in the spring, going further down the east side runs the risk of getting bogged down in mud. The west side is desert. But one passes through the ears into a green Alpine valley. Going a little further, one enters a pine forest. It is bucolic; I had no more said the words “all we need is Bambi” and a deer bounded across the road.
Next: Capitol Reef National Park; Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; Bryce Canyon National Park