Bigger Than IMAX II


Turret Arch in Arches National Park

We spent the night in nearby Torrey. The next morning, our car was totally covered with frost, but as soon as the sun hit it, it melted. We drove into the rising sun and two-and-a-half hours later reached what just might be the most spectacular place in all the Four Corners. (By the way, the Four Corners refers to the junction of the four states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.)

The Three Gossips at Arches

The place I’m talking about is Arches National Park, and the name says some of it, but not all. There are red rock arches here, but a whole lot more. One particularly interesting rock formation is called Three Gossips by the park, but to us it looked much more like the magi. Balancing rocks, rock structures that resemble giant pipe organs, towering pillars and, of course, natural arches. We drove through it twice, visiting at each area in morning and afternoon light.

Leaving the park, we passed a young woman selling organic peaches next to the road and stopped. She told us the peaches had been picked in Palisade that morning. We bought seven gigantic peaches for ten bucks, and the rest of the week we split one each day for a morning snack with coffee. They were the best peaches we have ever eaten. When we arrived home, I looked up Palisade on the web and found that it’s a small valley just east of Arches in southwest Colorado. Not only do they have plenty of orchards, but the climate there is also good for grapes, and there are 24 wineries in Palisade, as well. The town’s motto is, “Life tastes good here all year long.”

Organic peaches from Palisade

We loaded our peaches into the car and continued south to the sophisticated town of Moab, Utah. It caters to adventures of all kinds: hiking, river rafting and (they say) the best mountain biking in the world. We visited Moab Brewery for lunch and took a couple of cans of Johnny’s American IPA with us for later, then drove back up the couple of miles to Arches for our second look.

For dinner, I had seen The Ghost Bar and Jeffrey’s Steakhouse on Yelp, and it sounded good, but when we got there, the place looked classy, but was completely booked, so we started hunting on Laurel’s Android and found The Atomic Lounge. Maybe a strange name for a restaurant/bar, but they make some of the best craft cocktails we’ve tasted lately. Including plenty of classics like a mule, an old-fashioned and a Sazerac. Plus, their food is as good as their drinks, and, being Utah, you must eat as well as drink. A really great find.

Spruce Tree House–Mesa Verde

The next morning, we drove a couple of hours south to Mesa Verde National Park, past Canyonlands National Park. (There’s an abundance of riches here; you just can’t do them all.) We checked in at the visitor center and got some good advice for a short visit, then drove to the nearest attraction, the overlook for a pueblo called Spruce Tree House, which was built in the 12th century. We talked to the park ranger there and learned that the proper name for the ancient people who lived here is now Ancestral Pueblo people. Throughout recent history, they’ve been called the Anasazi, but we now know that “Anasazi” was the word for “enemy” in an adjoining nation’s vocabulary. Anasazi is out, Ancestral Pueblo is in.

Square Tower House

We drove to several other ancient sites, amazed by the ability of these people to build such complex structures on the faces of steep cliffs with only primitive tools. We didn’t do the hiking tours, since they must be booked in advance at the visitors center and involve some climbing, but seeing Mesa Verde only whetted my appetite to see more sites, like Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon. We’ll have to do those on other trips, because we will definitely be back, thrilling to the history and the geology of the region.

Our visit to Mesa Verde was our only excursion into Colorado, and now we drove south into New Mexico, the fourth of the Four Corners states. We planned to spend the night in Farmington, which turned out to be a welcome surprise. In her previous visits, Laurel hadn’t been that impressed with Farmington, but priorities had changed, and now we enjoyed the city and its surroundings.

The bar at Three Rivers Brewhouse

Three rivers, the Animas, San Juan and La Plata Rivers join each other in Farmington, and the brewpub in town is logically named Three Rivers Eatery & Brewhouse. Its excellent brews with food to match have made it quite successful. In fact, it occupies a full block on Main Street with the aforementioned brewpub, a pizzeria, tap and game room, and banquet hall. The Three Rivers Cubano sandwich with house-smoked pork shoulder and honey pork belly is outstanding.

The next morning, we visited the city’s Riverside Nature Center and headed up a trail next to the Animas River. Before we left the parking lot, we saw a few mule deer grazing in the brush, as well as prairie dogs poking their heads out of holes in the bare dirt patch on the opposite side. We talked to volunteers at their nature center and learned that the deer and are practically tame because they’re protected here and have access to feed and water. Children flock to the center to see the many birds that hang out at the feeders outside. There are many common birds on the feeders, but we even saw a Plumbeous Vireo and a Wilson’s Warbler among them.

Patrick Liessmann and Austin Jacobs with me

We went back to Three Rivers Eatery for lunch and had an interesting chat about hops with Patrick Liessmann and Austin Jacobs, two of the brewers.

Gallup movie palace

South of Farmington is the town of Gallup, New Mexico, made famous in Bobby Troup’s big hit, “Route 66.” Gallup has many stores specializing in Southwest Indian art and turquoise jewelry, including Navajo and Zuni artifacts and Hopi Kachinas. After racing through the huge Richardson’s Trading Company, which first opened in 1917 but was closing for the day when we arrived, Laurel found some lovely turquoise earrings and a necklace of turquoise beads at Silver House Trading Co.

On Friday, we started heading back west. First stop, Flagstaff, back in Arizona, and the following day, all the way home to San Diego. Today, we roughly followed the path of old Route 66, but now it’s I-40 and it’s not coming “from Chicago all the way.” The 40 comes clear across the country from Wilmington, North Carolina, almost due east of Atlanta and all the way west to Barstow. There’s an interesting break about halfway between Gallup and Flagstaff: Petrified Forest National Park, where the ground is littered with pieces of some very old trees, many of them ancestors of our cedar trees.

Flagstaff mural

Back in Flagstaff, we took a walk through the downtown area and found a terrific mural memorializing Route 66 and the railway that preceded it to the city. We also discovered one of the best restaurants we’ve eaten at for some time. It’s called Root, and the menu looked so fascinating that we came back later for dinner. But first, we drove back east about seven miles to Walnut Canyon National Monument, a wonderfully scenic park forested with high altitude pinyon pines. The canyon is another site where Ancestral Pueblos made their home, and here and there on the steep slopes of the canyon walls are structures where the hardy people built their homes, climbing up and down from them on ropes to live in safety.

We drove back to the safe haven of our Days Inn, then went to Root for dinner. The waiter gave us the drink menu, and we were pleased to see that this menu was as adventurous as the dinner menu. Excellent wine selection as well as craft cocktails. Laurel ordered a Hopped Up Pisco (Pisco, local hops, lemon, egg white, blood orange powder) and I had a Serenity (Chamomile infused rye, sweet and dry vermouth, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, barrel-aged bitters) and we split a Whole Leaf Caesar Salad and The Board (pork belly confit, country pork paté, Olli calabrese, peach-bourbon compote, Beecher’s Flagship cheddar, Point Reyes blue and accompaniments). We were not disappointed. Root is now a must visit whenever we’re in Flagstaff.

Plains prickly pear

Saturday morning, and we got an early start, since it’s a good seven hours to home. The weather continued to be sunny, and by the time we got to Phoenix, it was plenty hot again. This was my first time through all this majestic land, but it definitely won’t be my last.

If you’ve been patiently waiting to see more of Laurel’s beautiful photography, and large enough to look at, here’s the link. laurels southwest

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