It's time for another of my periodic staycation day trip getaways.
Every year starting in very early January, I get desert fever. Generally this means Moab. But that really requires a good three or four days to enjoy all the scenic offerings and play tourist in town. And in that amount of time, the cost adds up.
By March, desert fever is getting intense. So I decided to test out the feasibility of a new day trip - this one to Valley of the Gods near Mexican Hat, Utah. I've been there before several times, but always as part of a weekend trip.
Because taking scenic photos is a primary activity on these trips, morning sky conditions dictate whether I'll do a trip on a given day. Flat light and shadows generally mean blah photos, not worth the time and the gas for the vehicle. That's the biggest cost for one of my trips.
On Sunday, March 16, the sky was a nice clear blue. The forecast (for what it's worth) was for good weather. After one cup of coffee, I gathered my stuff and got it to the car - jacket, hat with a brim, camera, water, and cooler with food, including homemade sandwich. I got an early start, which for me means before 9:30.
I stopped at a well-known fast food joint in Durango for a couple of breakfast burritos, one of those greasy, salty potato things (it tasted great, but don't tell my healthy eating friends), and another big cup of coffee. Then I headed west on Highway 160.
I gassed up in Cortez. Then south on Highway 491 to the McElmo Canyon turnoff (the sign says airport, also Hovenweep). This is at (I think) the last stoplight at the south edge of town.
You can get to Mexican Hat by staying on Highway 160 if you prefer. Take the turnoff to Aneth (highway 41), or farther west, the turnoff to Bluff (highway 191). I think they all take about the same amount of travel time, but McElmo Canyon is more scenic.
Stay on this road (it's paved all the way) as you continue west of McElmo, past the Hovenweep turnoff (another prospective day trip), and cross at some unspecified point into Utah. I think it might be a cattle guard, but there's no sign.
This is open range - take that seriously. Horses, cows, sheep, goats are near the roads.
This road will get you to just north of Aneth. Take a right. Make the jog through Montezuma Creek, and continue to the northwest along the San Juan River. You will end up at highway 191 just north of Bluff. Turn south and go through town.
Just west of Bluff is the Sand Island BLM campground and river runner put-in/ take-out, also some low cliff faces adorned with petroglyphs. Those are why I stopped. I didn't see the one that some people think represents a woolly mammoth.
After taking several petroglyph pictures, I continued west. Highway 191 turns south just west of Sand Island. Stay on highway 163 going west over Comb Ridge almost to Mexican Hat.
Valley of the Gods has an east and a west entrance. The east entrance has a very small sign, easy for a first-timer to miss, especially at 65 mph. I've driven the road in each direction more than once. You see different things, and at different times of day, the lighting patterns are different.
This time I started from the west entrance. The turnoff from the main highway has a sign announcing Goosenecks Overlook State Park. It is road number 261. I made a stop at the overlook and took pictures looking down into the San Juan River goosenecks, even though I've done that previously too.
Then I continued north. I passed the Valley of the Gods turnoff to do the steep zig-zag road up to the top of the Moki cliffs. Several signs warn drivers to turn back if they are driving anything like a big RV, big commercial truck, or towing something.
Most of the way to the top, I stopped at a switchback parking place to take pictures. I decided it was an ideal place to eat my sandwich. As I've mentioned in previous day trip reports, a homemade sandwich tastes far better than normal when eaten outside in a high scenic place with a spectacular view. It hasn't failed me yet.
But there was something weird. There was almost no wind!
Wind is one of the constants at Valley of the Gods. My experience has been that you almost have to hang onto your hair to keep it from blowing away. And then there are the bad wind days...
But on this day, the wind was at a very civilized level, meaning I could wear my hat without it blowing away.
Back toward the bottom of the Moki cliff road, I passed a pickup towing a rather large motorboat. So much for all those warning signs.
Finally I turned onto the unpaved Valley of the Gods road, a short distance south from the bottom of the Moki cliff road. It's pretty civilized for a back country road. I think most regular cars can navigate it. It's a great place to ride mountain bikes. Very little traffic. There are lots of places to camp too, if you want more than a day trip. But be prepared for that wind.
The Old West John Ford movie type scenery gets more spectacular as you go along. I stopped numerous times to take pictures and just enjoy being in that place. The silence is wonderful.
I continued to the main highway, then back to Bluff, almost to Aneth, and the road to McElmo Canyon. It was past sundown when I got home.
A fundamental strategy for these day trips is to make a big pot of comfort food for dinner the night before the trip, so there are lots of good leftovers to heat and eat after a long day.
The day after this trip, aside from that it was Monday, there was satisfaction for going when I did, because neither the sky or wind conditions would have been acceptable Monday. It was cloudy and the wind was blowing big time, and that was in downtown Bayfield. Time to hunker down at the office.