Desert Road Trip

December 26th, one day after Christmas, we hopped into the car at 4:30 a.m. and started driving south on what was to be a 3,000+ mile desert road trip. The road trip was initially planned for 2 reasons, 1-because we needed a vacation and 2-to visit my grandma in Phoenix.

Although driving from Helena to Phoenix and back is long enough in itself, we decided to extend the trip a few days and add a few stops in the Utah desert. Below is our day to day itinerary and an account of memories that will last us a lifetime.

Dec. 26th Day 1 was by far the longest day in the car. 13+ hours, 900+ miles from Helena Montana to Las Vegas, NV. We stayed at the Hilton, “just off” the strip. Apparently “Just off” the strip to someone from Vegas is WAY different then what I was expecting.

Never having been to the strip, I had no idea of the massive size of everything and how far apart everything really is. We explored the strip this night, and even managed to win a couple bucks in a penny slot!

Dec. 27th Day 2. We spent the day exploring the strip, riding the New York New York roller coaster, lost our winnings in a slot machine and then took in an incredible show, Cirque Du Soleil-Mystere’ at the Treasure Island.

Dec. 28th Day 3. Having explored Vegas for a day and a night, we were done with the city and ready to move on, so we hopped back in the car and drove to Phoenix, via the Hoover Dam! Along the way, I won the contest by spotting the first saguaro cactus. What a different world compared to Maine where we went last year.

Dec. 29th Day 4. We visited Grandma all day, picked some fresh lemons and oranges on the tree in the backyard, and had some wonderful BBQ at a tiny dive restaurant.

Dec. 30th Day 5. Back in the car, we headed north to Cortez, Colorado. Along the way we stopped at the Grand Canyon (10-foot visibility!!!) drove through Monument Valley, and even detoured to 4-Corners, making it JUST in time (apparently 4-Corners closes at 5:00 p.m. sharp!) to snap a few pictures. Most of the day was a blizzard, clearing up perfectly for about 30 minutes while we drove through Monument Valley. See also this post about the harsh reality of outdoor adventure sports, one of our favorite hobbies.

Dec. 31st Day 6. Waking up to sunny skies and a fresh 12” of snow in Cortez, Colorado, we headed out to Mesa Verde National Park, which was over 90% closed due to the snow. The 10% that was open required studded snow tires or chains to visit (luckily we had the snow tires put on a few weeks prior.) And despite the lousy conditions, the 10% that was open was incredible! Well worth the stop.

The ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings ARE really worth a visit, however in addition to Mesa Verde, I fully recommend hiking to an “off the trail”, hard to find ruins in various places around Utah. After Mesa Verde, we drove to Blanding, Utah, and then onto Natural Bridges Nat. Mon. for a quick road tour of the natural bridges. New Year’s eve was fairly uneventful, my wife and I shared a bottle of champagne, watched the ball drop (east coast time), and drifted to sleep.

Jan 1st Day 7. We started the day with a 4-mile hike through knee-deep untracked powder to a seldom visited ancient Pueblo ruin. Ballroom Cave Ruins. It was pretty cool to sign the register and date it 1-1-18. The latest entry before ours was on 11-15-09, long before the snow started flying. The only tracks we encountered were from a pair of elk! Following the hike, we drove to Moab, stopping at Newspaper Rock and a natural arch along the way. It reminded me slightly of the Rockies as we ran the 6-day TransRockies Run, only far less rocky.

Jan 2nd Day 8. Woke up today to a skiff of fresh snow and headed into Arches National Park for a day full of hikes to arches. We started the day at Delicate Arch (even though the rangers warned us not too because of the “hazardous” snow-covered trail) and also hit up the Devil’s Garden area and the Window’s area. Back in Moab, we were so excited to finally be in a town that had more than 1 restaurant, however apparently most restaurants close for the winter!

Jan 3rd Day 9. We woke up early and headed over to Goblin Valley State Park for our favorite experience of the trip. Hiking around Goblin Valley in the winter is surreal; It brings back childhood imagination as faces in the rocks are visible on nearly every stone throughout the valley of rock goblins. I would definitely NOT recommend this trip for the entire family. It is wonderfully beautiful but don’t do this with your kids!

We spent a large part of our day simply laughing, exploring, and chasing each other through the maze of rocks like a couple of children. After we were fully exhausted, yet completely refreshed, we hopped back in the car and drove north, stopping in Provo for the night, taking in a dollar theater movie and dinner at the much anticipated Olive Garden.

Jan 4th Day 10. The drive home was filled with memories racing through our heads and smiles spread across our faces. That is, until the cop pulled me over for driving too slow on the interstate!!! I tried to explain to him that we were just finishing up a 3,000+ mile road trip and that I was in no hurry to return home. He let me off with a warning.