Q: What do you do when check out time at Point A is 10 am and check in time for Point B isn’t until 4 pm, but you only need two hours to drive from Point A to Point B?
A: Look for something interesting to see and do along the way.
You might get lucky and stumble onto a hidden gem, but we have better luck doing a little advance research. Thanks to Trip Advisor, Google, and an old-fashioned road atlas, it’s pretty easy to identify under-the-radar sights that are off the main road.
Intentional detours so far on our current road trip:
The first two – shown in purple on the map below – were on the way (more or less) from Grand Junction, CO to Moab, UT.
Crystal Geyser . . .
. . . is an odd little attraction off the beaten path. We found it on Trip Advisor – 4 stars.
The geyser erupts on an irregular schedule 8-27 hours apart, with eruptions lasting anywhere from 7 minutes to 14 hours. It was active for the duration of our visit, which was about 45 minutes.
A large collection of orange travertine has accumulated over the years where the water flows from the geyser into the Green River. It’s quite pretty.
Interestingly, this geyser was not created by geothermal activity. Instead, it’s caused by dissolved carbon dioxide in nearby groundwater. Eruptions occur periodically to release underground pressure that has built up.
Also interesting – this geyser was manmade, created by an exploration well drilled in 1935 in an attempt to locate oil.
And that’s all there is to Crystal Geyser. I give it 3.5 stars. It’s worth a quick stop if you’re in the area – allow an hour total for the detour off the main highway.
Goblin Valley State Park
The main attraction at this Utah state park (4.5 stars on Trip Advisor) is Valley of the Goblins, three square miles of amazing sandstone hoodoos where visitors are encouraged to just wander around and explore – there are no designated trails in this section of the park.
Hoodoos, ranging in size from a few feet to more than 50 feet high, were created from the gradual erosion of sandstone that was deposited about 170 million years ago when the area was a tidal flat located adjacent to a sea.
Unfortunately for us, it was a rainy day when we visited, and the normally dry ground had turned into a wet, glutinous, slippery mess, so we didn’t explore as much as we otherwise would have.
On the plus side, the temporary streams contributed to some dramatic photos.
Goblin Valley also features several hiking trails that would have been fun in more favorable conditions. Next time?
My rating – 4.5 stars. Allow at least 1/2 day for a visit to Goblin Valley State Park.
Natural Bridges National Monument
The intentional detour to Natural Bridges on our travel day from Moab to Monument Valley came with a bonus – an additional and unintentional detour because the main road to get there was closed.
The detour added another 45 minutes or so of travel time, and the narrow gravel road with steep grades, tight switchbacks and a 5 mph speed limit was a surprise. Thankfully, that section of the road (with amazing views, I might add) was only about five miles long. The rest was smooth sailing.
Rated 4.5 stars by Trip Advisor, Natural Bridges has been protected as a national monument since 1908 – it was Utah’s first NPS unit.
Now a short geology lesson on natural bridges vs. arches. Even though they look the same to my untrained eye and both are created from erosion over millions of years, they’re different. Arches are formed from the forces of wind, ice and rain, whereas bridges are shaped by running water, such as a river or stream.
The three bridges in this park are called Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo – Hopi names that are decidedly better than Augusta, Caroline and Edwin, as they were previously called.
Sipapu is the largest at 220′ high with a 268′ span. NPS reports that it’s the second largest natural bridge in the world (largest is also in Utah – Rainbow Bridge).
We hiked the trail from the canyon rim to the base of the bridge. A few shots along the way:
And views at the bottom:
Views of the other two bridges from above:
We were running short on time and didn’t hike to the bottom of Kachina or Owachomo.
Our visit to Natural Bridges was a huge win – beautiful scenery on a perfect autumn day, and hardly any visitors (possibly because the main road was closed). I give it 5 stars.
Allow at least a half day for your visit, plus ample travel time.
Navajo National Monument
One last detour (so far) – a visit to Navajo National Monument on our travel day from Monument Valley to Page. It’s 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor.
The claim to fame for this park is thes cliff dwellings, “remarkably well-preserved . . . built hundreds of years ago by Ancestral Puebloans” (quote from the National Park Service brochure).
Only one of the three cliff dwelling communities is visible to casual visitors. Betatakin, shown in the two photos below, housed 100-125 people.
We were able to zoom in much better with our binoculars – glad we remembered to bring them along. In non-COVID times, an up-close, ranger-guided tour is available via a 5-mile hike, which sounds like something we would like to do.
Viewing the Keet Seel cliff dwelling requires a permit and a strenuous 17-mile hike (round trip) that includes a 1,000′ change in elevation and hiking through water. Upon arrival, a ranger on duty takes you on a tour of the dwellings. We wouldn’t do it even if we had the time, but again due to COVID, this excursion wasn’t currently an option at all.
The third set of cliff dwellings, Inscription House, is completely closed to the public due to its unstable and fragile condition.
We hiked a couple of other short trails that featured beautiful canyon views.
As far as I can tell, the only connection between this park and the Navajo Indians is its location within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. The original cliff dwellers (circa 1250) were actually Ancient Puebloans, whose descendants are the Hopi.
This park was even quieter than Natural Bridges – just a handful of other people during our visit. After our usual picnic lunch, we were on our way to Monument Valley.
If you are traveling in the area, this is a good place to stop for a couple of hours and stretch your legs. Just don’t expect to see much in the way of cliff dwellings. My rating – 4 stars.
I predict there will be future articles about places to visit On the Way from Here to There.