Gallup, NM to Natural Bridges Monument, Utah

North, from Gallup, on Hwy 491 took us through the Navajo Nation.  For the most part, this part of the state is very dry and barren.  There are some small towns along the way.  Newcomb looked like an oasis compared to the rest of the area.  Not that there were a lot of trees, but there are newer buildings, more homes and the yards were tidy.  We turned west on Hwy 64 in Shiprock.  The road is definitely not an Interstate.

Rough Road
No Kidding!

It was funny, though, as soon as we crossed into Arizona, the road was nice and smooth. But it eventually deteriorated too.  It reminded me of my High School drill team instructor telling us to make sure we start the routine perfectly and end it with a bang.  Then people won’t remember your mistakes in the middle.  I think the road crews repair the roads next to the borders more often than in the middle of the state. 🙂  From Hwy 64 to Hwy 160, we turned north on Hwy 191 into the southeast corner of Utah. We skipped the photo-op at 4-corners although it was only an 8-mile round-trip detour.

Rock Formations near Bluff, Utah
Near Bluff, Utah

The area around Bluff, Utah marked a dramatic difference in today’s landscape.  The beauty is hard to describe.  I love this part of the country!  Although, I love it less in the summer when you can fry an egg on your forehead.

red flower growing in rock crack
Some things can grow anywhere!

Before we got to Blanding, we turned west on Hwy 95.  We fueled up in White Mesa (I think that’s near this intersection?)  Anyway, we paid $3.31 for diesel and $3 for gas for the generator.  We passed a sign that said “Indian Ruins Overlook”.  After we passed the turn-off, I could see the cliff dwellings from the road.  So Don turned around.  Well, I could see the cliffs that probably had the ruins in them, but I didn’t actually see the ruins.  🙂  After the mile-long hike (at around 6,000′ elevation), Don accussed me of tricking him.  The trail was well-marked, using piled rocks to mark it when it crossed solid rock.  There were two benches along the trail and, at the end, a bench, fence and sign describing the ruins.

Indian Ruins Overlook Trail
Indian Ruins Overlook - East of Natural Bridges Monument

You can see the dark streak above the ruins and below it.  That is where water has dripped down and through their little community.  Hhhhmmm – indoor plumbing? 

I guess, if we hadn’t stopped for the hike, we might have gotten the last campsite at Natural Bridges Monument.  Oh well, they have overflow camping a couple miles back.  So we decided to go see the bridges and then go back.

Kachina Bridge - Natural Bridges National Monument
Kachina Bridge - Natural Bridges National Monument

We need more time to get acclimated to the elevation, since we’ve essentially spent the last year at sea level.  So we didn’t walk down to any of the 3 bridges in the park.  The walks out to the overlooks were enough for us.  But they do have great trails that connect them all.  The brochure says it’s a 8.6 mile round-trip hike from the parking area of one to see all three: Sipapu, Kachina and Owachomo Bridges.  Natural bridges are different from arches by the way they are made.  A bridge is, initially, made from moving water.  A bend in the river cuts through to make a shortcut.  Arches are formed by other erosional forces, mainly frost action and seeping moisture.  After a bridge is formed, the frost and seeping moisture continues to erode it.

Waterfall near Kachina Bridge - Natural Bridges National Monument
Waterfall near Kachina Bridge - Natural Bridges National Monument

The Visitor’s Center closes at 5, which is exactly the time we got there!  Doors were locked so I took some of the free literature posted outside.  It explained the rules about dispersed camping on BLM land and the map showed us where the overflow camping was.  We were the first ones there but a family in a pop-up camper joined us before dark.  Then 2 people in a truck with a tent came along after dark.  We didn’t see any wildlife but there were plenty of deer tracks.  It looks like the snow has recently melted off this ground.  We are glad there’s no rain forecasted because the 1/4 mile dirt road to the overflow camping area would be too slick to use.  It is dry today so we had no problem.

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