June 5 - 9

Four Corners Vacation

Vacation at Meteor Crater, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde National Park, and Arches National Park. We went to four states in five days!

Four Corners Map

Day 1 - Friday, June 5 - Meteor Crater

We started our vacation with an early Friday morning US Air flight from San Jose, California to Phoenix, Arizona then waited an hour for a delayed connecting flight to Flagstaff, Arizona. The weather that Friday was clear yet very windy, our small twin propeller plane had an extremely rough landing at the regional airport in Flagstaff. Once we claimed our luggage we picked up our Avis rental car, a maroon Mercury Marquis, and we were off. I drove out of Flagstaff to our first destination... Meteor Crater.

I have always been fascinated by astronomy and earth bound collisions and always wanted to visit this huge hole in the ground. The drive out to the crater was very windy and the car was practically being pushed off the road. Once at the Crater the over 40mph sustained winds made for an interesting visit. While at the Crater we watched the short video about the crater, had lunch at their Subway, toured the museum and braved the winds at all the outside viewing platforms.

We then hit the road toward Monument Valley, Toby now took over driving duty for the rest of the vacation. We backtracked to Flagstaff on I-40, then headed north on Highway 89, before turning into the Navajo Reservation at Highway 160. On the three hour drive we passed Sunset Crater, the banded hills of the Painted Desert and the strange rock formations of Elephant Feet. Pass the town of Kayenta we stopped to take photos of the ancient volcanic dike of Agathla Peak which dramatically rises 1,500' above the ground. Later that afternoon we arrive at Monument Valley which appeared hazy due to the sand storms from the fierce winds.

We crossed the border to Utah where we checked into the historic Gouldings Lodge, one of only two lodgings at Monument Valley. The lodge had a historic museum which showcased the history and movie importance of the valley. We rested before heading to the View restaurant (just across the border in Arizona) in Monument Valley for dinner. While dining we had a wide view of the valley, but the clouds kept the sun from making the rocks come alive. For dinner we ordered a traditional Navajo meal of mutten stew and fry bread (sort of blah). After dinner the sun was able to peak out just before sunset and the rock features became alive with light, the entires valley became awash in red and orange light and purple sky. Everyone from the restaurant rushed to the deck to take photos.

  • View over Carefree Az (see someone's house!). Our tiny prop plane to Flagstaff.

  • A view of colorful Sedona, Arizona from our tiny plane.

  • Driving our Mercury Marquis to Meteor Crater.

  • At Meteor Crater about an hour outside of Flagstaff.

  • It was extremely windy at the Crater this day.

  • 50,000 years ago a 150 foot wide meteor slammed into Arizona.

  • Fwee... jumping at Meteor Crater (luckily I didn't get blown off!)

  • The crater is 550' deep, and 4,000' across.

  • Alan at the best preserved impact crater on the planet.

  • Toby bracing against the 40+ mph winds.

  • Inside at the museum, Toby by a fragment of the actual meteor.

  • Inside at the museum, Alan by a fragment of the actual meteor.

Panormaic view of Meteor Crater. (Image size: 2906px x 900px)

  • On the way to Monument Valley we pass thru parts of the Painted Desert.

  • We drive by "Elephant Feet" rocks in the Navajo Reservation.

  • Big open sky on the way to Monument Valley.

  • The old volcanic 'dike' of Agathla Peak rises 1,500' above the surroundings.

  • We stop along the road to view Agathla Peak.

  • Highway 163 passes right by the impressive rock formation.

  • Sand storms blur Monument Valley as we enter Utah.

  • Room 304 at Gouldings Lodge. And the historic museum..

  • We had a balcony view of Monument Valley which lies in Arizona.

  • Toby outside the museum on a windy afternoon.

  • John Wayne filmed many western movies here in Monument Valley.

  • John Wayne's 'cabin' by the museum.

  • The clouds thicken as we have dinner at The View in Monument Valley.

  • Toward the end of dinner the sun peaked out just before sunset.

  • The rock formations came alive in the setting sun.

  • Everyone in the restaurant went to the viewing deck for photos.

  • The view slowly became red and the sky purple.

  • The new View Hotel skirts the park (and expensive).

  • Monument Valley glowed in hues of red after the sun set. Incredible site.

  • Duotoned photo of one of the rock mesas in the valley.

  • 'West Mitten Butte' rock formation in the valley.

Panormaic view of sunset at Monument Valley, Arizona (Image size: 5524px x 900px)

Day 2 - Saturday, June 6 - Monument Valley

We had a restful sleep at Gouldings Lodge, we woke up early to start the day. The sky was mostly cloudy but breaks of blue spotted the sky, the air had slight chill. We had a traditional breakfast at the Stagecoach Dining room at the Lodge then toured the museum one last time before checking out and heading into Monument Valley.

While at the valley we drove down into the valley on the designated dirt road. At points early in the descent into the valley the road seemed rough for our car (maybe a truck would have been better), but the road eventually evened out and we proceeded to stop at all 11 view point. The entire drive took a couple of hours. The sun came out on occassion brightening the contrast on the rock features, other times the clouds evenly blanketed the sky. One of our favorite stops was "John Ford" point, made famous by the western director of the 1930's. Along the most popular stops, native Navajo Indians sold handcrafted jewelry and trinkets. At the totem pole stop, we bought braclets and gifts from the locals, who were very friendly. After the last stop we drove up and out of the valley back onto paved road,we stopped for some souveniors at the gift shop then we gased up and hit the road north.

We headed northeast in Utah on 163 toward Mexican Hat, famed for it's huge balancing rock (note: for size reference in photo below there are people standing just underneath the rock), then we cut across the lonely Highway 191 back toward Arizona heading toward the Four Corners Monument. Just before the Monument, we crossed into New Mexico where the entrance was located. The Monument was full of tourist waiting to take that one photo of being in all four states at one time.

We didn't stay long before we were back on the road. We quickly entered Colorado heading toward Cortez on Highway 160. At Cortez we headed east toward Mesa Verde National Park. Once at the gate to the park we ascended nearly 4,000' up the mesa making numerous view stops along the way before reaching the Far View Lodge near the top of the mountain. By this time it was late afternoon, we quickly checked into our little cabin type room, before heading to the Metate room for dinner. The nice restaurant had an expansive view looking down from the mountain. Toby ordered steak and I had buffalo. The elevation at the Far View Lodge is 8,000'.

  • Having coffee in the morning with a view of the valley.

  • Morning in the valley by the trading post museum.

  • Former home of the Gouldings now a musem.

  • Toby at the stateline where Monument Valley lies. (Agathla peak in the distant background)

  • Down in the valley. A 17 mile dirt road travels thru the valley.

  • 'West Mitten Butte' formation in the background.

  • The spires of the 'Three Sisters' in the background.

  • John Ford Point. The View hotel is on the ridge by my head.

  • Merrick Butte from John Ford Point.

  • FWEE at John Ford Point.

  • Toby at famed John Ford Point.

  • Views along the drive in the valley.

  • Yei Be Chei spires and the the 450 foot tall 'Totem Pole' rock.

  • Dogs herd a group of sheep thru the valley.

  • The view from 'Artist Point'.

  • Toby posing in a tree.

  • Overlooking the valley from Artist Point.

  • Alan at the North Window view point.

  • Toby at the North Window view point.

  • A duotone of the valley.

  • A duotone of an indian dwelling just outside the valley.

  • The view from Hwy 163 heading north out of the valley.

  • Toby with the same view from Highway 163 north of the valley.

  • We pass the large balanced rock of Mexican Hat.

Panormaic view of Monument Valley from Artist Point. (Image size: 5502px x 900px)

  • Four Corners Monument: Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado.

  • I'm in four states at one time!

  • Our third state New Mexico, we were here only 20 minutes.

  • We enter our final and fourth state, Colorado.

  • Along Knife Edge trail in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado.

  • View of Montezuma Valley from atop Mesa Verde.

  • Park Point overlook, top of Mesa Verde at over 8,500 foot elevation.

  • Toby at Park Point overlook.

  • View from room 102 at Far View Lodge, at elevation 8,000'

  • Dinner at the Metate Room by our lodge.

Day 3 - Sunday, June 7 - Mesa Verde National Park

On Sunday we awoke to a chilly clear blue sky, the most blue we’ve seen since our vacation. We woke up early and checked out the of hotel and headed to the Far View Visitor Center just across the road to purchase our tour tickets. You needed to purchase tickets for designated times to tour some of the cliff dwellings. We bought tour tickets for both the Balcony House tour and the Cliff Palace tour. Our first tour was the more adventurous Balcony House, which departed shortly after we purchased the tickets. Before our tour departed we stopped along numerous view points to see various cliff dwellings which dotted the entire area.

We had the first tour of Balcony House that morning (9:00am), the bright sun warmed us up quickly. We had good morning light which brighted the cliff dwelling. On this tour we had to climb a 32 foot ladder, crawl through a 12 foot tunnel, and ascend a 60 foot open rock face. During the tour we learned about the history of the people who lived here, their lifestyles and possible reasoning for why they abruptly abandoned their dwellings. The tour lasted about an hour.

After our first tour, we headed to the cafe for brunch. Nearby was a museum and a self guided tour of the Spruce Tree House cliff dwelling. We descended down the hill for a short visit to this dwelling. At Spruce Tree they had a covered 'kiva' (ceremonial chamber) where you could descend into.

Our next tour was of the more popular Cliff Palace, a less strenuous tour. Our tour left at noon. We had an interesting tour with a guide who had a very prominent lisp. This is the largest of the cliff dwellings which had over 150 rooms, 23 kivas, and housed around 100 people during it's occupation. All of our tour was in shade, at it was fairly chilly at times. At the end of the tour you had to ascend 100 feet through a series of ladders.

After our last guided tour, we drove along Mesa Drive Loop which had numerous vistas, archeological stops, and a spectacular view of Cliff Palace from the opposite ridge. Before heading out of the park we stopped at the Visitor Center for gifts, then made one last stop at the Mancos Valley vista before exiting the park around 4pm.

We drove down the hill back toward Cortez then proceeded north on Highway 491 toward Monticello exiting Colorado back into Utah and then north on 191 toward Moab. Along our drive we saw interesting rock formations like Castle Rock and Wilson's Arch. We arrived early evening at Moab, a fun little town filled with adventure minded tourist (many foreign). We then checked into the Best Western Canyonlands Inn ( nice large room #114!, and perfect location). We went to a nice dinner at the Center Cafe. After dinner we roamed Main Street checking out the numerous shops.

  • Horses grazing by the lodge on a sunny morning from our room's balcony.

  • A view of cliff dwellings along Cliff Palace loop drive.

  • Numerous dwellings dotted the canyon walls here in Mesa Verde.

  • Our first guided tour was of Balcony House which started at 9am.

  • We ascended a 32' foot ladder to enter the dwelling.

  • Toby at the top of the ladder.

  • We had to squeeze thru some tight openings.

  • Our tour guide describes the life of the Ancestral Puebloans.

  • Detail of the cliff dwellings.

  • Toby inside Balcony House cliff dwelling.

  • Alan by an open Kiva, or ceremonial pit, in Balcony House.

  • Crawling thru a 12' long tunnel.

  • Alan entering one of the tight tunnels along this tour.

  • Climbing our last 10 foot ladder.

  • Ascending 60 foot open rock face.

  • I make the 80 foot climb up the wall from Balcony House

  • Toby making the final ascent from our tour.

  • A view of Soda Canyon by the Balcony House cliff dwelling.

Panormaic view of Cliff Palace, the largest dwelling here at Mesa Verde. (Image size: 3211px x 900px)

  • At the Spruce tree cliff dwelling, a self guided tour.

  • Toby at Spruce Tree House dwelling.

  • Inside a 'kiva' or ceremonial pit at Spruce Tree House.

  • Alan exisitng the kiva.

  • A wild rose, numerous in the lower canyons.

  • Waiting for our next guided tour, of Cliff Palace.

  • Toby with Cliff Palace down along the cliff face.

  • Inside Cliff Palace indian dwelling.

  • Our tour and guide inside Cliff Palace.

  • This large complex once housed over 100 occupants.

  • Toby ascending one of five ladders up 100 feet from Cliff House.

  • The yellow cactus flower was most commonly seen on our vacation.

  • Along Mesa Top Loop you can see numerous dwellings.

  • The orange cactus flower was hard to find.

  • Toby at the Sun Temple vista along Mesa Top Loop.

  • FWEE at Mesa Verde!

  • A view of Cliff Palace as seen from the Sun Temple vista on the opposite cliff.

  • Far View complex was one of the few 'non' cliff indian dwellings.

Panoramic view of numerous cliff dwellings as seen from Sun Temple Vista along Cliff Canyon. (Image size: 7791px x 800px)

  • Crawling thru a small door at the Far View complex.

  • View of Mancos Valley from Mesa Verde.

  • At the Mancos Valley lookout from Mesa Verde.

  • Wilson's Arch along Highway 191 toward Moab, Utah.

  • Room 1114, Best Western Canyonlands Inn in the heart of Moab, Utah.

  • Elegant dining at Center Cafe a block from our inn.

Panoramic view looking east at the picturesque Mancos Valley from a vista heading out of Mesa Verde. (Image size:5141px x 800px)

Day 4 - Monday, June 8 - Arches National Park

On Monday we woke up early and had the complimentary hot breakfast served at the inn before getting ready for the day. We spent the entire day at Arches National Park just north of Moab. The day started off warm and clear with developing thunderstorms later in the day. So all our blue sky photos were taken in the morning.

Once in the park we both instantly became in awe of the massive red rock formations which dotted the park. Almost all these formations are named, and the morning sun gave such great contrast to their features. Near the entrance to the park were a group of tall yet narrow 'fins' of rock called “The Courthouse Towers", we stopped at features named “The Organ” and “Tower of Babel”.

While the sun was out we first stopped at the more popular arches at the “Windows Section”, these arches had easy trails which lead to some of the parks larger arches like “Turret Arch”, “North Window”, “South Window” and the incredible “Double Arch”, most of which you can hike right under and thru. Numerous smaller arches or holes could be found throughout this area.

Our next stop was our big hike of the day, our hike up to the state symbol of Utah, “Delicate Arch”. By this time it was late morning and the thunderstorm clouds started to dot the sky quickly. The hike was 3 miles round trip with nearly 500ft elevation gain mostly over slickrock, or smooth rock face. You had to follow intervals of piled rocks cairns to know where the trail was. The hike wasn't difficult but popular with tourist. Funny, there were signs for tourist not to be an arch 'hog' since practically everyone there was there to take photos of the famed arch with them in it, a line almost formed. It was fairly windy at this location, so we didn't stay too long before descending.

Afterwards we drove north thru the park stopping at various features like the maze of “Fiery Furnace” and the high arch of “Skyline Arch”. At the end of the road was the “Devil's Garden” section of the park which has the famed “Landscape Arch” which is the longest natural arch in the world with a span of 290 feet wide. Several other arches are located in this very picturesque area which had easy hikes. The infamous “Wall Arch” (the 7th largest in the park) was also located in this area before falling down in August of 2008. Many speculate that Landscape Arch is next to fall soon due to it's thin frail structure.

By this time it was late afternoon and time to exit the park, we stopped near the entrance of the park at the “Park Avenue” trailhead which leads down into the Courtnouse Tower section. The filtered afternoon sunlight brightened this section, which resembled skyscrapers. We stopped for gifts at the Visitor's Center located at the entrance before exiting. Back in Moab we rested before heading out for good Mexican food at Miguel's Baja Cafe on Main Street.

  • View of "The Organ" rock formation in Towers section of the park.

  • View of "Tower of Babel" rock formation.

  • Heading toward Turret Arch in the Windows Section of the park.

  • Duotone of Tower of Babel.

  • FWEE, a tiny Alan jumping inside Turret Arch.

  • View of South Window Arch.

  • At the Balanced Rock formation.

  • Toby in Turret Arch with South and North Window arch in background.

  • Toby at South Window Arch.

  • Alan by North Window Arch.

  • Toby at the unusual Double Arch.

  • Alan at Double Arch.

  • Looking directly up at Double Arch.

  • Are you strong enough to hold that up???

  • Can you make out the 'elephant' at Elephant Butte.

  • Following the rock cairns on the hike up to Delicate Arch.

  • Echo arch seen along the hike up to Delicate Arch.

  • We make it to Delicate Arch!

Panormaic view of Monument Valley from

  • Framed by Delicate Arch.

  • Toby and Alan at Delicate Arch.

  • A tiny Alan and Toby under Delicate Arch.

  • FWEE... jumping inside Delicate Arch.

  • Delicate Arch the state symbol of Utah.

  • Petroglyphs from the Ute Indians as seen along our hike.

  • At the Fiery Furnace view point.

  • Toby at the Fiery Furnace view point.

  • The short hike to Skyline Arch.

  • The trail at Devil's Garden traversed deep fin shaped rocks.

  • At Tunnel Arch in the Devil's Garden section.

  • A view of the rock formations in Devil's Garden.

  • Alan at the famed Landscape Arch.

  • Toby at the famed Landscape Arch.

  • Landscape Arch is the longest natural arch in the world.

  • This is the closest you can now get to the arch.

  • At the La Sal Mountain viewpoint with the The Courthouse Towers.

  • At the Park Avenue Trailhead in the Courthouse Towers.

  • Park Avenue trail resembles skyscrapers.

  • Mexican dinner at Miguel's Baja Cafe in Moab.

Day 5 - Tuesday, June 9 - Dead Horse Point State Park

Our our last and final morning, we again woke up early to start the day. We had our complimentary breakfast before packing and checking out of the inn. We packed up our Mercury Marquie and we were on the road.

It was about an hour drive north of town to “Dead Horse Point State Park”. The sky was overcast that morning but warm enough to wear shorts. This state park is located just next to the more popular Canyonlands National Park, but this small park provided some spectacular views of the upper Colorado River canyon area. According to legend, a band of horses were left corralled on the Point, but able to roam freely. For some unknown reason, some remained on the Point. There they died of thirst within sight of the Colorado River, 2,000 feet below. The elevated butte juts out over the surrounding river valley with views comparable to those in the Grand Canyon. In fact, scenes from the movie “Thelma and Louise” were filled here to simulate locations of the Grand Canyon. We spent a while here admiring the breathtaking views before hitting the road.

We headed north on 191 to meet up to Interstate 70 East heading out of Utah toward Grand Junction, Colorado. Here we caught our 3:10pm flight to Salt Lake City then quickly transfered to a connecting flight back home to San Jose.

We had an exciting full yet fun vacation to areas we've never visited before. Monument Valley and Arches National Park were places I've long to visit for many many years. I was extremely happy to have finally had a chance to visit these remarkable places where nature creates unbelievable beauty.

  • View of Pyramid Canyon from Dead Horse Point.

  • Toby at the vistas along the Visitor Center trail.

  • Toby and Alan at Dead Horse Point State Park.

  • The viewing deck at the Dead Horse Point.

  • FWEE... at Dead Horse Point.

  • The river valley lies 2,000 feet below.

  • Most of the point did not have a fence.

  • The canyons brightened up as the sun came out.

  • Alan at the very end of the point.

  • Taking in the magnificent views at the point.

  • Toby at the very end of the point.

  • Unusual pink cactus flowers we found at this park.

  • Greetings from Dead Horse Point.

  • Life at the point.

  • The Colorado Plateau heading out of Utah, time to say goodbye!

Panoramic view of the Colorado River as seen from Dead Horse Point State Park north of Moab, Utah. (Image size: 2973px x 900px)