Canyonlands & Four Corners Travel Guide - Utah Points of Interest (Part 1)
Monument Valley Tribal Park, Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks, Natural Bridges, & Cedar Mesa
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The Utah Scenic Points of Interest Section, Part 1, of the Canyonlands & Four Corners Travel Guide features the famous canyons and monoliths of southeastern Utah, most notably at Monument Valley Tribal Park.
Other locales include Valley of the Gods (which we call "Monument Valley Lite"), Goosenecks State Park, Natural Bridges National Monument and its three outstanding natural stone bridges, and for the adventurous, remote Dark Canyon.
This guide offers descriptions of many points of interest, links to many references, travel itineraries, and suggested visit times.
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Guide to Southeast Utah Points of Interest
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Utah Scenic Points of Interest, Part 1, Below <Part 2> <Utah Indian Artifacts Sites>
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Utah
Monument Valley and the surrounding area offer some of the southwest's most famous and unusual scenery.
The wide-open landscape filled with mesas, buttes, and stone monoliths has been featured in many of America's greatest western movies. The park is operated by the Navajo Tribe. For an admission fee, visitors may stop at the Visitor Center and take a self-guided tour on the main park road. To delve deeper into the park and see some of its best attractions, one must purchase a guided tour. Tours are by horseback, jeep, or hiking and showcase exquisite monoliths, windows and arches, Anasazi ruins, and Navajo culture. See links below for tour information. The park has a campground. In season, native vendors sell arts and crafts, and the Visitor Center serves food. The nearby Gouldings Trading Post offers complete tourist services. The park entrance is off of US-163, just north of the Arizona border. Visit time: a few hours to a full day if you take a guided tour.
Goosenecks State Park, Utah (Cedar Mesa Route)
The park offers a spectacular vista point of the San Juan River, 1000 feet below. The entrenched meander of the river is known as a "gooseneck". The river flows five miles while progressing only one linear mile. There is no entrance fee, and at-large primitive camping is permitted in the parking area (no water). The park entrance is just off of Utah-261, just north of US-163 and three miles north of the town of Mexican Hat (named after the notable rock landmark). Visit time: usually an hour or less, unless stopping for the night. Good stop while heading north on Utah-261, taking the scenic 1000 foot climb to the top of Cedar Mesa (the "Moki Dugway" route). When reaching the the top of the mesa, be sure to stop at the Muley Point Overlook. Very hot in summer at Goosenecks.
Valley of the Gods, Utah (Cedar Mesa Route)
While just about everyone has heard of Monument Valley or seen it in the movies, few have heard of the Valley of the Gods, forty miles up the road in Utah. Yet the scenic beauty of both places is spectacular and comparable. The title "Monument Valley Lite" is appropriate. There aren't any crowds here, no entrance fees, no guided tours. You are free to explore, and at-large camping is permitted at no charge. There is a small bed and breakfast on the west side near the base of Cedar Mesa, the only building around for miles. The valley is about 15 miles west of Bluff, Utah, and may be accessed from US-163 or Utah-261. Visit time: drive through in a couple hours or spend a day or more. Very hot in summer.
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah (Cedar Mesa Route)
Natural Bridges preserves three of the finest examples of natural stone bridges in the Southwest. Natural bridges are formed when a stream with a meander - or "gooseneck", forms a more direct route by cutting through the adjacent canyon wall. Such bridges are rare compared to stone arches which are formed by other processes. Further they are invariably hidden deep in beautiful sandstone canyons. There are numerous overlooks along the park road and several moderately strenuous trails descending into the canyons. The park is located on Utah-95 just west of Utah-261. There is a very nice campground but only 13 sites on a first-come first-served basis. Fee for entry and camping. Visit time: a few hours to drive through the park, or an overnight stay if you want to hike. Hot in summer.
Dark Canyon, Utah
One of Utah's remote areas, Dark Canyon allows self-sufficient backpackers to enjoy solitude and a true wilderness experience.
The long canyon starts high in the Manti-La Sal National Forest as a wooded mountain canyon then eventually drops into the desert, becoming a steep and colorful sandstone canyon before reaching the Colorado River at Cataract Canyon. The best time for the hike is during the spring (summers are hot) when the lower canyon is a water wonderland with pools, chutes, falls, etc. To experience the whole canyon, leave a car at the Sundance Trailhead near Hite Marina, then arrange a ride to the Elk Ridge trailheads (Woodenshoe or Peavine Canyons, major tributaries of Dark Canyon) at 8,800 feet in the forest. Hike downstream to your car. The alternative is to hike down Woodenshoe Canyon, then up Dark Canyon and out Peavine Canyon. The trailheads are about three miles apart. Expect to spend three or four days in the canyon. Moderate experience is advised as there are some minor obstacles and a little routefinding is possible. It is a great experience if you have the time and are a capable backpacker.
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