After leaving the awe-inspiring beauty of Valley of the Gods, we again followed Jim’s advice (read more about Jim here) and headed north. What appeared to be a fairly well-maintained dirt road soon gave us a little pause, as we realized that it was headed straight for the sheer cliffs that we had seen in Valley of the Gods. While those cliffs were quite beautiful, with multiple different colored layers, they also appeared to rise nearly straight into the sky. How in the world were we going to ascend that rock face?
Steep Grades Ahead. Really??
The answer was soon upon us in the form of a sign: “steep grades ahead, 5 mph switchbacks, next 3 miles”. Really??! Is this the way that we were supposed to be going?? I’m not sure that Jim mentioned this part when he directed us to head this way up to vistas of Muley Point. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I would have remembered…
Regardless, we were faced with this road headed up what seemed an impossible cliff. What else to do?? We went up. Grateful that there were not many cars that were heading towards us, as the road often was not wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass. We came to a wide spot in the road and decided to get out and explore and give all of our nerves a little time to come to grips with where we were headed. The views were amazing! We could see into Valley of the Gods, as well as miles into the distance. The drop offs were also impressive, although we weren’t even halfway up the cliff face yet.
"Kids, stay close!"
We returned to the van, determined to continue up to a point where we had seen another car parked. We made it there and disembarked to find a short trail that led even further up. While I naturally have a healthy fear of heights, I have found that having my children with me in areas where I have apprehension only serves to intensify my fears. I find that their seeming lack of fear just multiplies mine. Climbing up this short trail was no exception. Even worse, when we rounded the bend, we found that we were between two large rock faces with a massive drop-off in front of us. Thankfully, the kids seemed to (FINALLY!!) realize that there was some danger around and stayed close to one of the rocks! What incredible sights, though!!
Safe... I think!
It was only much later that we learned that we had driven up the Moki Dugway. A dugway is defined as a road or trail along a hillside (or in this case, cliff side) which is dug out to provide a path for transportation. In this case, the “road” was built in the 1950’s by a mining company and contained very steep gravel grades with lots of switchbacks and rose an incredible 1200 feet all while hugging the side of a cliff. An incredible drive, to be sure, but not for people who are faint of heart!
Shortly after reaching the top of the Moki Dugway, we followed a sign towards Muley Point – another one of Jim’s suggestions. The dirt road was reasonably maintained, with some cattle guards along the way (how in the world do you raise cattle in such a place??) and a short while later we came to the overlook; we were the only ones there. A quick exploration led us to find that we were on top of the steep cliffs that we had just ascended (although far enough away that we couldn’t see the Dugway) at a point where the earth seemed to literally drop away from our feet. And drop a VERY LONG WAY. The reality was that the cliffs were so high that we couldn’t see the bottom anywhere close to where we were standing; it was simply way too steep. Thankfully, both kids decided that they really didn’t need to get too close to the edge! The views were once again amazing, although as is all too common, the kind that really don’t translate onto a photo (at least not without some really expensive equipment that we don’t have!). Regardless, we all enjoyed the views for some time before we decided to head onwards.
A change in plans
It had been our plan to head into the Bear’s Ears area, relatively close to the overlook, and find someplace to camp (the Bear’s Ears is an area of BLM land that is free to camp in, but without any developed camp areas). So we headed down the freshly paved road, enjoying the smooth ride. Less than an hour later, we came to an intersection; to head to Bear’s Ears, we would turn right. However, it wasn’t even noon yet, and we saw a sign for “Natural Bridges National Monument”. After our amazing experience with the Colorado National Monument (read about that here), we were more than ready to explore another National Monument, so we headed left. Only a few miles down the road, we came to the turn off for the park.
After a quick stop at the visitor’s center where we watched a film about the history of the area, we headed toward the first of 3 natural bridges within the park. We packed up our backpack with some water and hit the trail. We descended down to the base of the Sipapu Bridge on what some might consider a sketchy trail that involved some scrambling on slick rock, as well as climbing down a few “rough” ladders. The view from the bottom, right at the base of the bridge, was impressive and well worth the effort to get there and (eventually) back out.
Back at the top, it became readily apparent that Brenna was not up for another long hike (the heat, the effort from the hike we had just finished, as well as all of our recent hikes had caught up to her and she was ready to crash). We decided that the overlook for the second bridge would suffice and Brenna was able to manage the short (1/4 mile) round trip. It would have been nice to descend to the base, but reality was that we were all starting to feel the effects of the heat.
The third bridge in the park, Owachamo Bridge had a short trail to the bottom, which we decided that Brenna would be able to manage – so long as John carried her! We quickly made it to the bottom, then spent some time trying to find just the right place for the photo that would actually capture the true expansiveness of this mighty natural phenomenon. Not really sure that we found it, but we certainly tried!
The Bear's Ears
After making our way back to the top of the trail, we left the park and headed into the Bear’s Ears area that had been our plan for the night. Thankfully, John had some nice practice with switchbacks earlier in the day, so the ones that led up the mountain into the BLM area weren’t quite as daunting as they might have been without that experience. After driving for what seemed like forever without seeing anything that might pass as a suitable campsite, we finally found a grassy area with a few trees and decided that it looked perfect for some very tired travelers. We once again set up camp, then crashed early. Tomorrow we would be on to our next adventure (blog coming soon).