Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On the Road: Farmington, NM, to Mesquite, NV



Monday, October 6, 2014.
It was 47 degrees when we crawled into the car this morning to start the long drive to Mesquite, Nevada. We were looking forward to the day as most of the trip would be through country new to us. But to start, we had to drive 20 miles or so from Farmington to Shiprock, a route we covered 2 years ago when we pulled our Rockwood trailer through this area. Not much has changed in that time. The place still displays a great deal of poverty. The roadway follows the San Juan River which provides a green belt through this harsh country, but little else is attractive. The hills often have the look of dirt piles that have been dumped by some giant steam shovel.

Our route today zigzags through 416 miles of magnificent scenery, much of it through Hopi and Navajo Indian reservations.
At the western edge of Shiprock, we turned west on US 64, admiring the Shiprock peak for which the town is named. It is a distinctly shaped peak visible for miles. I had, in fact, taken a picture of it 2 years ago when we were just south of Cortez, Colorado, on our way to the Four Corners Monument, much farther to the north.

Shiprock is a monadnock rising nearly 1,583 feet above the high-desert plain just southwest of Shiprock, NM. It has a peak elevation of 7,177 feet above sea level
Here is the picture of Shiprock I took 2 years ago. It is the formation just right of center. It juts abruptly from the surrounding plain. This picture was taken from near the junction of US Highway 160 and US Highway 491 in southern Colorado.
The road we are on is rough, and the speed limit is only 55 mph, making for slow progress. There’s not much out here. As we cross the Arizona line, the roadway improves immediately, and the speed limit increases to 65 within a few miles. The scenery begins to become more interesting as well. There are few towns out here, so make sure you have plenty of gas before setting out.

We passed Red Mesa and cut across a distant corner of Monument Valley, so distant that only a few formations are visible on the horizon, too far for any good pictures. One of the great surprises of this stretch is the town of Kayenta, which has numerous tourist services available, such as dining, fuel, and lodging. If you travel this way, plan to stop here. We found a nice McDonald's for a brief respite from the road.

About 30 miles west of Kayenta, we turned north on Arizona 98. The scenery along this route is impressive. Again, there isn’t much out here. 

Landscape along Arizona 98 on the way to Page
About an hour or so later, we arrive in Page and refuel. Page is an interesting town, founded in 1957 when the Glen Canyon Dam was being built across the Colorado River. The dam was and still is very controversial, and it certainly did swallow up some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The highway bridge is just downstream from the dam, and there is a tourist center on the west side that is very popular with tourists. Lake Powell is visible. I do not know what normal lake levels are like, but the lake seemed low to me.

Glen Canyon Dam and highway bridge, from a scenic overlook in Page. The dam backs up the waters of Lake Powell.

A bit of Lake Powell from the same overlook as above.

The Colorado River just downstream from the dam.
From Page, we crossed into Utah, one of my favorite states. I love small towns in Utah. Most of them are very neat and clean, and you can tell there is still a strong work ethic in the rural communities. We followed US 89 for an hour or so to Kanab, one of those lovely little Utah towns, then turned south for 6 miles, recrossing into Arizona to turn west at Fredonia on US 389. I have to say that the difference in the physical appearance of Fredonia and Kanab is striking, though the towns are divided only by 6 miles and an invisible state line.

Soon, we were passing through the outskirts of Colorado City, home of the Morman fundamentalist sect led by Warren Jeff, who is now serving time in a Texas prison. We crossed once again into Utah at the north edge of this community. As we approached Hurricane, Utah, we began descending sharply, and the road wound down and down, finally reaching the floor of the valley. Hurricane is in the shadows of Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, both on our future "to do" list.

Approaching Hurricane. This scenery is typical of what we saw throughout the day. Such postcard views are everywhere you look in this country.
We turned west on Highway 9 for a short stretch to link up with I-15, where we turned south. We passed through St. George, the winter home of Brigham Young in days gone by, following the same route we took 2 years ago (see "On the Road: Beaver, Utah, to Las Vegas, Nevada"). One of the most scenic stretches of the trip is through the Virgin River Gorge, which we entered just shortly after crossing into Arizona for the third time today. The interstate winds down between ever steepening hills that get closer and closer the deeper in the gorge you go. Suddenly, after 10 or more miles, the gorge gives away and the interstate breaks into an open desert landscape, and Mesquite is only a few miles away. In fact, as soon as the interstate enters Nevada, there is an exit for Mesquite, our home for the next two days. I am not posting new pictures of the Virgin River Gorge here because you can view those included in the entry from two years ago, referenced above.

It was great to be in Mesquite. Our long travel was behind us now, at least until the end of our trip and our return to Texas. Now it's time to play!

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