My Drive from Utah to Virginia, May 2024


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My wife and I just completed a 9-day road trip in mid-May 2024 from Utah to Virginia. We traveled about 3000 miles and wandered around scenic sections of UT, NM and CO before crossing the Great Plains and the Mid-West. There was one hiccup, but it was mostly a great trip with beautiful weather and light to moderate crowds at points of interest every where we went. I took a bunch of photos, so naturally, I have to share some :)

May 13, Monday: drove four hours from Salt Lake City area to Arches National Park in UT. About 30 miles from Arches a warning light went on in my 2014 Subaru Outback, AT Oil Temp. By the time I got to Arches the Check Engine and Brake lights were also on. My dashboard looked like a blinking video game!

Undeterred, we enjoyed a couple hours at Arches National Park near Moab, UT.

Kathy, North Windows Arch


Jim, Turret Arch


This is called Double Arch. Vocal sounds here echoed like a cathedral, also reminded me of the Pantheon in Rome.


It's nearly impossible to take an uninteresting photo at Arches NP, La Sal Mtns in background.


Choo choo near Moab, UT


Before we left Arches I notified Kathy of the warning lights situation and I consulted the Outback Owner's Manual. This was a major travel hiccup! Based on the blinking lights and a stern cautionary statement in the manual we jettisoned our planned route (towards Monument Valley) and drove two hours straight to the nearest Subaru dealer in Grand Junction, CO. The dealer was closed by then, but we scheduled a service appointment online for the next morning and stayed in a motel one block away.

May 14, Tuesday, In the morning they diagnosed the problem(s), the primary issue was the need for a new automatic transmission valve body. We also needed to fix a rear wheel bearing and some other stuff. This was a fairly significant amount of work. They said the repairs could be made in one day and gave us a free loaner car, a loaded 2024 Subaru Crosstrek. We used the Crosstrek to visit a lively Main Street area in downtown Grand Junction and drive up to the nearby Colorado National Monument. This "Monument" features the Rim Rock scenic drive. It's 23 miles long and is kind of like a red rocks version of Virginia's Skyline Drive (a scenic drive I'm more familiar with). Rim Rock Drive climbs 2000 vertical feet from a valley floor of about elevation 4700' to it's highest point about 6700'.

Crosstrek and Colorado National Monument drive


Rim Rock Drive is on the ledge between upper and lower rock face in this section of roadway!


Scenic and a bit sketchy. See what I mean?!?


One more from an overlook at Colorado National Monument/Rim Rock Drive.


At 4PM on the 14th we picked up our Outback. Repair bill $2800. Ouch, but the car has 160k miles and has generally been reliable (especially in winter time) and fairly economical to keep.

Meanwhile, we hatched a new route for the next 24 hours. We drove 100 miles to Ouray, CO and spent the night in historic Hotel Ouray. The old Outback ran well, and good thing, because the next day we had big plans!

Warm welcome at historic Hotel Ouray (circa 1896).


Evening in Ouray, CO.


Hotel Ouray interior. May is a great time to travel the USA. Crowds are low and weather is mild. There was one other couple in the hotel on the night of our stay. The desk clerk upgraded us to a bigger room.


May 15, Wednesday, the serendipity of an unexpected car repair detour set us up for a fantastic drive on US Route 550, the Million Dollar Highway, on May 15th. The weather was great and the road mostly empty. Boom, within two or three miles of leaving south from Ouray we came to a scenic pullover that featured not one, but two spectacular waterfalls, one across the valley, one directly under our feet!

Cascade Falls outside Ouray, CO, ~270' tall.


Same spot, but pivoting slightly and under our feet, the very high volume, 200' Bear Creek Falls. This photo greatly diminishes the extreme depth of this plunge!


Typical scenic view driving along the Million Dollar Highway. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel! Lots of snow still in the high Rockies on May 15th.


Molas Lake, elevation ~10,500', approx 25 miles south of Ouray.


Passing by Purgatory ski area, closed for the summer.


There was an interesting surprise around every bend of this drive. This is the bizarre Pinkerton hot spring, bubbling away just off the roadway.


After driving about 75 miles from Ouray to Durango, CO on dramatic US 550 we headed east on US 160 towards Pagosa Springs. This was slightly mellower geography, beautiful pine-covered hills with the high Rockies in the background. On the way we came upon Chimney Rock National Monument (not to be confused with Chimney Rock, NC). It was just a couple miles off the highway. It's a beautiful rock formation that was considered sacred ground 1000 years ago by the Pueblo Indians. By now I'd learned national monuments rank just slightly below national parks as points of high interest. So we made a spontaneous detour to Chimney Rock and its three year old visitor center. Very coincidentally, this was the first day Chimney Rock was open for the 2024 season.

Chimney Rock includes two large rock pinnacles reaching an elevation of about 7,800'. We drove to the Upper Mesa parking lot in beautiful 72 degree weather and enjoyed one of many picnics we had on the trip. From the Upper Mesa lot I climbed the 1/3rd mile Great House Trail.

At the top of the trail there are views of the stunning Companion (left) and Chimney (right) Rocks.


From the same spot, looking in the other direction, like a mini Machu Picchu, there was the Pueblo Indian ruins of the 35-room Great House. The Great House is at 7,600 feet elevation.


Apparently, every 18 years the moon aligns and rises between the two rocks from the site of the Great House. A thousand years ago the Indians thought this was significant enough to go to extreme lengths to construct a large gathering structure at a remote and high elevation location for observing the phenomenon.


Still May 15, we completed our approx 250 mile day when we arrived at the remote Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern NM around 6pm. It's 75 miles north of Santa Fe and down 13 miles of dirt road off US 84.


The beautiful chapel.


May 16, Thursday, a visit to the Monastery of Christ in the Desert was the only preplanned part of our trip. We reserved a basic room for two nights about two weeks before our travel. We were glad our car problem was resolved in time to make our dates. We had visited this spot for a few hours last year and resolved to come back for a longer stay of rest and contemplation. The dozen or so Monks that live in this remote spot supplement their income by hosting visiting retreatants and offering about a dozen guest rooms. They also fed us three simple meals per day, including one in silence with the Monks.

It's pretty stressful each time we gear up for our winter migration, to or from UT. There's a lot of preparation, cleaning, and tying up loose ends. We knew a stay at the Monastery would be good for us. The setting of the Monastery is almost painfully beautiful, beside the Chama River and beneath rugged, red cliffs. It's a peaceful place to enjoy nature and recover your sanity.

Our room was on the second story of this guest building.


Chama River view.


Chapel interior. We joined the Monks here numerous times during our visit. It's the one place we heard all of them sing and pray out loud. The prayer intentions they vocalize reflect a deep concern about the outside world.


Monastery grounds.




to be continued...
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May 17, Friday, Like much of the day before, the route today was going to be totally new for us. Leaving the Monastery we headed north across the NM-CO border on SR 17. It paralleled a section of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic RR route through the bucolic southern San Juan mountains including Cumbres Pass, elevation 10,000+ feet.

May is very quiet in the San Juans. I saw an elk crossing the road a few miles from this point at 10AM.


Next we entered the San Luis Valley, CO. Never been before, 120 x 75 miles, huge! It almost looks like a basin, rather than a valley, and seemingly surrounded by snowy 14ers. In fact, the northern end does not drain. It's endorheic, water collects there and evaporates. Sand collects there too, and that's where we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Great Sand Dunes NP features a sand dune area that is 30 square miles and has a vertical of 750'. It's like a small mountain range of sand the winds have blown over the eons into a big pile in the corner of the valley. It dwarfs the dunes at Kitty Hawk, NC.


A warm, shallow creek flowed beside the dunes. Hundreds of folks were playing there and wading in the 75-80 degree water, about the same as the air temp. It was like the beach, except 1000 miles from the nearest ocean.


Others were heading to the dunes for some sand surfing. I thought about going up, but it would take an hour+ and we had more miles to log.


After a picnic and a stroll around Great Sand Dunes NP we visited nearby Zapata Falls. It was a bizarre transition from the desert sands. It gushes through a tall slot canyon and was still partially frozen.



After the dunes and the waterfall we drove a couple hours further north and spent the night in the pretty little mountain town of Salida, CO. It's about 20 miles east of Monarch Ski Area and has a pleasant downtown area of restaurants, stores, and parks set beside the headwaters of the Arkansas River, which flows 1500 miles before joining the Mississippi River.


Riverside dining.


Spillway surfers.


PS: for @jamesdeluxe , I talked my wife into staying at the Great Western Colorado Motel in Salida. Same low budget motel I'd stayed in solo in January to ski Monarch. It's not really her style! I rationalized that the money we saved could be spent on a nice meal. Sure enough, after checking-in we enjoyed a fine steak dinner in town at Currents Restaurant for slightly more than the cost of a night in the motel :)
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May 18, Saturday, we traveled about 500 miles this day from deep in the Rockies (Salida, CO) to the wide open Great Plains of Hays, KS.

We took the scenic route north on US 24. This is a view of Mt. Elbert (right center), elevation 14,433', tallest peak in CO. Kinda neat to see this on our last day in the Rockies.


Further north we made a quick pass through Leadville, CO, elev 10,158', highest incorporated city in the US.


Next we passed the Climax Molybdenum Mine. Molybdenum is a metal used to strengthen steel. This is one of the world's greatest sources of it and the mine straddles the Continental Divide at an elevation of 11,360.


Nearby mine tailings ponds, still very snowy at this elevation.


Obligatory shot of the Copper Mountain Ski Area base. It closed for the ski season just six days earlier.


Before we left the mountains we visited the beautiful Mother Cabrini Shrine west of Golden, CO. This is the interior of the Shrine's chapel.


The shrine property was used as a summer camp for the children of an orphanage Mother Cabrini founded in Denver. This house was completed in 1914 and was used by the girls from the orphanage.


The grounds of the Mother Cabrini Shrine provide sweeping views of the Denver area and gave us a preview of our route east on I70 across the prairies.

We finished the day in a motel off I70 out on the prairie in the small town of Hays, KS. We were done with the big mountain scenery, but still some nice experiences lay ahead.


May 19, Sunday, this morning we attended services in a very crowded church in Hays, KS before taking to the highway to St. Louis. Love those God-fearing Kansans. Hays (population 21K) seemed like a real wholesome place.

Took a lot of snow plow photos earlier this winter. Here's the kind of plows we saw in May in Kansas.


Kansas City is built on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers.


May 20, Monday, we traveled from the St. Louis area to Columbus, OH this day.

View of Indianapolis Colts football stadium from I70.


We had a nice experience with the Drury hotel chain on this trip. It's a family owned chain with about 150 hotels primarily in the mid-West. Nice, affordable, and well run properties. We stayed in one in the St Louis area on May 19 for $103 on Priceline, before taxes. As I was walking from the elaborate breakfast bar the morning after our stay I remembered something and went up to the front desk clerk and told her "no big deal, but someone should check on a small smoke detector light that kept blinking all night in the ceiling of our room." She apologized and asked for my name and room number. About an hour later as my wife and I were leaving the hotel to hit the road she called out to us. I came over and she handed me a voucher for a free stay in the future. Wow, I didn't even ask for it.

The next night (May 20) we stayed for free in another nice Drury hotel in downtown Columbus, Ohio. It was not far from a famous German restaurant (The Schmidt's Sausage Haus) where we enjoyed a tasty dinner. I guess the nice gesture of a free voucher worked it's magic because I'm sharing here about my favorable impression of Drury Hotels :)

Schmidt's Sausage Haus Restaurant in Columbus, OH was one of the more memorable dining spots we hit on the trip.



We took home some 1/2 pound cream puffs and Bahama Mama Sausages.


Last night on the road, Columbus, OH.


May 21, Tuesday, fairly easy drive home today to VA, about 6.5 hours. Nearing home, pretty farm in PA, not to far from Seven Springs ski area actually.


First order of business upon reentering our house after four months, fix a running toilet :)


Thanks for following along. Hope everyone has a nice summer!

PS: bonus shot of our repaired 2014 Subaru Outback, dark grey.
outback 14 may 2024 ouray co.jpg
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A warm, shallow creek flowed beside the dunes. Hundreds of folks were playing there and wading in the 75-80 degree water, about the same as the air temp. It was like the beach, except 1000 miles from the nearest ocean.
If we had gone to the Southwest after Iron Blosam and Crested Butte, we were going to spend a day at Great Sand Dunes NP. I read up on it and Jimk hit its peak time as that creek supposedly flows only a few weeks in late May/early June.(y)

Apparently, every 18 years the moon aligns and rises between the two rocks from the site of the Great House.
That would likely be 18 years and 10 1/3 days, the Saros series. The Saros is well known to us total solar eclipse chasers as the characteristics of an eclipse are very similar on that recurring cycle except for being shifted westward 120 degrees (the 1/3 day part), the recent 4/8/2024 eclipse and the one 3/29/2006 in Libya/Egypt/Turkey as an example.

Lunar eclipses recur with the same Saros time spacing but otherwise similar characteristics. Since lunar eclipses are visible over slightly more than half the globe, the Anasazi might have figured this out over a few generations seeing somewhat more than half the lunar eclipses in a particular Saros series. So the moon likely rises between those rocks a couple of times a year at least, but rising through those rocks but then being eclipsed sometime that night would recur only with the 18+ year Saros frequency, and eventually would drift off with the 10 or 11 day advance each cycle.
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that creek supposedly flows only a few weeks in late May/early June.
Expected to be higher than normal peak and probably sometime next week or so this year. Part of it is being sandy ground, much of the creek water is absorbed into the ground/sand further up towards the mtns. Except in spring when the sand further up is already saturated from the snow runoff, allowing some water to make it above ground all the way down to the main visitor access to the dunes.