March 10, 2015
One of my favorite drives in America is heading north out of Flagstaff along US Highway 89. Many years ago when the kids were young we drove this way when heading home from a visit with my parents in Prescott. Driving north you see the Little Painted Desert; as the afternoon unfolded a thunderstorm broke over us and the gullies on either side of the road were quickly turned into colorful, muddy streams.
Because of a washout just south of the Arizona/Utah border a couple of years ago we’ve had to take different routes up to Kanab, Utah. Two years ago I had to take a three hour detour east into the heart of the Navajo Nation and Hopi reservation in order to bypass the 100 yard break in the road a few miles south of Page. They’ve since shortened the detour although the road is still out of commission. On this trip we made a last minute decision to take the US 89A alternate that heads west past the Vermillion Cliffs into the mountains and Jacob’s Lake. We also wanted to take some time to visit one of Carla’s favorite spots: Wupatki National Monument. Here is our route (the two tiny gold stars mark our Little Horse Trail hike you can read about here).
Our first stop was the 20-30 mile loop through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument. Sunset Volcano last erupted about 900 years ago. You can search the internet for some very nice images showing the crater from above. From ground level we got this view. you can see it was still late winter and there was still snow on the ground.
This monument is not far north of Flagstaff as you can tell by the view of the majestic San Francisco Peaks on which Flagstaff is nestled.
We continued the loop north then west into the Wupatki National Monument. We briefly visited this site in the summer of 2014 with our South African co-mother-in-law Jeanette when we took her on a road trip from Illinois to the Grand Canyon to Portland. You can read about our adventure here. According to this Wikipedia article the area was inhabited between 500 and 1125AD at which time it was totally abandoned.
At the bottom center of the above image you can see part of an arena where the inhabitants played some sort of game. You can see the painted desert out in the distance.
There are still many pueblos standing almost 900 years later and you can actually get nice close up views inside.
This is one of Carla’s happy places (I like it too).
After spending an hour or so on our side trip we headed north for our over night stay in Kanab, Utah. This photo shows why I love this area so (click on the image to get an enlarged view). The road heads out into the great open spaces. The painted desert spans from Cameron, Arizona (north in this picture) east over to the Four Corners area. Check my blog postings here (an image in this post vividly shows the “painted” nature of the area) and here for some photos of the Painted Desert farther east near Holbrook, Arizona.
So we headed north toward Utah. We headed north and had lunch at the Cameron Trading Post. Eventually we got to the cut off to US Highway 89A (alternate) which is very close to the site of the washout.
I’ve looked at this route numerous times but looked at the curves and decided on speed over beauty. Not today. This route crosses over the Colorado River south-west of Lake Powell as the river starts to carve the word-defying magnificence of the Grand Canyon.
Here is an image from Google street view that is credited to Jurgen Matern.
We wanted to stop and get our own pictures but it was locked up for maintenance. My old college buddy Brent has hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon annually for the past 20 or so years. they kick off some of their trips a little south of this spot.
As we headed west into the mountains Carla grabbed some shots of the Vermillion Cliffs loomed off to our right.
We drove up a winding road to an elevation of 8,000 feet near Jacob’s Lake and drove along a ridge with snow on both sides of the road. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. We got into Kanab, Utah as the sun was going down. Since we had our big meal of the day we just went out for ice cream then to bed.
This was a wonderful, surprising, awesome day of driving through one of our favorite areas in America.