mountain meadows holy cross wilderness cabin

In celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service, Marsi took a whirlwind 2-week summer road trip to explore the mountains and high desert of Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, and shares her experiences here:

After four months of planning and anticipation, we set off on our journey west. Although we were eager to make it to the Rockies as quickly as possible, two long days in the car can make one a little squirrelly, so to break up our trip we made several stops along the way out to Colorado. Our favorite "breaks" included a classic diner breakfast at Ernie's Cafe in Columbia, MO, walking the grounds of 2015 world series champ Kansas City Royals' Kauffman Stadium, and "cozy burgers" in Salina, KS at The Cozy Inn (est. 1922). 

Once we arrived in Colorado, our first two nights were spent in the down-to-earth old mining town of Minturn, where we found stunning mountain meadows & aspen forests, a fantastic music shop full of LP’s, tasty bites, and a bluegrass jam on the Eagle River.

rocky mountain meadows view

I daydreamed of settling in for an extended stay at the boutique Hotel Minturn, walking to breakfasts at bustling Sticky Fingers bakery, spending my days hiking the Holy Cross Wilderness, and winding down with margaritas and crazy good Mexican food at the Minturn Saloon. Should I ever disappear for a while, you just might know where to find me.

minturn colorado sticky fingers cafe bakery

 At Dinosaur National Monument, a hot mid-afternoon hike brought us through striking arid mountains to view Fremont petroglyph panels and up to the Carnegie Quarry to see over 1500 dinosaur bones - housed in the mountain just as they were uncovered (though enclosed for visitor comfort in a fab mid century modern building).

dinosaur national monument mountains

Our next few days were spent camping with family at Jordanelle State Park, sailing, and mountain biking in Park City. The scenic route over Guardsman Pass and through Big Cottonwood Canyon brought us countless breathtaking views on our way to Salt Lake City. From the canyon we hiked through summer’s last alpine blooms, towering evergreens, and quaking aspen forest up to Dog Lake. The next two days we spent in Salt Lake City were but a tease, and we will definitely be back to further explore this cool city and the stunning Wasatch Mountains that look over her.

big cottonwood canyon utah

En route between SLC and Capitol Reef National Park, we passed through vast, unspoiled Fishlake National Forest and stopped off to photograph the small towns of Gunnison, Bicknell, and Salina - where we watched the some of the world's best cyclists whiz by during the Tour of Utah.

casino star beaux arts theatre gunnison utah

Western wildlife sightings included prairie dogs, desert cottontails, road runners, pinyon jays, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, pika, buffalo, marmots, and more. 

buffalo near capitol reef national park

Endless surprises awaited us at the geologic wonder that is Capitol Reef National Park:  100-hued rock cliffs, a hike so awesome you should add it to your bucket list, petroglyph panels, fossilized clam shells (at about 6,000 feet elevation) from the ancient sea that once covered this area, a lovely mountainside tent campsite with wild animal friends as our neighbors, and the best pie ever from the Gifford House store.

capitol reef national park vista

 The drive into canyon country led us through the desolate (though surreally beautiful) San Rafael Swell and to the ghost town of Thompson Springs. Up the road in sage-filled Sego Canyon, we lingered for hours studying the amazing gallery of ancient pictographs and petroglyphs. 

sego canyon petroglyphs pictographs

The darkly named but spectacular Dead Horse Point State Park was the perfect base camp from which to explore the Moab area.

dead horse point state park utah

We took hiked the park’s rim trail, which overlooks Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. Although the usually brilliant rock colors were a bit subdued by cloudy skies, watching the light (and rain) move across the high desert was still intoxicating. Dashing back to our camp, we made shelter just in time to watch a fantastic lightning storm move in as the sun dropped from the sky.

canyonlands national park

We spent a day at beautiful (but crowded) Arches National Park, and stopped off for arguably the best green-chile cheeseburger in the world at Milt’s Stop & Eat – a Moab institution.

double arch arches national park

Sad to leave Utah but looking forward to seeing historic Santa Fe, we traveled east through the Colorado Rockies, turning south into New Mexico. Like a delicious New Mexican chile, this region is best savored at a slow pace in order to absorb all of its complex flavors. I can’t wait to share more about New Mexico…in my next post…