By Paul and Pat de Anguera
We flew to Denver and idled about the concourse for two hours. I noticed a steel door labeled “Tornado Shelter”. We rode the moving sidewalks and strolled a bit, and bought lunch at Lefty’s Mile-high Bar And Grill. They made Pat’s salad with cheese even tho she’d asked them not to, so she had to wait for a redo.
A little jet with three seats per row carried us on to Grand Junction. Thunderstorms were floating past; heavy rain pelted us. Then the sun set, so all the streets were dark and shiny and we could barely see where we were going. We groped our way to Siehero Sushi in the west end of town. It was a nice place, tho incongruously they were playing what I guessed to be Dutch rap music. I had salmon with a very good sauce that I’ve forgotten, and we shared eel sushi (the waiter assured us that it’s cooked).
The highway to Moab was lined with cones and blinking lights, and the speed limit had been reduced to 40. So we postponed seeing Alice until Tuesday, checked into our motel and went to bed.
Alice and Jenn met us at Canyon Voyages, an outdoor sports shop crammed with equipment and clothing. Here we rented sea kayaks for a float down the Colorado that the kids set up as an early birthday present. A beat-up Volkswagen bus with a big steel trailer pulled up; it was a Coyote shuttle. The young woman who drove it clambered on top of it to receive and strap down the kayaks; Alice and Jenn’s big Coleman canoe went on the trailer. She dropped us off at a boat launch on the north side of the Colorado, just outside of Arches National Park.
It was great to be kayaking again after two years! The river was sluggish and shallow, but still lively in places; we found a couple of rapidly moving chutes between some islands. Even though the kayaks only drew a few inches of water, they touched bottom now and then, and my paddle blades often scraped and came up with mud sticking to them. The river was full of sand bars; we soon learned to avoid these brown areas of water and seek the blue-green patches that were deeper. The shoreline was fascinating; we passed a bird sanctuary outside of Moab and then entered a canyon of beautifully-layered sandstone. On the east side of the river is Moab Rim, a plateau across which we’d hiked with Alice on an earlier visit. Pat and I landed on a clay and gravel bank and scrambled up thru bushes to the Moab Rim trailhead to use the facility there.
A thunderstorm was approaching from the southwest. I hoped it would ease past before we floated much further south. But a lightning bolt struck not far off with a great crash, and a strong wind started rushing upstream. It raised a chop and kept pushing my bow to one side, like a wonky shopping cart. Alice and Jenn were being blown sideways in their canoe. We started paddling hard, anxious not to miss our three o’clock shuttle appointment; we couldn’t change it because there was no cell coverage in the canyon. I moved some stuff I’d bungied to the kayak’s front deck to the rear deck so it wouldn’t pick up the wind. Beyond the next headland I could see a curtain of rain.
As we approached our shuttle rendezvous at Gold Bar, we got stuck in a sand bar. And while we were trying to pole our way out of it with the ends of our paddles, the rain moved up the canyon and drenched us. Another couple, floating in an inflatable kayak, got stuck on the sand bar too. The man climbed out to push their boat free, lost his footing and fell in the river for his trouble.
We won free of the sandbar, and saw the girls’ canoe on a boat ramp. We landed there, brought our boats up to the road and piled up our wet gear. We had 15 minutes before the shuttle was to arrive, so we withdrew to a picnic shelter and feasted on a gourmet lunch that Jenn and Alice had assembled. On the far side of the river, a temporary waterfall poured down the canyon wall for 20 minutes after the rain ended. Jenn said it was a great adventure – just a bit more exciting than we’d planned for.
Alice and Jenn took us to their comfortable duplex in south Moab. I noted a U-shaped brace mounted on the wall by the door; Alice slides her straw “flat top” ranger hat into it to keep its brim straight. She explained it’s called a “seventeener” after the Boy Scout troop that makes them and sells them online. The straw hat is part of her summer uniform. She has a similar fabric hat for other seasons. Rangers get an annual uniform allowance; now that she has a good supply of the various uniform shirts, shoes and such, she uses part of her allowance to buy things for new rangers, just as established rangers once did for her.
Pat and I took the girls to dinner. They wanted to try the Desert Bistro, but the hostess there said that without a reservation we’d have to either sit outside or wait until 8:30. So we moved on to Peace Tree, where I had delicious tho ill-advised lasagna.
Alice picked us up and took us to Arches National Park. She’d just finished her season there as a park ranger; Jane at the entrance booth and Steve at the visitor center cheerfully greeted her by name. She obtained permits to enter the Fiery Furnace, a chaotic region of sandstone fins. Alice told us that she had led about a thousand people on tours of Fiery Furnace during the summer.
But first we hiked to a viewpoint of Landscape Arch, a high, thin stone arch in the northern part of the park. A trail once led underneath this arch; it’s now closed due to the risk that the arch might collapse. We walked and scrambled next to the tumbled remains of Wall Arch, which collapsed in 2010. The stump of one end of the huge pink sandstone structure loomed over an arroyo filled with the massive debris. Happily, many ridges in the park have Orc-door-shaped depressions in their sides that will develop into arches someday.
We had lunch in drizzle at a picnic area, eating more of the feast that Alice and Jenn had assembled for our river run. Unfortunately, I had a delayed reaction to the lasagna and wasn’t up to the Fiery Furnace. “A glass of wine leads to bad decisions!”
The drizzle faded to a halt and the sun came out. Alice and Pat dropped me off at the Balanced Rock picnic area to recover while they went on to the Fiery Furnace, a rock-scrambling adventure that would have been hard for me anyway. Alice was delighted to revisit the area after the rain, to see the changes the water had made. Pat said the Fiery Furnace was great fun!
Alice had heard from one of her ranger friends that the aspens in the La Sal mountains southeast of Moab were showing their fall colors. She drove us up a good but steep gravel road that seemed to climb forever. As we got higher, the vegetation changed from the sagebrush and scrubby trees typical of the desert to low bushes and wildflowers. And then, at a certain height, the aspen forest began. It’s unlike our Pacific Northwest forests of dense dark pines; instead the trunks are white and slender, and the crowns bear clouds of little round green and yellow leaves that filter a golden light.
We stopped at the tree line to look around. The breeze was cool and sharp, unlike the sweltering valley; and soft little clouds drifted across the sun. In a meadow by a little side road we found a stone fire ring. No litter was on the ground, other than a beer can and a beer bottle, both unopened. The can was a Bud Light, and other than being a bit dusty it looked perfectly good. Alice and I cleaned it off, and I popped the tab and tasted it. “Very refreshing,” I reported. “But kind of bland. Couldn’t you find some amber ale?”
We strolled up the road while I sipped my beer, a novel pleasure. The way split into several camp sites and the going got steep. We followed a trail back down to Alice’s car, and drove higher to see if the mountain autumn had progressed from yellows and oranges into reds. We found the Squaw Springs trailhead and it looked like a good one. So we donned our packs and followed it across the mountainside. It took us through a series of shallow valleys and low ridges with sweeping views of the colorful mountainside and the Moab valley. In one of the valleys I heard a trickle of water and found a tiny rivulet dribbling over some rocks. This was the only open water we saw in these mountains – another striking difference from the Pacific Northwest.
We’d made reservations at the Desert Bistro, so we were finally able to have dinner there. They were very accommodating to our various food sensitivities, and everything was delicious; but it was quite expensive. Once again I succumbed to temptation and had a chocolate raspberry tart a la mode. Pat and Alice stuck their spoons in it, but I ate most of it; and I was sorry later.
We shopped for lunch in City Market, Moab’s one grocery store, pausing to consider a pot of geraniums. “We could put them on Alice and Jenn’s porch, ring the doorbell and run away,” I suggested. But it was late in the morning and we wanted to hike three trails that day (we’re so silly!). Maybe Saturday?
We went back to Arches National Park, and drove to the Devil’s Garden area at the end of the road in the north end of the park. The road was clogged with hulking RVs; we saw vehicles parked on the shoulder long before we reached the full parking lot. Pat found a space near the side road to the campground. We walked in from there, finding the Broken Arch trailhead near the solar-powered restroom.
The trail wound across low dunes of red-orange dust at the feet of surrealistic sandstone formations; we saw cones, domes and layer-cake palaces. Alien shrubs, brittle and metallic-looking, studded the low mounds of sand, interspersed with starfish-like yucca plants, twisted juniper trunks and stunted scrub oak. Despite the crowds at the parking lot, we enjoyed total solitude here.
We took a side trail across massive domes of pink sandstone to Tapestry Arch. We idled in its shade for a while before returning to the main trail, where we began to meet occasional walkers as we continued south. We traversed the southeast slopes of a rugged plateau with views across the colorful desert of the cloud-shrouded La Sal Mountains. Broken Arch stood atop a “slickrock” dome, piercing a sandstone fin and flanked by window-like depressions. Its angular opening has a narrow crevice at its apex, which might explain the name. Also we noted a 1940s photo of the arch on a signboard that showed a large rectangular chunk of sandstone partially filling it; this has since fallen away.
We passed the side trail to Sand Dune Arch, to which we would return later, and entered a narrow canyon amidst a group of fins. Its floor slanted upward as the walls closed in, a funnel-like structure that led us to a high viewpoint overlooking Tapestry Arch and the other formations in the area and the La Sal Mountains beyond. We scrambled through a jumble of rounded and slanted blocks of stone, wondering at trees that seemed to grow out of solid rock.
We returned to our car, moved down to the Sand Dune Arch trailhead and carried our lunch along in search of a cool place to eat it. We weren’t disappointed; the trail entered a narrow canyon between fins and we scrambled onto a stone buttress on one of the walls. We had a great view of troops of tourists strolling up the canyon. Some of them were chattering in German, scaling the protuberances on the walls and taking pictures of each other. We went on to find the arch in the next “room” of the canyon, softly lit by sunlight reflected from the high walls.
Dinner was at Eddie McStiff’s, Moab’s main pub. We found the parking lot obstructed by the monster pickup trucks that the cowboy wanna-bes in this area favor. They stand tall and wide on enormous wheels with knobby tires and bright chrome rims with protruding bolts. These trucks are beautifully painted and polished, and probably are never driven off-road as that might soil or scratch them. They park in alternating spots, because they take up the entire width of a parking spot, leaving normal cars like ours to fit in between if they can.
Eddie’s is an old favorite of ours, but it was disappointing this time. A loudly-amplified folksinger started wailing after we sat down, and Pat’s vegan pizza was spicy hot. We withdrew to our motel room to relax and organize for our move to Monticello Saturday.
We geraniumed the kids on our way out of town, and followed Alice’s directions to the Chesler Park trail in Canyonlands National Park. At the end of a good tho twisted six mile gravel road, we parked in a crowded lot surrounded by cliffs, mounds of stony rubble and tortured juniper trees. The heat was considerable, and it was well after noon; so we decided to eat our lunches immediately. We crawled under a juniper tree overhanging a dry wash, and sat on a slab of stone that was mostly in shade. After we finished eating, we went back to our car, donned our hiking gear and set out for the trailhead. We found it just beyond a nice shaded picnic table. Oh well!
The trail begins like a creepy movie, with a long flight of sandstone steps sandwiched in a deep crevice three feet wide. This leads to a further ascent up a curving surface composed of thin layers of dusky brown sandstone. Every step we took brought some new and unique feature into sight. Like Arches, this park has remarkable sandstone formations. But where Arches has fins, Canyonlands runs more toward giant doorknobs, mushrooms, smokestacks, baroque organ pipes and things that Dr. Seuss might have drawn.
We passed through two ridges that bristled with protuberances of many sorts. The passages were much like slot canyons, floored with sand or slickrock and at times barely shoulder-wide. Between the ridges we walked on wide ledges of slickrock, more of the thinly-layered brown rock, and pink dust walkways past gardens of fragile cryptobiotic soil. We got as far as Elephant Canyon before the heat and altitude brought us to a halt. It was worth coming this far; ornate purple pillars with pale gray caps line the rugged canyon.
The Visitor Center had a sign by the parking lot advising visitors to drink four liters of water a day. I had been carrying two water bottles of unknown sizes. I drank most of this water and a little of Pat’s by six PM when we returned to our car, with no interest in peeing and a sincere interest in drinking more. We satiated ourselves at the Visitor Center’s water fountain and headed south to Monticello, stopping three times so Pat could try to photograph the full moon across the sandstone ridges. Once a bat whizzed over the windshield, perhaps trying to eat insects before they got squished against it.
We checked into the Inn At The Canyon at 8:30 and asked the desk clerk what restaurants were still open. She directed us to the MD Ranch Cook House, a few blocks away at the south end of the little town. Our thickly varnished table was decorated with artificial flowers in a glass vase shaped like a cowboy boot. Salt and pepper shakers were in the two panniers of a horse figurine. At nearby tables, grown men wore cowboy hats or baseball caps as they ate. I’ll leave you to imagine the music that was playing. Everything on the menu seemed to be made with jalapeño peppers, green chili and cheese. I ordered grilled chicken with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables, and Pat had an oriental salad; the food was plain but quite good. I couldn’t have a beer with my dinner because they didn’t have a “hard liquor” license; one restaurant in the town already served alcohol, and the city fathers thought that was quite enough.
On this Sunday we found that no grocery or restaurant was open in the good Mormon town of Monticello until 11 AM. We used the time to do our laundry in a Laundromat a block away from the motel. Apparently it’s okay for Mormon vending machines to do business with unbelievers.
By daylight, we could see that several businesses were boarded up. A distraught woman who was washing clothes said that someone had broken into her flower shop the night before and stolen the cash and an iPad. We went back to MD’s for lunch and supper to go. A young girl was serving us; she mixed up our lunch order, and delivered my ham sandwich with cole slaw in the same box. Pat rescued it before it got very soggy.
Natural Bridges National Monument was our destination today. Here we drove around a loop road, visiting several natural bridges. These look like arches, but they are formed from the bottom up by water erosion instead of from the top or side. All the bridges we saw straddled a dry watercourse at the bottom of Armstrong Canyon. We hiked down to a broad ledge overlooking Sipapu Bridge. The trail descends by means of rough steps built of stones or carved into solid rock, several flights of steel stairs, stretches of inclined solid rock marked by cairns, and a rustic but sturdy wooden ladder.
As we turned back, a man coming down the trail told his companion, “There are two hikers, between those rocks”. To us he called out, “Stay right there, while I take your picture.” But I had my own plans for the day that didn’t include posing for strangers. So I ignored him and kept walking.
“Don’t you understand English?” he complained.
“I’m sorry to tell you that we aborigines never mastered the language,” I told him. “We don’t speak English at all.”
We moved on to Kachina Bridge and hiked 400 feet down to the canyon floor. The river was dry, other than occasional pools of rust-red water. Yet the canyon bottom was a lovely oasis, lush with trees and flowers. The bridge was enormous and cathedral-like, surrounded by trees and set off by its reflection in a remnant of the river. As often happened when we ventured far from the parking lot, we had this lovely place all to ourselves. We were fascinated by the garden-like canyon beyond it and hiked further than we’d planned.
At sunset we moved on to Owachomo Bridge. Pat wanted to photograph the moon rising over the desert.. We ate our supper sandwiches on an east-facing slab of rock near the road. The moon rose on schedule from behind a far ridge as we were finishing. Pat got her big camera mounted on a tripod, but she couldn’t remember how to use the manual shutter control — it had been too long since she’d learned how it worked. Still, the desert lit by gray moonlight made a striking spectacle. We experimented with hiking in the moonlight; but the footing was too uneven, so we decided to enjoy it from a bench instead.
We drove east from Monticello across a rolling plain, stopping at Deb’s Diner in Dove Creek for breakfast. Dove Creek seemed to consist mainly of warehouses and grain elevators. The waitress had to look for the black tea; it was another Mormon town.
We turned south and drove through a desolate sagebrush ocean to Hovenweep National Monument. We passed two pueblo ruins along the way, but didn’t have the courage to drive our low-slung rental car through the deep pink dust to reach them.
The Visitor Center is near the edge of Little Ruin Canyon. We followed a trail around it to view about ten ruins. They were built of shaped sandstone blocks and a mortar of mud and wood ashes. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps did some repairs using cement; now a more authentic mortar is used. Pat noticed that some of the rubble slopes below the canyon rim looked like heaps of blocks, and we read that the structures were originally much larger than the present ruins.
I was surprised at how imaginative the architecture was. The Square Tower has a rectangular shape, but spirals slightly as it rises. The Twin Towers are built just a foot apart; so they have two exterior walls that seem unnecessary for other than artistic reasons. One of them is oval, and the other a horseshoe shape. We left the canyon rim trail by the wrong side trail, and ended up in the campground. An unwelcome walk via the hot, empty road back to the Visitor Center was necessary.
The ranger told us that the pueblo community in Little Ruin Canyon is thought to have numbered about 150. Some buildings originally had plastered walls and even painted murals. The slopes between the canyon and the surrounding ridges were cultivated, using dry land farming techniques to conserve water from winter snowfall and grow corn. Check dams on the washes leading toward the canyon increased the retention of snow and running water. (We had seen the remnants of a check dam that archeologists had rebuilt). The region’s climate was moister then than it is now, and the water table was higher. It’s thought that some buildings were either built as defenses or were later adapted to defense. Like most pueblo communities, this one was abandoned near 1300 AD for reasons unknown, although drought seems likely.
We followed a narrow paved road southeast to Cortez, Colorado, noting quite a lot of discarded beer bottles on its margins. Cortez proudly advertises in lights that in this town, beer, liquor and coffee are to be had. We seem to have left Mormon country, though the cowboy music is still with us.
We went to Mesa Verde National Park, which is just outside of town. Its mountains jut suddenly from the plain; at the high point is a fire lookout, over 8,000 feet in altitude. Much of the forest has been burned due to lightning strikes and looks a bit desolate, though the lack of trees allows the fall colors of the ground over to make a good display. My nose started running like a faucet due to some pollen or dust in this area; an antihistamine reined it in after an hour.
We bought tickets to a guided tour of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling ruin in the park. Its buildings and towers fill a natural shallow cave under the rim of a canyon. We reached it by a series of steps and ladders; the original residents used finger and toe holds that they’d chiseled into the rock cliff with stone tools. Ranger Sharon Johansen was our guide; she had been a nurse until two years ago; then she’d realized she was losing her hearing, and decided to try something different. She explained that one advantage of this location to the pueblo builders was a “seep spring” in the canyon wall. Archeologists calculated that it would have supplied three liters of water a day for 150 to 200 people. Other communities were spread about the canyon and on the Mesa above; Cliff Palace might have served as a gathering place for the area. A network of villages populated the valley below the mountains. The Pueblo civilization covered land that today composes several states, centering on Chaco Canyon in Arizona. We saw corn grinding stones, kivas (circular underground temples) and round and square towers. Ends of the original ceiling beams protruded from the sandstone walls; the native juniper is resistant to decay. The rear buildings of the complex hadn’t been stabilized, so we weren’t allowed near them. We were told that many rooms were plastered and beautifully painted.
Sharon told us that a parking lot drainage ditch and a leaky bathroom on top of the mesa have been saturating the ground above Cliff Palace with water, causing part of the pueblo to begin settling. We saw some construction underway by the picnic area that will correct this problem.
We drove around to a series of pueblo ruins representing various stages in the development of the villages. The earliest dwellings were pit houses, consisting of two large square pits and a small one. They were flat-bottomed pits about three feet deep and roofed over. The entrance was by a ladder through a hole in the center of the roof, a plan that they apparently carried over to masonry houses built above ground. The last and best constructed of these masonry structures was never finished; its builders abandoned it when the canyon’s people moved south to the Rio Grande.
The pit house evolved into the kiva, an underground temple. It was circular instead of square, with a bench along the wall interrupted by four to six pilasters (supports for overhead beams). A fire pit occupied the center. A small underground channel opening onto the side of the kiva supplied air for the fire. Its opening was behind a diverter stone slab to force the air stream up toward the smoke hole. A second, purely symbolic hole in the kiva’s floor was the sipapu, or spirit entrance. At the start of the world, each clan’s original members emerged from the underworld; the sipapu symbolizes this. A kiva often had tunnels in its walls, leading to towers or to other kivas. Nobody seems to know the purpose of the tunnels; I like to imagine that they were used for dramatic appearances or disappearances during performances. We were told that one kiva at Cliff Palace did double duty as a cistern, and that some kivas had built-in floor and ceiling anchors for weaving looms. It’s thought that the kivas doubled as heated community rooms in winter.
Breakfast today was at John And Jeanine’s Country Kitchen. Country western music was playing. A large American flag and a crucifix were hanging on the wall by the front door, along with photos of young men wearing uniform caps. Our waitress was a cheerful middle-aged woman. She was as thin as a rail, quite tall, and moved among the tables like a dancer.
We returned to Mesa Verde to see Spruce Tree House, which is near the seep spring at the head of the canyon, and hike the Petroglyph Point trail. This pueblo has been largely restored, we were allowed to walk unescorted next to the front rank of buildings, as if the archeologists had decided to sacrifice one pueblo to the tourists. It included several kivas, one of which had its ceiling left open for viewing. Another kiva had a wooden ladder so visitors could climb into it, which Pat did.
The trail began below Spruce Tree House. It entered the canyon and followed one wall of it, about 60 feet below the rim. It was a typical canyon wall trail, taking advantage of ledges where possible and clambering up and down narrow steps. We noted several natural overhangs that might have served as shelters for travelers or farmers of remote fields of corn.
Two middle-aged couples in shorts and tennis shoes passed us. They weren’t carrying anything, not even water. One of them asked me if it was a loop trail, so I doubt they had any idea what they were doing in this dry, steep wilderness. Both couples soon turned back.
The petroglyphs occupied a sandstone face near where the canyon joined onto a larger one. They had been pecked into the dark patina of oxidation covering the sandstone. We could discern many human and animal shapes, and several outlines of hands. We returned on a much easier but less picturesque trail on top of the mesa. It was a beautiful though challenging trail. Although it was rated only “moderate” in my guidebook, our hike took three and a half hours, an hour longer than the book’s estimate. I drank nearly all of my two bottles of water, and was exhausted at the end. The trailhead is at about 6,800 feet altitude.
The sun set as we drove on to Durango for supper in a little pizza joint and headed north to Montrose. The two-lane road climbed up several high passes,; one was 10,000 feet, and another 11,000 feet. The yellow moon danced after us through clouds in the southeast.
We noticed a little square of lights by the side of the road and wondered what it was; a landing strip? A Christmas tree light testing field? It turned out to be the town of Silverton, viewed from 1,000 feet up. In Silverton we met a retired postman who was closing his gas station for the night. He told us that he’d grown up in Kelso and Castle Rock, Washington. He warned us to watch for deer crossing the road; “they’re really bad in the evenings this time of year.”
A short drive east and up, to 8,000 feet altitude, brought us to the south rim of the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison, in Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park. We passed inclined green pastures where cattle browsed; higher up, these fields gave way to desert.
We hiked 400 feet down into the 1,500 foot canyon, following the Oak Flats Loop trail. This canyon was several times deeper than the others we’ve visited on this trip, and its walls are nearly vertical, lacking the “layer cake” appearance of sandstone cliffs.
This area looked a bit more familiar to us Washingtonians, with a trail of dirt bordered by grass instead of solid stone marked by cairns. Slender white-trunked aspens, with leaves varying from luminous yellow-green to bright gold, stood at the feet of gray stone cliffs. Scrub oak bushes spreading their indented leaves like long thin hands added reds and oranges to the scene, and tall spindly bushes contributed pale yellows. Fallen leaves mingled confusingly underfoot, obscuring roots and rocks in the trail. Now and then we passed rough-surfaced boulders encrusted with lichen; one was studded with large quartz crystals. Crickets chirped continuously, long-short-long-short (I’d thought they only chirped at night). I pulled on a windbreaker; the cool air smelled of dusty, musty leaves. Gray clouds drifted up the canyon, dragging curtains of rain that seldom touched the ground.
We met several groups of tired but jubilant young people who were trekking up from the canyon floor. And we met a native American man who had turned back after one glimpse over the sheer drop into the canyon. He and his girl friend were going to try the other end of the loop to see how far they could get in that direction.
The hard metamorphic rock is marbled with stripes of pale orange. This intrusive rock is more resistant to erosion, so it stands out from the gray rock like veins. Below, we saw pinnacles of the hard orange stone that had become entirely separate from the gray canyon walls. Between the tremendous cliffs winds the Gunnison River. From 1,500 feet up, it was no more than a black ribbon with bits of white foam and a faint roaring sound.
The clouds became so ominous that I worried about lightning. And even after we returned to Montrose they continued to build. But by next morning they had melted away uneventfully — probably to the frustration of farmers in the valley.
Our last day in the southwest! We picked up good sandwiches at Great Harvest Bread Company. Reluctantly we drove up from Montrose, past dry-looking cornfields and stark gray sand dunes. At Grand Junction, we completed our circle around the La Sal Mountains, and flew via Phoenix to Oakland.