We spent this morning packing up the car, making breakfast, and making sure everything was packed in the car. We said farewell to Tia and Billy and headed out for the 5.5 hour drive to Moab around 9:30, with bright blue skies and t-shirt wearing temps. Ninety minutes later we were in a massive snow storm outside Frisco and Vail with temps in the 30's. Because we just can't drive through a mountain range without a white out blizzard.
This round wasn't nearly so bad as our others- the snow didn't last too long and really wasn't a blizzard, but it was funny to go from sunny skies to the obligatory snow-covered windshield with wipers that haven't a prayer of keeping up. We used the mini blizzard to take a lunch stop at Larkburger in Edwards, Colorado, just past Vail- a place that reminded me very much of P. Terry's in Austin and was actually more delicious (omg the parmesan fries... I can't believe I took 100 pictures of mountains and not a single one of those fries). The Yelp app is one of my favorite things in the world- just type in "french fries near my current location" and BAM- all the options, with pictures, menus, and reviews. Never eat a mediocre fry again.
The snow set us back a bit since we couldn't go faster than 20, so we decided to take advantage of our newly adjusted itinerary to forgo anything we thought we'd do in Moab today and go off course at Grand Junction to check out the Colorado National Monument instead. Once again, an iPhone app made it happen, thanks to Trip Advisor reviews and forums, and we turned off I-70, following signs to the much lauded West Entrance to the Monument, which promises 32 square miles of spectacular views, sheer cliffs, and endless ledges just begging for you to stand on them. Also bighorn sheep, eagles, red tailed hawks (saw one!), crazy rock formations, and a lovely visitor's center. I adore state and national parks. They're just such happy places full of people who love what we love to do.
As we checked in at the west gate the ranger asked where we were headed next and we said Moab. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "you should get off the highway at Cisco- don't worry, you'll find it sometime after you cross the border into Utah, it's a beautiful drive into Moab and only takes about 10 minutes longer." I scribbled "Cisco" down on our entrance fee receipt and our itinerary changed again.
We weren't expecting too much of the Monument. I wasn't really even sure what a National Monument was except that it definitely wasn't just a single monument/formation like I thought maybe a few minutes prior. And we'd left the mountains and canyons and valleys behind, enjoying an hour or so of steady speed and no manual shifting to lower gears down sharp grades. The land was still beautiful, just different and more flat and subtle. So we drove into the "Monument," 3 miles off from the flat highway, and BAM. Smack you in the face sheer cliffs, steep grades, sharp turns, tunnels through giant rocks, rocks balanced on top of other giant rocks on top of sheer cliffs.
It was spectacular. We knew we couldn't spend long, so we sadly couldn't complete the whole 23 mile circuit along Rim Rock Drive, though we hope to return one day, so we switch-backed our way into the sky to the Visitor's Center where we talked to another extremely friendly and knowledgeable ranger who set us out on a trail behind the center to enjoy the views, climb on stuff, and watch our for snakes and scorpions.
The wind was crazy whipping through the canyon- I'm pretty solidly built and I had a moment stepping out on a ledge when I wondered if it really was possible for it to blow me over. I doubt it, but it's the only time a gust of wind has made me wonder. Luckily the wind died down a bit after that.
Obviously, we had to climb on rocks and then helped the kids do the same. A lot of time on our trips is spent testing things out, making sure they're safeish, and then letting the kids push themselves as much as they want and spotting them while they do it.
Like when James decides he needs to climb down to this ledge.
And then the kids ask if they can do it too. At the exact moment he had Landon standing on the ledge the both looked up to see a Red Tailed Hawk soaring by- Landon is an animal nut and it ranks as one of the coolest moments in his life so far.
Almost exactly one hour later we were back on I-70, headed for the Utah state line and I'm SO glad we decided to make the pit stop. I was even more glad when we turned off the highway, going against a HIGHLY skeptical google maps who was very uncomfortable with our decision, to head down the off beaten path to Moab. Oh my gosh, it was gorgeous. Cliffs, super tall rock formations, a river winding by us the whole way... totally different almost alien scenery from what we're used to in Colorado and so beautiful we couldn't get over it. Park Rangers have the best advice.
We pulled up at our condo around 5:30 to find that homeaway once again made our vacation fabulous. Three bedrooms, two stories, 2,000 square feet of gorgeous brand new condo with sweeping red cliff views out every window. All for about $150 a night. This is why we never stay in hotels- I much prefer the space and spread out sleeping arrangements (a vacation is not a vacation if James and I have to sleep in the same room as the kids; I love them, but no), the comfort of returning "home" at the end of an adventurous day, and the budget saving ease of having my own kitchen. The fact that it has stairs and 4 TVs pretty much blew the kids' minds. Never mind the amazing scenery we saw all day- our Fort Worth house has 1 TV and 0 stairs. The Moab condo wins everything.
We settled in, ran to the grocery store, and ordered "the best pizza in Moab" according to all the yelp reviews to eat at home with wine or milk. Tomorrow we hit up Arches and I am SO EXCITED I'm not even sure I'll be able to sleep. I love this stuff you guys, and the only thing that makes it better is knowing the kids feel the same way.