Over the years we have spent many a winter wandering the deserts of the American Southwest and Baja.
When it comes to stimulating and visually stunning desert topography there is nothing quite like sighting a distant pile of large vibrant red boulders sticking up out of the sand.
Canyonlands National Park has majestic tall red cliffs, deep canyons and stunning vistas. But sometimes the depth and size of these canyons can limit ones ability to drive into and camp amongst a pile of red rocks.
Within a few hours of drive time from Canyonlands NP are several great State Parks and National Recreation areas that can provide a more intimate setting for rock scrambling and camping……especially for the big dogs.
This post will take us through the San Rafael Swell UT, Snow Canyon State Park UT, Virgin River National Recreation Area UT, and Valley Of Fire State Park NV.
Special Note: Even though we religiously monitor several weather forecasting sites we still ended up getting caught in winter weather a few hours after departing Green River along Interstate 70.
Although the snow never actually accumulates on the road surface, it does cover the surrounding vegetation along the freeway. We are very aware this was a near miss and it could have been a major weather monitoring mistake.
We later hear that more then 6″ of snow eventually covered the road in the areas we just left. We had barely stayed clear of winter.
We decide to go back and review our travel mantra vows.
Previous to beginning our winter travels last winter (remember here) we sat down and penciled out our goals or mantra for staying away from colder weather while on the road.
*Our Mantra: Escape the cold Alaskan winters by traveling south of Alaska until moderate temperatures can be located and maintained and then follow those moderate temperatures by whatever means possible.
We had decided to prioritize our decision making process based on these 3 factors:
This original mantra still holds true although it may now prove to be somewhat more difficult to adhere to this winter with the looming threat of a super El Nino forecasted for the southwestern part of the US.
If the El Nino does develop as predicted it may force us to spend more time driving away from the wet/cool weather but that is OK….we are mobile!
Back to our travels-
The San Rafael Swell is a large geologic feature located in south central Utah about 30 miles west of Green River.
It is approximately 75 by 40 miles and consists of a giant dome-shaped ridge of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up 40-60 million years ago.
The Swell looks like something Mr. Disney would have constructed for one of his theme park rides.
Over time powerful flash floods have eroded the sedimentary rocks into numerous valleys, canyons, gorges, mesas and buttes creating a fantastic wonderland of wildly shaped formations.
We immediately decide to spend more time here in the future.
Interstate 70 divides the Swell into northern and southern sections, and provides the only paved road access to the region.
Our objective after leaving Green River had been to visit Goblin Valley State Park located within the Swell and visit the HooDoos within the park.
But winter weather was closing in behind us and we decide to head south towards St George.
Snow Canyon State Park:
We have both spent a fair amount of time in Snow Canyon State Park just outside of St George. In the mid 90’s Denise attended a fitness institute 1 mile from Snow Canyon and she hiked its beautiful canyons and climbed its smooth rocks many times.
This visit was a little disconcerting with many new facilities, new trails and a fully booked campground but it remains a stunning landscape.
We hike with the pups for a few hours and move on.
In the nearby town of Santa Clara we find a French sidewalk cafe, The Granary. Great food and ambiance.
The main street through Santa Clara has been completely refurbished and is a beautiful example of 1900’s small town America.
Then off to the Virgin River National Recreation Area about 20 miles west of St George again along I70.
The Virgin River is a tributary of the Colorado River and is about 168 miles in length. It was designated Utah’s first wild and scenic river in 2009 and runs through some very arid landscape.
The Cedar Pocket campground is situated along the banks of the river.
Camping was $8.00 with a senior pass only $4.00, providing water, flush toilets but no electricity.
We enjoyed it enough to spend three days camping in the canyon while the pups had a blast cooling off in the river. It was now back in the mid 70’s.
On our last day the wind began blowing about 25 mph so it was time to move on.
Next stop was the Valley of Fire State Park in NV. We route ourselves through the outskirts of Vegas so we can re-stock at Trader Joe’s in Henderson.
Near the entrance of Valley Of Fire State Park we come across the 2015 Southern Paiute Veterans Pow Wow and Native Dance Competition. There were dozens of families in attendance with many tributes to their fallen veterans.
Then a spectacular native dance competition was held. We were very lucky to happen across this event.
Valley of Fire is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park, dedicated in 1935. Ancient trees and early man are represented throughout the park by areas of petrified wood and 3,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs.
The Valley of Fire derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago.
We had visited here in the 1980’s in our 1974 VW camper van and the park and its red rocks remain the same but visitation from Vegas has grown with a steady stream of convertible rental cars plying the local roads.
Valley of Fire State Park is truly a playground of wonderfully colored boulders and formations.
Wandering through the red rocks of the American West is one of the great freedoms we enjoy while on the road. There are limitless possibilities for camping, hiking and enjoying moderate temperatures during the winter months.
We realize we have just scratched the surface in these areas this winter, but this is all the more reason to return. The more we explore the desert the more we realize we will never see it all.
Don’t miss our newest video “In Search Of Red Earth”. Watch it in HD 1080P for best viewing.
Next we head into the southern deserts of Arizona……keep you posted!
Gone With The Dogs wishes everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!