Canyons and dinosaurs, ho!
May 12, 2010 7:25 AM   Subscribe

[Road Trip filter] My wife and I are going on a road trip through SW Colorado and SE Utah. We could use some advice!

We are planning on leaving on the 16th and driving back to Laramie, WY, on the 23rd. So far, we are booked at Mesa Verde National Park on the 18th and 19th and near Arches National Park on the 20th and 21st.

We were going to visit Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park on the 16th and 17th and Dinosaur National Monument on the 23rd.

Advise I am looking for: 1) How impressive is Black Canyon? 2) Is Dinosaur National Monument worth a trip? 3) Is there anything near Black Canyon or Dinosaur we should see instead? We're looking for camping and scenery that will blow our minds, but neat small/interesting towns are good too. Thanks!
posted by elder18 to Travel & Transportation around Colorado (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
THe Black Canyon is badass. That said, it's probably not two days worth of badass. I assume you're talking about this month? the mountain passes are still probably closed, or I'd recommend them.

Near Arches, there's plenty to do - Arches itself, plus Canyonlands and Dead Horse state park. I'd recommend driving back up from Arches on Ut128, and plan to spend four hours on that road from Moab to i70. It's fantastic.
posted by notsnot at 7:49 AM on May 12, 2010

Agreed that Black Canyon is about one day's worth of fabulousness. Given the time of year, you're probably going to enjoy the weather in Moab best.

I'd think about that junction between Mesa Verde and Moab, too. There are some fabulous backroad ways to get from place to place. Also, when you come out into Utah, you would be close to Valley of the Gods, maybe an hour further south than where you'd be. If you free up a bit of time from the Black Canyon portion of your trip, you could do more in the Canyonlands. In other words, I completely agree with notsnot, but I've always been more into canyons than peaks, so your tastes may differ. Have a great trip!
posted by salvia at 8:08 AM on May 12, 2010

Oh, if you're into dinosaurs, check out the rock shop on the north end of Moab. The proprietor has an amazing story and found some crazy dinosaur.
posted by salvia at 8:10 AM on May 12, 2010

If you search the AskMe history for my name and Utah, you'll find a bunch of different recommendations.

One other thing I wanted to note: Mexican Hat Lodge, in Mexican Hat, is a lot of fun. It's just north of Monument Valley.
posted by notsnot at 8:55 AM on May 12, 2010

One of my favorite-all-time vacations was in that area. We stopped at the BLM's Anasazi Heritage Center just north of the four corners in Dolores, CO to get maps of ancient sites and visited off the beaten path cliff dwelling and monuments and hiked into a canyon and saw petroglyphs.

Cortez, CO is a neat little town. Turn on your AM radio and listen to local radio in Navaho.
posted by readery at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Re: Dinosaur Monument

I was there as a teenager on a trip and enjoyed it. However, the visitor center, which enclosed a large cliff wall full of visible fossils, is now closed due to building deterioration. They've apparently set up a temporary center in the meantime, while construction has just started on the new center. But it sounds like there are hikes and things to go see other fossils still embedded in the rocks.

If you like dinosaurs, I think it would still be worth a visit. I also remember that the scenery and landscape around that area in general is rather surreal in some places, as a lot of it was once the bottom of an inland ocean.
posted by dnash at 9:27 AM on May 12, 2010

Oh, man, yeah I forgot that the Dinosaur National Monument visitor center is closed. I mean, the drives out to the middle of the park really are fantastic, but if you want to see bones, you might have a little better luck back up in Wyoming, at Fossil Butte.
posted by notsnot at 10:19 AM on May 12, 2010

Do not drive out of your way to Four Corners. There is now a toll booth to enter (expensive) allowing you to visit several dozen vendors. The actual four corners (a concrete slab sort of thing) is neat but not worth the drive or entry fee.
posted by KneeDeep at 10:23 AM on May 12, 2010

If you search the AskMe history for my name and Utah, you'll find a bunch of different recommendations.

Same for me. Here's a Moab specific answer.

SE Utah is just amazing. Anything you go see will blow your mind. Do not drink water from the Matrimony Spring. The water, while amazing (it comes down from the La Sals and trickles out through the red rock), will curse you so that you'll never really be able to leave Moab. Silly? Yes. True? Mostly.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:20 AM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

When you go to Mesa Verde, go to Mancos (~8 miles east of Mesa Verde on 160) and have breakfast at the Bakery. I worked in that area for years and I still dream about their strudel. Mancos is tiny, so in order to get to the Bakery if you're coming from Mesa Verde you: turn right at the town's one stop light, and go straight for ~2-ish blocks until you hit a stop sign. The Bakery is on the corner across the street, right next to the Mancos River.
posted by colfax at 11:34 AM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had a neat sub-24-hour stay in the Black Canyon a few years ago that included a nice hike down from the rim and a mountain lion sighting. I agree it's worth a day or so, sure. The town of Ouray is a nice spot between Black Canyon and Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde is interesting but crowded. Hearty second for readery's suggestion to tune in to Navajo radio while there. But I ended up wanting out of there before my planned stays (two separate visits, both in high summer) were over, because of the crush of humanity. You may have better luck visiting while school is still in session, I'm not sure.

In contrast, I really, really enjoyed Hovenweep National Monument. Overnight there, so you can experience the ruins at sunset and sunrise. You'd probably have them almost to yourself - I've been there a few times and it's never been crowded.

Similarly, I really enjoyed the quiet Needles district of Canyonlands NP more than Arches. (Though that's based on winter visits to Needles - I think it might be brutally hot & dry in May/June.)

On the way back, you might consider Colorado National Monument if Dinosaur falls through. I haven't been to Dino, so I can't offer a comparison - but CNM is very pretty and fairly quiet.
posted by richyoung at 12:51 PM on May 12, 2010

I would allow some time to hang out in Durango, Silverton and Ouray. (I imagine that you will be going through here on your way from Mesa Verde to Black Canyon. Durango is a cool town but Silverton and Ouray are just awesome. You travel over three spectacular mountain passes. great camping, though it might still be cold. there are some nice places along the creek in Silverton.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:03 PM on May 12, 2010

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