22 July 2011

Four Corners, USA and Moab, UT

Location: The Four Corners--AZ, NM, CO, and UT; Moab, UT



Where we ate: 
  • Amigo Cafe (in Kayenta, AZ).  In this tiny desert town on the far east corner of Arizona, we were rather limited in our choices for a meal.  Sure, they had a McDonald's, but we almost never eat at chains while on vacation, and we definitely don't eat at McDonald's.  From the outside, Amigo Cafe looked rather ramshackle.  In fact, at first glance, we weren't even sure it was open.  Desert dust can have that effect on a structure.  But we were starving and went in anyway.  There were only 3 women on staff on the restaurant floor, only one of them truly serving the public.  She was an attractive young woman with shiny raven hair, librarian's glasses, and a machine gun tattooed on her left forearm.  She was scrambling to help every table while the other two on the floor swept and wiped tabletops.  We made sure to give her our entire order (enchiladas and tacos for me, tamales for Michael) when she was able to get to us so we could save her a trip.  The cuisine was authentic Mexican, and it perfectly pleased our palates.  There is no official website for this place, but after looking up ratings from other guests who have stopped in for a meal here, you can tell there is good reason why they are still in business.  Everybody likes this place!
The Amigo Cafe in Kayenta, AZ, where we had lunch.  Doesn't look like much, but their enchiladas were incredible.
  • Lamplight (in Monticello, UT).  Let's start with this: If we had only known Moab was less than an hour's drive from here, our appetites could have waited…especially since it happened to be the day of our 3rd anniversary.  We had been driving a while.  We were starving.  And every "town" that popped up along the drive looked far less promising than the last (think post-apocalyptic…and your best bet on getting food was to drive up to someone's garage and ask for their bologna sandwich).  So when we hit Monticello, we were relieved to see actual restaurants.  Even so, these choices were limited to 3 categories: restaurants that were independently standing, restaurants that were inside a smoky pool hall, and restaurants that were closed.  We chose Lamplight because it was the only one that looked at all promising.  When we walked in, only 3 tables were sat with customers.  It still took 10 minutes for someone to seat us.  Upon being seated, no one asked us for a drink order.  So we waited another 5-6 minutes.  (Yes, OF COURSE I time this--I waited tables all through my undergrad years, and you are trained to meet time specifications).  Michael and I skimmed the menu of approximately 13 meal items (we both chose NY strips), ready to order everything upon the first encounter with a server so skeptical, she wouldn't look at you straight on.  When we finally brought our drinks, we noticed something very peculiar: there were children (4 of them between the ages of 3 and 14, give or take a year--and the 3-year-old was BAREFOOT!!!) walking between the main floor and the kitchen.  *vomit*  I don't know what the health codes are in Utah, but out here, civilians are NOT allowed in the kitchen!  Our server just happened to be the mother to all 4 of them.  She was ordering them to stay in the kitchen to roll silverware and wash dishes.  *double vomit*  We were contemplating leaving when our steaks arrived.  I requested mine be cooked mid-rare.  Instead, I had a cold, red piece of cow ass still in tears from its confrontation with the butcher.  Being almost 5 months pregnant, I couldn't stomach it.  Michael stepped up and offered to switch steaks.  The server noticed this and came to inquire about our swap.  She gave me the stink eye when I told her I wasn't satisfied with the way the steak was cooked.  We trudged through our meal, realizing that we had gotten gristly ribeye cuts of steak rather than the much leaner NY strips we ordered.  Just one disappointment after another…  And when I finally took a restroom break after the meal, the barefoot 3-year-old was running through a back storage room at the end of the hallway.  The room was full of cooking equipment and old furniture stacked in unwieldy positions, and no one was watching him.  I had to get the hubs and Baby Nerd as far away from this place as fast as our rented Toyota Matrix could take us!
  • Pasta Jay's (in Moab, UT). We stopped here after hiking all through Canyonlands NP and Dead Horse Point State Park our first full day in Moab.  Michael drank his first local brew here (the Dead Horse Ale) and chowed down on an enormous pasta platter that 2 could have easily shared.  I ate an entire pizza (it was a personal-sized one) and a Caesar salad.  We dined outdoors, soaking up the scenery.  This is where we fell in love with the culture of this Utah town.
  • Moab Brewery (in Moab, UT).  This was the epicenter of all the town's activity, so naturally we chose to dine here for the only dinner we would have in Moab.  You have to get there early to avoid waiting.  We were lucky to have waited only 20 minutes for a table.  They serve several local brews, which only Michael was able to enjoy (this time he chose the Raven Oatmeal Stout).  While the atmosphere was electric and lively, the food was nothing exceptional.  I guess when you are known for your microbrews, your cuisine takes a back seat.  We stopped by the gift shop on the way out to purchase our anniversary gifts.  Your server gives each customer a wooden token for $1.50 off an item at the gift shop.  A coupon an a wooden circle.  Score!  For year number 3, you traditionally do gifts of either leather or glass.  We're not leather people, so we decided to get ourselves a pair of drinking glasses designed with the 2 brews Michael had tried (OK, I admit it--I took a sip of each, and they were terrific).  There was also a gelato stand near the door of the restaurant, but we were far too full for anything else.  We heard, though, that the gelato is exceptional here.
Accommodations:
    The grounds at Sunflower Hill.  This is the main house where the rooms, living area, library, and laundry facilities were located.  We walked to another building next door for breakfast the two mornings we stayed here.
  • Sunflower Hill Luxury Inn (Moab, Utah).  Where do I even begin in describing this B&B?  The Nantucket-style shingle siding?  The mature evergreens and gardens on the property?  The friendliness of the staff?  We originally thought we would be arriving very late and surprised the woman at the front desk (Debbie) when we walked in 3 hours before they anticipated us.  She whipped out maps of the nearby national parks--Canyonlands and Arches--and started circling points of interest.  We held onto those maps for our visits to the park, taking into consideration everything that she recommended.  Breakfast each morning was served as a small buffet in the second building on the property.  They wrote the breakfast specials on a small chalkboard above the perfectly-arranged platters.  Seating was broken up into 3 areas: the main room with the buffet line, the foyer (where we sat and gaped at the lush gardens out front), and the patio.  The inn keeper made his rounds, chatting with guests at each table.  Two of his oldest teenage children, adorned in aprons and name tags, removed empty casserole pans and brought in trays of fresh fruit.  If you needed bottled or canned drinks, or even a Klondike Bar, there were fridges in each of the buildings with prices for each item listed on the door.  You simply placed your cash in a bucket on top of the fridge and walked away with your purchase.  The library in the main house's living area had a variety of books on local attractions, desert flora and fauna, and even biographies on John Muir.  Classical music played all day in this room.  And they served home-baked cookies and muffins on a silver tray every afternoon.  You could even make yourself a cup of hot coffee or tea to match your pastry choice.  There is a pool on the property, but we merely walked past it on the way to breakfast.  There wasn't a thing about this B&B we didn't like.  We would recommend it to any traveler!
Our suite at the Sunflower Hill Luxury Inn in Moab, UT.  All the credit goes to my husband.  He chose the B&B and the room.  It was absolutely one of my favorite places to stay on our road trip.
Our suite's bathroom.
This would be my relaxation spot of choice in the suite!  Warm bath, ambient light, and a good book to read…great way to shake off a day on the road.
Memorable sights and experiences:
    When Antelope Canyon didn't work out, we stopped here.
  • Navajo National Monument.  It's a squiggly 9-mile drive off highway 164 to get to it, but worth it.  A short hike out to a canyon leads you to a cave-like cut-out in the rock where ancient Navajo tribes once lived.  The dwelling was full of sculpted rock that formed walls, wells, and steps.  It didn't look very comfortable, but the dwellings were in a location where food and water were easily accessed, and they were able to stay out of the harsh elements of the changing seasons.
After walking less than a mile, you come upon an outlook from which you can see the cliff dwellings of ancient Navajo.  
They knew what they were doing.  Just look at how perfectly-cast the shadows are across their cut-out in the rock.
Close-up of the dwellings.
  • Four Corners Monument.  Ever since I was a child and noticed the point at which 4 states met, I had yearned to stand on this very corner.  I was under the impression it was part of the National Parks System, but we discovered it was on Navajo land.  Set up on a large square concrete walking area with a flea market-like stand of shops on each side of the square, you are free to mill about each of the states' corners.  Four ramps near the center allowed you to take a photo of the Four Corners from a higher viewpoint.  There were many people trying to get their picture as they stood on the junction, swapping their cameras with strangers on the ramps in order to get their entire party in the shot.  We joined in the fun, taking pictures for a leather-clad biker couple while we were on a ramp, and then turning to a woman and her girlfriend to take our picture while they stood above us.  Baby Nerd has been in 4 states at once!
  • Canyonlands NP.  The hike to the Mesa Arch was by far my favorite part of experiencing this park, even though it was crawling with dozens of other tourists.  Sure, the Grand Canyon was stunning, but there was something different about the canyons here.  They seemed more alive with plants and animals along the trails.  The drop-offs were more titillating.  The wind gusts coming up from the bowels of the canyons were far stronger.  There were snow-capped mountains in the distance.  It was something I wanted to experience later in our lives with our children.  Maybe we'll go back with another family or two and rent a couple of RVs.
  • Arches NP.  While you spend your time bending your neck to look downwards in Canyonlands, you are craning it in Arches for a view.  You steer your car around steep red walls, surrounded by layers and formations of rock that could only make one believe in God and science all in the same visual sweep of the landscape.  Our favorite rock outcroppings were the Three Gossips (towers that looked like 3 women huddled together in conversation), Sheep Rock (near the Gossips and looked exactly like a giant, red sheep), Balanced Rock (watch your back here), the Windows (when you walked around the backside of these formations, they looked like a pair of dragon eyes rising out of the Earth), and Delicate Arch (we took the "cheater's hike" to see it from afar instead of the 3-hour round trip hike it would have taken to walk up to it).  The photos at the end of this entry don't do it justice.
  • Dead Horse Point State Park.  Known for its horseshoe peninsula carved out by the mighty Colorado River, this vista was a short drive off of one of the main roads that took you to Canyonlands.  According to history, cowboys fenced in their horses on this very peninsula.  There was no easy way for the cowboys to access fresh water for their horses.  The herd of equine met their fate due to dehydration with a clear view of the Colorado below.  They say the horses' bones can still be found here.
Dead Horse Point.  Holy gorgeousness, Batman.
Drawbacks:
  • Some sites were a bit too pricey.  The whole reason why we chose to stay in Page, AZ was to visit Antelope Canyon.  It is a slot canyon on a Navajo reservation that attracts more photographers and movie makers than any other southwestern wonder.  We picked up a brochure for tours of the canyon, which cost $32 PER PERSON.  What was worse--the tour only lasted an hour and a half.
  • Only saw a glimpse of New Mexico.  There will be a next time…hopefully.
  • Only saw a glimpse of Mesa Verde NP.  This one should also have a next time.  There just wasn't enough time for tours of the cliff dwellings here when we had to be in Moab by the evening.  Maybe we'll bring kids back here one day.
Traveling while pregnant tip I learned from here:  There are still nice people in the world, and they take pity on the pregnant!  The only con of the restaurant in Kayenta was that there wasn't a working overhead light in the ladies' room.  I had downed a couple of glasses of Coke, so I wasn't going to last a whole lot longer.  To resolve this issue, we simply drove next door to the gas station for their restroom.  Except, the ladies' room there was out of service for cleaning.  A very nice gentleman in a Celtics T-shirt noticed I was pregnant and quite frustrated over the fact that I had struck out at TWO establishments' restrooms.  He said he didn't mind waiting another minute and offered for me to use the men's room ahead of him.  I thanked him more than was socially necessary and practically ran for the door.  Even after I came out, I continued to thank him.  He looked at me as if anyone else would have done the same thing to help out his fellow (wo)man and offered, "Hey, it was nothing."  Still, it was a very nice gesture.  Even though I wasn't seeking preferential treatment for being pregnant, it sure helped move things along when in a pickle.



Family of 3 standing in 4 states!  This moment prompted a few "awwww"s from the other tourists.

Signage at the monument.

Inside Mesa Verde NP.  Extremely windy here, but the views were breathtaking.

Beautiful Colorado.

When you can't make a road on the side of a mountain, you dig a tunnel through it.

A slanted rock served as our tripod for this shot.

We saw this arch from the road after entering Utah.  Michael climbed the sandy hill to get to it while I took his picture.

So a guy named Albert Christensen decided to build his family a 5,000 sq. ft. home out of rock in the UT Canyonlands.  It is aptly named "Hole N The Rock".  He didn't finish the home before he died in the late 1950s, but his family continued to develop the property, including ways to attract tourists and visitors with a gift shop and interesting sculptures on the grounds.  Tours of this intriguing spot stop at 4:00pm.  Michael and I were driving past it at around 5:00.  Shucks!
Oh, glorious days that are overcast!  This made for a much easier haul around the park.  If you make it to Moab, Canyonlands is a must.

Looking through the Mesa Arch into the canyon below.  Can you say "vertigo"?

Baby Nerd and I took in the sights.  I would love to see this place at sunset.

Michael with the Mesa Arch.  Apparently, you can walk across the top of it.  Those strong winds kept us from trying that part of the trail.


A woman with a shirt from Victoria, BC, Canada took this shot for us.  It was the beginning of a beautiful day in a memorable national park.

The Three Gossips.

Balanced Rock.  Watch out there, hubby!

North Window.  Love that bright, rusty red.

Both North Window and South Window.  See what I mean about dragon eyes?

We took the primitive trail back to our car from the Windows.  Here, the trail got a little tricky.

Delicate Arch.

You can see how far away from Delicate Arch we were.  There simply wasn't time (or energy) for a hike all the way up to it.

My turn with Delicate Arch.

Pose with a ram statue: check.



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