4 Corners Area

[I'm still formatting all the photos and hope to add the rest by later this week]

Ok, you bought that new Land Rover, be it an LR3, Range Rover or Range Rover Sport, now what to do with it? Are you like many new owners of Land Rover vehicles who have little off-road experience? Well I am not but I can appreciate the benefits of touring in a Land Rover and comfort in which they cant they can take you mainly on the hard top.

With Max & Judy Amos visiting from Australia I had the excuse to go ďBlack TopĒ touring to the 4 Corners area. This is the only place in the USA where 4 states join at one place, namely Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The region known as the 4 Corners area encompasses large tracts of land that surrounds this point and provides some fascinating areas to explore. Before setting out buy a year long National Park Pass for $55, it will save you money on this trip and others.

Mesa Verde National Park

Our first point of call! This park is located 34 miles west of Durango Colorado just off Highway 160. It was established in 1906 to preserve and showcase the thousands of historical sites left by the Anasazi people. There are 5 Anasazi Cliff Dwellings that can be toured and they provide a very basic understanding of who these inventive and industrious people were and how they lived. On the day we visited we were able to tour Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House.

Cliff Palace is a ranger guided tour and the most impressive Cliff Dwelling at Mesa Verde open to the public. The tour was an hour long with us starting by descending a fairly easy path of steel and stone stairs. We were blown away with the view as soon as we turned the corner and saw this site. Being the largest site [with Long House] it was amazing to see up close what these people had done. The intricacy of their stonework to make multi room and multi storey dwellings along with Kivas [ceremonial round rooms] would do any modern stone mason proud. Ok the buildings are falling down and are no longer habitable but for being maybe 1000 years old they are not doing too bad. This dwelling consists of 217 rooms and 23 Kivas and estimates are that it housed between 200 and 250 people. The climb out of this site is somewhat harder than the descent requiring ascent of several wooden ladders.

Spruce Tree House is a self guided tour of a largely stabilized and reinforced site and is the 3rd largest cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde having 114 rooms and 14 Kevas, estimated to be 95% original. The National Parks have tried to rebuild this site closer to what they looked like when habitable, including a sub-terrainian Keva. It is neither as large nor as impressive as Cliff Palace but is definitely interesting. The walk down and back is simple with a sealed concrete path al the way.

Mesa Top Loop drive allows access to a number of Mesa top sites that whilst are far less visually impressive than the cliff dwellings, are no less interesting from an historical perspective. A number of Pit houses and early Pueblo villages can be visited being a short walk from the road. As well as the ruins a number of other Cliff Dwellings can be viewed from overlooks including Square Tower House, Fire Temple, New Fire House Sun Temple and Balcony House although the walk to this last overlook is about 1 1/2 miles return. We took most of the day and only covered Chapin Mesa. Wetherill Mesa contains Long House and Step House along with several other interesting walks so you should probably plan on two days to do Mesa Verde justice and not jus the one day that we had available to us.

If you have never visited this park, pack up the Land Rover and get yourself there immediately, it really is a must see before you die location.

Other places to visit in the area include Hovenweep National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and the San Juan National Forest.  

Cliff Palace

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Spruce Tree House

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Other Cliff / Pit Houses

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General Shots of the Area

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4 Corners Native Tribal Park

Unless you really want a photograph of the actual 4 Corners point, give this a miss. This site does not recognize the National Park Pass and they charge $3 per person to enter. It is basically maker area on the ground with a few flags of the various states involved then surrounded by small Native American shops. Access should be free because there is no real benefit to viewing the site.  

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Located near Chinle Arizona off highway 191, Canyon de Chelly is a bit off the beaten path. This is true Indian country: to the north east in Colorado is Ute country; to the west is the Hopi Indian Reservation and to the north and east lies the Navajo Nation.

The park has two self drive tours. The 37 mile long South Rim drive takes you south east along the edge of Canyon de Chelly where there are a number of overlooks into the canyon. From many of the overlooks we were able to see basic farming operations taking place on the canyon floor with cattle and goats appearing to be the preferred livestock. Small areas have also been tilled for small plantings to take place. From junction Overlook you can see where Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto split and go there separate ways. At the end of this drive you will find Spider Rock overlook, being the main view that most people associate with this area. Spider Rock is an 800 foot high sandstone pillar that was apparently climbed by some Native Americans when they were trying to hide and get away from Kit Carson. Donít quote me on this storey as I have not been able to get verification that it is true, but it sounds great doesnít it!

North Rim drive is a mere 34 miles long and follows Canyon del Muerto. It leads to several ruin overlooks including Ledge Ruin, Antelope House Ruin, Standing Cow Ruin [which we could not see from the viewing area] and a natural Navajo Fortress. Unfortunately the turn off to Ledge Ruin was closed when we visited due to recent damage. Antelope House Ruin was named for the paintings of Antelope by Dibe Yazhi, a famous Navajo artist who lived in the area in the 1800. Further to the north east along the canyon rim drive is Mummy Cave overlook and Massacre Cave overlook. A number of mummified bodies were found here during excavation hence itís more Egyptian sounding name. Massacre Cave was named after an event in 1805 when Spanish soldiers chased and rounded up Navajo Indians and then proceeded to kill as many as they could. Not a shining highlight of Spanish exploration in the area!

Other than White House walking trial, no access to the canyon floor is allowed unless with an authorized Navajo guide. For a fee a Navajo guide will take you and your four wheel drive into the canyon and drive to all the sites that can be seen from the canyon rim, and more. The canyon drive covers mainly a sandy creek area along Wheatfields creek for Canyon de Chelly and Tsaile Creek for Canyon del Muerto. Due to time constraints we stuck with the rim drives but if you have the time the guided canyon floor tours appeared well worth the effort and noting a Land Rover cannot handle.

A long drive but worth it

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Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Driving up from the south along highway 163 its easy to know when you are approaching Monument Valley as you pass Mystery Valley and Wetherill Mesa to the right [thatís east if using a compass] of the road. From the turnoff you drive past Mitchell Butte and Gray Whiskers, a nice introduction to what you are about to view. Your National Parks Pass will not get you into this area but the $10 fee is well worth it. As a kid I used to love watching westerns, imagining myself riding a horse across desert like country with magnificent rock formations in the back ground. Visiting Monument Valley lets you get that little bit closer to such a dream.

The best way to see this area is by taking your Land Rover [yes even that new Range Rover Sport will be safe] on the self guided valley drive from the visitors center. As you drive past the car park and start your descent to the valley proper, have your camera ready. It hits you like a punch in the face. The Mittens and Merrick Butte! There are a number of good viewing points for this scene so donít be like us and stop at the side of the road, wait till you get down to the pull off areas. The next view is of Elephant Butte, Ok itís big but no matter what angle I looked from I could not see the elephant [and this was my third visit to Monument Valley], I must have no imagination.

The Three sisters are three pinnacles of rock standing side by side to the south west of John Fords point and best seen in the morning light. From there we traveled around Rain God Mesa where we could see Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei which are several other rock pillars. Thunderbird Mesa is to the right [thatís south] of the trail at this point. Navajo Indian Nation guided tours actually take you down and around Thunderbird Mesa giving closer views into this area and Hunts Mesa and effectively doubles the trip through this Valley for any visitor. Again due to that stupid time constraint we had we were unable to take the guided tour although we were by no means disappointed doing our self guided tour.

From the car park at the east end of Rain God Mesa you get a closer look at Totem Pole & Yei Bi Chei and Sand Springs. North of this point is Spearhead Mesa which you follow up to Artists point. Make sure you stop and this point and take out your camera. Looking north from here you can see up to the rock formations Castle Butte, Bear & Rabbit, Stagecoach, Big Indian and others. Merrick Butte is to the north west. Driving west will bring you to North Window and the Thumb and Camel Butte. This then returned us to the main trail we drove in on and back to the visitor center with a quick stop for a drink and look around for souvenirs. At this stage we noticed something important, be aware of the price of generic gifts. We saw several items that were literally twice the price of identical items down in Canyon de Chelly. Suffice to say we restrained from purchasing anything available elsewhere here.

Driving north from Monument Valley back on highway 163 affords more spectacular views as you pass Sentinel Mesa on the right along with more views of Castle Butte, Bear & Rabbit, Stagecoach and Big Indian along with Brighamís Tomb, The King on His Throne and The Setting Hen which is next to Eagle Mesa on the left side of the highway. Take it slow and there are some great spots for those last minute photos, especially with late afternoon sun.

Other Native American and National Park places to visit in the area include Antelope Canyon, Window Rock, Grand Canyon National Park and Hubbell Trading Post.  

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Blanding ATV Tour

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Ok this part of our trip was not using a Four Wheel Drive but it was a lot of fun. Since we were not taking the 4WD off road, and both Max & I are off road nuts, we decided to go on a little diversion. Black Hawk Tours is owned and operated by Ben Black out of Blanding Utah. Blanding is south of Moab and surrounded by Natural Bridges National Monument, Valley of the Gods and various other interesting destinations. Ben is a descendant of the original Black Mormon family of the area, is a bit of a ďgood Ďol boyĒ and a great amusing guide.

Our tour took us into Arch Canyon which provided great scenery including stone pillars, Anasazi ruins and several natural arches. Whilst the ruins and arches do not compare to those from Mesa Verde or Arches National Park, they are outside of a normal tourist environment and provide an interesting perspective to how and where ancient people lived.  

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Arch Canyon Photos taken by Max Amos

Natural Bridges National Monument

To get to this out of the way park from Blanding Utah you drive west along Highway 95 then north on Highway 275, 40 miles in all. The park was established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 making it Utahís first National Park and has to be the smallest that I have ever visited, the main drive around the park [which covers most of the park] is a mere 9 miles in length. A visit to this park is a good contrast to Arches National Park. Basically Natural Bridges are made from water erosion from a nearby stream or river. Over time a large hole is worn into the sandstone by the stream and a bridge is formed. Arches are formed away from running water with sections worn away over time or loosed by water seeping into cracks, freezing then breaking off the stone. Wind then clears out the debris to for an arch.

There are three natural bridges to view in this park, Sipapu, Kachina & Owachomo Bridge. All can be easily viewed from the overlooks right next to the road [so the Land Rover wonít get dirty] or you can take the 8.6 mile loop hike and walk to all the bridges and get some exercise. We only walked down to Owachomo Bridge which was a few hundred yards from the car park, we were feeling lazy after our morning ATV adventure.

Other places to visit in the area include Glen Canyon, Valley of the Gods, Navajo Twin Rocks and Manti La Sal National Forest.  

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Arches National Park

This park is located just on the northern outskirts of Moab Utah. Before you visit this park you should note that to fully appreciate the arches and scenery you will need to get out of your air conditioned Land Rover and go for a walk, Ok lots of walks. We allocated 1 day to visit this park but could easily have taken 2 or 3 days to see and experience all the sights.

First port of call was a 3 mile round trip hike out to Delicate Arch. This normally takes about 1 Ĺ - 2 hours round trip but if you are not very fit may take considerably longer. The path rises almost 500 feet from the car park at Wolfe Ranch [established by disabled Civil War Veteran John Wesley Wolfe and his son] inside the park to the end and there is little shade along the way. We chose to walk first thing in the morning to avoid the heat since a lot of the climb is up open slick rock similar to many of the driving trials throughout the Moab area. If you want the best photos though you need to be at the arch near sundown.

Sand Dune Arch is right next to Broken Arch and makes an easy second hike. It is only about Ĺ mile to Sand Dune Arch with the other being clearly visible from the trail and not requiring any more of a hike. Luckily a spectacular arch called Skyline Arch is right next to the road so for those too lazy to go for a hike you can take a nice photo out of the Land Roverís window.

Between Sand Dune Arch and Skyline Arch there is a dirt road turnoff that will take you up Salt Valley for just under 8 miles. This will bring you to Tower Arch and some interesting rock formations known as Marching Men. This area is to the rear or eastern side of Klondike Bluffs which can also be accessed from this road with a turnoff a little further north. If you really want to try out the new Land Rover without getting into too much trouble there is a medium difficulty track called Four Wheel Drive Trail [thatís its actual formal name] that goes South East from this point rejoining the main road back near the Balanced Rock car park. If you do take this trail it covers sandy areas so lower tire pressures may be needed. Look out for Eye of the Whale Arch to the western side of the trail on the way down.

If you have taken the same hikes and stop offs as we did you will have walked about 4 Ĺ miles by now. Out of breathe yet? No! Good! Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch and Landscape Arch can be easily accessed from the Devils Garden Trail head which is at the northernmost end of the sealed road in the park. With the minor diversions this is about a 1 ĺ mile round trip hike along a fairly good pathway. This path also leads up to Dark Angel, Private Arch, Double O Arch, Wall Arch, Navajo Arch and Partition Arch. We did not go to these extra sites due to time [and I wanted to get back early enough for a few Beers] but they are worth the extra time and effort to visit if you can manage it. On the day we visited a small herd of deer were feeding right next to the path, one was only 10 feet from where I stood.

All Arched out yet? With over 2,000 cataloged arches, which is the highest density of natural arches in the world, it would be easy to get arched out. If you are like us and not arched out at this time a short detour to Cove Arch, North & South Window, Turret Arch and Double Arch is worth the time. The turn off is near Balanced Rock on the way out just in case you chicken out at this stage. The walk around this area is less than a mile in total along an easy trial with some loose sand and rocks. This area has spectacular Arch views although fantastic views can be seen from the car park.

I could probably write another few pages just on this Park but with limited space all I can say is get out to Moab and dedicate a day or two to exploring this natural wonder. Other places to visit in the area include Canyonlands National Park and the La Sal Mountains.

Traveling around we saw lots of Discovery I & IIís, a few Range Rover Classics, a Series II, a Defender 130 and a couple of LR3ís but no new Range Rovers or Range Rover Sports. Where are all the owners of these new vehicles? From what we saw over the week long trip they are just not using them to get out and explore the country. This is a real pity as the newer Land Rovers are excellent touring vehicles that need to be used for more than just strutting around town, collecting the groceries and kids from school. If you own one of these newer vehicles take them out and explore, you would be surprised just how much you can see without risking getting them scratched off road, although a few scratches always improve the character of a good Land Rover.