Arches and canyons and buttes, oh my!

Road Trip 2009 takes a swing through eastern Utah--and a brief journey across the border into Arizona--to see some of the most awe-inspiring rock formations on Earth.

The rock formation that gives the town of Mexican Hat, Utah, its name. It is close to Monument Valley, a collection spread out over many miles and across both the Utah and Arizona state lines, of fantastic giant formations. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

MOAB, Utah--Two years ago, as I made my way through the Southwest on Road Trip 2007, I traveled through Bryce and Zion National Parks in Utah, as well as the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Grand Canyon West, and Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. At the time, I thought that collection of otherworldly rock formations was the most incredible I'd ever see.

But now, a week-and-a-half into Road Trip 2009, which is taking me on a route to the north of where I was two years ago, I'm not sure. I spent the last two days visiting another worthy roster of outstanding natural wonders, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and the scenic route along Highway 128 in Utah, and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Utah and Arizona. And I'd have to say this visit may trump the other. But if not, then it certainly was a perfect counterpart to the earlier collection.

I had set out to visit Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks, all in Utah, and three of the major parks I had missed on Road Trip 2007. But in the end, I decided to skip Capitol Reef and instead travel all the way down the eastern edge of Utah to make it to Monument Valley (see video below--but make sure your volume is set to low, as there is a lot of noise from the wind).

Monument Valley, which is close to Four Corners, where Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico all come together at 90-degree angles--or, at least, they used to--is stunning, and well-chronicled in the films of John Wayne. It features giant rock formations so big and so dominant on the horizon that you can see them from more than 20 miles away.

I wasn't, unfortunately, able to make it to the second section of Canyonlands I wanted to--I did make it to the Needles area--because I decided to spend most of Tuesday at Arches. And that is well worth it. I had been there for a couple of hours in 1993, and had always wanted to come back and see more of it. And I'm glad I did. I think it may be the most impressive of the Utah National Parks I've visited.

It seems, then, that every two years, I return to this part of the world to do a story and photo gallery on the outstanding art that Mother Nature paints on her Earth. I think this may not continue to be a tradition. But then again, I can hope. There's still plenty of ground in Utah and Arizona I've yet to cover.

For the next several weeks, Geek Gestalt will be on Road Trip 2009. After driving more than 12,000 miles in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last three years, I'll be writing about and photographing the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and Colorado. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. And in the meantime, join the Road Trip 2009 Facebook page and follow my Twitter feed.

 

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