We’ve come quite a way during the last five days, through significant distance and landscape changes. After nearly a week exploring the glorious parks of Southern Utah, we headed east to Colorado. We spent our first night there in Grand Junction, just over the border and about 90 minutes from Moab. The next day we headed out early to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, where we had no trouble securing a walk up campsite in South Rim Campground.
Black Canyon is so deep that the bottom of the canyon only gets sunlight for a couple of hours each day. Leaning over the ledges on the rim and gazing down provides an impressive and foreboding view, and even from more than 2000 feet above the Gunnison River, its roar is still quite audible. If you want to go down to the canyon floor, there are several different trails you can take. To be honest, my husband and I didn’t feel the need. Plus, I found the extreme steepness of the trails intimidating – one provides a chain to help visitors climb out. The views from the top were fine for me, thanks. We did take a few walks along the rim to get different views, including Warner Point Nature Trail and Cedar Point Nature Trail, both short and worth the effort.
All told, the views of Black Canyon were great and the story of its exploration was interesting, but it can’t compare to the National Park gems we’ve already seen. I think it’s a nice day trip if you’re in the area, but probably not worth a vacation on its own. Unless you intend to do some backcountry hiking, camping and kayaking (scary, but doable for the experienced), I’d say you can conquer Black Canyon in a day.
From there, it was on to Great Sand Dunes, about a 3.5 hour drive from Black Canyon. This one also failed to really impress us. Sure, the scenery was interesting and unique, but again, it can’t compare to the parks we’d recently been through. Yep, those parks probably ruined our ability to judge beauty. There are quite a few activities in Sand Dunes if you want to spend more time, but after checking out the visitor center and hiking the Dunes Overlook trail, a two mile walk to a nice overlook of the dunes, we felt we’d seen all we needed to. Our stay in the park was brief – only a few hours – and then it was time to move on.
The next few nights were really about making tracks, more than seeing places. We spent our first of three hotel nights in Raton, New Mexico, a small town just over the Colorado border. Raton, or mouse/small rat in Spanish, is about what you’d expect for a town named for vermin. There’s not much there, and what is there is on the dumpy side. Oh well, it was just a place to lay our heads for the night.
From there, we had a fairly long day of driving through a bit of eastern New Mexico, the panhandle of Texas and western Oklahoma to Oklahoma City, where we spent the night. Side note: driving through Texas must take FOREVER. Just driving straight through the panhandle took ages! Anyway, once in Oklahoma we parked the car at our hotel and walked into Bricktown, an area of downtown that was recommended for dinner. I had expected Bricktown to be a spot filled with independent shops and eateries, some on the higher end perhaps. It was more like a sports bar kind of atmosphere as it turned out, but that’s fine – we had a good time out on the town in OKC.
Next up: Memphis. But not before conquering another long driving day that took us through eastern Oklahoma and through the entire state of Arkansas. Hot Springs National Park, located a bit southeast of Little Rock, was our principal stop in the state and the main reason for going through it at all. Hot Springs is an odd one. It’s really just a town that was built up around some hot springs renowned for their medical value and healing properties. So, if you’re looking for the typical “great scenery, outdoor adventure” experiences of the national parks, this one is not a good choice for you. It was an interesting place, but one might question just why it became a national park. Why not other hot spring areas, like Saratoga Springs? Anyway, we spent a couple of hours on a bathhouse tour and walking bathhouse row, but we didn’t dedicate much time to the area. Many of the bathhouses on bathhouse row are still in use today, so perhaps if we find ourselves in the area again we’ll take a soak.
Waiting for us at the end of another long driving day was the city of Memphis and the promise of some good barbecue. Added bonus: we were staying at the historic Peabody Hotel, a classic city landmark and example of old school class. It’s a fun spot to spend a night, and it is conveniently located just a few blocks from the famous Beale Street. We walked down there for dinner and found ourselves at the Blues Street Café, a fun spot that featured a live band in the back room covering all kinds of early rock and roll hits – those oldies that, if you’re like me, you can sing along to even though you haven’t thought about them for years. I really enjoyed myself there – quite a fun evening! And the food wasn’t bad either. If only I had more stomach space.