Uplifted at Green River, Utah.
Utah’s spectacular landscapes elevate the allure and adventure of a road trip-based holiday into cloud nine, as Mike Yardley found.
Home to some of the most compelling landscapes in the United States, the spree of touring options is formidable, but a fantastic base, in easy reach of three national parks is Green River, in San Rafael Country. The delicate and sculpted marvels of Arches National Park is a sightseeing must, but unlike the park’s main tourist hub of Moab which can get horrendously crowded, the nearby town of Green River is a relaxed, appealing alternative. Alongside Arches, you’re also within easy reach of Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks.
Located right on Interstate 70 in Eastern Utah, and intersected by the eponymously named river, the lush valley town is bracketed by cliffs, canyons and desert badlands. Nestled at the base of the Book Cliffs, this precipitous rock formation is the longest cliff line in the world, and as the sun sets, the cliffs blaze brightly in an ochre glow.
Heading west for 14 miles on I-70, brought me to the remarkable spectacle of the San Rafael Swell, an arresting land of soaring cliffs, lonely towers and monstrous buttes, where horses roam free.There are some stunning slot canyons to hike through like Baptist Draw & Upper Chute Canyon. It is one of the less-trafficked natural wonders of the American West and a monument to the natural forces of dramatic uplift from the earth’s crust. The high-point is driving through and admiring the San Rafael Reef, a vast formation of Navajo sandstone uplifted on a 70 degree angle. My camera could not get enough of this! From there, I headed southwest on a short drive to Goblin Valley, one of the prize draws in Utah’s network of State Parks. It would rate as one of the strangest places I’ve ever visited, with an other-worldly feel.
Home to thousands of intricately eroded rusty brown goblins ( or “hoodoos”), the sci-fi comedy movie, Galaxy Quest, was filmed here. Kids adore this place, famed as a destination to let your imagination run wild. It’s like a warm-up to Bryce Canyon National Park. Heading east of Green River, another essential excursion is to venture into Sego Canyon, exiting off Interstate 70 at Thompson Springs. Just 3 miles north of the town, ancient native American Indian rock art festoons the canyon walls.
I had great fun deciphering the pictographs from the petroglyphs.The latter are images created by removing part of a rock surface by carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art, while pictographs are rock art paintings.There are superb specimens of both in Sego Canyon – and once again, you won’t be battling the crowd crush, adding to its evocative atmosphere. For a complete change of scenery, and just minutes from Green River, I took in the geothermal novelty of Crystal Geyser. Accessed via a shingle road through rolling countryside, follow the signposts to the riverside geyser, which can shoot up to 60 feet high. The geyser beats to its drum, sporadically erupting every 12 hours or so, with the spectacle lasting for a good hour.
I lucked out and managed to capture the last few minutes of the geyser, gushing in all its glory. Even if you don’t see the spectacle, the eye-catching mineral-formed travertine terraces flanking the riverbank are a thrill to explore. Back in Green River, grab a bite at the characterful Ray’s Tavern, a fabulous roadside eatery, frequently voted as one of Utah’s favourite pit-stops. I eagerly devoured a famous Ray’s burger, charbroiled, and washed down with a beer. Another excellent eatery is the Tamarisk Restaurant, a Green River institution for nearly 40 years.
Located on the banks of the mighty Green River, I satisfied my hunger pains with their delicious Navajo Tacos and made-to-order salads. Beautifully shaded by cottonwood trees, a superb base for your Green River explorations, and day-trips to the surrounding national parks, is the River Terrace Inn. Rooms are tastefully decorated and fully appointed with kitchen facilities, flat-screen TV, free WiFi and cloud-comfortable bedding. Best of all, fully cooked-to-order breakfast is included in your room rate. www.greenriverutahhotel.com For more tips on the area, head to www.destinationgreenriver.com And for wider sightseeing, including the Mighty 5 national parks, head to www.visitutah.com
By Mike Yardley. (August 1, 2016)