An Arizona Road Trip Back Into the Past

Montezuma Castle, Courtesy US NPS
Montezuma Castle
Courtesy US NPS
Location of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network,  Courtesy US NPSLocation of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network
Courtesy US NPS
Hubbell Trading Post, Courtesy US NPSHubbell Trading Post Interior
Courtesy US NPS

Arizona is rich in history — from the 1800s all the way back to the Late Triassic Period. You can stitch together a road trip that winds out of Flagstaff to Montezuma Castle National Monument, to Petrified Forest National Park, and ends at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Along the way you’ll experience fascinating chapters of geologic and cultural history.

At Montezuma Castle, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff and just off Interstate 17 (Exit 289), a short walk places you in front of a 5-story-tall cliff dwelling that offered safety from invaders: it stands 100 feet above the valley floor, nestled into an alcove.

The site was misnamed Montezuma Castle in the late 1800s by whites who thought the structure had been built by the Aztec people. The original owners, members of the Southern Sinagua (seen aug wah) people, called this area home from roughly 1100-1425 A.D.

Stroll the short trail that loops around a vegetated landscape below the “castle,” and you’ll find great views as well of the remains of Castle A. That dwelling once rose 60 feet and was home to about 100 residents.

From Montezuma’s Castle, it’s 95 miles via Arizona 87 to Winslow, and then 34 miles east on Interstate 40 to Holbrook. Finally, another 19 miles southeast on Arizona 180 leads you into Petrified Forest National Park and its unusual landscape.

There’s no lodging within the park, and you have to leave by sundown, so you will need to make some tough decisions if you have just one day. Do you take time to tour the Rainbow Forest Museum with its dinosaur displays, or hike out to Agate House?

A building built of petrified wood is pretty cool, so stretch your legs with a walk to the house. Then head north and deeper into the park to the Crystal Forest Trail. Wander this path and you’ll find yourself surrounded by petrified wood with its hues of yellow, red, and green, black and white.

Blue Mesa is another great stop. There’s a trail that takes you down into another colorful landscape of badlands and chunks, logs, and even slabs of petrified wood in shades of red, blue, yellow and black.

The northern end of the park road is anchored by the Painted Desert, a great place for sunset photos. Here you’ll also see the Painted Desert Inn, which some day could put the Park Service back into the lodging business but today is just a museum piece.

Back on Interstate 40, drive 22 miles east to Chambers, and then north on U.S. 191 for about 38 miles to Ganado and Hubbell Trading Post. This authentic trading post was opened by John Lorenzo Hubbell in 1878 on the Navajo Reservation.

Although it was added to the National Park System in 1967, Hubbell is not a museum piece but an active trading post. As such, it still holds richly woven Navajo rugs, jewelry, and other Native American artworks for purchase.

Schedule your visit to Hubbell Trading Post for May and you just might be able to attend the annual Native American Art Auction. Check with the park (928-755-3475) for the exact date.

If you have a little more free time, you could extend your your trip by heading 39 miles north on 191 to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek,

Additional Reading:

Montezuma Castle National Monument,,

Montezuma Castle National Monument, US National Park Service,

Geographic Area covered by the State of Deseret and Utah Territory, International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers,

Arches Wildlife

Western Collared Lizard
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Spadefoot Toad
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Red Fox
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS
Lee Kaiser, Photographer

Western Scrub Jay
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS
Neal Herbert, Photographer

Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

The Organ
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Stairs to Window Arch
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

As with its neighbor, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park conceals most of its wildlife from visitors. That said, lizards are easy to spot, as are mule deer in the cool times of the day. And if you spend a little time before breakfast, or after dinner, you just might see coyotes, porcupines, desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits, and many songbirds.

Because of the high heat during the summer months, most of these animals will be most visible when humans are not typically out and about. Desert animals have a variety of adaptations to deal with the hot weather and aridity. A key adaptation is that most animals are nocturnal, being most active at night. Nocturnal animals in Arches include kangaroo rats, woodrats (also called packrats), and other small desert rodents, skunks, ringtails, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats and owls.

Some desert animals are “diurnal”, or primarily active during the day. These include rock squirrels, antelope squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, snakes, hawks, and eagles.

Many animals have are only active in certain temperature ranges, and they alter their active times of day depending upon the season. During winter months, snakes and lizards are in an inactive state of “torpor,” or sluggishness or even dormancy. But they become active during the day during the late spring and early fall, and then become “crepuscular,” or active mainly during the nighttime hours, to avoid the daytime heat of summer.

Insects, too, alter their times of activity. Mosquitoes, as you no doubt know, may be out from dawn through dusk, depending on the temperatures. But they are not active after the sun goes down.

In spite of Arches’ rather inhospitable appearance, almost 50 species of mammals live in the park’s landscape. But the hot climate and lack of water favors small mammals. Because of their size, these animals are less able to migrate, but have an easier time finding shelter, and require less food and water to live. Rodents are numerous: there are eleven species of mice and rats.

Desert bighorn sheep are one of the larger mammal species to be seen. They are frequently spotted along Highway 191 south of the park visitor center, and call Arches home all year long. They roam the talus slopes and side canyons near the Colorado River, forage for plants, and negotiate the steep, rocky terrain with the greatest of ease.

While Arches may not be considered a prime bird watching hot spot, 273 species have been seen in the park, which includes seasonal, year-round residents, and migrants.

Much of this diversity is due to the riparian corridors like Courthouse Wash and the Colorado River (which forms the park’s southern boundary). Mornings along these corridors often are filled with birdsongs during spring and summer. You might spot blue grosbeaks, yellow-breasted chats, and spotted towhees. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the trill of the canyon wren echoing from the sandstone walls. Great blue herons hunt the shallows for fish, while Cooper’s hawks deftly maneuver through the tangle of trees beyond the riverbanks.

There is life in the desert, if you know where, and more importantly, when, to look for it.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Images: Courtesy US NPS
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek,
Text:     Kurt Repanshek/Patrick Cone,

Additional Reading:

National Park or National Monument?

< National Park or National Monument: Sipapu Natural Bridge, Natural Bridges National Monument, Courtesy and Copyright Anna BengstonSipapu Natural Bridge
Natural Bridges National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston
National Park or National Monument: Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Courtesy and Copyright Anna BengstonDelicate Arch
Arches National Park
Courtesy & Copyright Anna Bengston

Established in 1916 the National Park Service manages all properties included in the National Park System. This system includes over 400 areas that encompass more than 84 million acres of land. These areas can go by one of 31 different titles. Within this system, Utah boasts 1 national historic site, 2 national recreation areas, 7 national monuments, and 5 national parks. While the reason for some of these titles is self-explanatory, the reason for others is less clear.

For example, what makes one area a “national park” and another a “national monument?” Most people – including myself – would probably guess that the difference is in size. And while this is sometimes true, the primary difference is the reason for which each is established, because these two designations grew from historically separate concepts. The notion of the national park, which was simply the idea of large-scale natural preservation for public enjoyment, grew in popularity throughout the 1800s. As a result you can typically think of a national park as a spectacular scenic feature or natural phenomena preserved for inspirational, educational, and recreational value.

On the other hand, the idea of the national monument arose as a result of the need and desire to also protect prehistoric cliff dwellings, pueblo remains, and other historic ruins found by explorers of the American West and Southwest. Efforts to protect these sites resulted in the passing of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Therefore a national monument is usually designated to preserve objects of prehistoric, historic, cultural, and/or scientific interest. However, the Antiquities Act has been used more widely to preserve natural features as well, meaning the content of national monuments can be quite varied from wilderness areas to military sites to buildings and ruins.

There are also a couple of legal differences between these two designations. National parks are established through acts of Congress, whereas national monuments are established by Presidential proclamation. Administratively, the National Park Service manages all national parks. While national monuments, depending on their location and content, can fall under not only under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, but also that of the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, or the Bureau of Land Management.

So, it’s not just size that makes the difference, its intent, content, process of establishment, and administration. The next time you visit one of Utah’s national parks or monuments, will you be able to tell the difference?

For Wild About Utah, I’m Anna Bengtson of Park City.

Arches National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Zion National Park

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Cedar Breaks National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Grand Staircase National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument
Natural Bridges National Monument
Pipe Spring National Monument(Border Utah/Arizona)
Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Timpanogos Cave National Monument

Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Image: Courtesy and Copyright Anna Bengston
Text: Anna Bengston

Sources & Additional Reading:

Biggers, Ashley. “National Parks Versus National Monuments.” Outside Online. 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

McDonnell, Janet. The national parks: shaping the system. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 2005. Web, 8 June 2014.

O’Connor, Mary. “Killing A Bill that Could Save National Parks.” Outside Online. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

“Parks and Monuments.” Utah. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

Righter, Robert. “National Park Service History: National Monuments to National Parks.”National Park Service History: National Monuments to National Parks. N.p., Aug. 1989. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “National Park Service History: National Park System Nomenclature.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 8 June 2014.

United States. National Park Service. “Frequently Asked Questions.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 28 May 2014. Web. 8 June 2014.

Yard, Robert Sterling, and Isabelle F. Story. “Parks vs. Monuments.” The national parks portfolio. 6th ed. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1931. Web, 8 June 2014.

Utah’s Sistine Chapel

Utah’s Sistine Chapel
Holy Ghost group, part of the
Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon
Photo Courtesy
David Sucec, BCSProject
(photographer, copyright holder)

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Utah is famous for the beautiful and mysterious rock art found on its colorful canyon walls.

There are two main types of rock art. A petroglyph is an image that is pecked, incised, or scratched into rock. Petroglyphs are often found on rock surfaces coated with desert varnish. The dark stained varnish provides high contrast as the image is carved into the lighter underlying stone.

Pictographs, however, are painted onto rather than carved into a rock surface. Mineral pigments such as hematite, limonite, azurite, and gypsum were used to produce long lasting liquid and solid paints. Paint was applied with brushes, fingertips or hands, with fiber wads and even by spraying or blowing paint. It’s possible that vegetable dyes were also used by ancient artists but these would have been washed away without leaving a trace.

Archaeologists classify ancient rock art into different styles according to image content, drawing techniques, location, and the relationships between various picture elements. The so-called Barrier Canyon Style is well-known in eastern Utah where its greatest level of expression is found.

The Barrier Canyon Style features human-like figures with a supernatural appearance. Torso lengths are exaggerated and shaped like mummies or bottles. Heads may have horns, rabbitlike ears or antenna-like projections. Eyes of the figures are often round and staring. Hands, if present, may be holding plant-like images or snakes. Aside from the human-like figures, birds, canines, bighorn sheep, and rabbits are also common in Barrier Canyon Style compositions.

Cultural affiliations of the Barrier Canyon Style artists are still not fully understood. But most archaeologists agree that the artists were part of small bands of nomadic people who roamed the Colorado Plateau between 7500 BC and 300 AD.

Perhaps the best place to view the Barrier Canyon style is in the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon near Canyonlands National Park. The Great Gallery features a 300 foot long mural with over 60 figures. David Sucec (pronounced Soosek)–who is coordinating an effort to photograph and record all Barrier Canyon Style rock art–calls the Great Gallery ‘Utah’s Sistine Chapel.’

So far over 230 different sites featuring Barrier Canyon Style rock art have been discovered. In Utah, look for them in the Book Cliffs area, the San Rafael Swell, around Moab and in Canyonlands National Park.

Thanks to the Red Cliffs Lodge in Moab, Utah for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright David Sucec

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading:


Cole, Sally. 1990. Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. Boulder, CO: Johnson Printing

Repanshek, Kurt. Traces of a Lost People. 2005. Smithsonian magazine. March 2005.

Schaafsma, Polly. The Rock Art of Utah. 1971, Third Printing 1987, Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology Vol. 65, paper, 169 pp.