So you’ve been to Mesa Verde, Colorado, and want to make the drive up to Moab, where Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are located(or vise versa and are driving down to Mesa Verde from Moab). What’s to see on this 2 hour drive? Any good places to stop at?
Well you first start out in a little town of Cortez, just outside Mesa Verde National Park. This is a great place to stay overnight for better rates if you’re touring the park for several days (inside the park there’s only Far View Lodge and camping to choose from), and there are plenty of places to eat and shop around at right in town.
The whole area around Cortez and Mesa Verde is full of tons of archaeological sites, as I mentioned in the side trips section of my post Four Corners to Mesa Verde. I won’t go over them all again here, but one place to note of since you’ll be driving past it is Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. The Anasazi Heritage Center, north of Cortez on highway 184 is the visitor’s center for the monument, so it’s a good idea to stop here to get more info if you plan to check it out.
Continuing on Route 491 You’ll be driving through a lot of southwest style farmlands(pinto beans being a major crop here). Keep an eye out for some farm animals like this pack of Bison we saw, just relaxing in the field. Looks like cowboy country!
Interesting Fact: Route 491 used to be known as US Route 666. The number was accurate as it was the 6th US highway off of the famous Route 66. The route infamously became known as the “Devil’s Highway”, and a lot of superstition and legends followed, along with signs being stolen left and right. Due to all these issues it was eventually renamed in all the 4 corner states it went through.
The next small town you’ll be passing by is where Route 491 comes to an end, in Monticello, Utah. If that sounds familiar to you as the name of the famous estate of Thomas Jefferson, you’d be correct as the Mormon pioneers named it after exactly that.
Monticello used to be a boom town of uranium and vanadium mining back in the 1950’s, which lasted for around 10 years till they were permanently closed and later cleaned up.
Just west of the town are the Abajo Mountains, or Blue Mountains as they are known locally.
Canyonlands, Needles District
Continuing north from Monticello, you’ll come across the turn off for a section of Canyonlands National Park known as the Needles District. I unfortunately didn’t get to visit this section yet, but from what I’ve heard it’s very beautiful and definitely worth it if you have extra time. You’d best to plan a whole day, or at least half of one to see it though as it’s a 40 minute drive off the highway just to get to the visitor’s center!
Wilson’s Arch and other Rock Formations
So if you’re heading towards Moab, you’re probably going to be visiting Arches National Park, and a little taste of that is just off the side of the highway on your right called Wilson’s Arch. This isn’t the only unique rock formation however. All along the route there are big rock shapes of all kinds in this beautiful landscape!
Modern Cave Dwellings
Just before you get to the town of Moab, you’ll see a big huge red rock with white lettering emblazoned across the front, “Hole N”The Rock”. You can’t miss it. Of course, if you’re like me and was like “what is that?!” and drove on by you might, but if you’ve got a bit of time, stop there for a bit. It’s worth checking out. Basically it’s a 5,000 sq. foot house built into that huge rock! Totally out of the Flintstones! Apparently that’s not too uncommon in these parts however, as there are modern cave dwellings around here that people actually do build their houses and live in!
Hole N”The Rock is one that you can actually go inside of and visit however. They also have a gift shop, café, and petting zoo.
Do you like extreme sports? ATV’s, dirt bikes, mountain bikes…any kind of bikes? Then you’ll love Moab. You can’t drive down the road without seeing at least 10 ATV’s getting hauled in Jeep’s to the nearest track. There’s also white water rafting, rock climbing, base jumping, and a number of other sports. It used to be known as the “Uranium Capitol of the World”, due to to all the mining that has since closed. Now I think it’s safe to say it’s one of, if not the “Adventure Capitol of the World”.
Of course one of the biggest attractions to Moab, and why I came here in the first place, were the two big National Parks: Arches and Canyonlands. If you have enough time, Dead Horse Point State Park, right next to Canyonlands is also a must see!