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Revision of Utah National Park Tour from Thu, 2012/02/23 - 3:04pm

Take a trip through the National Parks of Southern Utah

From Four Corners the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon to Vegas and Back
 

From Four Corners the Skywalk at the Grand Canyon to Vegas and BackStarting this adventure at Four Corners is a unique experience. It’s the only place in the country where four states touch (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado), and thus it’s the only spot where you can put your hands and feet in four states at the same time. The place to do just that, Four Corners Monument is just off US 160. Managed by the Navajo Nation, the monument is open for visits from the public.

The area surrounding Four Corners Monument is 25,000 square miles of Native American land on which the Navajo, or Dine, the Ute and the Hopi people live. That means multiple opportunities to explore their rich history, with two options for the journey from Four Corners to Las Vegas going through Flagstaff, AZ.

The first takes you west through the lush Chinle Valley across US 160 until its junction with US 191. Drive south on US 191 to Chinle, the gateway to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. One of the longest continuously inhabited sites in the U.S., the canyon once was home to the Anasazi, now known as the Ancestral Puebloans, and features ruins, trails and two scenic drives.

The next stop is the town of Ganado, home of the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, a 19th-century trading post, which offers a museum, Navajo goods for sale and a farmer’s market in the fall. The town of Window Rock, miles to the east of Ganado via Arizona 264, plays host to the annual Navajo Nation Fair.

When you reach Interstate 40, you’re now on Historic Route 66, so it’s fun to keep your eyes peeled for markers and original or refurbished diners and lodgings. Drive west toward Petrified Forest National Park for the largest collection of petrified wood in the world, with its miles of views, dramatic overlooks, and hiking. From there, the cities of Holbrook and Winslow, AZ, offer opportunities to resupply as well as to visit museums and shop for Navajo and Hopi crafts before coming into Flagstaff.

Your other option from Four Corners runs past dramatic red cliffs along US 160 toward Kayenta, the gateway to Monument Valley. If you have the time, Monument Valley is worth the 31-mile drive north of the town on US 163. Also, in the most unlikely of locations, a museum dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II resides in the Kayenta Burger King along US 160.

Navajo National Monument sits at the end of Arizona 564 off US 160, and is famous for its three intact cliff dwellings once home to Ancestral Puebloans. The main sites are ranger-guided, but the legendary Keet Seel Ruin is a 17-mile backcountry jaunt requiring a permit.

Tuba City is the next major stop along US 160, and is in fact the largest community on the Navajo Reservation. Visit the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum in town, or venture five miles west to check out the dinosaur tracks, or 15 miles southeast to Coal Mine Canyon’s dramatic hoodoos.

Heading south on US 89, you have the chance to stop by Wupatki National Monument and the five prehistoric pueblos contained within. Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and its one-mile Lava Flow Trail sit farther south.

Regardless of the route you chose, both roads wind up running though the culturally vibrant and outdoors-oriented college town of Flagstaff (home to Northern Arizona University). “Flag” enjoys a thriving arts, music and theater scene, and also is a mecca for mountain biking, climbing, hiking and skiing. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a 75-mile drive north from Flagstaff along US 180 and Arizona 64, offering another option for a side trip.

It’s 149 miles to Kingman, AZ, from Flagstaff. If you’re heading to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, you’ll want to hop on the actual Route 66 – here Arizona 66 itself – and take it to Peach Springs and the Hualapai Reservation to access this glass bridge capable of holding 71 million pounds. Suspended 4,000 feet over the canyon and offering views down into the Colorado River, the Skywalk offers an unforgettable peek at the majestic Grand Canyon.

Last – but certainly not least! – is Las Vegas, baby, which sits 121 miles west via US 93. It’s true that by finishing this trip in Sin City you run the risk of never coming back – there’s that much to see and do. Sightsee, dine or shop along the Strip, take in a show or, of course, try your luck at the casinos. Dance into the wee hours in a nightclub, sing along with “The Rat Pack is Back” at the Plaza Hotel or enjoy "Dinner in the Sky" at the Sky Table.

You can also get away from Vegas proper altogether and see the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead (the largest man-made lake in the western hemisphere), go on a Red Rock Canyon tour or plan a day trip (four hours round-trip) to Death Valley. The list could go on forever.

When you’re ready to return, save a day for the drive – it’s 476 miles back to Four Corners.

Points Along The Way

 

Four Corners Monument

Located just off US 160 at the junction of Colorado, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, Four Corners Monument is the only place in the United States where you can place your hands and feet in four states at once. Originally cast in cement in 1912, the marker has since been reset in granite and brass. The Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department manages this remote location, which has picnic tables and self-contained restrooms but no other facilities. Navajo vendors offer crafts and food nearby. The nearest town is Teec Nos Pos, AZ, six miles away. Admission: $3, all ages. Open: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Oct.-May; 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily June-Sept.
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Canyon de Chelly National Monument

The unusual relationship that exists at Canyon de Chelly – the National Park Service manages it, but the park comprises Navajo Tribal Trust Land in Arizona that is still home to a Navajo community – is part of what makes it so appealing. Check out White House Ruin, or simply drive along either South or North Rim drives. You also can arrange for guided tours or horseback ride through the area. Located 3 miles from US 191 in Chinle. Admission: It’s free to drive along the roads. Driving on the canyon bottom requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle, permit and guide ($15). Hiking in the canyon (with the exception of the White House Ruins Trail) requires a permit and guide ($15 for up to 15 people per hour). There is a free campground offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Open: The drives and White House Ruin are open daily year-round. The Visitor Center is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; closed Christmas Day.
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Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

This authentic Indian trading post in Arizona was purchased by the National Park Service in 1967, after having been in the Hubbell family since 1878, when John Lorenzo Hubbell bought it. The site still offers Navajo rugs, baskets, jewelry and other crafts, and you can tour the Hubbell’s historic home. Twice a year the site hosts an art auction. Located one mile west of US 191 in Ganado, on US 264. Admission: Free to the trading post; $2 to the Hubbell home. Open: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr. 30-Sept. 8; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 9-Apr. 29.
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Petrified Forest National Park

In the midst of the Painted Desert in Arizona sits the archeologically and anthropologically rich Petrified Forest, home to an astounding landscape of petrified wood as well as fossils from more than 200 million years ago. The 28-mile drive affords visitors breathtaking views; if you have more time, consider adding the trails to the Giant Logs or a stop at the museum. Located between Interstate 40 and US 180 (take Exit 311 off I-40). Admission: $10 per vehicle (seven-day pass). Open: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; closed Christmas Day. Visitor Center hours vary depending on month; check website for hours.
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Kayenta, AZ

Kayenta is unique in that it is the only township government within the Navajo Nation, a municipal-style subdivision that imposes sales tax and has a town board. The Navajo name for the town, Todineeshzhee, means “water spreading out like fingers,” a reference to the spring that in non-drought years comes down from the hill behind Wetherill Trading Post. Because it is the gateway to Monument Valley 31 miles north, Kayenta enjoys year-round tourist visitation, and as such offers lodging, restaurants, emergency services and other amenities.
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Monument Valley

From the Mittens to the Three Sisters and the Totem Pole, the sandstone buttes and formations of the nearly 92,000-acre Monument Valley are among the most recognizable and photographed sights of the country. Managed by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Department at the border of Utah and Arizona, this official Tribal Park is called Tsé Bii' Ndzisgaii in Navajo, or Valley of the Rocks. The Visitor Center features Haskenneini Restaurant, and there are Navajo crafts, souvenirs and food vendors on the drive into the park. The 17-mile drive through the park take two to three hours and affords glimpses at the sites featured in the Westerns of director John Ford as well as dozens of other movies and TV shows. Located just east of US 163 just south of the Arizona border from Utah. Admission: $5 (under 9 free). Camping fee: $10 per night plus entry fees. Open: 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m. May-Sept.; 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Oct.-Apr. (Visitor Center hours 6 a.m.-8 p.m. May-Sept. May-Sept.; 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mar.-Apr.).
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Not only is this museum in an Arizona Burger King the most unlikely setting for a serious collection of memorabilia for one of the most courageous and interesting components of World War II, it’s also one of the most visited sites in the area. Owned by Navajo Richard Mike, whose father, King Mike, was a Code Talker, the exhibit is thorough and beautifully displayed. Located at 253 Peabody (US 160). Admission: Free. Open daily; call 928-697-3534 for hours.
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Navajo National Monument is the site of three cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloans. Self-guided and guided trails are available, including the legendary Keet Seel hike, an extremely strenuous 17-mile backcountry hike to one of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan villages in the Southwest. Betatakin is an easier jaunt, although still very strenuous; the 5-mile, round-trip trail with a ranger takes about four hours and brings visitors deep into a stunning canyon. Located at the end of Arizona 564 off US 160. Admission: Free. Permit required for Keet Seel (free). Camping and RV sites free. Open: Year-round; Keet Seel tour closes in winter. Visitor Center open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily mid-May-mid-Sept.; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. mid-Sept.-mid-May. Call 928-672-2700 for tour hours.
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Tuba City, AZ

The largest Navajo community within the Navajo Reservation, Tuba City is famous for its Friday flea markets, which bring together Navajo and Hopi craftspeople to sell their wares, including blankets, jewelry and food. It’s also home to the Explore Navajo Interactive Museum, which explores the journey Navajos take through life, as well as the Tuba City Trading Post, a working trading post that sells goods from area artists along with souvenirs. Just outside Tuba City you can find well-preserved dinosaur tracks and gorgeous canyons in which to hike.
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Explore Navajo Interactive Museum

This Arizona museum explains the significance of the sacred number four and how it relates to everyday Navajo life and rituals, symbols and nature. Located at Main Street and Moenave Road, north of the intersection of US 160 and Arizona 264. Admission: $9 adult; $7 senior; $6 ages 7-12; free 6-under. Open: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sunday.
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Coal Mine Canyon

Pack a picnic lunch to eat on the rim of this spectacular but remote canyon situated on the edge of the Painted Desert in Arizona. The layers of multi-colored rock are mesmerizing, and the canyon offers excellent hiking, although you have to search around a bit to find the faint trail that leads down to the floor. It takes between one and two hours to hike the round-trip to the bottom, the other end and back up; exercise caution because the rock is soft and crumbly in spots. Other than the picnic tables, there are no facilities.

Directions: From Tuba City, take Arizona 264 south. There are no signs, but the canyon sits about 15 miles from the junction of US 160 and Arizona 264, just past the water tank and the windmill. When you see the hoodoos and dramatic cliffs, you’re there.
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Wupatki National Monument

Home to Wupatki Pueblo, once the largest pueblo in the area, this site in Arizona managed by the National Park Service is believed by the Hopi still to be possessed of their spirits, and as such is a sacred place. You can visit this 100-room pueblo and the surrounding pueblos. For kids, there are “discovery packs” containing field journals, binoculars and other items for exploration that can be checked out for free and used at this park and returned at nearby Walnut Canyon or Sunset Crater Volcano. Located 12 miles north of Flagstaff on US 89. Admission: $5 per person (under 16 free), good for 7 days at both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. Open: Year-round sunrise to sunset. Visitor Center open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; closed Christmas Day.
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Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

The Lava Flow Trail is the main draw for most visitors who stop by this volcano-created landscape in Arizona, which includes views of the San Francisco Peaks from the easy-to-moderate, one-mile, round-trip hike. There’s a steeper one-mile trail and a seven-mile hike to O’Leary Peak for the more adventurous. For kids, there are “discovery packs” containing field journals, binoculars and other items for exploration that can be checked out for free and used at this park and returned at nearby Walnut Canyon or Wuptaki National Monument. No hook-up RV sites and tent camping available at Bonito Campground ($18/night). Located 14 miles north of Flagstaff on US 89. Admission: $5 per person (under 16 free), good for 7 days at both Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monuments. Open: Year-round sunrise to sunset. Visitor Center open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov.-Apr; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. May-Oct.
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Flagstaff

Arizona’s fourth-largest urban area, “Flag” has Northern Arizona University to keep it young and hip and enough outdoor activities to keep it popular as a year-round destination for mountain biking, hiking, climbing, camping and all manner of snow sports. The city has a thriving cultural community, with museums devoted to the arts and the region’s history, as well as a vibrant, locally supported music and theater scene. Alpine skiing is available at Arizona Snowbowl, and there are several cross-country facilities and areas (Flagstaff Nordic Center, Mormon Lake Ski Touring Center, Wing Mountain) located just outside the city limits, also in the Coconino National Forest.
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Grand Canyon Skywalk

Completed in March 2007, the marvel that is this $30 million German glass platform, which can hold up to 71 million pounds, allows you to walk right on it to view the Grand Canyon beneath your feet. In addition to Skywalk, the complex, 60 miles northwest of Peach City, Arizona, features Native American shows, a gift shop with Native crafts, an Indian village, trails to and along the rim, and the Hualapai ranch and village, which has cabins, horseback riding and wagon rides. Note that the maximum occupancy for the Skywalk is 120, so at peak times, generally 11 a.m-2 p.m. weekdays, there can be a wait to enter. Also be aware that the road to get to Skywalk, Diamond Bar Road, is 10 miles of rugged, unpaved road, and that there are two fees to get onto the Skywalk, which gives you access to all of the points of interest as well as the hop-on, hop-off shuttle to each location. Admission: $40.95 per person to Grand Canyon West; $29.95 per person to Skywalk. Open: Sunrise to sunset daily. There are many campgrounds in the area, most offering full hookups.
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Las Vegas

Sin City has spent the past decade cleaning up its act a bit, and now wants you to think of it as less of a gambling town studded with gentlemen’s clubs and more of a family destination. Toward that end, shows such as Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka” and The Beatles’ “Love” are interspersed with amusement park-type rides and eateries that insist they cater to children. But the big news is the addition of City Center, an 18 million-square-foot cultural masterpiece designed by some of the world’s top architects, a mini-mall packed with retail, gambling, residential and hotel properties. Make no mistake, though – the bulk of this overheated adult playground’s money still comes from bachelor and bachelorette parties and the casinos.
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Las Vegas Strip

Slightly less than 4 miles long, the Strip is a portion of Las Vegas Boulevard South, and it’s become so famous because most of the biggest hotels and casinos reside there. Walking along it is a visual smorgasbord – check out the Fountains at Bellagio (one of the top ten places to propose marriage in the world) and the Mirage volcano, to name two of the better-known sights – a people-dodging feat that’s become slightly easier since some of the attractions put in footbridges and special walkways. Because of its length, you’ll usually need to take a taxi from place to place; although there are free shuttles running between many of the affiliated hotels and casinos, most require that you show a room key for access. If you plan to stay or dine in Vegas, you may find that things are considerably cheaper, and often less crowded, off-Strip.
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“The Rat Pack is Back” at the Plaza Hotel

You just might think you’re listening to Frank, Sammy, Joey and Dean at this show that plays nightly at 7:30 p.m. at the Plaza, an old-school Fremont Street casino. In true old-fashioned Vegas style, you can spring extra for a steak dinner, but the live big band is included. Located at 1 Main St. Admission: $54.99 per person. Call 702-386-2444
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“Dinner in the Sky” at Sky Table

One of 24 such experiences, “Dinner in the Sky” is pretty much what it sounds like – you’re suspended 160-180 feet in the air in an open contraption that affords all 22 diners during each seating panoramic views of Vegas during the meal. You’re strapped into what looks like a padded car seat (with a seat belt, as well), after having snacks and a cocktail at a welcome reception. You get a choice from two entrees – chicken or beef – and a photo of your “flight.” The whole experience takes about an hour. Note that in cooler months, coats and warmer clothing are necessary. Cost: $249 or $289 with dessert (which means longer time in the air). $20 extra for hotel pick-up. Located at 2800 W. Sahara Ave. Open: March-September; reservations essential. Call 877-4SKYDINE
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Hoover Dam

When it was built in 1936, Hoover Dam was the world’s largest hydroelectric power-generating dam. Now at 38th-largest, it’s simply an awesome, 726-foot-high structure to behold, situated on the border between Arizona and Nevada. More than a million people a year tour the facility, which can include the Dam itself and the Powerplant (note that the Dam tour is not handicapped accessible). Also note that vehicles higher than 10.5 feet and longer than 23 feet are not allowed in the parking garage and must use the parking areas on the Arizona side. Located 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas along US 93. Admission: Hoover Dam $30 (no children under 8); Powerplant $11 (adults), $9 (seniors, ages 4-16, military), 3-under free. Parking is $7. Open: Daily; last tour in summer 4:15 p.m., last tour in winter 5:15 p.m. Visitor Center open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
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Lake Mead National Recreation Area

As the largest reservoir in the country, Lake Mead at the border of Arizona and Nevada enjoys a reputation as the premiere go-to place in the West for boating – including kayaking and canoeing – fishing, swimming and other water activities, as well as horseback riding. Drought has severely reduced the water level, and multiple marinas have closed or been moved, but that hasn’t reduced the lake’s popularity. The surrounding desert offers myriad hiking and other outdoor opportunities, and the other lake, Mohave, is another option. The proximity to the Grand Canyon and the Mohave Desert means unparalleled scenery. There is a plethora of camping in and just outside of this National Park Service-run area. Directions: There are nine access points into the area – visit the website to find the best one from your location. Admission: $5 per vehicle. Open: 24/7; Visitor Center 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Days.
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Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Less than a half hour from the casinos of Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon in Nevada looms large in the flatness of the surrounding desert. There’s a 13-mile (one-way) drive if you simply want to view the space from your vehicle, or you can get out and stretch your legs easily on one of the many shorter trails. There also are multiple more difficult hikes and biking trails and serious routes for rock climbers. Located 17 miles west of Las Vegas on Nevada 159. Admission: $5 per vehicle. Open: Scenic drive open 6 a.m.-dusk.
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Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is a fascinating place of extremes – hot and dry being its two most famous descriptors, but also scenic and alluring in its remoteness. Death Valley desert makes up much of the park, which comprises 5,262 square miles. That means plenty of space to hike, backcountry camp, birdwatch, mountain bike and drive around, including four-wheeling. Some highlights include Scotty’s Castle, a Spanish-style mansion from the 1920s, the 300-year-old volcan0-caused Ubehebe Crater, and the Eureka Dunes. Be sure to pack plenty of water, because that’s scarce around here, and sunscreen. Located: There are several ways to access Death Valley National Park. The main road running through it is California 190. Coming from Las Vegas, take Interstate 15 and exit onto US 95 North. Drive 90 miles to Lathrop Wells, NV. Turn left onto Nevada 373 (which becomes California 127)/ Drive 25 miles to Death Valley Junction, CA. Turn right onto California 190. Drive 30 miles to Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Admission: $20 per vehicle (good for 7 days). Open: 24/7; Furnace Creek Visitor Center & Museum daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m; Scotty's Castle Visitor Center & Museum daily 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (winter), 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (summer).
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