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National Parks and Monuments, NM and UT   06/27-29/08 (Day 623-625)

The chunk of land where New Mexico and Utah rub up against each other has to have the highest concentration of national parks, monuments and natural sites of any area of the country and the best way to get around to all of them is, obviously, with your home in tow.

We begin our beautiful places buffet with a drive through El Malpais National Monument near Grants, NM as a fast moving summer storm throws lightning bolts around the darkening sky.

Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation,
and a monument to the Navajo Code Talkers.

It’s suitably moody weather for a place whose name literally means badlands in Spanish, inspired by the fact that much of the land here is not land at all, but twisted inhospitable hunks of lava. It often looks like we’re driving past one massive parking lot that’s had its asphalt chewed up by one of those hulking re-paving machines.

Classic Utah scenery—perhaps that’s why both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide chose this exact shot (sans Airstream) for the covers of their recent Southwest guide books.

From El Malpais we head for El Moro National Monument near in Ramah, NM, a tiny park that’s biggest claim to fame is a series of inscriptions left by explorers who’ve stopped at the water source here since the 1500s. There are many truly breathtakingly elegant signatures and messages (some of the handwriting beats what we can do with a pen and paper), sadly, some park visitors think they can do better and during our visit a ranger discovers fresh graffiti that reads “Alex + Bree = BFF” (Alex and Bree, if you’re reading this, that's so not cool).

Monument Valley Airstream
Monument Valley’s famous “Mittens” formation looming just beyond our campsite.

In addition to the inscriptions, the park also offers a lovely mile long walk to the top of a stony mesa and through the remains of an ancient Indian settlement. The views (and the silence) from up there are amazing.

Monument Valley
Sunset on the “Mittens” in Monument Valley.

Next? Utah’s Monument Valley, an area we’ve visited many times. We arrive near sunset and find the campground moved to make way for a nearly-completed new hotel. The new camping area is even better, however, as it sits almost directly under Monument Valley’s famous “Mittens” formations and we are able to park our Airstream in a spot with an unobstructed view of the massive rocks.

Arches National Park
Balanced rock at Arches National Park.

The next morning we drive to nearby Arches National Park near Moab, Utah where the temperature is nearing 100. After a few (very brief) hikes that were much more enjoyable in the cool fall weather the last time we visited the park, we carry on to nearby Canyonlands National Park, which brings our park count to five in just three days. Not bad.

Arched National Park
The Airstream in yet another scenic pullout in Arches National Park.

Arches National Park
Landscape Arch in Arches National park is the longest natural rock span
in the world with an opening that's 306 feet wide.

We’ve dreamed about staying in the Willow Campground in Canyonlands since our last visit years ago. Like so many parks campgrounds, the 10 sites at Willow fill on a first-come, first-served basis so we make a beeline for it with fingers crossed that there’s still a space for us. Not only do we get a space, but our site has a shady tree!

Canyonlands National Park
This is why they call it Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands National Park
Sunset in Canyonlands National Park.

With our lovely new home secured, we unhitch and head to a few trailheads to explore the park on foot. As we move around from lot to lot, we begin to realize how many non-RVers park their tiny vehicles in spots clearly meant for oversize rigs. In many lots in Canyonlands we would not have been able to park at all with the Airstream in tow because of inconsiderate drivers like that. We’re thinking about printing up “friendly reminder” cards to leave on offending windshields.

Canyonlands National Park
Sunrise in Canyonlands National Park.


** This isn't a normal photo gallery with a slideshow because this post originally appeared on our Airstream blog. **

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