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    Grand Junction,

    Colorado

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    The City of Grand Junction is a home rule municipality that is the county seat and the most populous municipality of Mesa County, Colorado, United States. The city has a council–manager form of government, and is the most populous municipality in all of western Colorado. Grand Junction is 247 miles (398 km) west-southwest of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 58,566. Grand Junction is the sixteenth most populous city in the state of Colorado, the most populous city on the Colorado Western Slope, and the only city in the entire state outside of the Front Range urban corridor to have at least 25,000 residents. It is a major commercial and transportation hub within the large area between the Green River and the Continental Divide. It is the principal city of the Grand Junction Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had a population of 146,723 in 2010 census. The city is along the Colorado River, at its confluence with the Gunnison River, which comes in from the south. "Grand" refers to the historical Grand River; it was renamed the Upper Colorado River in 1921. "Junction" refers to the confluence of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. Grand Junction has been nicknamed "River City". It is near the midpoint of a 30-mile (48 km) arcing valley, known as the Grand Valley; since the late 19th century it has been a major fruit-growing region. The valley was long occupied by the Ute people and earlier indigenous cultures. It was not settled by European-American farmers until the 1880s. Since the late 20th century, several wineries have been established in the area. The Colorado National Monument, a unique series of canyons and mesas, overlooks the city on the west. Most of the area is surrounded by federal public lands managed by the US Bureau of Land Management. Interstate 70 connects the city eastward to Glenwood Springs and Denver and westward to Green River, Utah; Salt Lake City is reached to the west via Interstate 70 and U.S Route 6; and Las Vegas (via Interstate 70 and Interstate 15).
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    Road Trips

    Road trip the Rockies on a budget

    Of course a tour of the Rocky Mountains is on your to-do list. Whether it’s your first or umpteenth visit to America’s definitive mountain range, there’s always more to see. With that in mind, we’ve curated essential must-sees in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming that offer red rocks, black rocks, and views for days, along with a manageable itinerary that maximizes the wow factor. Grand Junction Your Rocky Mountains road trip begins in Grand Junction, Colorado. The town’s name is a tribute to its location, west of the Grand Mesa, in the Western Slope region with its exceptional wines, and smack in the path of the Colorado River. Before you hit the road, spend some time exploring Grand Junction’s galleries and boutiques, plus one of America’s biggest outdoor sculpture displays. And save time for the Museum of Western Colorado’s history exhibits and dinosaur collection. For something a bit wilder, try rafting the river, with options ranging from gentle to class IV rapids. Grab a bite at Bin 707 Foodbar, which focuses on locally sourced meats and produce. Reliable hotel chains offer rooms starting under $150/night. One of the USA's lesser-known national parks, the Black Canyon Of The Gunnison National Park features a steep-sided canyon formed by the Gunnison River © AlexeyKamenskiy / Getty Images Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park From Grand Junction, head east on US-50 for the 80-minute drive to one of the National Park Service’s most sublime “secrets,” Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Here, you’ll discover a world of unique black rock formations rising 2000ft over the beautiful Gunnison River. Stay a day, a week, or more exploring the canyon’s South Rim trails, opportunities for fishing and climbing, and ranger-led programs. The most affordable lodging is found at the park’s campsites; if you choose to camp, first pick up food and water in nearby Montrose. If roughing it isn’t your style, book a room at the Double G Guestranch, in Montrose, with rates starting under $150/night. Moab is an excellent jumping-off point for exploring nearby Arches National Park © JFunk / Shutterstock Moab From Montrose, head west on I-70 for the three-hour drive to Moab, Utah. In addition to its own considerable charms, Moab happens to be the gateway to two of Utah’s “Mighty Five,” Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. You’ll want to spend plenty of time hiking their distinctive red rocks, and you’ll also reconnect with the Colorado River in Moab. Save some time to discover nearby Dead Horse Point State Park (we promise it’s way more beautiful than its name). Grab breakfast at the Jailhouse Cafe, and unwind at the end of the day at Moab Brewery. Book a room at Expedition Lodge, starting under $150/night. Discover Salt Lake City's unique blend of cultures at Temple Square © Allison J. Hahn / Shutterstock Salt Lake City For a dose of big-city style in the midst of your mountain sojourn, head west out of Moab on US-6 for the four-hour drive to Salt Lake City. A visit here offers such a variety of experiences, you’ll want to customize your itinerary to your personal tastes. Nature lovers will want to continue with their hiking and exploring at Antelope Island State Park, Sugar House Park with its trails and lakes right within city limits, and a day trip to nearby Park City. History buffs will love strolling downtown around Temple Square and learning about the city’s unique cultural mix and stories. Foodies – and, honestly, everybody else – should get a taste of SLC’s culinary scene at Ruth’s Diner with its legendary biscuits (since 1930), and the city’s favorite Mexican eatery, Red Iguana. Great lodging is available at The Kimball at Temple Square starting under $150/night; motel options under $100/night abound near the airport. Iconic sites like the historic John Moulton Barn await you in Grand Teton National Park © Paul Brady Photography / Shutterstock Grand Teton National Park Before you leave Salt Lake City, pick up a dozen of the justly famous bagels and cream cheese at Bagels and Greens, then head north out of I-15 for the nearly five-hour drive to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The distinctive Tetons will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the classic black-and-white images by photographer Ansel Adams, and capturing the stunning landscapes and wildlife for posterity (or for the ‘gram) is a must. If you want to pay tribute to Adams by attempting to imitate his work, ask rangers for directions to the marker of the exact spot where Adams shot “Tetons and the Snake River,” in 1942. Hungry? The Chuckwagon Breakfast at Dornan’s is legendary, and you can also grab deli sandwiches there. Bunk down at Targhee Lodge in nearby Alta, with rooms starting under $150/night, or book a campsite in the park well in advance of your visit. (And don’t forget you can enter adjoining Yellowstone National Park for no additional fee!) Dubois, Wyoming, is surrounded by spectacular scenery, such as the Wind River © Edwin Remsberg / The Image Bank / Getty Dubois From Grand Teton, it’s about an hour’s drive on US-26 East/US-287 South to Dubois. Here, on the Wind River, you’ll find a cool town where Friday nights in summer mean rodeo and any day is a good day to take a wildlife tour of the nearby National Bighorn Sheep Center. Grab a burger at the Cowboy Cafe, and book a room at Stagecoach Inn & Suites for under $125/night. The statue entitled "Breakin' Through" that stands in front of War Memorial Stadium at the University of Wyoming in Laramie © C5 Media / Shutterstock Laramie From Dubois, it’s about four-and-a-half hours on US-287 South and I-80 East to Laramie. The Snowy Ridge Range is one of the star attractions in this region of Wyoming, with 12,000ft Medicine Bow Peak just begging to be photographed. Spend some time at the University of Wyoming’s renowned art museum and pay a visit it its geology museum’s allosaurus (“Big Al”), which was discovered outside of Laramie. Fuel up at Coal Creek Coffee & Tap, and get a good night’s sleep (with visions of the Rockies and Tetons dancing in your head) at the Holiday Inn, starting under $125/night.

    Road Trips

    Colorado's San Juan Skyway

    Fasten your seat belts, folks. We're headed into southwestern Colorado's "skyway" country. If you like roller coasters, this is the drive for you. Edging potentially perilous drop-offs, the roads we'll navigate soar, plunge, and twist in tight curves mile after mile. Many of you are apt to get a bit rattled (I always do). But the reward is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in America. Fortunately, you don't have to pay theme park prices for the scenic thrills. This roller-coaster adventure-a four-day, 1,000-mile excursion into the massive San Juan Mountains-definitely rates as budget travel. Expect to pay from $50 to $80 a night in a good chain motel. And dine cheaply on the local ranch-house staples: juicy prime rib and sizzling grilled steaks. A range of the Rocky Mountains, the San Juans boast more than a dozen peaks that rise to above 14,000 feet. Sprawling across 10,000 square miles, they make a majestic but sometimes intimidating realm best seen on a 233-mile loop called the San Juan Skyway. An officially designated U.S.D.A. Forest Service Scenic Byway, it climbs in dizzying switchbacks over 11,008-foot Red Mountain Pass-the high point on the loop. In late spring when I last tackled the ascent, the summits around me were still cloaked with snow. Break up the drive with plenty of outdoor action. Hike, bicycle, go white-water rafting or kayaking, fish, ride a horse, try rock climbing. This is the place for it. Getting started Denver's low airfares are not surprising. It is served by several discount airlines: America West, ATA (American Trans Air), Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit Airlines. Another incentive to book into Denver is that car-rental rates there tend to be cheaper. Using the Internet, the least expensive rental I could find in Montrose cost about $40 more a week than a similar rental in the Colorado capital. Many of the rental agencies in Montrose impose a mileage limit, which also might have added to my cost. For a one-week, midsummer rental of an economy-class car out of Denver, the various national car-rental brands quoted between $150 and $200 (with unlimited mileage). (Lodging rates below are for two people for one night during the peak summer season.) Day oneOn the road Denver via Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction, 265 miles. As your plane descends into Denver, take a look at the peaks rising west of the city-in about an hour, that's where you'll be! Usually I try to avoid interstates, but I-70 treats you to a dazzling introduction to the Rockies. About 60 miles west of Denver, the highway climbs to above 11,000 feet as it passes through the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel, reputedly the highest auto tunnel in the world. Beyond is the famous ski resort of Vail; stretch your legs as you stroll along its ersatz alpine streets. I-70 snakes alongside a number of tumbling streams, but it's the Colorado River that puts on the best show as it races for a dozen miles through the steep rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. A thrilling drive; you can almost imagine you're bouncing down the river on a white-water raft. Take another break at the giant hot-spring pool (adults, $13) in the center of Glenwood Springs, a bustling resort town. Flat-topped mesas line I-70 as it follows the Colorado River down the western slope of the Rockies to Grand Junction. Details From the Denver airport, take I-70 west to Grand Junction. Stay in Grand Junction at the 100-room Motel 6 (970/243-2628), $50 weekdays/$60 weekends; 132-room Super 8 (970/248-8080), $69; or the 107-room Days Inn (970/245-7200), $71 weekdays/$77 weekends. Dine at W.W. Peppers, offering an upscale look and budget prices. Information: 800/962-2547, www.visitgrandjunction.com. Day twoAncient paths Grand Junction via Montrose, Telluride, and Cortez to Mesa Verde National Park, 270 miles. A 2,000-foot-high mesa, cut by deep canyons, towers above Grand Junction. This is Colorado National Monument ($5 per car), a landscape of sculpted red rock. Rim Rock Drive edges the mesa, yielding panoramic views. Cold Shivers Point is aptly named, you will agree, when you peer into the canyon depths below. Give yourself an hour at the park before heading south to the San Juans. On the southern outskirts of Montrose, stop briefly at the excellent Ute Indian Museum (adults, $3). Much of Colorado was once the homeland of the Ute tribe, many of whose members now reside on a pair of reservations near Mesa Verde. You will cross Ute paths often on this drive. The early life of these deer and buffalo hunters is illustrated with a first-class display of artifacts, including an eagle-feather headdress, a buckskin dress, and beautiful beadwork. The museum is located on what was the farm of Chief Ouray, who headed the Ute Nation from 1868 until his death in 1880. To the Utes, the San Juans were "the Shining Mountains." You can see them directly ahead as you leave the museum, an intimidating wall of jagged peaks that seem impenetrable. The San Juan Skyway officially begins in Ridgway. You can make the loop in either direction; I prefer counterclockwise because this way you ease more gently into the sky-high country. Counterclockwise, then, the approach to Telluride, a popular winter ski resort, traces the San Miguel River through the deep red walls of a winding canyon. The town itself is tucked near the end of the canyon. Actually, there are two towns here: Telluride, the attractively preserved historic mining town in the valley, and Mountain Village, a cluster of luxury hotels and homes high above town on the resort's ski slopes. They are linked by a free gondola that makes the climb from old to new in 13 minutes. Board one of the eight-passenger cars for a terrific view from the top. The gondola operates daily from 7 a.m. to midnight. In Telluride browse the offbeat shops housed in ornate Victorian-era brick and wood structures. Hike the easy River Corridor Trail, which meanders through town to a beaver preserve. And then continue for a mile or so to the canyon's end, where Bridal Veil Falls cascades down the cliff into town. Afterward, enjoy a reasonably priced sandwich at funky Baked in Telluride. Out of Telluride, Colorado Route 145 climbs through a chilly, tundra-like landscape over 10,222-foot Lizard Head Pass, named for an odd-shaped pinnacle. And then it drops slowly from the summit, following the splashing Dolores River through rolling green meadows to the desert-like country of Dolores and Cortez. Stop just south of Dolores at the Anasazi Heritage Center ($3), a museum operated by the Bureau of Land Management. It preserves hundreds of clay pots, yucca-fiber sandals, and other artifacts collected from Anasazi villages. Now on to Mesa Verde National Park ($10 per car). Steep switchbacks climb from the Montezuma Valley to the top of the green mesa at about 8,500 feet. This was home to many Ancestral Puebloans from about a.d. 550 to a.d. 1300. Surely they were as awed by the distant views from this elevated perch as I always am. The two most impressive ruins are Cliff Palace and Balcony House. To see them, you have to join a ranger-led tour. Tickets for each cost $2.50 at the Far View Visitor Center. Getting in and out of both requires some agility and no fear of heights. The Ancestral Puebloans built their lodgings in nearly inaccessible cave-like ledges on the sides of high cliffs for protection from their enemies. To reach them, tourists do as the Ancestral Puebloans did. Stone steps cut into the side of a canyon wall descend through a narrow crevice to the floor of Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Once it housed 200 people in more than 100 rooms but was vacated in the fourteenth century, perhaps because of prolonged drought. Exiting is a similar scramble. You edge up stone steps through another tight crevice, and then you climb a series of two 10-foot-tall ladders placed one atop the other up the canyon wall. Don't look down. No tickets are required for a look at Spruce Tree House, which is considered the park's best-preserved cliff dwelling. But you do have to negotiate a steep path down and up. The third largest of Mesa Verde's cliff dwellings, it contains about 100 rooms and eight ceremonial chambers called kivas-a sort of cylindrical pit. You can descend by ladder into one of the kivas. I like to stay at the park's mesa-top Far View Lodge, which is well named. From my balcony, I watch the lights pop on at scattered ranch houses in the valley far below. On one visit, deer browsed outside my balcony. This time, a pair of wild horses meandered past. Details From Grand Junction, take U.S. 50 southeast via Delta to Montrose. Continue south on U.S. 550 to Ridgway, connecting to Colorado Route 62 west to Placerville. Head southeast on Colorado 145 to Telluride. Pick up Colorado 145 again and angle southwest to Cortez. Take U.S. 160 east to Mesa Verde. For a scenic splurge, stay in Mesa Verde at the 115-room Far View Lodge (800/449-2288), $102 to $134. Dine at the Far View Terrace Food Court, a cafeteria. If Far View is out of your price range, stay in Cortez at the 85-room Days Inn (970/565-8577), $60 to $70; or the 58-room Super 8 (970/565-8888), $75. Information: 800/253-1616, www.mesaverdecountry.com. Day threeBoomtown days Mesa Verde via Durango, Silverton, and Ouray to Montrose, 160 miles. Spend the morning exploring more of Mesa Verde before heading back into the San Juans. From Durango, the road climbs quickly to Coal Bank Pass at 10,660 feet. Even in midsummer, the air can be chilly. Ahead the cliff's-edge road crests 10,899-foot Molas Pass. On the descent, you can see Silverton far below, set in a small, bowl-like valley. Once a rowdy boomtown of bars and brothels, the old silver-mining town of Silverton (elevation 9,318 feet) seems rather sedate these days, although it still retains a rough frontier look. Swirls of dust, kicked up by frosty breezes, whip across the unpaved side streets, and Victorian-era wood and brick buildings-housing shops and caf,s-possess a properly weathered look. Overhead, the treeless summits of craggy peaks snag passing clouds. Silverton is the terminus of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (adults, $60), a tourist train that (depending on the season) makes one or more slow but spectacular ascents daily from Durango. Tooting its whistles, the steam engine pulls a string of bright-yellow coach cars. It rolls into the center of town delivering a flood of chattering families who liven things up temporarily. Steady your nerves now, because the next 23 miles over 11,008-foot Red Mountain Pass to Ouray can make your heart race. Carved out of the side of the mountain, the road carries you in more tight switchbacks from one precipice to the next. Around curves, the speed limit drops to 15 mph; believe me, I am never tempted to exceed this reasonable pace. Recover in Ouray's giant hot-spring pool ($8). Complete the San Juan Skyway loop in Ridgway and double back to Montrose. If it's still daylight, head for nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park ($7 per car). The park is named for a deep, dark, and narrow gorge cut by the Gunnison River. Because it is so deep-a drop of 2,000 feet from rim to river-and so narrow, it is wrapped in heavy shadows for much of the day. From the visitor center, South Rim Road skirts the edge of the manzanita- and sagebrush-lined canyon for seven miles. Sixteen overlooks provide splendid views into the depths, where the pale-green Gunnison splashes in white-water frenzy. Details From Mesa Verde, take U.S. 160 east to Durango, connecting to U.S. 550 north to Montrose. Stay in Montrose at the 42-room Super 8 (970/249-9294), $67; the 51-room San Juan Inn (888/681-4159), $69; or the 46-room Days Inn (970/249-3411), $69 weekdays/$79 weekends. Feast on a $9 top-sirloin steak at Starvin' Arvin's. Information: 800/873-0244, www.visitmontrose.net. Day fourWinter wilderness Montrose to Denver, 315 miles. Lots of miles today, but plenty of great scenery makes them pass quickly. Outside Montrose, U.S. 50 passes through Curecanti National Recreation Area, which encompasses three sparkling blue reservoirs formed when the Gunnison River was dammed. Fishing, boating, and windsurfing are top sports here. In summer, the National Park Service offers 90-minute boat rides ($10) from Morrow Point Reservoir into the Black Canyon. For details: 970/641-2337. Ahead lies one more climb into the Rockies. In yet more cliff's-edge switchbacks, the road crests Monarch Pass at 11,312 feet. Snowy peaks march into the distance, a year-round winter-like wilderness that is as beautiful as any landscape on this drive. Back down the mountain, U.S. 50 enters Bighorn Sheep Canyon. Here the road runs for about 50 miles alongside the Arkansas River as it weaves through the narrow rock chasm. A part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, this is prime white-water rafting and kayaking country. You will find picnic tables at several key spots ($2), where you can watch the watercraft splash past. Now head back to Denver, skirting the edge of the Rampart Range. In Colorado Springs, that lofty mountain over-shadowing the city to the west is Pikes Peak. If you've got time, drive to the top for a final sky-high view. Details From Montrose, take U.S. 50 east to Penrose, connecting to Colorado 115 north to Colorado Springs. On the city's outskirts, jog east on Colorado 83 to I-25 north. At exit 194 take E-470 ($5 toll) to the Denver airport. Catch a late-afternoon flight home, or spend the night at the airport's 101-room Super 8 Motel (303/371-8300, $55). Dine at the Moonlight Diner; the T-bone steak plate, $13.25.

    National Parks

    The National Parks of Utah

    Cramming five national parks into four days isn't for everyone. But if you are going to attempt such a quest, Southern Utah is the place to do it. Five of the nation's most gorgeous parks are packed into 650 miles of high desert. Bryce Canyon and Zion are both justly famous; so are the sandstone bridges in Arches National Park. Less well known are Canyonlands, every inch as impressive as the Grand Canyon, and Capitol Reef. Sure, attempting five parks in four days was ambitious. Not to mention the fact that my friend Stew and I did it at the very chilly start of spring, in part to beat the crowds. But over the years, we've climbed mountains together. We've traveled through the hinterlands of eastern Cuba. We've even taken a troop of Boy Scouts on a three-week tour of Europe. In other words, we can't resist a challenge. Day 1: Grand Junction to Moab Less than 90 minutes after landing in Grand Junction, Colo., we made it to Moab, Utah, a laid-back city wedged between Arches and Canyonlands. We had booked a mountain-bike ride north of Moab leading to a panorama of the desert from the northern end of Arches National Park. We'd have to grind 700 vertical feet up slickrock, a bald sandstone which, despite the name, is remarkably grippy. Our guide, from Rim Tours, was a lean young dude called Goose. Nine years ago, he left his home in Ohio, as well as his full name (Mike Gostlin), to guide rafting and biking trips in Colorado and Utah. Goose rode a one-gear with no shocks. Stew and I were on state-of-the-art mountain bikes with fast shifting and full suspension. Not that it helped. Five minutes into the ride, I was gasping for air, pushing my jelly legs to propel myself up a four-mile-long rock ridge. All I could think was, Thank God for dinosaur prints. The three-toed impressions appeared every 50 yards, and each was surrounded by a circle of stones to keep people away. I disembarked to examine every single one. After the ninth footprint, Goose saw through my sudden interest in paleontology. The ride down was much easier. Stew and I then drove into the popular southern end of Arches. Families piled out of minivans and trotted along trails to view aptly named geological formations such as Balanced Rock and Double Arch. By late afternoon, we were over the pain of the bike ride enough to do a 3/4-mile hike up to a view of Delicate Arch, a 45-foot-tall horseshoe of orange and red sandstone. We raced the setting sun as we looped up Highway 191 and then down Rte. 313 into Dead Horse Point State Park, at the northern corner of Canyonlands. The main overlook at Dead Horse Point also offers a view of Canyonlands. The muddy Colorado River snakes in from the left in wide, lazy curves. We got there just in time to catch the last bit of daylight. Our hotel's best feature was its location--right behind Moab's oldest microbrewery, Eddie McStiff's. The bartender plunked down a basket of tortilla chips and some tasty salsa--for 69¢--to accompany pints of the brewery's own Sky Island Scottish Ale, Cisco Bend Stout, and Rock Amber Ale. Day one Operators Rim Tours 1233 South Hwy. 191, Moab, 800/626-7335, half-day ride $90 Food Eddie McStiff's57 S. Main St., Moab, 435/259-2337, eddiemcstiffs.com, pint $3 Attractions Arches National Park435/719-2299, nps.gov/arch, weeklong car pass $10 Dead Horse Point State ParkRte. 313, 435/259-2614, stateparks.utah.gov, day pass $7 Day 2: Moab to Torrey The largest of the five national parks at 527 square miles, Canyonlands is divided into three sections. Stew and I had gotten a quick look at the northern Island in the Sky section yesterday at sunset, and we wanted to see how the southeastern section, Needles, compared. (Reaching the westerly Maze section involves 46 miles of dirt road just to get to the ranger station; maybe next time.) The road into Needles ascended to the Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Whereas Island in the Sky was all grand, wide canyons, Needles felt more intimate. Pygmy juniper trees decorated the ground, and hundreds of layers of sandstone fanned out in phyllo-like sheets. Newspaper Rock was on the way back to the main road. The black stone is covered in petroglyphs that were scratched over a 2,000-year period by native tribes (Anasazi, Fremont, Paiute, and Navajo). It was an impressive collage of images: men on horseback hunting antelope, oversize gods sprouting horns and antlers. We stopped for lunch at Twin Rocks Café in the one-road town of Bluff. The Navajo fry bread was crispy, puffy, and wonderfully greasy, and a platter of mesquite-smoked barbecued pork ribs and brisket was huge and satisfying. A sign past the town of Mexican Hat announced that we were now in "Navajoland," the Native American reservation, which sprawls across southern Utah and northern Arizona. The only real detail our map showed was a dot labeled Goulding, just north of Arizona. It turned out to be Goulding's Lodge & Tours, a complex with a lodge, museum with memorabilia from movies shot locally, and outfitter that runs tours of the reservation. In an air-conditioned gift shop we picked up some Native American drums and turquoise jewelry. Stew noticed that the map outlined a little dirt road that headed west, turned south, and rejoined Highway 163 after just a mile or two. Craving a glimpse of the real reservation--anything beyond the gift shop--we took the shortcut. We immediately spotted a modest home with a dome-shaped ceremonial Navajo mud hut in the yard. Success! Continuing on, we took a left at each fork. But after half an hour had passed with no more signs of civilization, I tossed the map onto the floorboard and declared us lost. A Navajo couple in a pickup truck gave us some good directions to the town of Blanding, which is along the highway. Our two-hour detour left us short on time, and we still needed to get halfway across the state to Torrey, where I had booked a night at the Cowboy Homestead Cabins. Restaurants were sure to be closed by the time we arrived, so before getting on the road, we made a quick grocery stop. After a good long drive, we checked into our cabin, one of four, and fired up a nearby barbecue. The smell of steaks, pork chops, red peppers, and zucchini lured Greg Daussin, a Utahan from upstate who had been coming here for the past 10 years and was staying in the cabin next door. He and Stew discovered a shared love of rock climbing, and we stayed up until 3:30 a.m. trading climbing stories and slowly emptying the cooler. Day two Lodging Cowboy Homestead Cabins2100 S. Rte. 12, Torrey, 435/425-3414, cowboyhomesteadcabins.com, from $49 Food Twin Rocks Café913 E. Navajo Twins Dr., Bluff, 435/672-2341, twinrocks.com/cafe, pork ribs $8 Peace Tree Juice Cafe20 S. Main St., Moab, 435/259-0101 Attractions Canyonlands National Park435/719-2313, nps.gov/cany, weeklong car pass $10 Shopping Goulding's Lodge & Tours100 Main St., Monument Valley, 435/727-3231, gouldings.com Day 3: Torrey To Bryce Canyon Torrey is the gateway to Capitol Reef, the least well known of Utah's five national parks. Route 24 cuts through it, threading a high valley carved by the little Fremont River. I had planned for us to spend only an hour or so at Capitol Reef--just enough time to take it in and move on--but I liked what I saw. The 10-mile Scenic Drive led us to a long wash (a dry canyon that becomes a river after heavy rain). The walls rise hundreds of feet on both sides as the dirt road twists its way through the increasingly narrow canyon. At the end of the road, we parked and continued on foot for two miles. As we walked, lizards scurried out of our path. It was quiet and eerie, like bandit country. I later learned Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch used Capitol Reef as a hideout. From Torrey we wound south on Highway 12, through Dixie National Forest. It earns my vote for the country's most spectacular drive. By the time we reached the summit, the road cut through a forest of tall firs and eight-foot-high snow drifts (at the highest points, the snow can stay through late spring). A span of red and yellow mesas and desert lay below. And that was just the first 20 miles. Descending into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the road follows the top of a ridgeline in a series of tight curves with drop-offs of more than 1,000 feet on both sides. Once again, we found ourselves racing the clock, this time to get to Bryce Canyon to see the sunset light up the hoodoos, which are spindly, orange-and-white-striped spires of rock. We missed the natural show at the park's Sunset Point by five minutes. But as the crowds dispersed, a photographer stayed planted. "Wait a few more minutes," he instructed, smiling. "You'll see." Soon enough, the snow between the pinnacles glowed a luminous pale purple. We'd decided to splurge on Bryce's own historic lodge for a night. Our room was bland, but had a lovely balcony with rough-hewn logs for a railing. Unfortunately, dinner at the lodge was pretty awful. Everything was salty, my salmon managed to be both pink and dry, and by the next morning I felt queasy. Perhaps it was just due to opening-night jitters--we did happen to come on the first day of the season. Day three Lodging Bryce Canyon LodgeBryce Canyon National Park, 888/297-2757, brycecanyonlodge.com, from $125, dinner $16 Attractions Capitol Reef National Park435/425-3791, nps.gov/care, car pass for Scenic Drive $5, otherwise free Bryce Canyon National Park435/834-5322, nps.gov/brca, weeklong car pass $20 Day 4: Bryce Canyon to Grand Junction At Bryce, the altitude ranges from about 7,900 feet to more than 9,100 feet. With the lingering effects of dinner, I wasn't up for too much activity. So Stew and I drove out to the end of Bryce's scenic road and stopped at each overlook. The best were at Agua Canyon and the rock window called Natural Bridge. Four parks down, one to go. By the time we got to Zion, we had just enough time to take the park's most rewarding short hike, the half-mile-long Canyon Overlook Trail. Private cars are no longer allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive north of the visitors center, so after we finished our hike, we caught the free shuttle to the Riverside Walk trail, which leads to the Narrows. The Narrows is a 16-mile trail that doubles as the bed of the Virgin River. (Only the first mile is accessible without a permit.) Hikers have to check with the visitors center before setting off, as flash floods can send a wall of water racing down the trail, between the 2,000-foot-high canyon walls. Attempting the Narrows at twilight was our final act of ill-advised bravado. We made it only around the first bend before the frigid water rose to our knees. We snapped a couple of quick pictures for bragging rights and hightailed it back to the car. Down the road from the park gates, we checked into a spacious cottage at the Canyon Ranch Motel and immediately headed for the outdoor hot tub. Fifteen minutes of soaking restored our circulation. We then finished off the evening with some of the best Mexican food I've ever tasted in the States, at the Bit and Spur Restaurant and Saloon. We ordered potato, poblano, and chorizo soup, and a couple of sweet potato tamales topped with shredded pork and salsa. The next morning we zipped back across the state. And as we neared the border, a flock of tumbleweeds playfully chased our car toward the state line of Colorado. Day four Lodging Canyon Ranch Motel668 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale, 435/772-3357, canyonranchmotel.com, from $69 Food Bit and Spur Restaurant and Saloon1212 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale, 435/772-3498, sweet potato tamale dinner $16 Attractions  Zion National Park 435/772-3256, nps.gov/zion, weeklong car pass $20 Finding your way This trip can just as easily be done in reverse by flying into Las Vegas, a two-hour drive from Zion. The parks are open year-round, but outfitters and most lodges are only open for business April through October. Early spring and early fall are the best times to beat the crowds. And even though this is the desert, it's the high desert: Daytime temperatures in the 70s plummet to the mid-30s some nights, and there's still plenty of snow at higher elevations. To save money on entrance fees, consider an annual National Parks Pass. It's only $50--$15 less than the total cost of the entry fee

    Budget Travel Lists

    The 10 Best Wine Regions You've Never Heard Of

    Travel writer Stefani Jackenthal spent the past year exploring wine regions around the country for her new book Wanderlust Wining. She hit all the classic regions, of course—Napa, the Finger Lakes—but she also stumbled upon some lesser–known gems. Here are her favorite new discoveries: ten under–the–radar wine regions worth visiting. Get there before the crowds do! 1. Loudoun, VA Where: Dubbed “D.C.’s Wine Country,” Loudoun is a quick 30–minute drive from the heart of our nation's capital. Why go: This is the wine region for history buffs. Tasting rooms are sprinkled across historic landscapes, battle sites, and former president’s plantations. Regional specialties: For reds, you'll find Merlot, Cabernet Sauvigon, and Cabernet Franc, along with a hefty amount of Petit Verdot—a varietal quickly gaining notoriety. For white wine lovers, there’s plenty of Viogner and Chardonnay. Winery to try: Named the “Best Winery in Loudoun County” for eight consecutive years, the family–owned Tarara Vineyard and Winery (13648 Tarara Lane, Leesburg, VA) is situated on a meticulously manicured 475-acre farm paralleling the Potomac River. They craft crowd–pleasing Charval and Rose’ ($20.00 per bottle). 2. Mendocino, Calif. Where: About 90 miles north of San Francisco, Mendocino is sandwiched between the Mayacamas Mountains and the Coastal Mountain Range. It’s a remote, rugged landscape, with ancient redwood trees, lakes, and rivers. Why go: Want to sip and save the Earth? This is your place. Mendocino may be the greenest wine region in the country, with nearly 30 percent of the 40–plus wineries here growing certified organic grapes. Many ahdere to biodynamic or fish–friendly farming methods, too. Regional specialties: Mendocino’s cool climate is best for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Gewurztraminer. As for reds, look for Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Rhone blends. Winery to try: True to Mendocino’s reputation as a green winery region, Parducci Wine Cellars was the first “carbon neutral winery” in the country (501 Parducci Road, Ukiah, Calif.). Inside its red–tile roofed tasting room, the redwood–barrel bar and brick walls are a great atmosphere in which to sample their Gold–medal winning Chardonnay and True Grit Petite Sirah (from $30 per bottle). 3. Palisade, CO Where: Set on the western slope of the sunny Grand Valley region, Palisade is a 12–mile drive east of Grand Junction Airport on Interstate 70. Why go: The weather here seems made for sipping: Palisade–Grand Mesa averages 290 days of sunshine annually. Regional specialties: Over the last decade, the area has become known for its lively Riesling, sturdy Syrahs and spicy Cabernet Francs. Winery to try: Look for the “Chardonnay Chicken” standing guard outside of Plum Creek Winery’s (3708 G Road, Palisade, CO) rustic tasting room. The seven–and–a–half–foot metal fowl is something of a local landmark and was created out of old farm equipment by local artist Lyle Nichols. Inside the bright, lofty barn–turned–tasting room, a redwood tasting bar takes center stage with cozy couches tucked in the corner and a quaint picnic area outback. The award–winning Riesling features peach and fig flavors, while the Merlot ($13 per bottle) is a dark-fruit delights. Winemaker Jenne Baldwin–Eaton is one of a handful of women winemakers in Colorado. 4. Hudson Valley, NY Where: An hour and a half drive north of New York City, the Hudson River Valley is one of America’s oldest winemaking and grape–growing regions, with some of the country’s oldest vines. Why go: Concord grapes make up the majority of the varietals harvested here, and most are used in grape juice, jellies, and jams. But the region's wine production has exploded in the last 20 years. There are now more than 25 operating wineries. Regional specialties: Expect crisp whites, such as Sevyl Blanc, Riesling, and blends. The reds here vary from light and fruity Beajoulais–style to dark fruit Cabernet Sauvignons and Shiraz. Winery to try: The tasting room and wine bar at Cascade Mountain Winery (835 Cascade Mountain Road, Amenia, NY) sells pate and cheese plates, which are ideal to nibble in their picnic area. Try their snappy Seyval Blanc before moving onto the Riesling, Old Vine Zinfandel ($14 per bottle) and Petite Syrah. 5. Shenandoah Valley, VA Where: Shenandoah's wine country—or SWX, as it's known locally—starts about an hour’s drive west of Washington D.C. and spans from north of Winchester to south of Roanoke. Why go: This is a hotspot for endorphin–junky oenophiles! The area has fantastic hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails, while the road cycling is fantastic along Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, both in nearby Shenandoah Valley National Park. There is also the one hundred–million–year–old “Natural Bridge” to see, along with an assortment of caverns, such as the famous Luray Caverns, the largest in eastern America. Regional specialties: The main focus here is on Viogner, Reisling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, and fruit wines. Winery to try: Nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, Crooked Run Cellars’ (1685 Crooked Run Road, Mount Jackson, VA) tasting room is built in an old Pennsylvania Bank Barn dating back to the early 1900’s. The barn has a horseshoe pit, badminton nets, charcoal grills for use, and a quaint picnic area overlooking the estate's 120–acre property. House favorites include the Equitation—a Chianti–style red—Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay. 6. The Southern Region, Ore. Where: The Southern Region is a rugged mountain valley that stretches 125 miles from south of Eugene to the California border. It's edged by the Cascade Mountain Range to the east and the Coast Range to the west. Why go: Known for its thunderous waterfalls, covered bridges, diverse wildlife, and awesome overlooks, the Southern region also produces nearly 12 percent of Oregon's wines. Leafy vineyards pepper the green valley, along with majestic mountains, breathtaking volcanic formations, and the 7,000–year–old Crater Lake—the deepest in all of North America. Regional specialties: Notably warmer than up north in the better known Willamette Valley, the southern region grows rich dark fruit with higher sugar levels and intense flavors. Big, bold beefy reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc do well here. However, there are cooler areas of this region in the higher sections, which produce floral Viogner, crisp Riesling, savory Gewurtzraminer and spicy Syrah. Winery to try: A boutique family-run winery, J. Scott Cellars (tasting room located at “The Wine Place” on Hwy 101 & 4th street, Eugene, OR) produces hand–crafted, award–winning Viogner, Pinot Blanc ($15.00 per bottle), Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Syrah. 7. New Mexico Wine Country Where: Who knew they make wine in Albuquerque? New Mexico is actually home to 42 wineries and tastings rooms, most located in the super sunny southern part of the state. Why go: It's all about the bubbly! Sun–kissed days and cool nights in the high desert climate allows grapes to slowly ripen and chill–out at night to retain essential acids. The area produces some great sparkling wines. Regional specialties: Along with sparklers, some of the area’s specialties include Chardonnay, Johannisburg Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Winery to try: Established in 1983, Gruet Winery (8400 Pan American Freeway N.E., Albuquerque, NM) was founded by brother and sister duo Nathalie and Laurent Gruet, who are sparkling–wine specialists and originally from the Champagne region of France. Their high–end vintage and reserve bubbly wines will put a dent in the bank, but many of their award–winning non–vintage sparklers like Brut, Rose, and Blanc Noir ($13.75) sell for under $20 and are available at stores and restaurants across the country. They also make terrific Chardonnay, Pinot Noir ($11.00) and Syrah. 8. Wisconsin Wine Country Where: The Badger State has five diverse wine regions, with 36 wineries across the state. The regions include Northwood in the north, the semi-central Fox Valley, Door County along the east coast, Driftless in the southwest, and Glacial Hill in the southeast. Why go: Wisconsin winemaking reaches back to the early 1840s, when Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian immigrant, established a vineyard and winery overlooking the Wisconsin River. Most tasting rooms are open daily and—not surprisingly—serve local cheese to pair with their wines. Regional specialties: Many Wisconsin wineries produce Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Domaine du Sac, a bright Beaujolais–style red. Winery to try: Wollersheim Winery (7876 State Road 188, Prairie du Sac, WI), in Sauk City, is nestled in the hillside overlooking the Wisconsin River. The fun, friendly tasting room is terrific for swirling, sniffing and sipping Chardonnay, Domaine du Sac ($12.00 per bottle), Prairie Sunburst Red, and Domaine Reserve ($20.00 per bottle). 9. Missouri Wine Country Where: With over 100 wineries, Missouri wine country is broken into five separate corridors: the Hermann Wine Trail, the Route Du Vin, the Missouri Weinstrasse, the Missouri River Wine Trail, and the Ozark Mountain Wine Trail. Why go: This is where it all began. Missouri winemaking dates back to the late–1830's, when German settlers arrived and planted grape vines in the town of Hermann, on the flanks of the Missouri River. That makes it the oldest wine region in the country. Regional specialties: Some of the area’s standouts whites include Chardonnay and sparkling wines. In red, look for the rich, robust, rustic Norton, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot ($39.00 per bottle). Winery to try: Mount Pleasant Winery (3125 Green Mountain Drive,Branson, MO) is one of the oldest and largest in the state, with over 150 years of winemaking experience. They offer classes, “bottle your own dessert wine” clinics, and daily tastings of their Bethelem Valley Chardonel, Cabernet Sauvignon Estate, and Bethlem Valley Norton ($28 per bottle). 10. Mason-Dixon Wine Trail, York, Penn. Where: This tasting trail winds through 14 family–owned wineries, from the Susquehanna River Valley in Pennsylvania to just south of the Mason–Dixon Line in Maryland. Why go: At these warm and friendly boutique tasting rooms, the winemaker is often on–hand to answer questions and discuss wines. Notable wines: Look for Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and fruit wines. Winery to try: Founded in 1975, Naylor Wine Cellars (4069 Vineyard RoadStewartstown, PA) is the oldest winery in York County. With 35 acres of grapes, their award–winning Intimacy ice wine ($30 per bottle) is a crowd–pleaser as is the Vidal Perfection, Blush, Cabernet Franc, and Chamborcin. More from Budget Travel Road Trip: New York State of Wine 4 Emerging U.S. Wine Destinations A Wine Tour of the Rhône

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