An Empty Nester’s Tour of the American West

Monument Valley, Arizona

My husband and I left our adult sons behind while we took our first “empty nest” vacation out to the gorgeous American West. We explored areas in Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. We also finished–unsuccessfully–our search for Forrest Fenn’s hidden treasure that we’d begun during Easter weekend, when we were foiled by three feet of snow.

{Note: I wrote about searching for the treasure here and here.}

Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado

Outside the ghost town of St. Elmo, Colorado, we visited the Iron City Cemetery, which gave a poignant glimpse into the hard lives of those who settled in the old mining town.

A directory provided details about the people buried there:

  • Iver Gilbertson, who was “injured at the Decorah Mine at Grizzly Gulch by a premature powder explosion. He had been thawing dynamite by the fire at his forge” and died in 1884.
  • Greisser Severn, who died when “the shaft house caught on fire, while he was in the tunnel. He was smothered by the smoke” in 1886.
  • Tom Rupp, who was “killed by falling timbers in the Mary Murphy Mine” in 1889.
  • William E. Brown, who “fell 75 feet down a mine shaft at the Mary Murphy Mine” in 1891.
  • Robert Gaebner, who “became snowbound, probably was starving and finally froze to death. No one had seen him since November until his body was discovered in January of 1909.”

Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado Iron City Cemetery outside St. Elmo, Colorado

We next toured the ghost town St. Elmo, with its well-preserved main street and houses scattered throughout the area. (People still live there, too.) At one point, a hail storm broke out, and we took shelter under what looked like an old railroad car.

St. Elmo, Colorado

St. Elmo, Colorado

St. Elmo, Colorado

As we got into our car to leave, a semi passed us, laden with building materials. We watched for a good 15 minutes as it tried to back into a housing lot. With anxiety, we told each other that he was going to get stuck and block the only way out. And that’s exactly what happened, trapping us for hours, along with eight school busses on a field trip and some other cars. Finally, a resident cut the lock on a gate to a rocky dirt path, and we four-wheeled our way out of there. I don’t know how long the others were stuck, and it was hard to imagine how they were going to get that huge truck out of there.

Stuck semi, St. Elmo, Colorado

Leaving the mountains, we traveled south to the iconic desert landscapes of Monument Valley in Arizona. We toured the area by car before hitting the desert for a hike to and around West Mitten Butte.

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

As we hiked, the sun sank lower and lower until it hid behind the buttes we were walking among, changing the landscape from orange to brown.

The next day, we took a guided tour of Cathedral Canyon in Arizona, passing through a few narrow slots and climbing a ladder to reach the “Cathedral.”

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Cathedral Canyon, Arizona

Finally, we visited Arches National Park in Utah on a hot and beautiful day, hiking to some remote arches and touring the rest of the area by car.

Marcy and Randy at Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Trail to Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Randy at Arches National Park, Utah

While I’ve never been one to fantasize about sudden wealth, I’ve caught myself imagining over the last few months how our life would change if we found a treasure valued at $2-5 million. As I left the West, I let that dream go, and I imagined this new “empty nest” phase of my life stretching out before me, no treasure chest stuffed into my duffel bag, but the path ahead strewn with gems just the same.

Desert highway, Arizona

About Marcy

I blog about trying to get out of my comfort zone, completing 101 things in 1001 days (and beyond), and writing my memoirs. My book: Timid No More.
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22 Responses to An Empty Nester’s Tour of the American West

  1. Abby says:

    Wow, great travel blog! Love the photos! Makes me yearn for an empty nest tour. Sorry you didn’t find the Forrest Fenn treasure, but looks like it was a worthwhile adventure anyway.

    I grew up in a mining town, and the dangers of underground mining are still prevalent today. But… who thaws dynamite by the fire?? And who would try to bring those building materials with such a large truck? Glad you made it out, but I feel bad for the school field trippers.

    Your canyoneering adventures look fun/scary. Remember that guy in Utah? Had to cut off his arm?! Great photo of the iconic arch.
    Abby recently posted..and now… the White-Trashians?My Profile

    • Marcy says:

      I love the West. Every time I go out there, there is so much to see and explore. Thanks for adding your comments about mining. Scary stuff still. I had read Aaron Ralston’s book about his canyoneering tragedy. It’s so amazing what some people can do to survive! We are newbies and went with a guide. 🙂 The area we visited was a simple walk, but it was out a long way from the road over rough “roads” of sand.

  2. Linda says:

    Marcy, I love this post! Your pictures show the beauty of the surroundings and the fun you both had. And is it my imagination or does the rock formation in your next-to-last picture look almost like a heart? Truly awwww-inspiring!
    Linda recently posted..Cameras Partner to Catch DriversMy Profile

  3. Bhanu says:

    Gorgeous shots of the desert vistas, cathedral and the changing colours. This type of trip seems best enjoyed when the kids are older (so you got the timing right). My 2 yr old would not be happy with all the driving. We drove from San Diego to Palm Springs this past April and tried to time it around her nap time :$

  4. Hema says:

    This must have been so exciting! The pictures reminded me of that movie ‘127 hours’. And whose face is it in the window in the 6th photo from the top? Looks so creepy!
    Hema recently posted..Tongue-TiedMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      I liked that movie–such an incredible story. I think the face was a mannequin, but it was kinda spooky with the whole ghost town thing, ha ha.

  5. Kelly Rainey says:

    Thanks for taking us along with you on your travels! And the pictures were great!

  6. Maggie says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I loved reading about your trip, and looking at those gorgeous pictures!
    Oh, I recently bought your book, and I am impressed and inspired!

  7. What a travel adventure! Love your photos, too – gorgeous.

  8. Alicia says:

    What beautiful photos! I especially love the one of the woman in the window! To think that I was born and grew up in Arizona and have never seen some of those places!

  9. These pictures are absolutely gorgeous. Traveling around and seeing every state is what I picture myself doing when the kids are grown. and is a big impetus for us to retire early.
    Jen@FrugalSteppingStones recently posted..Why You Need To Start Building Your Emergency Fund NowMy Profile

    • Marcy says:

      That sounds awesome, Jen. I picture a big cross-country road trip someday, maybe in retirement. Thanks for the comment.

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