Edit Blog Post
Published: April 28th 2013
1956 John Wayne classic
What began as a long awaited visit to the Monument Valley soon evolved into 2 of the most memorable days in our 9,000-mile road trip.
We left Jim and Ila's on March 25th. In Las Cruces we caught I-25 North to Albuquerque and from there we swung west on I-40 to Gallup. From Gallup you take a series of small two-lane roads until you get on 163 which is the way into Monument Valley. These small two-lane roads pass through large Indian reservations where you will find tiny towns centered around Laundromat/ Convenience store operations. The homes are small and pre-fab. The people are small and quiet and impoverished.
Monument Valley is instantly recognizable to anyone who has seen any of John Ford's Westerns like Stagecoach
, The Searchers
, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon
, Fort Apache
, Rio Grande
, My Darling Clementine
, Sgt Rutledge
and Cheyenne Autumn
. Let us not forget still others like Leone's; Once Upon A Time In The West
and MacKenna's Gold
, Wagon Master
and Billy The Kid
. Even modern offerings such as Back To The Future III
, Three Amigos
and Will Smith's forgettable; Wild, Wild West
were filmed here. If a picture is worth a thousand words
KJ at the south end of Monument Valley
What you can't see is the fence she's standing against. The majority of the Valley is closed off.
then one look at Monument Valley encompasses the mythology of the American West. Unfortunately most of the sights are fenced off all the way out to the roads so squash any fantasies you might have had about shimmying up sandstone needles and mesas.
What you will see are stunning rust-brown buttes and promontories sprouting from a vast, red plain. There was little traffic during the time we visited. The roadside souvenir stands were manned by a few disinterested Navajos pitching Asian-made mementos. The sun was bright and the washed-out denim skies were cloudless. There are no signs trumpeting your arrival in the Valley. The geology itself is enough. For travelers planning to spend a night here there is the town of Kayenta just southwest of the park. Here you will find enough motels, RV parks, Burger Kings and Casinos to make you feel at home.
Following 163 we entered Utah and the town of Mexican Hat on the San Juan River. There is a small bridge here and a horizontal stick of a town embedded in a sandstone cliff-face offering rooms to rent. Just the other side of Mexican Hat we got onto 261. This was a spur
of the moment decision on our part as the day was getting on and we weren't really sure where we were going to spend the night. 163 turned out to be a gravel topped, high climbing switchback sans guardrails. It reminded me of my days in Asmara, Eritrea where the only way to get to the Red Sea coast was via a series of rapidly descending hairpin turns that took 6,000 feet off of of your altimeter in fast fashion. I took my time after I discovered that speeds in excess of 25 mph were an invitation to a fishtailing, gravel slinging exhibition that Karen wanted NO part of. I wouldn't advise anyone to attempt this road in an RV but hey! The views were amazing as during this time of the year visibility is unlimited. We could see Monument Valley laid out in the distance.
At the top we found a straight, paved road running straight as an arrow through dense conifers. Just south of the Manti-La Sal National Forest we turned northward on 95 through a geological wonderland. The two-lane road winds its way through Fry Canyon. A narrow ribbon of blue snaked hundreds of feet overhead,
San Juan River Crossing
The charming town of Mexican Hat. Last chance for gas before the Canyonlands.
underwater ambient light in a dark, tight, rift of a hallway. It was like rafting the Colorado in a car. This went on for nearly a hundred miles. Occasionally the hall would open out onto fantastic, titanic, light-filled rooms festooned with sage brush and globular sandstone formations that looked like something that crawled out of a Lava lamp. Off to the west stand the Henry Mountains. Big, black, basalt peaks filigreed with frost. The run-off from the Henry's are what carved out all of these valleys and gorges 23 to 31 million years ago. The Henry's feed the Fremont, and Dirty Devil Rivers which run into the Colorado. In the valley floor you can see a fissure about 100 feet wide with a fast river carving away at the rock far below. The globular silly sandstone formations bear official monikers like; Jacob's Chair, Valley of the Gods and Grand Gulch. To those we added our own; Sleeping Elephant, Ram's Head and Easter Island Moai. We stopped at Hall's Crossing Marina on Lake Powell. The marina was closed as were all of the facilities there. The season here starts on April 1st and soon the lake will be crowded with houseboats
and college-aged revelers turning the pond into a red-neck trailer park.
We exited the canyons and entered a wide pastureland. Free-range cattle grazed alongside the road oblivious to our car. Anywhere there is pasture out here you will see free range cattle grazing. Be careful because they aren't. We missed the cows and hit Hanksville just as the sun disappeared. A cottage at the Whispering Sands Motel set us back $55. Off-season rate. Very clean, family-run operation. Would gladly stay there again. The town is little more than a settlement. There is a fuel/ convenience store and 3 small eateries.
The day had been one of the most spectacular that either Karen or myself had ever experienced anywhere on our travels. The closest thing we relate it to is the area around Kilbarri in West Australia along the Murcheson River. We had seen but one other person on the road through the canyons. A motorcyclist who seemed as entranced as we were. The next day we planned on visiting Capitol Reef National Park hardly hoping that it could compare with this day's sights. Wrong again.
Note to Dina: We are home. I'm playing catch up on the
blogs but should be done shortly. Every day on the road Karen would say, "Dina should see this and Dina should see that."
Indeed you should.
Tot: 2.424s; Tpl: 0.076s; cc: 17; qc: 21; dbt: 0.0471s; 2; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb