Sunday, September 19, 2010

Road Trip Stop #5: Monument Valley

Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world, but here the earth was the floor of the sky.
- Willa Cather
Monument Valley Tribal National Park
On the border of Utah and Arizona

We've been seeing it as the backdrop to every movie set in the Wild West since we were kids, from John Ford's classic Westerns to Back to the Future II. Still, nothing quite prepares you for the majesty of Monument Valley: the contrast between impossibly blue skies and searing red earth, and the mesas and buttes that tower over the desert like skyscrapers, dwarfing everything that surrounds them. It is a sight to behold.   
From Highway 163, we rolled up onto a street straddling a wide expanse of red earth where the Utah and Arizona borders meet. At the entrance to Monument Valley Tribal Park, a Native American woman took our $5 entrance fee (The park is under the administration of the Navajo Parks & Recreation Department; our Annual National Parks Pass was not valid here). We stopped at the parking lot and ate our lunch of avocado and hummus sandwiches while staring at the buttes rising out of the valley, so tall that they're clearly seen from the lot and visitor's center. Afterwards, we went to the visitor's center to check out the souvenirs (cheesy) and the view (amazing). Then we embarked on the scenic drive down to the valley.

The drive traverses a 17-mile unpaved road which is so rough it makes Mokee Dugway seem like the Autobahn in comparison. RVs and low clearance vehicles are not recommended. In fact, I'm not sure our car was even supposed to be on this road. The park provides guided tours but uses these open trucks, which I imagine is not fun to be in when a dust storm hits (and they do—we were hit with 3 while we were on the drive). I would recommend an SUV if you'd like a bit of peace of mind while doing the tour. Don't let the big buttes distract you from the massive craters.
Seemed to be a piece of cake for our able driver, Kate, though. She was even able to snap photos while driving! (Kids, don't try this at home)
We didn't do the entire 17-mile drive because a) we were short on time, and b) we really weren't sure the car could handle it. But we did get to see some very cool spots. We drove down to the first overlook, where you can gawk at the Mittens and shop for turquoise jewelry at little roadside shacks.
From there, we drove on to check out Elephant Butte and Camel Butte.
Here's Kate giving the elephant a pat on the trunk. 
Immediately after taking this picture, we got whipped up in a sudden dust storm! We couldn't do anything except crouch down, close our eyes and wait it out ... and then take more pictures! You can clearly the intensity of that storm judging from the state of my hair.
After the dust storm, we decided to head back but got distracted with what seemed to be another cool spot. We drove towards where the park's "primitive campsite" is located and were glad we didn't decide to camp here. There was absolutely no shade, and we saw another tent getting blown away by the whipping winds! We thought we were gonna get blown away, too, when another strong dust storm hit while we were preparing to take running pictures of Kate. Thankfully we (and more importantly, the cameras—we have strange priorities, it's true) came out of the dust storm unscathed. And we did get that cool running shot.
From there we hit the road and went on our way to the next destination: the Grand Canyon. Could it possibly surpass the epic scenery of Monument Valley? Stick around to find out!

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