May 7 – 10
You know when you’ve arrived. John Wayne, Thelma & Louise, and Forrest Gump all had a hand in immortalizing this place in film. We had a perfect view right outside our front window.
On The Way
Our route was a little odd to get to Monument Valley, Utah and I take full credit for that. It was on purpose since I wanted to see the rock formation towering above Shiprock, New Mexico. So, we go south back into New Mexico to a lunch stop in Farmington, and then mush on to Shiprock. To the Navajo, it’s known as “rock with wings” and some think it looks like a large sailing ship.
I’m not sure I saw either shape, but it’s impressive at 7,178 feet surrounded by flat terrain. I was a fan of Tony Hillerman murder mystery novels years ago that feature a Navajo policeman, Shiprock, and the surrounding Navajo reservation. Always interesting to see things you’ve only read about and pictured in your mind. I may just have to re-read a few of those books.
From Shiprock, we continued into Arizona for a brief drive, then turned back north entering Utah and vast Monument Valley.
I started talking about seeing the Sydney Harbor Opera House and Pat informs me that’s really the monkey lips. Can you see the eye? And yes, I concede, monkey lips. We had more fun with this than Shiprock.
I couldn’t believe our good fortune. Such a view right out the front window. We saw it morning, noon and night and it never got old. I wasn’t sure we really needed to go anywhere else to experience Monument Valley.
The desert sunsets shined a light on the cliffs like a spotlight for a minute only, and then the soft colors settled in.
So we’re sitting out on our first evening marveling at the rocks around us and up walks Chris and her dog Wash, our new friends we met in Santa Fe. When Chris left there, she was headed to California, so I never dreamed we’d see her again so soon. Jackson and Wash had their little reunion and we caught up on the goings on in our travel lives for the past three weeks. Turns out she’s headed to Moab next and so are we. We’ll reconnect again there.
We also met a really cool couple from Germany, Klaus & Ava, parked right across from us. Get this. They shipped their little motorhome to South America and have been headed north ever since. They regaled us with tales of their drive through Peru, Chile, Guatamala, Costa Rica and other exotic locales. They entered the US from Nogales, Mexico and are on their meandering way eventually to Halifax, Nova Scotia where they’ll catch a boat back to Germany. What an awesome adventure!
Finally we get to try authentic Navajo Tacos at the restaurant on site. Pat got the large one which was absolutely big as a dinner plate. That Navajo fry bread was so good that I had it with beef and gravy on the next visit. Every culture seems to have some round bread thing – crepe, lefse, naan, pita, tortilla. Pretty sure I like them all.
Mexican Hat & Gooseneck
There’s a little town north of our campground called Mexican Hat, named for the prominent rock formation nearby. Again, you know it when you see it.
Pat’s a very good sport. He put on the hat for me. But just look at that face…
We wouldn’t have made a special trip to see this but it was on the way to Gooseneck State Park. A unique place we’d read about and had to see.
It’s described by the state park service as “the great meandering canyon carved by the San Juan River 1,000 feet below the overlook”. Pat’s much happier in this spot and it was pretty amazing with the river folding back and forth through the rock, just like a goose neck.
There were rafters way down below on the San Juan River.
The park also says this is “one of the most impressive examples of an entrenched river meander on the North American continent”. The San Juan River “twists and turns through the meander, flowing a distance of over six miles while advancing only 1.5 miles west”. That sounds exactly like the way we travel. We’re a pretty good example of an entrenched motorhome meander. One of the finest in North America.
While we were admiring the view we talked to another visitor who told us about the Mokie Dugway drive up to a point where you can supposedly get a bird’s-eye view of Goosenecks. He was in a truck camper and not sure he could make the hairpin turns and blind corners on the six mile gravel drive. Sounded like our kind of challenge.
The road was as promised, but the view up top wasn’t exactly what we expected.
You can’t really see Goosenecks from up there, but we did see the distant formations and canyon. The top was covered with light, mostly barren rock and Pat’s a tiny dot in the middle of it all. And a raven was good enough to pose for me. I finally finished that raven book I bought in Denali and now I’m fascinated with those birds all over again. So smart.
The Forrest Gump Shot
If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump (and really who hasn’t?!), then you must remember his running segment that made the road to Monument Valley famous, and also aggravating.
Aggravating because all these yahoos are standing, running, jumping and posing for pictures right in the middle of the highway. And they wait until the very last minute to get out of the way.
If you go down the road just a tad, you can pull off at a nice safe turnout and take a picture of the famous stretch without risking life and limb, and minus the random strangers cluttering up your shot. Although I must admit, I’d have posed for one of those running photos if there hadn’t been so much traffic.
Touring The Monuments
Here we are at the first stop on our tour through Monument Valley. We’re actually in Arizona for most of this journey. The majority of the valley is located on Navajo land, so you can’t make the drive without paying an entry fee and the route is limited. We took an extended tour to get some behind-the-scenes views. Sadly no hiking is allowed either, so the drive is it for seeing this location.
These formations are called the mittens and you can see other tour trucks headed out on the dirt road. By the time you are done, you’ve got a nice film of red dust everywhere.
You can pay $5 to sit on this horse for pictures, but I preferred taking pictures of everyone else. Looks just like the westerns filmed here.
There was more to see than just big monuments. Red sand dunes sculpted by the wind, long-toed lizards and delicate white flowers in bloom.
Drew, our tour guide, said these are likely wild horses.
This particular hole in the rock was my favorite. We were able to lay back on the curved wall at the base and feel the cool stone on our backs and look out the top at the sky above.
Anasazi Indians lived here 1500 years ago and carved these petroglyphs in the rocks. We kept waiting for more history on the Navajo who inhabit this land, but they weren’t very forthcoming. In fact, most of what we heard was from the perspective of the “White Man”. We did stop at a hogan along the way and a Native American demonstrated spinning and weaving, but no details on much else. They appeared to have a very close-knit society, retaining their traditions and language, but not particularly interested in showcasing anything to outsiders. I can respect that.
A few more favorites shots from the tour.
Next up – Moab and more red rocks. See you on the way!