Of all the places we could have driven this week, Jeff’s number one goal was to finally see Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is in northeastern Arizona. It wasn’t too far from Cortez, just a couple-hour drive. We had to drive really near the Four Corners Monument, marking where the four states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah meet.
This was a trivia question that I’ve gotten wrong before! Never again!
I saw on the map we were going really close to the monument but when I looked it up, it said it was $8 EACH to see it!
I noped out, but eventually Jeff won me over and said we’re right here, let’s not have regrets later.
He was right!
The area of the monument is dry and brown. I imagine in the busy tourist summer months that this place is probably packed! And likely crazy hot!
The morning sun was bright, harsh, and blinding!
The small monument area is surrounded by brown landscape as far as the eye can see.
Around the survey marker and flags, on three sides, are little vendor stalls of Navajo crafts and souvenirs. Only a few vendors were present on this quiet Wednesday morning.
One of my regrets from our Grand Canyon trip a few years ago was not buying any local jewelry or trinkets as a souvenir (I can be pretty cheap). So this time I made a point of buying something here, and chose a nice bracelet with beads made out of the local junipers with turquoise stones and a star. I really like it! I wish I bought more for gifts.
Heading out the driveway after visiting the monument, I noticed this sign warning us of all the desert landscape fun stuff, like rattlesnakes, reptiles, lizards, spiders, centipedes, coyote, scorpions, I had forgotten about scorpions! AHH!
We were very briefly in New Mexico for the first time, and then headed into Arizona. Suddenly the sights were exactly what we remembered from driving through a portion of Arizona before. People live in small compounds away from the road, often in old mobile homes, sometimes with tires on their roof, with an old shed nearby, some old parked vehicles, and the entire thing is surrounded by a fence. There are horses here and there, and a lot of just brown dry fields and empty, dry, creek beds. This can’t be an easy place to live.
On this drive we saw our first tumbleweeds!! So cool!
The landscape started to turn from brown to red and big rock structures arose from the earth here and there.
We turned to the north near Kayenta and soon we were pulling into the Monument Valley road. I immediately needed to run into the gift shop/hotel complex for a pee – and of course waited in line with 30 French speaking women who had just climbed off a tour bus. And only four stalls! AHHH!
Here’s the view from the gift shop window:
Lots of fun things in this shop!
At Monument Valley, you can take your vehicle on a self-guided tour around a 15 mile / 24 km route around the mesas / monuments / large red rock structures. Well as long as you have a regular vehicle. People on the tour buses and who came in RVs needed to jump on the open-air seating on the back of a safari-like truck for the tour.
Look at this place! I’m super glad it is the last week of September because I bet this place is crowded, hot, and dry in the middle of the summer!
Look at the colour of this sand! And there were so many interesting tracks in it (not the human ones!). I think a night vision time-lapsed camera out here overnight would be super interesting!
From time to time the crowds gathered, but we were all moving at different paces so it wasn’t too bad. Very little road rage even. The road was gravel and sandy. Kinda rough in places and hilly.
There were horses grazing here and there and a paddock of horses available for paid adventures.
There are a couple of places where they warn about flash floods. In fact the brochure guide with the map warns the park will close during inclement weather for flash flood potential from June to August.
The other nice thing was the sign saying drones weren’t allowed. Mesa Verde had the same. Much appreciated.
All of this rock is various forms of sandstone. The word “Mesa” is a Spanish term that refers to the table-like formation of the rock. As these erode, they are called a “Butte”. In their final stage of erosion, the are then called a “Spire”.
Navajo vendors were set up throughout the park to sell their homemade jewelry and dreamcatchers. Each one had slightly different offers and would share how their family made the items.
Have you seen enough pictures of red rocks and sand yet? No? Good! Because I have a hundred more!
I could see photographers taking days here. If you just have one chance to visit, like we did, know that you get to go around several of the monuments so you get a chance at various lights. We arrived around 10am and stayed for a few hours. The sun was high in the sky and harsh for taking great photos, but in the end the red rocks speak for themselves. I imagine you could visit often and get quite different photos.
And if you have a pee-sized bladder like me, rest assured there are facilities here and there.
Dad did instruct us to take LOTS of photos to convince him to come here. Is it working Dad?
There is a 3.3 mile / 5.3 km hike in the park that goes out and around one of the monuments. We had been planning on doing this, but once we were in the park, we decided not to take a long walk through the sand. The estimated time to hike it is 2-3 hours.
It winds seemed calm, but every once in awhile there was a gust out of nowhere, and then we saw a couple of those dust devil little tornados! Jeff caught some photos of one!
We were looking intently to spot any of the creatures living here, especially a lizard, since we don’t see lizards in the Yukon. Jeff spotted this super fast-moving, white fluffy rodent of some kind running between holes in the sand. We still don’t know what these are because nothing else describes them as white. They may have been antelope ground squirrels?
There were lots of interesting desert plants here though, and some cedar/juniper trees. Amazing what can grow in this climate!
Jeff loves turning around and seeing a camera pointing at him! I think?
We left the park around noon, right after I waited in line in the gift shop with another busload of French-speaking girls for the 4 bathroom stalls again.
Heading north to Utah, there is a famous place from the Forrest Gump movie where he stops his long run right in the middle of the road. We knew it was coming and that it was just a pull off so we kept spinning our heads back looking for it so we wouldn’t miss it.
Finally we spotted it (yes, there is actually a road sign indicating that you are there). The highway was super busy so you are risking your butt taking pictures in the middle of the road. Of all the photos we quickly snapped here, this one turned out to be my favourite!
If the sun was lower I could see how you could get a pretty cool picture here. In the early afternoon, the light was harsh. This is looking south, in case you are planning a trip to see this spot.
I was thinking of getting us a place for the night in nearby Mexican Hat as it showed several hotels on my hotel booking app, but we decided to press on to Moab, Utah. I’m glad we did, because there was almost nothing in Mexican Hat except for the few small hotels and we had plenty of afternoon hours left.
The rest of the day was mostly just highway driving, stopping at a few scenic spots along the road, like this hole in the rocks.
We really enjoyed the Holiday Inn Express we stayed in back in Cortez, so I booked another one in Moab. They both had nice, big clean rooms that were quiet, with a full breakfast spread included in the morning (have ever seen their automated pancake machines? Technology is cool!).
We pulled into Moab near sunset. We knew it was going to be a tourist area but I had no idea the extent of it. This place has every hotel chain on earth. The entire main street is hotels, restaurants, and off-road ATV and Jeep rental outlets. Most of them seem new and some are still being built.
We checked in, dropped off our luggage, and decided since it was Wednesday night and we didn’t have to be back in Denver until Friday night, that we’d extend our stay in Moab and stay two nights so we could visit some sights in the area on Thursday.
Then we went to find a restaurant to eat. The Zax restaurant caught Jeff’s eye so we found a place to park on a back street and walked back to the restaurant. This place must be an absolute zoo mid-summer!
We were pretty tired, so we ordered our favourite go-to’s. Jeff a burger and me a personal sized pizza. They had a fabulous honey crust that they made in-house. I’d recommend this pizza!
Here’s our driving route for Wednesday:
Do you know much about what you can see in the Moab area! Wait until you see what we saw!! Coming up in my next post.