A Monumental Day

Monday, April 24, 2017 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Ultimate Utah, Day 3:  Grand Canyon, AZ, to Monument Valley, AZ

This morning we returned to Grand Canyon National Park by way of the south entrance and turned east on Arizona Highway 64 toward an area of the park known as Desert View.  Along the way we stopped at a couple of unnamed pullouts with canyon overlooks and at Grandview Point, where we saw an intrepid (or naive) group of backpackers setting off on the Grandview Trail.
Described on an interpretive sign as "steep, steep, steep," the trail encompasses a 2,600-ft. drop in elevation over the course of just three miles.  That's not the bad part, however.  That comes when you need to return to the top.
Desert View Watchtower
Before leaving the park, we stopped at a few more viewpoints and finally at the Desert View Visitor Center, anchored by the Watchtower built in 1932 by the Santa Fe Railroad as a rest stop and aid for helping visitors better understand the life of southwest Indians.  Our search for a letterbox hidden there was in vain, but we picked up another stamp in our national park passport and climbed to the top of the tower for 360° views.
With our new friend Pepper at the east entrance
Continuing east on AZ-64, we soon exited the park and planted a Love This Park letterbox near the entrance sign, where we met Jessica from St. Petersburg, FL, and her charming mutt Pepper.  We took photos for each other in front of the sign before parting ways.

After we exited the park and entered the Kaibab Plateau, the forest fell away as the landscape opened up and became much more scenic.  Soon we entered the area around the Little Colorado River Gorge on Navajo land.  Dozens of booths were set up along the highway for native artisans to showcase their crafts for passing tourists.  Only a scattering were open today since the summer season has yet to begin.
Little Colorado River Gorge
At the modest crossroads of Cameron, we turned north onto US-89 but not before a pit stop at the Navajo Trail Trading Post where we gawked at a 1936 Cadillac pulling a vintage Airstream trailer.  Just north of town we followed the bridge over the Little Colorado River and entered an area known as the Painted Desert for all its colorful rock formations.  Sadly as we drove through this remarkable terrain, there was not a single place to pull off for a closer look.
What a distinguished looking pair!
Rather than continuing north on US-89 to Page (we'll get there later on the trip), we turned onto US-160 east toward Monument Valley.  Rock formations along the roadside grew even more interesting and varied.  Just north of the tiny town of Tonalea, we were startled to see a massive pair of rock formations that looked for all the world like enormous elephant legs.  Indeed, the popular name given to this geological oddity is Elephant's Feet.
Ken approaches the huge pachyderm pedestals. 
Stumbling upon these colossal columns was just the sign we were seeking.  We had decided to find a place to plant a letterbox in this boxless area, and this was the perfect spot for one of our "Hit the Brakes" letterboxes.  This was indeed a site worth stopping for.  As we searched our collection for just the right stamp, we chanced upon one carved by our friend Brenda (aka GA Packrats) that replicated the vehicle we had seen in Cameron.  It was meant to be!

Further east, we left Highway 160 to drive nine miles to the Navajo National Monument, a unit of the National Park Service that preserves several cliff dwellings of the ancient Navajo.  Disregarding the 7,500-ft. elevation, we decided to hike the 1.25-mile mesa-top Sandal Trail down to an overlook providing views of some ruins and the spectacular canyon lands.  The return walk to the visitor center was mostly uphill and into a blustery headwind.  A good challenge for a couple of lowlanders.
For winter warmth and summer cool, ancient Navajos often built cliff villages in south-facing alcoves.
Back on 160, we pressed on toward Monument Valley.  Tomorrow's forecast calls for morning rain, so we wanted to see the valley this evening if possible.  Arriving a bit after 5 p.m., we paid our $20 entrance fee (even though we were staying at a hotel within the park).  The gate agent advised us that the driving tour on the 17-mile dirt road known as Valley Drive takes a couple of hours.  He suggested we should begin right away if we wanted to complete it today.
So we set off on what turned out to be a negligently maintained, rugged, bumpy road which took us through a wonderland of red rock spires, buttes and mesas.  No hiking is permitted in Monument Valley nor are visitors allowed to leave the main loop drive unless they are participating in a guided Navajo tour.
Though we had read a number of blogs that recommended the tour for the opportunity to get off the beaten path, we couldn't bring ourselves to go that route.  As on the tours to Antelope Canyon in Page, seating for guided tours through Monument Valley is on benches on the back of a pickup truck. Even without the storm of dust being stirred up by vehicles on the sandy road, the ride did not look appealing, so we went our own way and had no regrets—except for the deplorable condition of the road.  It made a washboard track seem appealing.
The scenery was inspiring but we were relieved when the journey was over and we were no longer being jostled and tossed about by the deep ruts and rocks in the road.  Our decision to stay at the hotel within the park was a bonus.  From a balcony off our room, we had a wonderful view of some of Monument Valley's most familiar formations.  Goodnight, Mittens!
The view from our balcony
Tomorrow we'll depart Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border and really begin to delve into Utah's superb scenery.


    •  Started in:  Grand Canyon, AZ
    •  Ended in:  Monument Valley, AZ
    •  Miles driven:  222  (total 2,084)
    •  Weather:  45° to 74°, breezy and overcast
    •  Letterboxes:   Found 0, Planted 2  (total:  F7, P2)
    •  Walked:  5.85 mi.   (total 14.69) 
    •  Gas:  8.3 gallons in Kayenta @ $2.499/gal   (total 14.1, average $2.499)
    •  Nissan Rogue rental cars:  37
    •  Elk crossing highway:  5
    •  Hikers at Grand Canyon:  17  
    •  Hikers at Monument Valley:  0
    •  Navajo bead art stands:  113

Loved:  Having Monument Valley as the view out our hotel window

Lacking:  Road maintenance on the Monument Valley loop drive

Learned:  At the Desert View Visitor Center of Grand Canyon, we learned about the origin of the Federal Aviation Administration.  On June 30, 1956, a TWA airplane and a United Airlines craft maneuvered around cumulus clouds over the Grand Canyon, each unaware of the other's presence.  The two planes collided at an altitude of 21,000 feet above the canyon, sending all 128 passengers and crew on board to their deaths, the greatest number of single-accident fatalities in American aviation history to that time.  

In response, Congress created the FAA to increase air safety.  Victims' remains were removed, but artifacts remain in a remote area of the canyon to this day, protected by the site's designation as a National Historic Landmark.

More Photos from Today
Girls on a morning stroll across the entrance road to Grand Canyon.
A Few More Grand Canyon Pics

And More from Monument Valley

The ubiquitous Navajo bead stand  
A brilliant idea—Sell visitors photo ops on horseback.  At $5 per seating it's a bargain!
Here a Rogue, there a Rogue, everywhere more Nissan Rogues.