Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, and Navajo National Monument
Having survived the rainy night we awoke to grey but dry skies and packed up the truck in between photos of the stunning terrain that surrounded us. Valley of the Gods is BLM land and a great place to experience the beauty of Southern Utah without all the restrictions and regulations of National Park Land. Driving out, we wound our way through the red rock buttes before hitting pavement, having to cross a small stream that hadn’t been there the evening before when we drove in.
As we headed south towards Monument Valley we made a couple of side trips. Only a few miles off the road is Goosenecks State Park, essentially a bluff-top parking area with a famous view of the goosenecks in the San Juan River. There was a whole tour bus that had camped there the previous night so suddenly the paste-like mud we had dealt with in Valley of the Gods didn’t seem so bad (Goosenecks was my backup spot).
A few photos later and we were back on the road, passing through the small town of Mexican Hat, UT (named for the nearby upside-down sombrero shaped rock) and shortly crossing into Navajo Territory. Along the way a familiar view came into sight – you may remember this from Forrest Gump and any number of other movies/car commercials.
After a breakfast stop at Gouldings (a hotel/giftshop/RV park and the *only* thing in the area) we drove into Monument Valley. $5 is the entry fee and National Park Passes are not accepted (it is a Navajo Tribal Park). The skies were a bit dull for photography so we decided to do the short hike (the Wildcat Trail) around the famous western Mitten Butte. It’s the only hiking trail in the park and the only place you are allowed to hike without a guide. We enjoyed our tour through the desert including our interactions with wild horses and reservation dogs.
Following the hike we drove a few miles in on the dirt park road to check the views from some different angles. Sprinkled among the turnouts are wild horses, more wandering reservation dogs, vendors selling jewelry, navajo tacos, and services like getting your photo taken on top of a horse. I enjoyed our visit to the park – seeing that classic view in person was great. I just wish the light was better for photography.
After the morning at Monument Valley we continued west and took a short side trip into Navajo National Monument. It was icy cold but we did the short hike to the viewpoint of the ruins in the canyon below. I would love to come back and do one of the guided tour hikes into the actual ruins – they looked incredible. There were tools and baskets, and from a distance it looked like they were abandoned yesterday. After a short visit we continued west towards our destination for the night – Paria Canyon/Grand Staircase Escalante.
The weather still was not cooperating. Once we got back into cell phone signal range I pulled up the radar. Big splotches of storms covered the area over our intended campsite for the night with no end in sight. I was still soaked and muddy from the previous night. We had planned on stopping for a shower in Page, AZ anyways, so that turned into “let’s just get a cheap hotel and dry out”. An hour later we were snug and dry in the Rodeway Inn, in the second to last available room in town (overheard the clerk on the phone with another hotel: “Just filled our last room, I think Motel 6 has one or two rooms left.”) We listened to some big storms roll through and were glad we weren’t out there. Normally I’ll just suck it up but we hadn’t had a shower since Denver – it was time to stop, dry out, warm up, and regroup. And also to have some BBQ and beer for dinner. Mmm.
Next Stop: Grand Staircase Escalante, Paria Canyon, and THE WAVE!