Day 13 – Gallup to Tuba City vía Monument Valley
New Mexico, Utah and Arizona
Left Gallup and the Route 66 to head on our way to Arizona.
Taking the US491 road up through Buffalo Springs to Shiprock, we were going through the start of the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation. We drove through occasional small communities some with churches, schools and American football pitches, but mainly the road for 80 miles was a long straight stretch with the wooded Chuska Mountains to our left, brown prairie land with low rise rocky hills to our right. In front we could see a straight road disappearing into the horizon with the occasional large single picturesque rocks rising out of the ground nearby. It reminded me of Gibraltar; a single, large rock which rises up from the flat land and sea which surrounds it.
Past more miles of flat prairie land and the odd community town as we passed into Arizona. A small sign informed us we had crossed the state line, but no big welcome signs here. Maybe it was because we were in the heart of the Navajo Nation?
After some rain and greyness I saw the best rainbow I have ever seen in my life. A complete semi circle of different colours, with each end throwing a wonderful spectrum of colour on the rocks in the distance.
The land started to get more of a red hue interspersed with the wild green bushes rather than the previous golden landscape we had seen leaving Gallup.
We followed the US64 road which touched close to the four states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Having driven through Colorado, and having already seen the Moab area of Utah on our train journey from Chicago to Salt Lake City, we were not planning any detours. This was about reaching our day’s main destination of Monument Valley, which actually borders Utah and Arizona.
Yesterday we had fleetingly come through warmer weather in Albuquerque when it was a lovely sunny 20C, but the temperature through the wilderness today, despite having sunny intervals was 12C. So much for the warm Arizona we had been told to expect!
After passing through Dennehosto we saw our ‘reddest’ rock so far. Rather than the sandy red colour this was more of a blood red colour, we knew were were getting close to the landscape we had come to visit.
But no, the rain started again and for the first time started to spoil our views. This is a truly amazing landscape but unfortunately we were seeing more grey mist in the horizon than red rock! The rain continued to lash down and it looked like the Goodwin weather Gods had finally caught up with us!
The closer we got to Monument Valley the harder the rain came down and the less visibility we had! We were left wondering how much rain this area had a year and had all of it arrived today?
Well being British and used to rain, we carried on regardless, stopping at the park entrance and paying the $20 entrance, wondering if we will actually see anything today!
We arrived at the visitor centre, the hotel aptly called “The View” in pouring rain. Chris was quite happy as he spotted a number of ‘E’ type Jaguars (Jag-waars in America!) Obviously another classic car rally enjoying the drive if not the weather!
There was a break in the rain so while Chris was looking at the cars I made my way to the view thinking ‘quick it’s not raining I might get a view’.
We pottered around the visitor centre and noticed it was starting to brighten up. So we headed out on the 13 mile, 2 hour off-road dirt track around ‘the valley’.
We were to be rewarded, firstly hardly anyone else had bothered due to the weather and yes the sun started to come out and we were met with blue sky and scenes I don’t think I can describe. Stunning, awesome, unbelievable, out of this world – choose whichever adjective you like.
But here is an overview:
As the sun came out the wet dark sand turned to the blood red colour we had anticipated.
Every turn around the little winding dirt track brought more rock formations, all with names including Elephants butte, Three Sisters, Totem Pole and the Mittens which resembled two hands with mittens on, with the thumb easily visible.
Two highlights include John Ford’s point overlook and the Artist’s Point which I am sure many people would recognise from paintings and films of this area.
I honestly feel I cannot describe this area without sounding too stereotypical or waxing lyrical (I am probably doing that too much anyway!)
I will leave views of Monument Valley to John Ford, Director of many successful Western films who once said, “The real Star of my Westerns is the land, my favourite location is Monument Valley. I consider this the most complete, peaceful place on earth.”
I hope my photos give you an idea of how beautiful this place is.
Heading back to the nearest town of Keyenta. This town in the Navajo nation is a local town for the working Navajo community, it is not really a place you would choose to spend any time in. So we picked up the road to Tuba City (from Chris: “we were blowing a bit by the time we got there”) and the rain came down again. It didn’t bother us this time.
Tuba is shared between the two Indian Reservations of the Navajo and Hopi. Both have different traditions. Another unusual thing about Tuba is that if you are in the Navajo area it is a different time zone to the Hopi area, literally this means an hour’s difference from one side of the road to another – very strange!!!
Tomorrow we visit the Grand Canyon and hope for good weather.
Here’s hoping . . .