July 23, 2010
We entered a different world it seems today. Our drive took us from Gallup, New Mexico into the northeast corner of Arizona. If you look on a map Monument Valley is listed in Arizona but their address lists it as Utah. Who knows, maybe its both and they were allowed to choose.
We began our journey heading out Hwy 491 north from Gallup and then west on Hwy 264. We originally planned to travel east around the mountain range and then come into Chinle, AZ from the north. However on closer inspection we realized that part of the road was gravel and did not want to risk driving too far on bumpy terrain with the camper hitched on back. There are several old ruins in this area and so we will have to plan to visit again and plan accordingly.
The route across the southern part of the range was very picturesque. At the highest point you would think you were in Arkansas with all the tall trees and the soil and ground cover. Then just as quickly as it appeared the trees began shrinking again as we made our way down the other side.
At Hwy 191 we headed north. With each passing mile you begin to understand and form your own definition for the word desert and deserted. The land all around the Hwy is Indian reservation and very remote. We traveled an hour at one point without passing a man-made structure of any kind, which included another car. Luckily we have a large gas tank and filled up prior to leaving Gallup. You wouldn’t want to walk to the nearest station with your gas can in hand……could be a long and hot walk!
The further north we drove the larger the rock formation began to appear. As soon as you hit Hwy 160 you can see the mammoth formations of Monument Valley. They stood so majestic and we were awed by their beauty. We tried capturing that beauty in shots but it is so hard to depict it in a picture that is so static when the beauty around is ever changing from sunshine, cloud, shadows and even the wind. The mixture of colors, with the blues, reds, oranges, and greens is truly breathtaking. This picture was very washed out but in a way captured the spiritual feeling of the area we thought.
You have to watch out for the cows and horses in the area though. They are fenced in but they still seem to be able to find their way out onto the side of the road or even on the road. I guess this mother and calf really thought the “grass was greener on the other side.” Further back we came across another cow that must have thought the exact same thing but then thought better of it. However getting back must not have been as easy as it had died caught up in the wire half in – half out.
Around 2pm we arrived at Goulding Campground. The Campground was filled with rental RV’s by mostly foreigners. There seemed to be a lot of french speaking (possibly Canadian) and Swiss. The sites were very close together and not what we usually choose when we camp out but we were lucky and was placed in an end site. We had a very large site with unobstructed views of Monument Valley in the horizon. The Campground is in a beautiful setting, placed in between two majestic buttes for backdrops.
The campground itself is fully equipped with a small indoor pool, laundry facilities, restroom and showers (but word of caution that you need to end your day early enough so that you can be back in time to take one by 9pm as the showers are inside the office area and locked up between 9pm and 7am). For those needing transportation through the park they provide paid tours as the RV cannot navigate the road inside Monument Valley we later realized.
We decided to drive through the valley that afternoon to catch the sun setting on the formations. The entrance is directly across from where we stayed so you couldn’t get any closer than this. The cost is only $5.00 per person! We spent 4 hours driving and taking pictures. At one point the sky turned pretty dark and threatened to open up on us but then decided against it and moved on without a drop falling.
We found out that this is also the backdrop for most of the John Wayne movies. But beyond commercialism, Monument Valley is one of those wonderful places where you can lose yourself in the moment (or possibly longer), especially if you allow yourself to just stop and take in the views when no one else is around. It has a story to tell if you listen and look very carefully. It is easy to imagine the Indians roaming the terrain and you can begin to understand why the land and structures hold significant value to them that goes beyond the monetary.
That night was a full moon and so we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the buttes back-lit with the moon. We also found ourselves providing shelter for three stray pups that decided that under one of the pull-out beds would be an excellent place to camp out. They reminded of “Lady and the Tramp” as two were about the same age but different breeds and the third was definitely from a different litter…just a small pudgy black and white pup probably only a couple of months old….yet all three seemed to have found each other and formed their pack. Maybe because Shyla was with us that they sensed that we would be dog friendly.