Monday, June 08, 2015

Visiting Arizona: Monument Valley

Last week, my dad and I took a trip to Arizona to visit Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona. We flew in to Phoenix and then drove north, making a few pit stops along the way.

Our first stop was at Chilleen's on 17, a restaurant featured on Bar Rescue that my dad wanted to visit. We got there shortly before they opened so spent a few minutes browsing a nearby store selling hand-made Navajo jewelry and collectibles. The food was ok, but I wouldn't go out of my way to eat there again.

After lunch we continued north  on the interstate before exiting for  a smaller somewhat scenic highway to Tuba City and Dinosaur Tracks. We were up at above 7,000 feet at one point and the landscape seemed to change instantaneously as we went from parched desert to green wilderness back to desert. The Dinosaur Tracks attraction has been run by the same Navajo family since the 1970s when it opened, and they continue to unearth more tracks each year. It's made up of a few rinky dink shacks along the side of the road where they also sell jewelry and souvenirs. The dinosaur tracks are off to one side of a dusty unpaved parking lot, scattered around a patch of dirt about an acre in size. It was really neat to see all the different foot prints; there was also fossilized dino poop and a jelly fish, oddly enough. A toothless man with tan skin waved us down and offered to give us a free tour. He turned out to be the original owner's grandson,  and our de facto guide was very eager to show us around.


Back on the road, we drove up on the Elephant Feet, two behemoth rock formations that resemble (duh) elephant feet. We swerved into the dirt parking lot and wandered around these two giant pillars for a bit. Like everything in Arizona, it was awesome that these two really cool formations were just hanging out on the side of the highway like no big deal.



We got to Monument Valley in time for a late dinner purchased at Goulding's grocery store. We drove a few miles down a dirt road and finally got to our "bed and breakfast," a traditional Navajo mud dwelling called a Hogan. While still in Monument Valley, it was technically in Utah, so I got to cross another state off my list. After unloading our luggage, we made a quick hike up the cliff behind the B&B's compound. It was dusk, so we didn't wander too far, but what we got to see was awesome. The whole cliffside was covered with petrified wood. We were in the middle of nowhere. The moon was bright, the air was clear, and the night was quiet.  Our hosts were very nice, and there was even a resident stray cat (aptly named Diablo), who wandered around looking for attention each evening.


The next morning, we got up early (so we thought) to meet our tour guide for the day. It took us a while to figure out the time zone - Utah and the Navajo Nation in Arizona observe daylight savings time, but the non Navajo state of Arizona does not, so staying in Utah, but traveling in Arizona, and sightseeing on Navajo land all combined to create a lot of confusion as far as when we needed to be to make sure we were on time. So that morning, we set our alarms for 5:00, but luckily my dad ran into Raquel, the innkeeper, and she informed him it was actually 6:00. We scrambled to get ready and leave in time to make our appointment with Blackwater Tours for the 6 hour back country tour.

Frank, our Navajo tour guide, was super and I highly recommend that anyone visiting Monument Valley take a guided back country tour with Blackwater Tours! It ended up being just me and Dad because nobody else booked the tour for that day. We saw so much more than we would have if we'd just stuck around what was visible from the visitor's center. Frank took us to Mystery Valley in the morning and Monument Valley after lunch. The rock formations are so expansive and go way beyond what you see in the movies or from the highway. Frank was so patient and let us stop to take as many pictures as we wanted. He was also very knowledgable about some of the lesser known formations, arches, and buttes, and told us the names of everything he took us to.

Before the tour, I'd really just assumed Monument Valley consisted of the five or six iconic formations you always see in westerns but it was really so much more.
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