Day 171 – Monument Valley Meander, May 17, 2011
Indian territory in Arizona recognizes daylight savings, so I ended up losing an hour and got a bit of a late start this morning. VANilla carted us about 60 miles to Navajo National Monument past an interesting pair of buttes called Elephant Feet. As one would guess, these sandstone monuments look like wrinkled, leathery elephant feet.
Upon arriving at Navajo National Monument, I took a paved path past pygmy junipers and pinyon pines to an overlook across the canyon from Betatakin, a 700 year old ruin built in a cavern of the canyon wall which also qualifies as a virtual cache (Utah is checked off the list). I attempted to make out some petroglyphs that were painted on the cliff to the right of the dwelling, but I was unsuccessful. Another lady nearby remarked she failed at spotting them too. As we turned back toward the visitor center, I commented that this morning breeze is chilly. “Yes, she replied, “I woke up to an inch of snow at the campground this morning.” I thought to myself, I’m glad I chose to stay in Tuba City last night…60 miles south and no snow!
An added bonus to visiting the Navajo National Monument was the rock placed at the beginning of the trailhead with a dinosaur print. I had considered visiting “Dinosaur Tracks” a location near Tuba City, but I googled the attraction and found that guides cost anywhere from $2 to $10, may be drunks or may have attended archaeology school, and tourists could be misinformed about the types of tracks in the area. With that description, I passed, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a sampling as I strolled to the dwelling.
After making the one mile roundtrip walk, I took another dirt path to a historic ranger station before steering VANilla to the northeast toward Monument Valley National Tribal Park. Before reaching the park we stopped at another roadside rock called Agathla Peak. The peak, a dark grey color that looked out of place relative to the red rock and desert surroundings, is believed to be the core of a volcano.
We finally made it to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park which rests on the Utah-Arizona border. Now I’m on mountain time for months. Visitors could take a self-guided 17 mile drive along a rutted, unpaved road requiring a high clearance vehicle past a variety of rock formations or take guided tours in jeeps or by horseback. Since Petey had spent a good portion of the day in VANilla, I opted for a hiking trail that led from a primitive campground, along a sandy path through sage brush and other desert plants, around a butte, and back to the parking area. The 3.2 mile loop stretched Petey’s abilities, but after stopping three times to pour him water and tugging on him occasionally, we finally made it back to VANilla. Sadly, it wasn’t even hot!
As I was finishing up the trail, another lady beginning the hike asked if it was worth it. I kind of shrugged and said, “You can see it from here, but I’d rather be walking around it than driving around it.” Especially behind the countless cars, I thought to myself. I was very surprised to see the parking lot full of tour buses and the line of cars bouncing along the dirt road. It appears summer is approaching.
Petey and I continued on to Mexican Hat, so named for the nearby rock formation that resembles an upside down sombrero. About ¾ of a mile before reaching the formation, there is a roadside pullout, a small hill that provides a spectacular view of the sombrero as well as the cliffs situated behind the formation that looked like a child’s finger painting, and a geocache. Visitors can navigate a dirt road for a closer glimpse of the formation, but I really liked the view better from this location. Nice hide for a geocache. I dropped off the travel bug I picked up in Ely and an MS rubber bracelet before signing the log book and heading to Goosenecks State Park where I had hoped to find campgrounds and shower facilities. Not so, in fact the park is simply a parking lot overlooking the Great Goosenecks of the San Juan River. It was somewhat fascinating to see the river zigzag back and forth in such a small area. In addition, it was odd to be able to camp for free in the state park parking lot too. I wouldn’t have even known the area was designated for camping except a bus full of teenagers was unloading their tents.
Several people ended up camping here including the lady I met on the trail in Monument Valley. Her name turned out to be Margaret. She was from Oakland and met up with an archaeological group to inspect Indian ruins. In addition to seeing Margaret at the campgrounds, I met a Walt and Linda who invited me to sit by their campfire. They were from Scottsdale and on their way home after a week’s visit to Utah. Marion also took them up on sitting by their campfire. She was from Germany and spending two and a half months traveling through the states. She woke up to an inch of snow this morning too…she camped in the same location as the ladies I met at Navajo National Monument this morning…small world. It was a little odd to run into two other single women camping, but it was fun to sit with the group and socialize for a bit. Margaret tipped me off that there is a Laundromat with showers in Bluff…on the list for tomorrow’s visits! ETB