Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Trip Part seven – Monument Valley

As promised my replacement hat, which I bought during the next part of this trip,
so it is out of sequence, but a promise is a promise.
Click to enlarge any image
The following Morning we headed back up route 89 towards Monument Valley. We passed by Sunset Crater again and debated if it would be worth a visit. I was not convinced it was a good idea, commenting that because it had last erupted only about 800 years ago, I had no intention of going anywhere near it.  It is billed as an extinct volcano but in my mind something quiet for that short a span, short geologically that is, was not in my opinion extinct, only dormant. My argument convinced certain of the others of our party, or maybe they just humoured me, and so we gave it a miss.

Some tumble-weed we passed on our way, often featured in Hollywood Westerns 
The area we were driving through is a part of the Navajo and Hopi reservation and as you drive along this route you pass numerous roadside stalls selling Native American Jewellery and genuine locally made ornaments and souvenirs.  Some stalls consisted of a simple open counter with an awning and others were housed inside a building that could hold several stalls.
A Navajo house we passed
  We stopped for lunch at Tuba City having turned onto route 160 just before this small town, which is famous for its dinosaur footprints. We did not look for these, but ate our lunch and then headed on along the 160.
The entrance to Goulding's Trading Post, which provides accommodation , a store and  a museum.

Goulding's Trading Post, Lodge and and Museum.  We stopped here for a comfort break
Highway 160 has the unique property of passing through, or very close to, the junction of the four corners of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico’s state boundaries where, because they all have perfectly right angles to their boundaries at this point, the four corners all come together. This is a unique situation and exists only at this one place in the whole of the USA. At the junction, there is a monument that consists of a circle with the state lines passing through it and you can stand in a marked circle and by placing both hands and feet on the ground you can be in four states at once. We did not quite make this landmark because we were heading into Monument Valley which is on the 163, so we left the 160 and joined this road which heads north up across the Utah state line and then curves back around to re-join the 160 after it has entered Colorado just past the Four Corners.

The Four Corners monument
Monument Valley is another WOW! area, all Wily Coyote country with mesas and isolated mountains rising suddenly out of the desert. We did not see any road runners or coyotes either, but what we did see more than made up for this lack of visible wildlife.

Kayenta the start of Monument Valley

Arizona had been suffering some fairly widespread fires in the weeks before we started out on our Grand Tour and we pass by evidence of some of these fires with some hills entirely denuded of trees. For much of the time we had been in Nevada and Arizona, the air was hazed blue from the residual smoke still in the air.
A burnt out hill in Arizona

In this part of the country there was a haze too but it was a different colour and was caused by dust.

A particularly dusty stretch of road

Here and there, there were road signs warning travellers that there could be dust storms.
We saw a few dust devils over in the distance, thin spirals of dust whipped up by the wind like miniature tornadoes. At one point one of these came across the road in front of us. TS slowed down to let it pass but misjudged it slightly and it just brushed us as it went by and it rocked the car alarmingly. I had always thought these things were just a rotating gust of wind and had not realised how strong they could be. I have seen them in the distance before in other parts of the world and they always looked quite harmless but had never gotten this close to one before.

You can only just see the dust devil in this picture as a hazy patch  between the centre two pylons

Seeing a quite promising rest stop, we took a break and had a short wander around one of the small Native American stores. Some years before on a visit to the USA, TBH had bought a pair of Kokopelli earrings and a couple of years or so ago had lost one of them.  Kokopelli is a mythical spirit figure which turns up in many parts of America. He is often depicted with a hump back and playing a flute. He is a trickster but was often worshiped as the spirit of music and fertility.
A typical image of Kokopelli

 He is featured in many kinds of jewellery and appears in most tourist shops in one form or another. He is also the name of many hostelries all over the south west.

One of the many establishments using the Kokopelli name

TBH loved her original earrings and was heartbroken by the loss, so we were interested in seeing if we could find another pair. We did not find anything suitable on that occasion but we bought some different souvenirs and jewellery for family whilst we were there.

Passing into Monument Valley we started to see some of the amazing rock formations that make it a must for a national park.

The climb up to Monument Valley Pass

Coming down from the pass.
This must have been a tricky route before Highway 163 was blasted through this ridge.  

The next place on this route is Mexican Hat, which is down in the San Juan River valley and as we descended we were presented with the most spectacular rock formations, where folding and weathering had created huge wave patterns in the mountain overlooking the San Juan river.

The San Juan River

The spectacular patterns in the rock strata of these ridges
As we drove up the other side of this river valley, we discovered how Mexican Hat had got its name.

The Mexican Hat rock formation

The rippled ridge was still visible some miles after passing Mexican Hat

By the time we got back on highway 160, we had gone from Arizona through Utah and had arrived in Colorado and were now back on Mountain Time, so had to put all our watches forward an hour. We should have done that as soon as we entered Utah but we had not thought of it until we had to check the time of our planned arrival at our next stop. This was to be in Cortez at the Baymont Inn and Resort. We arrived in good time to find an eatery and check in for the night.
Cortez is a popular tourist centre but has nothing much to offer other than its proximity to several famous tourist spots.  It is is the county town for the Montezuma county and boasts a lot of accommodation for a small town of a little over eight thousand inhabitants.
The Baymont Hotel was a probably the nicest hotel of the trip, providing good accommodation and with a balcony outside our room overlooking the nearby mountains.

The view through our hotel bedroom window

One of those weird coincidences that happen when you are on holiday occurred whilst we were staying there, we met a couple who were on a coach trip and who came from a little village adjacent to my old hometown where I lived as a teenager. Not only did they come from the same small corner of England, but the lady had worked in the same offices as my father.

A similar encounter had occurred when we were there on our last visit to the family in 2009. Whilst having coffee in a Borders book shop in Kansas City, a man with an English North Country accent asked us if we were English and we started talking. He told us how he had left England and was now living in the USA and it turned out that when he was last in England, he and I had both worked in the same place for the same organisation, although at different times.

Our next destination was Mesa Verde, an abandoned Pueblo Indian ruin and after breakfast we set off for this fascinating archaeological site.


  1. If you painted those patterns into a landscape no-one would believe you. These photos are stunning.

  2. M-AJ, south of this area is a place known as the Painted Desert. We did not have time to go there this time. It is similar but even more spectacular spread over a huge area. Look for it on Google Earth or just search Google Images, it is worth a look.

  3. Be honest - you really went to the moon, didn't you?

  4. That is a very fine hat, Snafu. This was an incredible adventure you went on - amazing rock formations and geology. I would have been peering into that volcano crater 'though - even if it had only errupted 800 years ago! x

  5. Enjoyed yet another journey with you through the States, Snafu! Monument Park is incredible - such awesome sights; and that view from the hotel balcony must have been stunning. So glad you got an appropriate replacement for your wind-blown hat!

    While DOTH and I were in Cuba, wandering through one of the hundreds of souvenir booths lining the streets of Varadero, we bumped into one of DOTH's colleagues from the Board of Ed - neither of whom knew the other was planning a trip to Cuba! And last year, as we wandered through the streets of Winnipeg (our first-ever time there), we heard someone calling my name from a sidewalk cafe. It was a young man I knew back in Toronto and hadn't seen in over ten years! It's a small, small world (oops, there goes that tune around in my head again!).