Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Four Corners: November 2015 - Part 2

A Loop along the Ancient Way though the Navajo Nation
November 8 - 13, 2015

This tale begins in Part 1, where you can also find a road map of my journey.

Part 2 of 2 - Navajo Redlands

Wednesday, November 11th (continued)

After leaving the Hovenweep area the storm began in earnest with torrential rain and gusty winds. The westerly route toward Bluff was narrow and not easy to follow as it was poorly marked, but I did find my way (though I had to backtrack at one unmarked intersection). At US-191 I turned south toward Bluff. This small town seems to have shrunk even more since the last time I was through there, perhaps more places were closed simply due to it being November and not the thick of tourist season. From the highway I could see the storm structure centered over the Monument Valley area appearing as a wall cloud indicating severe weather, though the rain had let up where I was. West of Bluff I drove straight at the junction where 191 heads south; I was now on US-163 which leads to Mexican Hat though I didn't go that far this day.

I thought I'd check out Goosenecks State Park as I'd driven by the turnoff a number of times. You take UT-261, then turn south a few miles along. I didn't know if I wanted to camp there or not. Though there is no attendant this time of year, the state certainly emphasizes the need to pay a fee to enter and/or camp. The camping area is basically a flat area with an occasional picnic table; there is one vault toilet in the day use area. The wind was fierce at this edge of the canyon of the San Juan River, resulting in a wind chill of "too damn cold." I hurriedly took a few photos, retreated to my truck, and exited the park.

Remember to click on any photo to see larger versions in a lightbox type presentation.

View of the San Juan River from the canyon rim at Goosenecks State Park

Valley of the Gods

I returned to the Valley of the Gods area and entered via the east entrance from US-163. I viewed with some trepidation the warning sign that the road was impassible when wet, especially as there is a creek crossing as soon as you drive in, and the clouds were still threatening more rain. Nonetheless, the road was in excellent condition even after the afternoon rains. I drove in looking for spots to camp, taking note of likely sites. Most sites are in the open which afford wonderful views of the landscape, but there were one or two more sheltered that might be appropriate this stormy evening. Despite the heavy clouds, there was much rugged beauty in the area and I took photos in the low light, hoping, but not expecting, them to turn out.

Stormy evening vista of Valley of the Gods

The wind began picking up, I could see more rain approaching, and I knew it would soon be getting dark. I turned around and drove like the dickens back the way I'd come with the intention of finding the campsite I'd spied earlier that seemed to be sheltered from the wind on a couple of sides by small hills. Luckily the site was flat enough I didn't have to level the camper and got set up in record time, barely beating the rain and dark.

I turned around here and scurried back to what shelter I could find.

It's hard to judge rain intensity in the camper with its large aluminum roof area, so was relieved when it let up, though had no idea what condition the road would be the next morning. Not that I had a pressing schedule to keep.

Wednesday, November 11th

As I awoke with dawn approaching, I peeked out the window and the sky appeared cloudy, so I didn't rush my morning routine. As I was making coffee and breakfast I heard a vehicle. Looking out I saw a small sedan driving by from the direction of the east entrance, so the road was ok that direction apparently. I was surprised though to see there were only a few clouds along the eastern horizon, but most of the sky was in fact clear.

Just before sunrise looking east from my campsite.

This stirred me to grab my camera and tripod to get some dawn photos from next to the campsite - I wasn't even fully dressed at that point, but the light wasn't waiting for me. It was a glorious dawn. I'd take photos then go back into the camper to dress and finish breakfast, rush out for more photos in the changing light, go back to the camper to start breaking camp, out for more photos, etc.

My campsite, sheltered from the worst of the previous night's winds, is lit by the rising sun.

Gorgeous view just as the sun lights the scenery. Monument Valley is along the horizon.

I got underway and drove deeper into the valley stopping frequently for photos.

Looking across the valley basin in a southeasterly direction. Muley Point is on those cliffs.

This bluff and tower stands alone.

Another view across the basin with Monument Valley in the background.

Following the road deep into the formation of Valley of the Gods.

Towers along the way.

The square rock block along the road is about the size of a large truck.

Lots of amazing views all along the road.

Looking back as I drive out of the area of the most formations.

After driving through the valley, I exited onto UT-261, turned south back to US-163, headed toward Monument Valley. FYI, if you are wandering in this area, it seems that Mexican Hat is probably the best place to get gasoline. The Shell station is nicer than anything in Bluff and the prices were lower than there or in Kayenta, at least this trip.

View just off the highway of the north side of Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Note: though I have included a number of photos in this post, there are more in my Google Photos Collection, many I think are quite nice and I bet you will enjoy seeing.

There have been some changes to this Navajo Nation park since my last visit 10+ years ago. The visitor center is a new complex right next to the US highway, you join the jeep tours there (if not at Blandings.) Also, back in the day you could drive to the hotel complex and get fabulous photos of The Mittens from their overlook for free. Nowadays, you pay your $20 (1 to 4 persons/car) long before you get to the hotel complex. Your entry receipt is good for four days, I was told.

I did indeed stop at the hotel complex. Their overlook is one of the best views of the valley.

View from the deck outside the gift shop.

They are putting this new income to good use. The main (dirt) road into the valley has been widened and is kept graded; plus, they are installing culverts at the major wash-out places. Smart, as this will keep the park accessible even after a gully-washer rain. Another change is the great increase in the number of "jeep" tours on the road. I put the vehicle in quotes as there are no Jeeps (and I saw no "people movers" either); they all seem to be variations on heavy duty pickups with the bed converted to hold about a dozen visitors in the open air - and man, were those tourists ever shivering this November morning as I drove in.

I drove around the loop road, stopping often for photos. Some of the features were in good light, some would be better later in the day, and others would have been better earlier in the morning. So I hoped to stay somewhere in the area to get photos the next morning. The main tribal park campground was closed for the season, but their "primitive" site was open. It is a small area with picnic tables and ramadas, located about halfway between the US highway and the hotel complex, not the most scenic spot. The lady at the entrance station said it cost $20 per night.

When I pulled into the overlook called Artists Point, I noticed an old VW bus camper (along with the spectacular view.) This brought back fond memories of my '68 VW Campmobile (tm) and I strolled over to share this with the owner of the bus. Jerry, a TV producer from L.A., had only recently acquired said VW after a long search for one. This friendly fellow was interested in my tale and we spent an enjoyable time swapping stories.

Afternoon view from Artists Point.

One of the things he mentioned was being in Monument Valley during the worst of the previous day's storm, and it soon became apparent that he had camped within the valley that night, which caught my attention. When asked about this, he told me who to talk to at one of the horse tour corrals, which I did.

The primitive campsite is down one to the roads closed to all except guided jeep tours, so my host drove in with me following behind though a complex of "roads." Wow! The spot was literally at the foot of Thunderbird Mesa with a view of the Sleeping Dragon. I set up the camper at the base of the enormous sandstone formation and walked out to try and capture the scene with my camera.

Campsite at the foot of Thunderbird Mesa

My host, who'd stuck around to make sure I got settled, saw me taking pictures and asked if I'd like to see the Totem Pole? He cleared off the front seat of his aging Chevy 4x4 pickup truck and off we went. The truck only had 1st and 3rd gears, bald tires, and you had to throw yourself at the door to get it to open (but at least it wouldn't accidentally fly open as we went blasting along these "roads.")

The Totem Pole

My personal tour guide was having fun showing me the sights and I did not have to pretend to be amazed by the beauty of the scenery. The day was well into the "golden hour", or even a bit late, so photography was a challenge, especially as I'd not brought my tripod.

The finale was a view of the icons of the valley as seen through the "periscope" on top of Submarine Hill.

Looking through the periscope.

I was returned safely to the campsite as it was starting to get dark, and my host took off to return to the corral and watch over the horses as they have a talent for getting themselves into trouble, he said.

As I fell asleep that night I tried not to think of the huge sandstone cliff looming over me.

Thursday, November 12th

Monument Valley (continued)

I got a reasonably early start in the morning. The light was very nice and I got lots of photos of features that were in shadows the previous afternoon.

View from Ford's Point, looking northerly.

When I felt like I'd done it all, I headed out of the park and toward Kayenta on the US highway, where I picked up provisions at Basha's market and filled the gas tank. My intention was to visit Canyon de Chelly as I worked my way toward home. I drove east on US-160 for a few miles before turning south on Indian Route 59. Going this way cuts a number of miles off the route. It's a two-lane highway in very good condition with interesting scenery.

Agatha Peak, a volcanic diatreme between Monument Valley and Kayenta.

Canyon de Chelly

Note: There are several more of my photos collected on this Google photo page that I hope you will find interesting and/or scenic.

View from the Tsegi Overlook

I arrived at the national monument shortly after lunch, picking up a map at the visitor center. I checked out the private campground just inside the park. It looked very nice with lots of trees and grass, though only one loop was open this time of year. I didn't know if I'd stay the night or not at this point, but didn't have to decide then as my plan was to drive the south rim, which is an out-and-back route.

White House ruin, in situ. For a closer look, visit the photo collection.

I stopped at all the overlooks on my drive east along the rim and took lots of photos. I paused at one and ate the turkey sandwich I'd bought earlier at Basha's. This late in the season the shadows were long and the days are short, so I didn't take the trail down near the White House ruins. One doesn't need a guide for this trail, whereas you need a guide, or to take a tour, to explore the canyon bottom at all other locations. Next time.

I realized I'd made a mistake once I got to the effective end of the road to view Spider Rock, as the shadows had already started climbing the rock. I would have gotten much better photos if I'd driven to the end of the road first for those photos, then worked my way back. Oh, well. I told myself that I'd just have to come back sooner rather than later. With that last understanding, I decided not to camp at the park and drive the north rim in the morning. I'd head for home and save all that for another trip.

Spider Rock (with the shadows cropped out.)

I drove out of the park and south on US-191 all the way to eastbound I-40. I stopped for cheap gas in western Gallup and it was soon dark. I topped up my belly with a green chile cheeseburger at the Lotaburger in Grants. The drive on the dark freeway was thankfully uneventful and I made it home safe.

Thanks for reading along.


  1. What a great trip Bill! And, thank you for sharing information on where you camped. We always look forward to a new post on your blog!

    1. Thanks, Ski, for your nice comment. Yeah, I like to let my fellow campers know where the good spots are.

  2. Bill, love this part as well!! And your photos are terrific. Thank you so much for sharing your stories and beautiful photos. PS that was me writing you about Tony Hillerman in Part 1 comments!! Mandy

    1. Thank you very much, Mandy. However, somehow your comments didn't get posted to Part 1. Have you read the novels by Tony's daughter, keeping up the family tradition? The 1st book is OK, the second is pretty good.

  3. Fantastic trip report. Need to get back that way.

    1. Thanks, Bill, it's one of my favorite areas. If you get that way, don't miss Moki Dugway or Muley Point (see their links in the right-hand column, above).

  4. Thanks Bill for the report.
    I always enjoy your trips,but no "dragon fly's"?
    The desert scenery is so beautiful,all the desert varnish.

    1. Frank, a bit too cold for dragonflies this trip and not much water either. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

  5. Bill, I love your dry wit and excellent descriptions. You always seem to find one "extra fun" thing to do, like the horse corral guy. You are a true explorer!

  6. Great TR, Bill. I'll second Ski and say thanks for sharing camping locations for us truck camper folk.


    1. Thanks, man. I appreciate hearing your comments and I will continue to add camping info in my posts.

  7. Lot's of helpful information for my upcoming trip to the Land of Enchantment. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I hope you have a great trip.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!