Filed under: National Parks, Photography, There and Back Again, Utah: Life Elevated
There are several routes between Salt Lake City and Phoenix, the most direct is to go straight south through Kanab and Jacob’s Lake which will take you past the Navajo Bridge and the Vermillion Cliffs, it’s quite stunning. You then start to climb the plateau of the Grand Canyon, heading towards Flagstaff. It’s all pine trees and Native American road side craft kiosks. I actually quite like this route, but during the winter there are just too many mountain passes that can be slick, snowy, and rather scary for the bulk of the year.
Alternately, by driving from Salt Lake thru Las Vegas and then heading south-east to Phoenix you add about 30 minutes to the trip but avoid the bulk of the dangerous mountain passes. Also, if you’re an architectural nerd like me, you have the chance to stop and oogle the Hoover Dam. As soon as you get past Lake Mead, however, you enter the 2-lane highway that stretches to Wickenburg, AZ and time slows down in ways Sheldon Cooper may not be able to explain. There’s something about driving through an infinity of grayish-yellow desert sand sprinkled with grayish sage brush that messes with the space-time continuum, minutes feel like hours, hours like days, the tiny towns consisting of 6 or 7 dilapidated buildings don’t do much to break up the monotony. It feels like those last few hours take an eternity and then all of a sudden–BAM!–you’re in the Valley of the Sun.
Last weekend as J-Mo and I were driving back from a weekend in Phoenix for the booksale we decided to take a third route, one I had never been on before. From Phoenix we headed north toward the Grand Canyon and then turned north-east on Highway 163 heading towards Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
Coming from Kayenta, AZ towards the entrance road to Monument Valley; the park straddles the Utah-Arizona border.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, the area that is now Monument Valley was one large plateau. The wind and water has broken down everything but a few straggling buttes of deep red sandstone with sporadic pinnacles reaching towards the turquoise blue sky.
The view from the patio of the visitor’s center. Stunning, right? I’m pretty sure I squealed when these buttes came into view. The one of the far left is called “west mitten” and the one in the middle is “east mitten” (see how that pinnacle thing looks like the thumb…of a mitten?) and they are absolutely gorgeous. I am not sure why I always am surprised at the beauty of red rock country, a vista like this will always take my breath away.
We didn’t have a full day to go hiking around the park, but we did decide to bump and jostle down the dirt road, a 17 mile scenic drive around the main area of the valley. Monument Valley is on Navajo tribal lands and there are many of the native people who still live and worship in those places, several areas are closed to anyone who is not Navajo, and some are closed to those who are not the holy Navajo. I don’t think I’m explaining this very well, but I want to convey that this is a sacred place to the Navajo and one must respect the people and the place.
J-Mo and I didn’t make the entire 17 mile loop, but we did drive around for long enough for me to get my red rock fix and fill up my memory card.
As we were leaving Monument Valley and heading north towards Moab I kept looking over my shoulder so as not to miss the famous shot of Monument Valley, the one with a road stretching across the desert towards the spires and mesas of the valley.
(As a side note, if you want to actually capture this iconic photo you’ll have to stand (or lay) in the middle of a highway where most vehicles hurl past you at 80 mph. It’s probably wise to have someone checking traffic while you’re fiddling with your camera settings. Just sayin.)
More photos in my Flickr set.
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