Our Monumental Trip

We’ve had three places on our Bucket List that we’ve talked about for several years: Arches National Park, Four Corners and Monument Valley.  In fact, we’ve even tried to visit them a couple of times only to be turned back by snow or closing times.  (Four Corners closes at 5 PM during the winter season.)  We decided that 2014 was to be the year that we visited all three.
Paul and Ali

We set out on August 13th with our first night’s stay in Salina, Kansas.  All was good! Next morning we stopped and found the world’s oldest geocache: Mingo.  Next stop was Denver where we linked up with Paul and Ali for some Colorado pizza.  Love the honey on the leftover crust. Yum!  All was well.

At precisely 12:05 AM on August 15th “all was well” turned to “not all is well” as Mona got sick….like stay in the bathroom all night sick.  Not good. Not good at all. She suffered through the night and in the morning we discussed canceling our plans. She didn’t want to do that so around 10 we hit the road.  Obviously, she couldn’t drive so she did her best to sleep as I drove through the mountains and into Utah.
Balancing Rock at
Arches National Park

Our hotel was in Moab, but Arches National Park was just north of there so we went there first to finally see this park.  It’s indeed beautiful with all of the red rock and the incredible rock formations.  We drove through the park, spending about 90 minutes there.  We got out of the car a couple of times, but with Mona being ill we needed to cut our visit short.  Not as much of a visit as we planned, but we finally made it to Arches!  Scratched it off the Bucket List!

Moab is a neat little town tucked in the middle of several national parks.  It would be a great base camp to use for a week or two of National Parking.  However, for us it was a one-nighter as we were determined to hit Monument Valley the next day.
Milepost 13, Forrest Gump’s Point

Next morning Mona was feeling some better and we were hopeful for a better day.  We hit the road early and headed south.  Our first stop was at milepost 13 on Highway 163.  This is the spot where Forrest Gump stopped running.  It’s an iconic view and actually a little dangerous as tourists stand in the middle of the road and tend to ignore the traffic speeding by at 70 miles per hour.  Yep, I’m a tourist too…got my pic and managed to not get hit.

Just a few miles further south we crossed into Arizona and turned onto the road to Monument Valley Navajo Park.  We crossed back into Utah and headed for the restaurant.  Mona was hungry!
Our dining view.  By luck we had the
same table for three meals.

There is only one restaurant on the property and it is owned, like everything else here, by the Navajo Nation.  Since we were pretty much a captive audience I had low expectations for the food.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the Navajo Taco…at least I was pleased after i got some extra green chilis to put on it.  Mona was taking it safe with her food…understandably.  Good food or not, the view was incredible!  The restaurant is perched on the rim of the valley and you get a birds-eye view of several of the monuments from your table.

At 1:00 we went outside to meet Will, our tour guide from Navajo Spirit Guides.  We had done our homework and learned that these guides are considered to be the best in the valley.  We climbed into the back of the tour truck, modified with cushioned seating for twelve.  We shared the truck with a family of four from England.  We loaded up and headed down the “road” to the valley floor.

Marlboro Man

The road is basically just soil hardened by the passage of countless trucks vehicles touring the valley.  It’s full of ruts, potholes and huge mud puddles making driving a challenge.  Car rental companies don’t allow their cars to travel this route and I was really glad we were in a four wheel drive vehicle.  Nonetheless, we saw several nice cars, including a few new Mustangs, bumping along on this road.  (Speaking of Mustangs, this is open range country and horses wander around freely.  More on that later.)

Will, singing in Navajo to us.

Down in the valley you get a better idea of just how huge these monuments are.  They rise 700 to 900 feet straight up and loom over you like structures from an alien world.  Even though this was a first-time visit for us we felt like we had been here before.  Will explained that was because of all the movies and commercials that had been made here.  While he was talking about this he pointed at Merrick Butte and told us of the time they had helicoptered a Cadillac to the top for a commercial.

The valley floor has an area open for all tourists and tours.  However, there is another section deeper in the valley that can only be accessed if your driver is Navajo.  That’s where Will took us next.  The roads were worse here and we bounced all over the seats.  Thank god those seats were cushioned!!!
Totem Pole Formation

It was worth it.  We got to see the Totem Pole formation, several arches and the Big Hogan where Will and another guide sang songs to us in Navajo.  These songs probably made fun of us tourists, but they were cool nonetheless.

Finally, the tour was over and our truck climbed the steep valley wall back to The View.  (That’s the name of the complex which has the restaurant, the hotel and a trading post.)  As we attempted to climb out of the back of the truck we realized that our previously-broken tailbones were reinjured.  Ouuuuuuuch!!!  Poor Mona now had this to add to her list of ailments.
We waddled to the Highlander and drove over the campgrounds to check into our cabin.  There we were thrilled with our little cabin.  It was brand new and had an awesome view of the valley.  It felt like we could reach out and touch the West Mitten Butte.

Merrick Butte from Our Porch
That evening, we sat out on our private porch (on pillows) and watched the sunset show.  As the sun set in the west it caused the red rock monuments to turn bright red with an other-worldly glow.  Now, this is the way to complete a Bucket List item!
After sunset we were enjoying the dusk from our porch and we heard some kids clomping towards our cabin.  Much to our surprise, the kids turned out to be a horse…wandering around checking the garbage cans and hitting up the campers for handouts.  That horse had no sooner rambled by when another horse turned the corner and sauntered by.  You just never know what’s going to be out there when you’re sleeping on the open range!
Night Stalker Horse

 

Early next morning, we began the turn towards home stopping first at Four Corners…another Bucket List place for us.  Here’s where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico come together.  You can stand in four states at once and then shop at the Navajo stands that circle the corner stone.  Yep, it’s touristy, but remember we are tourists so of course we loved it!
We spent our next night in Santa Fe.  Had to stop here and get a good New Mexican dinner and we had a great meal at a local’s place called Artisco.  Definitely a memorable spot!
Four Corners at Last

We had decided to cut short this trip and get Mona home to see her doctor.  She was some better but still not herself.  She was a trooper but even troopers have their limits.  We were aiming for Wichita via Dodge City for our next target.  We wanted to see more of the local country so we cut across New Mexico on a two-lane road; enjoying the grass-covered mesas and the occasional butte.  Mona was driving and as she was cresting a hill she saw a police vehicle, lights flashing, facing her in her lane.

You could see the near-panic in Mona’s eyes as she tried to figure out why she was being pulled over in this dramatic fashion.  What more indignities could she be facing?!?  She pulled over on to the shoulder and the cop pulled up alongside her window.  The officer and Mona both rolled down their windows and exchanged pleasantries.  This officer looked just like the Mexican officer in “We’re The Millers”!  He said, “I bet you’re wondering why I pulled you over.”  Well, duh!
Turns out, there was a huge wide load coming down the road and the police were making everyone pull over to the side of the road.  So we pulled over and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally, we decided to move forward anyway.  Just then the wide-load caravan came into view.  There

Wide Load!

must have been eight vehicles in addition to the tractor-trailer itself.  The tractor-trailer had a semi in front, then the load, then another semi pushing.  We were glad we had pulled over because there was no room for anything else on the road.

That was our last excitement of the trip.  We continued our diagonal track across New Mexico, caught the northeastern corner of Texas (literally, we found a cache a foot inside of Texas), and sliced through the Oklahoma panhandle.  We stopped at Dodge City for a short time then headed to Wichita for the night.  Next day we were home.
This trip wasn’t as smooth as we had hoped and we had to cut it short so Mona could go see her doctor. But, in spite of her ills Mona toughed it out enough to where we could scratch three items off our bucket list and have some fun doing so.  Now we’re safely at home, sitting on pillows.P.S. Mona is feeling better and hopes to be back to normal soon.

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