On our 9th day of traveling we really started to feel like we had hit our groove. We had a great visit with our family, we covered a LOT of ground, and we had our car camping set up pretty well figured out. That morning we set out in the CR-V camper and started to see the first glimpses of the wild west: towering monoliths of stone we knew as “monuments.” The first monument we came across, called Chimney Rock, floored us entirely. You are just driving along when, all of a sudden, an otherworldly structure appears out of the earth.
We couldn’t find much information about the first formation we saw on the Southern Ute Reservation, except that it is known as Chimney Rock (other formations also go by this name). But when we saw it, we had to stop and take it in. There was a stately gravity to it that stunned us, and little did we know what other magical sights lay ahead.
Troy and I were in good spirits as the scenery around us began shifting. The land we covered that was once mountainous and hilly transitioned to chaparral (shrubland plant vegetation). The desert land collided with the monuments and led to many lovely photo opportunities, of which we took full advantage. For those of you wondering what we had been doing in the car to keep occupied all that time, we did talk a lot, listened to good music like the Rolling Stones, Stars, and Maroon 5. There were a few podcasts we listened to, and of course there were plenty of snacks and pit stops to let Zorro out.
When we made it to the Four Corners monument, we hadn’t planned to stop, but we figured, “We’re here so we may as well stop in!” We are glad we did, not necessarily because we put four body parts in four states – we did – but because we had our first serving of Navajo fry bread. This tasty bread is a simple dough that is fried in shortening or oil, then topped to be sweet or savory. For our first taste, we chose to get cinnamon sugar as was recommended to us. And so our continual search for more Navajo fry bread began as we drove deeper into Navajo Nation.
We did a funny little four state merry-go-round and switched from Arizona to New Mexico to Utah all on that day’s drive. Let me just say that of all the states The Adventure CRU has visited so far, Utah is the one to beat! Pretty much from the moment we crossed the state line into Utah, the colors, variation and drama were over the top. The bright reds and oranges popped against bright blue skies. The bright sun illuminated the rise and fall of the mesas and cliffs that flanked scenic Highway 163. Utah was a total standout in both mine and Troy’s memories and will continue to be.
That afternoon, we arrived at Monument Valley in the heat of the day. It was so hot, the wind that blew (dirt) felt like someone put the heater on full blast! I was very comfortable wearing my Spandits board shorts (seen above), they kept me cool all day. My first impression of Monument Valley was, “Oh my gosh, we’re actually here!” We could hardly believe our eyes. The different structures that surround the valley were nothing short of magnificent. There are plenty of roadside pull-offs for people to stop and take photos or just stand still to take in the glory of the place. We made it to what seemed like a good turn-around point, as our sleeping destination happened to be behind us in Mexican Hat.
Mexican Hat is sleepy little town preceding Monument Valley if you are coming from Arizona. It is so named because of a naturally occurring, and rather whimsical, stone feature near town that resembles a head and a sombrero atop it. In this small town we found WiFi (win!), cellular service (kinda), Navajo tacos (which is the afore-mentioned bread made into a bean taco, yum), and a yurt to sleep in for the night. The place to find all of these amenities in Mexican Hat is the San Juan Inn on the San Juan River. We highly recommend this area if you are headed near it. Mexican Hat is a great central spot for a lot of great sightseeing in the region. There’s a gas station and convenience store, but you’ll want to bring some supplies because it is pretty far from the nearest grocery store!
More about the yurt, you ask? The yurt was a short drive away from the main Inn location. It was pet friendly and featured a queen sized bed, WiFi, bathroom, and spectacular views of the Navajo Rug ridgeline and anticline (Google those!). Once moved in and showered, we spent the evening outside in the 97 degree breeze watching the light change on the rock formations. One cool thing about the yurt was no TV – And we didn’t even miss it. Note: That’s a bonus about traveling in our car and from odd place to place. Less TV, more life.
Our days in the southwest were a lot like this one, full of adventure and hot, hot sunshine. Hard to say why us South Carolinians felt so at home here in the deep west, but we are already looking forward to our return to this part of America. Up next, Grand Canyon and more!