While it had been a struggle to cut the morning’s ride short, and leave Sedona before lunch, arriving in Monument Valley before sunset was entirely worth it. It was cutting it short though, with the sun extremely low on the horizon when I caught my first glimpse at the rocky columns interrupting what was otherwise a rather flat and featureless horizon.
The Navajo Nation manages much of the land in northern Arizona and southern Utah, and they had taken a very protective stance during Covid, shutting many of the tourist attractions, including parts of Monument Valley. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the closures, but it was mostly hiking trails and viewing points either side of the valley, with the major highway that runs right through the middle of many of the mesa still open.
No sooner had I parked near the entrance to the valley that I noticed that the valley floor was starting to be covered in shade. I raced to find a vantage point to take some photos before dark, but the light was moving quick!
It was gorgeous to watch the last rays of light set the red rock ablaze, as the rest of the valley was being shrouded in darkness. It smouldered like an extinguished matchstick.
It wasn’t particularly warm in Sedona, but now that we were much higher up on the plateau, temperatures were rapidly heading below zero. I was so intoxicated by the views that I barely registered just how cold and numb my fingers had become.
The light continued shifting, transforming the landscape and the sky faster than I could take it all in.
But, eventually the colour left the sky, co-incidentally right around when the feeling left my fingers, so it was time to head to the hotel, and have a fancy birthday meal. If you’ve stayed at Monument Valley, then chances are you’ve also stayed in Gouldings Hotel. It’s one of the few out here – and during November 2020, it was the only option. It was also one of the few options for food, that wasn’t a 45-minute drive to a fast-food chain.
It might not have been a fancy dinner (which is fine, since I don’t like fancy dinners). Usually I would have followed it up with a ‘but, it was some other redeeming feature’. No, I jest, it was tasty, and curious. I ordered a Navajo Taco, or Indian Fry Bread, which was like deep-fried bread dough, topped with simple taco ingredients. Honestly, the ‘taco’ reminded me of a langos that I’d fallen in love with in Hungary/Romania.
The rooms in Gouldings Hotel all seemed to be situated with prime views out over the mesa of Monument Valley, and while I’d oddly thought to pack and bring my tripod, I didn’t think to bring my manual/bulb release, so either I was stuck to taking 30s photos on a timer, or attempting to really steadily hold the shutter closed for a few minutes – neither produced all that great of a result. And, with the temps well below freezing, It didn’t take that long to lose interest in shaky long exposure images and come inside into the warmth.
Day Five – Thanksgiving!
I can’t begin to explain how nice it was to be able to enjoy the sunrise over the Monuments from the comfort of a warm bed. However, we were on the wrong side of the sun, so the mesa were silhouettes against a rapidly brightening sky.
I had really wanted to ride on some of the trails around Monument Valley, however, the area was closed to tourists. So, instead I found a nice little quiet loop just a little past Monument Valley. This gave us the chance to drive through the valley, and stop to enjoy the Forrest Gump viewpoint (this was the point where Forrest finally decided he’d had enough running).
The views here were just amazing, with the long straight road just stretching into the horizon. This would probably be a better spot to enjoy sunrise – though far less warm or comfortable.
I saw a town on the map that sounded far too comical to not look into further. The reality was based on a curious rock formation just outside of town that kinda resembled a person wearing a sombrero. It was pretty small, and was honestly surprised I happened to notice it while driving.
Valley of the Gods
Valley of the Gods was about 30kms of unsealed road through some stunning red dirt scenery. While the mesa here weren’t quite as iconic as those in Monument Valley, being able to ride bikes through them (and with very few cars), it had a really serene and enchanting feel to it.
The ride wasn’t particularly difficult, with small climbs, and reasonable road surfaces for most of the journey.
I tried to play with my drone in a ‘follow me’ mode, but the dumb thing kept wanting to either stop, or fly into the small shrubs… so I gave up, and just settled for photos while I was stationary.
The temps were still single digits, but the sun made it quite pleasant.
I opted to race back along the road to pick up the car, and drive back to the end of the dirt trail to pick up Jane and save some time, since I wanted to stretch my legs, and Jane was happy to just cruise and enjoy the views. (I say why not do both!)
The sunset this evening was somewhat of a let down after yesterday’s light show, which made me glad to have decided to book two nights here. Actually, by pure luck, the hotel happened to have a ‘two nights for the price of one’ when booking directly on their site, rather than through Booking.com (or similar), so it really was a no brainer.
Thanksgiving Dinner was… maybe not the most amazing. But, it was an experience, and it was easy, and honestly it was still pretty tasty – it certainly beats truck stop dinner.
After enjoying the sunrise from bed yesterday, and seeing the potential for a better vantage point from the ‘Forrest Gump’ viewpoint, we set alarms and made off in the darkness. I’d barely seen another tourist the past few days, yet I noticed what looked like a few dimmed headlights as we approached the view point. Turns out that my brilliant idea wasn’t a particularly unique one.
It also turned out that the sunrise this morning was also somewhat of a dud, with flat light from cold grey skies. But, that didn’t stop the groups of tourists from venturing out onto the highway to jump and pose – all too oblivious of the fact that it was an actual highway.
Somewhat disheartened, though far from disappointed after the beautiful views yesterday, we returned back to the hotel to pack and make our way to Grand Canyon.
Along the way, I saw what used to be car parking for a small vendor stand. Driving in I realised that it was actually a fantastic vantage point – and that the sun was finally starting to break through the clouds and bring some colour to the landscape. It felt like finding a small hidden secret.
The scale of these mesa still puzzled me, alternating between appearing larger and smaller to me than they seemed.
Next stop, the Grand Canyon!