|The first night of our vacation was anything but peaceful,
as Mary had one of her coughing fits in the middle of the night. And we had
another ten days to go. All we could do was to continue giving her the cough
medicine and hope that she would be better in a few days.|
We were up at 6:00 in the morning (or 7:00 a.m. on the Navajo Nation, since they were on Daylight Savings Time). After getting showered and dressed, we walked out into the brisk morning air and ran over to the hotel lobby for breakfast. (The Best Western had a free continental breakfast, so we decided to take advantage of it.)
We had another busy day ahead of us, so we didn't waste any time getting checked out. Following breakfast, John and Mary and I loaded all of our belongings back into the Jeep, and by 8:00 a.m., we were ready to go.
Our first stop of the day was Monument Valley, which is located about 22 miles north of Kayenta along Highway 163. To get there, we would travel north on Highway 163 until we reached the Utah-Arizona border. We would then drive into Utah and turn right onto Indian Highway 42...which would take us back into Arizona and into the Tribal Park!
Monument Valley, a Navajo Tribal Park, is not part of the National Park System, so it would be the only park that we would have to pay a fee to visit. The fee is $5.00 per person (and children under 9 are free). With our fee, we could visit the visitor center, as well as take any of the unguided tours of the park. Camping and guided tours are available for an additional fee - a good number of the hiking and Jeep trails were only open to guided tours.
We stopped first at the Visitor Center to browse through the various shops...and to take Mary to the restroom, too. (During the course of the morning, as we toured the visitor center, Mary had five "potty emergencies", and each time we had to rush her up to the restaurant on the second floor to take care of them.) Once Mary was done, we stepped out onto the second floor overlook to see what we had come all that way to see: Monument Valley!
Monument Valley is, of course, one of the most popular landmarks in the Southwest. It has been used in countless television and print ads, television shows, and motion pictures, including How the West Was Won (1942), My Darling Clementine (1946), and Back to the Future III (1988). Some of the most recent advertisements and spots that I have seen are commercials for Qwest and Nissan, as well as print ads for Bank One.
As a result of its popularity, Monument Valley is highly recognizable, however, photographs and film just can't do it justice. It is a place that must be visited in order to see all of its magnificent beauty, to see just how gigantic the monoliths really are, to see the radiant reds and oranges and browns of the stone up close...and to see just how vast the valley really is!
We took several pictures from the visitor center overlook then decided that it was time for us to do a little tour. John suggested that we take the Valley Loop Drive, a 17-mile self-guided tour that would take us through the Monument. Along the way, we would see some of the more famous monoliths, such as the Three Sisters and the Thumb. It would also give Mary a chance to catch up on her sleep, as she had not slept well during the night. (And she was getting cranky!)
The 17-mile loop road was not much different from the Ajo Scenic Drive in Organ Pipe National Monument. The dirt road starts out as a two-way road then branches off onto a one-way path - and after you begin, you cannot turn around and return the way you came. (Locals, however, are allowed to ignore the one-way signs.) Along the way, there were signs corresponding to the points of interest on the map, and there were pull-outs where we could park and take pictures.
Unlike Organ Pipe, though, there were vendors set up at all of the stops - they were there to sell tourists everything from fry bread to jewelry. Tourists were not allowed to take pictures of them without asking permission and without paying a small fee to do so. (Needless to say, we did not take any pictures of the locals.)
We spent a lot of time stopping to take pictures during our tour, trying to get a feel for our new digital camera. John played around with the powerful zoom lens, in order to get an idea of what the camera could do. Then, he handed me the camera so that I could take pictures of the wonderful monoliths and rock formations. Among my favorites was one that looked like a gigantic coffee pot, as it reminded me of Coffee Pot Rock in Sedona.
Although the map indicated that we would need two hours to compete the 17-mile loop drive, we managed to finish the trail in about one hour; and with Mary sound asleep in her car seat, we decided not to stop. Instead, we drove right out of the park and towards our next destination: Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah.
It was about seventy miles to Natural Bridges; to get there, we took US 163 north to Utah 261, both of which are designated as scenic highways. US 163 took us out of the desert and into the riparian area surrounding the San Juan River, which passes through the tiny town of Mexican Hat, UT. From there, US 163 turned west, and we continued north on Utah 261, which headed straight towards a wall of sheer cliffs.
"I read about this road," John said to me as we drew closer and closer to the cliffs. "I read that the road goes all the way to the top of those cliffs...but I haven't been able to figure out how." He had been studying the face of the cliffs, trying to see the road, but he just couldn't figure out where it was.
He had read, however, that the road would climb about 1100 feet in just a couple of miles - in other words, at a very steep grade. On top of that, it was a dirt road with sheer drop-offs and no guard rails to keep you from going over the edge. To me, it sounded like John's type of road.
We soon found ourselves at the base of the cliff, and all of the sudden, the road began to ascend at a very steep incline. We discovered that the road had been blasted out along the face of the cliff, and it switch-backed all the way to the top. At times, the road was very narrow - not quite wide enough for two cars to fit - and I often found myself staring at sharp drop-offs, hoping that no one would come screaming around the corner and cause us to go over the edge. (Although it was a fun road, it did give me a little bit of vertigo!)
Once the road reached the top, we found ourselves back on pavement again. There, the two-lane highway entered into a forest of pinion and juniper trees as it took us closer and closer to the national monument.
At the end of Utah 61, we came to a T-intersection with Utah 95; there, we turned left then took an immediate right onto Utah 275, or the main road into the national monument. We had finally arrived.
Although Utah 275 was a very short road, it was the longest route we had taken all way. That was because Mary stopped us every five minutes for a potty emergency. Whenever she announced that she had to go, we would pull over onto the side of the road, get her and her potty chair out of the truck, and sit her down to go potty. Each time we did this, it would turn out to be a false alarm, and eventually, the potty emergencies began to frustrate us. At that rate, we thought we'd never make it to the visitor center!
Nonetheless, despite Mary's best efforts, we made it to the visitor center after all. There, we showed the ranger our National Park Pass and received our map of the hiking trails and points of interest located within the park. Once we had that information, we took it outside and began to plan our activities for the day.
There were three main bridges to be seen at the park, and they were all located just off of the main loop road that ran through the monument. Each bridge had an overlook and a trail leading down to the bridge as well as a loop trail that went to all of the bridges in turn. The trails all varied in difficulty and length, the most difficult being the Sipapu Bridge, which was the first stop on our tour. Because of my condition, we decided not to do that trail, as it involved some very steep grades that I just wasn't in shape to do. We did, however, stop to take pictures of it.
The next bridge was the Kachina Bridge - a bridge that was best viewed by hiking down to it. This trail was rated as only moderately difficult, descending about 300 feet in one mile - not nearly as strenuous as the Sipapu Bridge trail, so that was the trail that we decided to do.
Naturally, we didn't decide to do that trail until we had already walked all the way down to the Kachina Bridge overlook. When John suggested that we hike the trail, I told him that we would have to go back to the Jeep to get water for the hike. Of course, rather than all of us walking back to the Jeep, John thought it would be best if only one of us do so...namely me. While he waited with Mary at the start of the trail, I walked back uphill to the Jeep, retrieved enough water for our hike, then returned to trailhead so that we could start our hike.
The Kachina Bridge Trail was indeed very steep, but it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. Most of the trail followed along stair steps that had been cut into the rock, so there was never any fear of slipping on loose gravel as we made our way down the steep trail. In fact, the stairs made the trail so easy that Mary hiked most of it by herself...although she did so at her own pace (in other words, very slowly).
Just before the end of the trail, we reached a trail junction, where the Kachina Bridge Trail merged with the Bridge Loop Trail that connected all of the bridges. We called that our stopping point, because from there, we had a wonderful eye-level view of the Kachina Bridge. Although we weren't close enough to touch the bridge or even stand underneath it, we were close enough to get some nice pictures of it. We even stopped another group of hikers and asked them to take a family picture of us, with the bridge in the background.
We returned the way that we had come, climbing slowly up the stairs until we finally reached the top again. Once again, we hiked at Mary's pace; she would climb about five or ten steps by herself, then John would carry her for about twenty steps before setting her back down to do another five or ten steps. The slow pace was tiring, to say the least, but it was worth it, because we made a few discoveries along the way. For instance, we found a very small arch on the wall along the trail, so we set Mary down inside of it and took a picture of her. We also helped her climb on top of the large rock shelves, just for fun.
It took us a while, but we eventually made it back to the Jeep, just in time for lunch. Rather than eat our lunch in the Jeep, though, we decided to go someplace a little more scenic: Owachomo Bridge, the third main attraction at Natural Bridges National Monument. When John discovered that the trail to the bridge was only two-tenths of a mile long, he suggested that we take our lunch and eat it under the bridge.
And I couldn't think of a better spot to do so! After the short, five minute hike to the bridge, we spread our picnic blanket down on top of the slick-rock underneath Owachomo Bridge and relaxed in the nice cool shade.
Once we were finished with our lunch, we hiked back up the trail to the Jeep. Our visit to Natural Bridges was over, and it was time for Mary to take a nap while we traveled to our next destination: Moab, UT, which was about 120 miles away.
Having hiked most of the Kachina Trail and all of the Owachomo Trail, Mary was exhausted and fell asleep with a coloring book over her face. While she was asleep, we drove like mad in hopes to get as much mileage out of her nap as we could.
To get to Moab, UT, we took Utah 95 east to US 191, then took US 191 straight north into Moab. Along the way - while we had our quiet time - we discussed our options for the rest of the day. Originally, our plan had been to visit the Needles District of Canyonlands that day, but it was already getting late. (It was almost 3:00 p.m. by the time we came to the turn-off for the Needles District.) After much discussion, we decided that we would save Canyonlands for Day 3, when we could spend all day exploring it. Instead, we would just go into Moab, check into our hotel, and relax.
And that was precisely what we did. Upon arriving in Moab, we checked into the Super 8 Motel and went immediately to our room so that we could rest up until dinnertime.
For dinner that night, we ate at the Moab Brewing Company, a nice little microbrewery with an outdoors theme. The walls were adorned with pictures of various types of outdoors activities, such as hiking, kayaking, and four-wheeling. Conveniently located next door to the restaurant was a grocery store called Boomer's, where we did some shopping to replenish our supplies. (This was a fun grocery store for Mary, because there were kid-sized grocery carts for her to play with while we shopped.)
That evening, after dinner, we retired to our hotel room and spent some time downloading the pictures from the camera so that we could send our e-postcard of the day. We also made sure to medicate Mary before she went to bed, in hopes that we could all get a good night's sleep...
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