The day after our visit to the Grand Canyon, we headed east. Our drive took us through a scenic stretch of Old Route 66 through the Kaibab National Forest. The scent of pine was heavy in the air and we had the lanes to ourselves. It was a very peaceful drive.
There’s a small section of Route 66 near the town of Parks that has been turned into a walking trail. It’s 3/4 of a mile long and takes you through the forest on a roadbed that has been abandoned for decades. The sound of wildlife surrounded us as we walked the old pavement, which in some areas was still quite visible. The shape of the trees betrayed the forlorn passage even when there was no pavement left to be seen.
We continued into Flagstaff, where we walked downtown & had coffee with my old work buddy Jonathan. He was interning locally with the USGS and had been enjoying his time out west immensely. I hadn’t seen him in years and it was good to catch up. From there, we headed north to the Utah border. Our next stop was Monument Valley.
I’d visited the Valley once before in 2013 (I wrote about that visit here) but much like the Grand Canyon I was looking forward to seeing this landscape with the added value of Samantha’s perspective and more time. We were staying overnight at The View Hotel, where every room has an amazing view of the scenic landscape of the valley. After we arrived and got settled, I parked my butt on the balcony and didn’t want to leave.
Leave I did, though, as it was still important to eat. We ate dinner on-site and watched as dusk fell outside. A few stars peeked through the clouds, and when we returned to our room I set my camera up in anticipation. The night air was cool and refreshing; we left the sliding door open when we went to bed. Sleep came with difficulty, and I woke up multiple times in the night. Each time, I went to the balcony, opened the screen door, and marveled. There were more stars than I ever remember seeing before, even when I was on the cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I stood there, dumbfounded, and found sleep more difficult every time I returned to bed.
The next morning was the only time in the entire trip I’d set an alarm. We booked a sunrise trip through the valley with one of the Navajo tourism companies and it started at 6:25 AM. We met our guide, Will, and descended into the valley as the black sky began to lighten. He told us about the history of the reservation and his people, as his family went back generations in the valley itself. He took us to a spot in the sandy dunes where we could watch the sunrise through the rocks. It was magical.
The buttes of the valley displayed their true colors as the sunlight arrived in force; the sandstone red and orange landscape feels like another planet when you’re surrounded. Our tour concluded after more than two hours in the valley of sightseeing and cultural education. By the time we ate breakfast and packed the car, it felt like we’d had a full day already. Alas, it had just begun. More to come on the last leg of our week-long road trip through the American West!
Whenever I ask Samantha to take a photo of me, she often continues snapping pictures until I take the camera from her (she laughs maniacally as she clicks away.) This has resulted in several hilarious photo sequences that showcase me approaching with mock irritation as I reach for control of the camera. When I asked her to take a picture of me at John Ford Point, I thought perhaps this would happen again. What followed was the longest series so far.