Leaving Lake Powell, Page behind us, we headed toward Monument Valley. First stop is to view the cliff dwellings at Navajo National Monument in Arizona. Navajo lands cover over 27,000 square miles. The cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) people of the Southwestern United States are just a tiny part of the wonderous varying landscape. Once at the visitors centre it is a reasonable walk to the overhanging platform. Here you can view the dwellings surrounded by beautiful countryside. At 66yrs I found the walk quite easy and well worth the effort. I believe there are also several walks which take you down further into the valley floor.
We move on now toward our next destination. On the drive approaching Monument Valley you get a little taste of the magnificence of the Buttes (flat-topped, steep-sided towers of rock) reaching toward the sky. Buttes are created through the process of erosion, the gradual wearing of earth by water, wind, and ice. There are several accommodation options outside Tribal Park, but we chose this time to stay up close and booked 2 nights at The View Hotel. It is situated on the edge of the park blending in with the natural red earth and towering buttes surrounding it. Our room was at the south end, it was beautiful and spacious with a huge balcony looking straight onto the brilliance of the park. We then ventured out to master the valley drive, a 17-mile loop road of dirt and gravel within the confines of the park. It is difficult to describe the uniqueness of the area. The colours and shadows change completely at every angle. The stark red against the cloudless blue sky is magic. The earth is desolate and yet seems alive and active. There is a spattering of primitive homes throughout the area and a small trading post shop. With every twist and turn in the road a new and amazing view is revealed.
We hurried back so as not to miss the opportunity for a little sunset photography. Before venturing out we opened a bottle of wine and stood on the balcony marvelling at the vision before us. We meandered through the grounds, photographing, and waiting for the sunset which did not disappoint. Absolutely mesmerising and stealthily quiet atmosphere as the Sun slowly headed to the other side of the world and allowed the gigantic rocks to sleep for the night. Dinner in the hotel restaurant was simple but tasty food with a casual atmosphere, (note no alcohol as the Navajo have a strict policy regarding the serving of alcohol).
The next day we were booked on a tour with a Navajo guide. We were wondering if we had wasted our money as we thought we had seen the park already. Our young guide led us to an open windowed jeep and headed off to the gated parts of the park we had not previously seen. It was interesting to hear of the structure of the Navajo community regarding their laws and the expectations of their people. We were part of a small group, only six of us and therefore we were able to experience the Navajo ways up closely. We were able to visit a typical hut dwelling and see some authentic weaving. Watched the Navajo ponies in their natural environment and visited some sacred sites. Discovering more details about the archaeology and the anthropology of the landscape proved very interesting. The guide was informative, easy to relate to and a wealth of knowledge. We were thoroughly entertained and educated the whole time. We returned to the hotel, on the way watching the Sun setting slowly behind the Buttes. Early the next morning we were able to witness a spectacular sunrise. The atmosphere was beautiful. Everyone waiting for the first light to hit the ground. Anyone who has watched a sunrise will know the calmness that envelopes you.
It was sad to leave such a captivating place. A quick trip to the Visitors Centre to purchase something to remember the experience and back on the road again.
We head up to cross the border again into Utah making our way to The Mexican Hat (a huge pile of red rock with a large flat rock sitting on top). Close by we visited Gooseneck State reserve which sits about a 1000 ft above the San Juan River. It is a fantastic place, quite vast, dry, and deserted with the river weaving in and out of huge grey rock structures. After this we drove via the Moki Dugway which is a steep, gravel road traversing 1,200 feet from the valley floor to the top of Cedar Mesa. It is not very wide and zig zags back and forth continuously. Quite a scary drive fearing the presence of a large RV or truck heading toward us with nowhere to go. I have included a photo from the internet as we were unable to stop to photograph on the way up. We lived to tell the tale and headed straight onto the Natural Bridges National Monument again crossing over into Utah.
Declared a National Monument in 1908, the bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honour of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home. There is a great little visitor centre which was very informative. On the road again, we headed to Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park. The park has some of the best preserved ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the US. You will find a lot of information on the history of this area on google which is fascinating reading. We were booked on a guided tour the next day which was superb.
Starting with a bus drive around the surrounding area, visiting ancient Pit Houses and Pueblos (AD700-795). After a reasonably easy descent to the ruins, we were able to wander through the site and photograph the cliff dwellings. Once again, we were fortunate to have a great guide who offered plenty of information and amusing stories about the ancient inhabitants. We completed taking our photographs and headed to the way out. They had warned us at the beginning that the exit from the ruins may be difficult, so we were prepared for a challenge. It turned out to be straight up several daunting ladders, squeezed in between the rocks weaving through some very tight spots. I must admit the ordeal was a little harrowing but extremely rewarding once we reached the top.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and after a shower we headed to the lodge restaurant for a well-earned scrumptious meal by the window overlooking the surrounding area, finishing with a cocktail on the outside rooftop platform. The next morning, we headed to Window Rock in Arizona. This is a beautifully designed park with interesting monuments and a great walk to view the large natural opening known as Window Rock.
The next step in our journey required us to travel to Socorro in New Mexico via Albuquerque. There was a couple of little walks and displays we discovered on the way, but the main attraction was The VLA (Very Large Array, a radio telescope). Astronomy is a passion of my husbands and to see this site was quite amazing. In a sparse area on the plains of San Agustin, 50 miles west of Socorro, stands one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories. It consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y shaped configuration with each antenna being 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The first antenna arrived at the site in 1975. When the moveable antennas are spaced furthest apart that they can be, it is able to make very high-resolution measurements that can pinpoint objects in space very accurately.
The VLA is a monumental site which you are not likely to forget easily. There is a self-guided tour which allows a close look at one of the antennas. After a multitude of photographs had been secured, we took a quick look around the visitor’s centre ending our visit very satisfied.
PHOTOS Inserted here.
Come back and join me on the next blog where Ken and I visit White Sands, some observatories, Carlsbad Caverns and Santa Fe, New Mexico.