Leaving Flagstaff at 7,000′ elevation, we knew Betsy would get a good workout on the way to our next destination at Jacob Lake. Following US89, we climbed steadily and then continued onto US89A for a drop to 4,000′. Finally, we climbed back up onto Kaibab Plateau and followed the curvy road to Jacob Lake, at 7,921′. Lots of ups and downs, but what scenery along the way! We were so captivated by the gorgeous views at Marble Canyon that we vowed to go back with the car after getting settled in. Continue reading
Continuing the drive north, Betsy climbed to Flagstaff to our next campground along highway 89. We had breezed through Flagstaff several times in the past; on our way to Page to the north, Williams to the west, the Meteor Crater to the east and to the red rocks of Sedona to the south. Now it was time to hang out for a few days.
Not far from Flagstaff and within easy driving distance of each other are three National Monuments of great historical significance: Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater National Monument and Walnut Canyon National Monument. We had previously visited the cliff dwellings constructed by the Sinagua from about 1100 to 1250 CE at Walnut Canyon N.M., so we’d seen that one and my post is here.
Now it was time to visit the other two!
We’d initially reserved four days at J&H RV Park, but shortened it to two because we wanted to squeeze in a visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon near Jacob Lake, our new next stop. But that’s a story for an upcoming post 🙂
Fortunately the two monuments we planned to visit can be driven in a loop along National Forest 545 loop road. We started at the furthest one away, Wupatki National Monument.
There are six remains of masonry pueblos within this monument, and we stopped at two of them that dot the landscape – Wupatki Pueblo and Wukoki. They preserve the most obvious evidence of human life in what is a beautiful volcanic landscape, telling of the 1100’s when pueblo peoples came together to build a large farming community.
Located just behind the Visitor Center, Wupatki Pueblo was thought to have been the heart of a thriving community and landmark, gathering place and ceremonial center.
With a self-guided pamphlet in hand we toured the pueblo, stopping at each numbered spot to learn about the daily life of the people that lived here. We saw the amazing architectural design that incorporated the shape of natural rock outcrops. The handcrafted slabs of sandstone stacked with adobe mortar was masonry par excellence. The skills of the builders certainly have been proven through the test of time, as the structure has lasted about 900 years.
It was remarkable to learn that this land, so dry and hot, had supported a large farming community. It’s believed that the eruption at nearby Sunset Crater improved the agricultural potential here, as the moisture-conserving cinders helped prevent rapid evaporation.
We continued our drive a few miles from Wupatki Pueblo to Wukoki Ruins, which in the distance resembled a castle looming in the middle of nowhere:
Wukoki, the modern Hopi word for “Big House”, was said to once be home to two or three prehistoric Indian families. Judging from the types of artifacts found during excavation, the inhabitants were believed to have been of the Kayenta Anasazi culture.
The structure is three stories high and positioned atop a Moenkopi sandstone outcrop, which afforded the occupants a commanding view of the surrounding terrain:
Over the years, the ruins within Wutpaki National Monument have been reinforced to stabilize certain areas, ensuring the safety of us curious modern visitors. Each time we visit a pueblo or ancient ruins, we think about how simple and yet how complex those people were. Living successfully in a region of such scarce resources and climate extremes is something we can’t fathom.
Continuing the loop road between Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, we noticed a definite change in environment from desert to mountain:
Sunset Crater is a 1000′ high cinder cone that was created where open parks and forest had been previously. It was formed by a volcanic eruption less than 1,000 years ago, when the colorful glow from the oxidized cinders that fell onto the rim reminded people of a sunset – leading to the volcano’s name.
We followed a trail that looped across the base of Sunset Crater Volcano. It gave a good account of the unique environment created by a volcano, and was like walking along a sculptured garden of extraordinary shapes and forms. We saw the remains of several twisted Ponderosa Pines:
The eruption of Sunset Crater was so powerful that it created more than 600 hills and mountains in what is now known as the San Francisco volcanic field.
We enjoyed our short visit and history lessons here, and recommend it to anyone passing through the area.
Next up: One Day, Two Incredible Canyons!
Prescott and Prescott Valley are surrounded by breathtaking landscapes, complete with granite mountains. We tackled three hikes while here; Granite Mountain Trail #261, Granite Mountain Hotshots Trail and Woodchute Trail. Continue reading
Leaving behind the lush Sonoran Desert around Wickenburg was a bit melancholy, but we wanted to move on before the weather really heated up. We were finally on our northward trajectory, after figuring out where we’d spend our summer and fall this year. Continue reading
“WOW!” was the first word that came out of my mouth as we approached Tucson on I-10 from the east. We were looking at a sea of yellow as the Palo Verde blooms had virtually exploded! This was our “nth” visit here, the unofficial home base where we’d spent several winters and one long hot summer. During most of those visits we’d seen a lot of brown and dark olive colors, and some uniformly lush green. But this time it was yellow all around!
The weather Gods were finally with us during our two-week May visit, the coolest in more than 40 years according to the National Weather Service. The locals also confirmed the desert would be more colorful longer this year, and they couldn’t remember a more intense and widespread Palo Verde bloom. It looked like our timing was good!
Our priority on this visit was doctor appointments, everything from cancer follow-ups to eye and dental inspections. Fortunately we both continue to have eyes and teeth, and no cancer!
While driving around we couldn’t help but notice the vibrant colors along every road, hillside, wash and just about everywhere else:
We managed to hike two trails: the Cactus Forest Trail at Saguaro National Park-east and the Douglas Spring Trail at a nearby city park. During both outings we were awestruck by how lush, colorful and vibrant the desert was:
The desert was awash with yellow and splashed with red from Ocotillo blooms. Hints of pink to light yellow from Prickly Pear flowers, and deep red or bright yellow Cholla blooms added to the mix:
The usually drab Chollas and Prickly Pears were bursting with color:
Not to be outdone, the stately Saguaros were sporting green crowns on their heads, bulbous nubs blooming into beautiful flowers. They usually start to wake up in mid-May, but a large number were already showing off their milky white blooms that are Arizona’s state’s flower:
A single Saguaro can produce as many as 100 flowers in a season, with each lasting only one day. They usually open at night and close soon after the sun starts to beat on them:
All doctors gave us two thumbs up, with extra happiness about two years cancer-free for Steve. Even Betsy got a full bath to remove filth carried many miles from Texas. A great visit all around!
We moved on to Wickenburg, 60 miles northwest of Phoenix, to explore it as a possible place to settle down one day. We placed it near the top of our list after driving around, hiking, talking to locals and looking into real estate prices. It met most of our requirements and we intend to come back to take another look later this year.
We consulted several pioneers who were milling around downtown. They seemed to be frozen in time, but each had a story to tell via audio stations:
With the Sonoran Desert as a backdrop, the surrounding mountains keep residents close to nature with access to numerous hiking trails. We tackled two of them during our stay; Vulture Peak and Sophies Flat.
We had hiked Vulture Peak in 2015, but Steve wanted to give it another try. It’s only four miles out and back, but the last half going up is a strenuous climb up a steep hillside on loose rocks. We ran into a terrible gnat invasion this time which pretty much spoiled the hike, but Steve was happy that he made it without the exhaustion he experienced the first time around.
Sophies Flat Trail was a fairly easy 7-mile trek through washes, over hills and around Red Top Peak. It was another scenic desert hike with yellow remaining the dominant color:
The Palo Verde put on a spectacular show, turning the desert a gorgeous yellow-gold. We were delighted to be here during a special spring brought on by the unseasonably cold and wet winter that several of our RV friends had endured. Simply breathtaking!
Next up: Summer plans revealed, more hikes and meet-ups with friends!
We are dedicating this post to Bob Gauvreau, a dear friend of ours who passed away recently. We’ve enjoyed many good times with Bob and Dee Dee over the past few years. They prompted us to camp at Rusty’s RV Ranch, one of their favorite campgrounds where we stayed during this unexpected search for the elusive Elegant Trogon.
When you’re searching for an elusive bird and not finding it, there can be some frustration. But when you’re in a place that’s known to harbor that bird the anticipation is heightened. And that’s what happened as we checked in at Rusty’s RV Ranch and Rusty handed me a map of things to do and see in the area. My ears really perked up when she said the Elegant Trogon had recently been spotted just down the road at the Chiricahua Mountains! Continue reading
We’d heard about Betatakin Ruins, an ancient ancestral Puebloan settlement, from Eric and Laurel who had hiked it a couple of years ago. Reading her post about the guided hike piqued our interest in the tightly-protected ruins. Fortunately we were able to work this great hike into our plans as we passed through the area again on our way to Monument Valley.
Off we went early one morning, thinking we’d just drive around to explore the monument, since ranger-guided hikes were not scheduled to begin until May (according to their website).
As usual we stopped at the visitor center upon our arrival, and I was happy to learn there would be a guided hike due to the large number of people who had requested one that morning. Ranger guide Jimmy Black was rounded up to take the group into the canyon just a few minutes after we arrived – how’s that for perfect timing!
Instead of describing our experience, I urge you to read Laurel’s excellent account of the hike. We had the same guide, the same strenuous hike 3 miles out and back, and the same ruins as our destination. The only difference was that Laurel and Eric had hiked it in the fall, while we were here for a springtime trek.
Navajo National Monument is off the beaten path, uncrowded and quiet. It protects three cliff dwellings which contain some of the best ruins on the Colorado Plateau. Betatakin and Keet Seel (a 17-mile hike) are seasonally open to the public, while Inscription House has been closed due to its fragility.
We were tired when we reached the top of the mesa. The hike down and up was strenuous, as advertised. That’s why Jimmy had made sure at the beginning that nobody had any hip, knee, heart or respiratory problems, or recent surgery. He did a great job of gauging the right speed for the group and when to stop for rest.
It was a tough hike, but the Betatakin Ruins were totally worth the effort!
Next up: Bluff, Utah – the second time around
We first saw the incredible formations in Monument Valley during our drive through the area on highway 163 a couple of years ago. At that time I was reminded of the amazing scenery of many western movies and photos from the distant past. I only had time for a few photos during that passage, but we vowed to spend more time here and did just that during the last week of March this year.
Monument Valley was destined to be a hidden natural treasure, enjoyed by only a few intrepid travelers venturing into this area wilderness. But we learned that thanks to Harry and Leone “Mike” Goulding, it was transformed into an icon of the American west. During our stay at Goulding’s RV Park, our eyes were opened to how it became a popular place to stay and play for Hollywood stars and many other folks passing through.
And the story goes …
In the early 1920’s, Harry, a sheep trader and Leone (nicknamed “Mike”) came to Monument Valley looking for a business opportunity. They were very fortunate to buy a substantial plot of land when the Paiute Indian Reservation relocated and many acres became available for sale.
The Gouldings immediately set up Goulding’s Trading Post at the base of Big Rock Door Mesa, while befriending and conducting business with the local Navajo people who accepted them. Unfortunately, when the great depression hit the Navajo Reservation suffered immensely.
Harry and Mike went to Hollywood to show pictures of the beautiful valley to director John Ford. They convinced him that Monument Valley was perfect for his next movie, and in less than a month Ford began shooting “Stagecoach”, which starred John Wayne. Nine more Ford films were shot here, which not only helped the Navajo with much-needed money, but also opened to the world the stunning red rock formations standing tall in the middle of the desert.
Many decades later, Goulding’s Lodge consists of a lodge, cabins, museum, restaurant and an RV campground. Goulding’s businesses have grown and changed hands through the years as Monument Valley has continued as a backdrop for many movies and television shows and ads, as well as a popular tourist destination.
Goulding’s Lodge was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 for its importance to the local area.
This iconic stretch of land is in the heart of the Navajo Indian Nation, and home to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which spans the Utah/Arizona border. The Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation manages the park valley, not the National Park Service.
To see what is beyond the walls of the monuments, several tours are offered by various Navajo operators located near the visitor center. We opted for an all-day tour offered by Goulding Tours, which took us down not only the rugged 17-mile loop of Monument Valley to view the famous monuments, but also the restricted backcountry and Mystery Valley, amazing areas far away from public access.
Most areas here are off limits unless you are with a Navajo guide, and our guide Larry took us into several restricted areas. He told many stories about Navajo culture and history during our excursion.
Our first stop was at a hogan, which was a primary traditional dwelling of the Navajo people, although today it is used for ceremonial purposes.
Inside the hogan, a grandma demonstrated the Navajo technique for processing raw wool fleece from sheep into a weaving yarn and ultimately looming it into a beautiful rug. What’s amazing is there are no patterns to follow and the design comes completely from the weaver’s imagination. She also showed us how blue corn is ground and some basket weaving techniques.
We continued our sandy and dusty excursion, as Larry narrated through a speaker system that was set up in the back of the vehicle.
When we were on top of a hill he related the story of how in 1863 the Navajo people were mistreated and forcibly removed from their ancestral land to begin The Long Walk of 425 miles from Fort Defiance, AZ to Fort Sumner, NM where they were exiled. This year marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Navajo Treaty of 1868 between the Navajo and the United States government, which gave them the freedom to return home after four years of internment.
For the next 29 miles we were led into Mystery Valley’s side-box canyons, visiting much of the valley’s secluded natural arches and windows. There’s also an abundance of concealed and undisturbed Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, and pictographs in this area.
While Larry prepared lunch we checked out more ruins and petroglyphs within the huge box canyon:
After lunch Larry drove us deep into the backcountry, where he continued his narration of the valley’s history, geography, culture and lore. As we passed clusters of Navajo communities, he mentioned that 30% of Navajo people have no electricity and no running water. Income is derived from tourism and sales of handmade trinkets, jewelry, and beautiful intricate rugs.
After his chant we were asked to lie down on our backs along the rock wall, and to look up at the arch to see the eye and beak of an eagle:
Finally we were in the shadows of the amazing rock statues, the monuments that Harry and Mike introduced to the world. Our tour’s final stretch was over the rugged 17-mile loop that is open to the public. Larry pointed out places where famous scenes from movies, TV shows and commercials had been filmed over the years.
We were completely covered with orange sand at the end of our bumpy, dusty ride, but through Larry we had learned a lot about the Navajo Indians and what exists behind the Navajo Nation wall. This all-day tour is the only way to see the heart of the valley of the Monuments!
Native Americans’ name for Monument Valley translates to “the sand that lights up the valley,” and below you can see why:
Next up: Hiking the Betatakin Ruins