Zion National Park

Featured image: I wish I could claim credit for the photo, but that goes to Wolfgang Staudt. Thanks be to him for making this photo available via Flickr Creative Commons. 

One of the best things about a road trip is stumbling onto things you didn’t even know existed – and loving them. Of course, on the other hand, you spend the following five years of your life kicking yourself for not seeing what was right in front of your face.

I’ve mentioned our serendipitous journey to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon when we intended to go South, but that wasn’t the only twist of fate for the day. When we left the wrong rim, the route we had planned to take to Las Vegas obviously wasn’t going to work. So we fired up the GPS – dubbed Sheila – and followed her lead.

Now, you have to know this was the most ridiculous GPS unit I’ve ever used. She was something built into the rental car that they threw in for free. It was nearly impossible to tell it where we were going unless we were headed to something preloaded, and of course nowhere we went was loaded in the thing. We didn’t call on Sheila and her split personality much. When we did, she got us lost more often than not. But on this day, Sheila came through in a big way: She introduced me to Zion National Park.

Our path from the Grand Canyon took us along State Route 9, which cuts across the southeastern corner of the park and takes you to the main entrance. Honestly, I had no idea we were passing through another park. For once, I wasn’t looking at the map; I was just letting the GPS do its thing. I can’t remember if I picked up the camera before or after I realized we were in Zion, but I know I couldn’t put it down the entire drive through.

As we passed through canyons in just a small corner of the park, our breath was constantly taken away by the view. This section of highway will take you through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, a 1.1 mile tunnel that was completed in 1930, according to the Park Service. This tunnel was created to connect Zion with Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. Its long. It feels long when you’re going through it and if you’re like me you have to push that panicked feeling to the back of your mind when you start thinking about how much is on top of you. This tunnel kind of skirts the edges of the rock and you get gargantuan windows that let in blinding natural light, providing a glimpse of the vista outside.

As with everything else in the Gypsy Trip, we only got a tease of what the park had to offer. Since then, I’ve been dying to get back and explore more. Zion offers backpacking, hiking, bicycling, camping, canyoneering, boating and more. When you go – because you know you want to – you may as well hit up Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley.

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#TBT Monument Valley

When you think of the American Southwest, you probably see a place like Monument Valley. You wouldn’t be the only one; it is one of the most photographed places in the West. With its sweeping vistas, towering rock formations and dry, dusty wind, it’s the perfect place to set down a saloon, strap on some spurs and sidle up to the bar for some whiskey to wet your parched throat. But what you will find missing from one of the most recognizable places in the American west is the cowboys.

Monument Valley rests entirely in Navajo Nation and straddles the state line between Utah and Arizona. Today, the Navajo Nation is the largest Tribal group and has the most sophisticated tribal government, but, like other Native tribes that faced relocation and forced assimilation, it has been a long road.

Their government was formed in response to requests to lease Navajo land after oil was discovered in the 1920s. But the reservation didn’t gain widespread notoriety until its first brush with Hollywood when John Ford directed “Stagecoach” there in 1939. Since then, 12 movies have been filmed in Monument Valley.

Part of the fun of visiting the valley is getting to travel through Navajo Nation. I’m a sucker for any kind of roadside stand – you can find the coolest things there. Monument Valley does not disappoint; there’s a market not far from the park entrance.

There is one main road – US 163 – that snakes its way through the valley.  Once you get into Monument Valley, there is a large visitor’s center that has a panoramic window with a view that doesn’t even look real. I’m not kidding. I looked out the glass and thought I was looking at a picture. I can try to wax poetic about it, but I’ll just sound silly and won’t do it justice. Just go see it. Put Monument Valley on your bucket list, push it to the top and go.

There are a couple of ways to see the valley: drive yourself or take a guided tour. We decided to drive ourselves. There’s a great visitor’s center before you drive the loop. We ran a little Toyota Corolla through and it handled it like a champ, even if we didn’t. When I make it back, I’m definitely checking out one of the guided tours. There are a few reasons for this. First off, I can still feel my bones jarring from the drive. I’m not complaining – a smooth, paved road would seriously detract from all that natural beauty. I am warning you though. If you have back problems, this may not be the drive for you. Also take advantage of the facilities before you start jarring your bladder.

Yes, if you drive yourself you get the freedom to go at your own pace and you don’t have to interact with people if you’re not feelin’ it. But you’re restricted to the road and can’t venture far from it. If you take a tour with one of the many tour operators you get insider backstory and access to more locations within the park – including sites off the main road.

Another option we did not take advantage of on this trip was the Piute Farms Road route. According to The American Southwest, this road leads to the site of a former Navajo Marina on Lake Powell. The marina was destroyed by flooding in 1989, and the lake has receded from the road, but the little-traveled dirt road offers a less populated perspective of the valley. The link above gives more information about how to find this road and warns that four wheel drive may be needed for part of it.

A good remedy for working out the kinks after a bumpy ride could be hitting one of the hiking trails in the valley. There is only one official trail. The Wildcat Trail around the West Mitten Butte.  Just remember that there are private residences in Monument Valley so it is important to be respectful of posted boundaries.

 

Monument Valley

New Gypsy Trip Tag(Writer’s note: I wrote this blog on the afternoon of Aug. 10, immediately after going through Monument Valley. Unfortunately, the failures of my wireless network kept me from sharing this with you until now. I’ve also been having some issues posting with pictures, so I may have to add more later.)

First off, I would like to say that if you have anything less than a full-sized car, driving through Monument Valley is a bad idea. They offer guided tours; take one of those. Trust me. I’m bruised head to toe and I’m pretty sure we might have to buy our rental car.

With that out of the way, I’m going to let some pictures do the talking for me. Monument Valley was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Words fail me. It is situated on Arizona’s border with Utah and is part of Navajo Nation. The sad thing is that I could have seen this years ago on vacation with my parents. But the thing is, vacations with my parents were a lot like the one I’m taking now, just with more time to rest. We went to several places and spent a lot of time in the car. The difference is that I started whining about five days into the trip and by the time Mom and Dad decided go through Monument Valley, I whined enough to stop them. It really isn’t fair that they still haven’t made it and I have.

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Here are some additional pictures:
The mittens
Elephant Rock (right)
Three Sisters

Serendipity

New Gypsy Trip TagIf you haven’t realized from my previous blogs, I’m a planner. Everything I do is premeditated, with backup plans for my backup plans. Well today that all went right out the window.

Our diversion occurred first thing in the morning when I directed Cory to go the wrong way on 89A out of Flagstaff. And then I passed out. (These early mornings and long days are beginning to wear on us all.) We intended to go to the South Rim. I woke up about an hour later, just before we passed a sign directing us to the North Rim.

I immediately panicked. Cory and I have been to the South Rim a couple of times before, and it is mind-bogglingly beautiful. My mind has a difficult time processing the depth of the canyon, the distance it spans and just the sheer magnitude of the entire canyon. I knew what to expect at the South Rim, and I knew Amanda wouldn’t be disappointed there. But by misdirecting us to the North Rim and then falling asleep before I realized my mistake, I was worried I had ruined the experience for us all.

My worry was in vain. The North Rim is arguably more beautiful than the south. Geared more for hikers than your average tourists, the North Rim is considerably less crowded. The temperature was much cooler than the South Rim (I dehydrated at the South Rim once) and the landscape was much more green. You pass through Kaibab National Forest on the way into the park and get to see the remnants of a forest fire and pass through a long meadow full of tiny purple, yellow and white flowers.

There are no trams or trains or any transportation past trailheads; you’re hoofin’ it anywhere you want to go. The difficulty of the hiking trails vary greatly; there was something for the average person in flip-flops (me) all the way up to eight-hour hikes for the professional outdoorsperson.

We took the Angel Fire Trail. We were all amazed by the canyons, and could have spent all day just sitting on a rock staring. But we have a reservation in Vegas waiting, so we couldn’t stay.

Sheila took us out of the Grand Canyon along 89A, then up into Utah to catch Highway 9. It turned out that Hwy. 9 runs through a corner of Zion National Park, a collection of mammoth rock formations on the Colorado Pueblo. We took the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and had our minds blown as we snaked around the mountains of rock.

Days like this remind me what this trip is all about. It was definitely not meant to plan every step of the way. It was meant to see, explore and go where the road takes us.

The remnants of a fire.

Where’s my network now?

 

My beautiful picture

Monument Valley

New Gypsy Trip Tag(Writer’s note: This blog was written on the morning of Aug. 11, after I had been out of internet service for almost 24 hours. I posted it once I was back within the confines of the Verizon Wireless network.)

You remember the Verizon commercials with the guy in the black jacket going all over the country saying, “Can you hear me now?” Well, Verizon really needs to get their internet coverage up to the size of their calling network. I lost my internet not far out of Santa Fe yesterday morning and haven’t regained it. Amanda has Sprint, and has had coverage most of the time we’ve been out here, allowing her to keep up on her blog a little more. I think this just goes along with my general technology challenges while I’ve been on this trip.

I just can't get enough of this scenery!

I just can’t get enough of this scenery!

After Monument Valley, we cruised on over to Sedona, taking in some amazing red rock scenery along the way. We camped in Flagstaff, taking full advantage of the 24-hour laundry facility. Let me tell you, doing laundry at a campground is a pain. Load up the car, drive over, put in the wash. Drive back. Put the wash in the dryer. When the dryers only work for 12 minutes at a time, you repeat the driving up to the laundry three or four times until everything is dry. It might not sound so irritating to you now, but, let me tell you, at 10 p.m. when all you want to do is crash, its about the most irritating thing there is.

We left Flagstaff this morning and are headed to the Grand Canyon. If we were smart and had looked at a map more, we could have just stopped there yesterday and went to Sedona today. But we didn’t realize how close we were until it was too late to turn back.

After we finish at the Grand Canyon, we’re headed to Vegas, baby! And once there, I plan to make full use of internet.

Blogger’s Note: For video and more information about Monument Valley, check out my #TBT post on this leg of our trip.