Mon. Oct. 7, 2013:
The next morning we were surprised to find out that our hotel was surrounded by gorgeous scenery and pretty landscapes. We couldn’t see it last night as it was pitch dark, but now everything was lit up by the early morning sun. We had another beautiful-view filled drive ahead of us to Monument Valley where we’d go on a whole-day Jeep tour. Monument Valley wasn’t affected by the government shut-down because it is on Navajo land. Finally we were going to see some of the stuff we had wanted to see and our plans weren’t cancelled. With this drive I also got state 29: Utah. Brent screamed no!, while I screamed Utah! We arrived at Goulding’s Lodge just in time for our 9am tour.
We started our tour across the road at a traditional Navajo home (called a hogan) where a Navajo woman showed us how to spin wool and tie your hair up with it. From the outside, the hogan looked like a pile of mud and not very sturdy. Inside however, you could see the structure built of juniper logs, layered in a criss-cross along the top all staying in place without rope or glue.
Our jeep was more-so a pickup truck with an extended bed with rows of seats that had metal railings holding up a roof over our heads. No windows meant unobstructed views of the valley. The first half of our tours was in Mystery Valley which isn’t open to the general public due to it being Navajo land. Our tour guide was fun & quirky, randomly bursting out into song, encouraging us to climb on the rocks.
Our first stop was at a naturally formed bridge. I climbed almost to the top but gave up as it was just a slanted rock and my shoes had no grip. I was fine where I was, I could see the arch but then the tour guide, having climbed to the top, right under the arch was talking (loudly) to the people up there about a secret pool of water. I had to go see it. I almost slipped a few times but finally made it- only to find out that there was a rickety ladder you had to climb and then grab the rock and hoist yourself up to get to it. I believed him about the water, he threw a rock and you could hear the plop in the water but there was no way I was climbing up there. Brent tried to, but he ended up breaking a rung of the ladder (made of branches mind you). The views from up there were breath-taking, it is amazing that these monuments were formed.
As always we were joined by annoying people on the bus. Snarky photo-snobs behind us, laughing at people’s point & shoot cameras, and one woman in front of us who could not stay awake. Her head kept snapping forward only to bounce off a metal bar or the seat in front of her. In total it took her 4 hits against the metal railing and 2 against the seat before she finally decided to swap for the aisle seat. There was a concave rock that was great for echoing, much to delight of the narcoleptic woman and her friends who just started screaming at it, much to irritation of everyone else.
At some of the sites we also got to see old pictographs, it is amazing that they have lasted all these years. However there were a few that had been defaced. We saw cave dwelling carved out in the rock faces, we wondered who anyone managed to get up there. Our guide pointed to some tiny holes in the rock: footholds. From the ground looking up you could see the blackened “ceiling” from the campfires.
Before heading to Monument Valley for the afternoon we stopped for a BBQ lunch. He used juniper wood to start the fire and it smelled unbelievably good. What would have been a mediocre lunch turned out to be really good, the burgers tasted amazing thanks to the juniper wood. We were each given a small box inside of which there was a bag of chips, some cookies, an orange and napkins: it was too cute. As we were finishing up I spotted a scrub jay sitting on a branch nearby, he was anxiously waiting for us to leave so he could swoop in and eat our mess. At lunch we found out from our fellow tourists that Canyon de Chelley had indeed been open, but only for tours from Navajo guides, not park rangers: damn government shut-down!
We drove through the valley instead of taking the highway to the Monument Valley Visitor’s Centre for another pit-stop. I wish I had known we’d be stopping somewhere with proper bathrooms, as at our lunch spot there was just an outhouse. From the Visitor’s Centre you could see down into the valley below, the views were just gorgeous and breathtaking. The monuments all looked like stuff, hence the kooky names like “The Mittens” and “Elephant Butte” (as in a butte rock formation that looked like an elephant) and “The Three Sisters” (pictured below).
We drove down a rocky dirt road that was so bumpy I actually flew off my seat a few times. It is a good thing we didn’t decide to do a self-guided tour of Monument Valley; it would have sucked to drive and probably wrecked the car. All around us we could see SUVs, with a few compact cars having a hard time. Our first stop was a rocky point overlook that was featured in “The Searchers” starring John Wayne, which conveniently enough we had watched a few months ago. There was even a guy dressed as John Wayne on a horse at the point. It was terribly tacky but also provided for a nice photo op. Some people had set up tables nearby and were selling jewelry and other souvenirs. A small dog ran under a table and dug itself a hole, nestled in and used a rock as a pillow; it did not look comfy at all. Another dog had made itself comfy in a grassy spot… half-laying on a rock though.
Driving in Monument Valley there was a lot more dust than when we were driving through Mystic Valley just because there were so many more cars on the roads, kicking up more dust. I was starting to understand why the family sitting in front of us (complete with Narcoleptic Lady) all were wearing dust masks, even though it made them look like surgeons who forgot to take off their masks. Our final stop was at another naturally formed arched, I climbed the sand dune (my shoes were so full of sand, it did not matter that this trek would double the amount) to get a better view of it, but my knees were not having it. I was looking forward to just sitting in the jeep for the 20 minute drive back.
As we drove our guide would sing really loudly over the speakers to try and freak out passersby, including some people on horseback… it didn’t work. Only we were amused by it. As we drove by some artists sketching the landscape, he went on the loudspeaker (pretending to be only speaking to us) telling us he had just seen a coyote. The artists didn’t react, didn’t even budge.
Back at Goulding’s Lodge I was looking forward to a shower, I was covered in red dust, my black pants were no longer black, and they were dusted red. It turns out our hotel room was more of an apartment, complete with a living room and kitchen (it was the only room available when Brent had booked). I was so hungry but I was even more uncomfortable, in desperate need of a shower.
On our way to the resort restaurant, Stagecoach Dining, we stopped at the grocery store (the resort is huge) to stock up on supplies: mainly iced coffee (we had an early morning the next day) and snacks. We found White Fudge Chunky Chips Ahoy and a weird assortment of chocolate bars: Salted Nut Roll, Rocky Road Bar, Idaho Spud and Munch Bar.
On the menu they had a prickly pear iced tea and I could not resist trying it, choosing it over Mexican sodas. It was good but can’t-explain-why weird; there was just something almost bitter but not quite to the taste. To start we split an order of Navajo tacos. These are tacos that are made with fry-bread (think really thick pillow-y bread) with all the taco ingredients piled on top. For deep-fried bread it was really light. It was so unbelievably good, a giant mess of tomatoes, and salsa, beef and green chiles that you actually had to eat with a fork & knife it was so messy. For the main I had pork green chile stew: it was the reverse of what I thought it would be. I was expecting a pork stew with green chiles, not a green chile stew with pork. It was too much food and not salty at all. I gave up at the halfway point.
Back in the hotel room we found out that the airing of TV shows doesn’t shift to match the time zone, everything is on an hour early therefore we had missed our Monday TV shows. Magic Mike was on HBO, but after 20 minutes I deemed it unbearable and buried myself in my book, periodically emerging to munch on snacks. Idaho Spud was a chocolate covered coconut marshmallow puff with coconut sprinkling on top. It was weird, only half good and left me wondering HOW IS IT IDAHO?! WHY DID IT MAKE IDAHO FAMOUS?! That is what it said on the wrapper. I was perplexed. The Chips Ahoy were just triple chocolate Chunks Ahoy, but chips and no dark chocolate, it did not taste like white fudge, it was barely even discernible.
Our vacation had made me rethink beans; I realized this as I was eating Dr Pepper Jelly Bellies. It was not just this one instance, throughout our vacation thus far I had eaten beans, and it wasn’t always out of being too lazy to eat around them. When prepared in such a way that they are a mush, and seasoned (especially with cumin) to the point that you cannot taste the bean- they are quite palatable. The Rocky Road Bar had very few of the “lots of” cashews promised on the wrapper, and since when are cashews included in rocky road?