Previously – BRYCE CANYON AND CAPITOL REEF
From Capitol Reef to Monument Valley via Moki Dugway and Valley of the Gods
Had a leisurely breakfast of granola and toast and some fruit in the garden, the mountains of Capitol Reef sunlit. Silence all around us, absolute peace. Beautiful.
Before we left, we chatted to Heir Bob who arrived just as we were reorganizing the car a bit. Turned out he collected fossils.He took us round the garden, showing us some of the fossilised dinosaur jaw bones, leg bones, teeth which he’d found amongst the desert rocks over many years. They were incredible. He was a lovely man and a delight to meet.
Now we were headed for Monument Valley, a ‘must see’ for both of us as we are big fans of the old cowboy movies and the typical backdrop landscape had always amazed us.We reckoned it was about 198 miles from Capitol Reef to MV via Hanksville and Moki Dugway, around 4 hours without stops.
First though, we stopped off at the Fremont Petroglyphs site just a few miles down the road. There was a walkway that took us past the rock carvings of people and animals and symbols. Very impressive.
I was sorry to leave this great area ( a common reaction throughout this trip.) We drove through a scenic section of the Park for another 15 minutes or so along Hwy 24. Then the landscape became fairly uninteresting through Caineville and Hanksville, tiny places. Got fuel in Hanksville and turned south onto Hwy 95. Again, pretty uninteresting but fast. The Henry Mountains were on the horizon, getting closer. There was hardly any traffic going either way. Big empty country.
And then suddenly the landscape seemed to transform as we approached Lake Powell and our first sight of the mighty Colorado river.It was a place to stop and drink in the raw, mountain views, an impressive if barren landscape.
In fact, from now on, the road became very scenic, a real pleasure to drive through. I loved that huge, desert loneliness and the distant, shapely mountains. Wildflowers and greenery and not a soul around.
But relaxed I wasn’t as we finally approached the dreaded ‘Moki Dugway.’ Ranked as one of the world’s scariest, most dangerous roads! Nightmare for a wimp like me.It was mostly gravel, narrow, no barriers and it climbed down a sheer mountain wall (Cedar Mesa) to the desert floor 1200 feet below, in about 3 miles.I’d read up on it – often – and it made sense to go that way as the alterative added another 40 miles to the journey. Plus – it couldn’t be that bad, could it? We’d just take our time and I’d close my eyes.
Alarmingly, Chris set off at a fair pace – much to my horror – declaring himself too used to tough off road driving in the Hebrides.This held no fears for him! My panicky shout of ‘For God’s sake, slow down!’ had him apply the brakes and we took the next 3 miles at a more comfortable 15mph or so.
In fact, the road was nowhere near as scary as I’d thought – when we reached the end of it , I christened it Moki Doddle, just because I was so relieved that it hadn’t lived up to its horrible reputation. It was only narrow in one short section and even then, you could see well ahead in case someone was coming towards you before you drove that bit – two cars could easily pass on the others without anyone having to do a scary reverse. The edge of the gravel road was actually slightly banked up with rubble and earth so there was no hard drop as such. There were several viewpoints where we could get out and admire it all , which we did. In fact, it’s a beautiful road – I could have happily driven up it again. It was a definite highlight of a trip that already had so many highlights.
Almost immediately, the road for the Valley of the Gods appeared on our left.We’d made good time to here so decided to give it a bash.It had a good write up in reviews (better than Monument Valley some said) so off we set on the dirt track.The loop is around 17 miles, easily an hour or more as it’s slow going. There was a very attractive B&B at the start of the road, which looked interesting; just you and the desert(and in some ways, could have been the better choice given our Monument Valley experience that evening.)
It was nothing out of the ordinary , at first, I have to say and we almost considered turning back.But then the mesas and buttes and rock spires suddenly loomed to our left as we came to 6-7 mile mark and suddenly – wow, it was stunning.
The skies were dramatic now with cloud building and the colours of the landscape so vibrant, it was truly breath-taking. And there was barely another car around – 2 cars passed us during the whole drive.You could get so close up to these eroded mini- mountains too – just step out of the car and be surrounded by the silence and the beauty of it all. An astonishing place, a beautiful and very ancient landscape.
Wouldn’t fancy the drive in an ordinary saloon car without high clearance but our SUV was fine.I’d say it’s not quite as spectacular as Monument Valley but it gives you a more up close and personal look at the rock formations. No fee either. A superb detour and with hindsight, a lovelier place , more peaceful than MV. Far from the madding crowd.
In the distance now, we could see heavy dark clouds over the familiar mesas and buttes of Monument Valley. Highway 163 was fast and empty and as we drew closer , thunderstorms enveloped the landscape making it incredibly atmospheric. I had been hoping for some wild weather to get different light on the rock formations – it looked like my wish was coming true! This was ‘monsoon’ season in the desert, a time when big thunderstorms build during the afternoon.
By now the Highway was lined with Navajo stalls selling jewellery though there weren’t many takers.
We’d booked an Executive Cabin at The View Hotel, given this was a once in a lifetime trip and having a stunning vista of the Monuments as we enjoyed a glass of vino or two, sounded just perfect. We had paid an eye-watering $265 for this privilege (part of another ‘we’re only here once’ conversation).Paid our $25 to enter the Park(it’s not included in the American the Beautiful Pass as it’s Navajo owned and run, not State owned) and said hello to the first Navajo chap we had met , then headed for the hotel’s reception. The place was a sea of car-parking, all situated at the back of the hotel, which is what we were now looking at. It was a bit of a monstrosity, the whole thing. Found a sign for reception and made our way through a small door and into an impressive atrium.It was the wrong place- check in for the Cabins was further down the complex, badly sign-posted. It was all pretty unattractive at this point , a bit of a mess.Tents and RVs were scattered about on the gravel hard-standing, a bit of a blasted heath.
Picked up our key and parked outside our View Cabin and my heart sank. The Cabins looked more like toilet blocks, or large garden sheds than something you pay a few hundred dollars a night to stay in.Immediately, I could see that rather than a clear view over this famous landscape, 4 or 5 other ‘huts’ were lined up in front of ours.Ok, it was only a short walk down between these cabins to a gravel area where you could stand and stare but it wasn’t what we’d paid for or expected.I wrote a tripadvisor review of this set-up as I was really annoyed at how poorly it had all been described.They have changed their website now and clearly state whether what you are paying for is an ‘obstructed’ or ‘unobstructed’ view.We would never have forked out the money we did to overlook another set of cabins, even if the main event was still visible.We thought for that price, we were getting something really special.
Inside , our accommodation was charmless and basic. I popped up to the reception after we arrived to see if we could get a better cabin, but they were all full. Tried a mild complaint but knew immediately from the disinterested look of the young woman serving that I would get nowhere and she’d heard all this before.
What architect is it that builds cabins set out like bad cinema seating, where you see the person’s head in front of you instead of the whole screen? Mental.Especially when there was such a wide area to build on giving everyone a clear view! There were lots of notices from the hotel about how it’s been built to complement the environment and I suppose its colour is muted but to me, it’s a real eyesore and poorly designed.I felt disappointed too because where we had been so far seemed to enhance and complement the grand surroundings, not detract from them.Those that were camping had the best view, from what I could see – good on them but given what people are being charged it seemed topsy-turvy planning.
The balcony furniture was two hard metal chairs – oh, the joy of this place. Brought out an empty bin and used it upside down as a small table for the glasses and the wine and some crisps. Got the gear in from the car and popped open a bottle of Cava to toast to finally arriving at one of the world’s great landscapes. Felt a lot better after a few slugs of fizz and relaxed enough to stop moaning!
Decided we’d look for a local supermarket as neither of us felt like throwing any more cash at this place by dining here, so got back in the car and found the Gouldings Store, a small supermarket a few miles away and just below the Gouldings Hotel.It wasn’t great but it sold ready roasted hot BBQ’d chicken and some decent potato salad. Cheap and tasty!
Enjoyed our carry-out meal with plenty of hot Tapatio sauce which we’d both got addicted too.The sun was going down now (about 7.15pm) but it seemed almost dark already with a rain-storm going through.Quite a few folk had wandered out of their ‘blocked view’ cabins and had congregated in front of the unobstructed view cabins to get better photos of the monoliths in the dramatic light. It did all look magnificent – perhaps even better than under clear blue skies. In no time, the view had gone completely as night enveloped all.
The beauty of staying here also was that we were within the Park boundary. Unlike staying at Gouldings Lodge, (which didn’t have much of a perspective either and overlooked a petrol station), we could set out on the Monument Drive early before the Park officially opened and avoid the onslaught of cars.And hopefully see it in atmospheric early morning light.
The Drive was rough but no problem in the SUV. It took us about 1.5hrs (with lots of stops) to reach one of the best viewpoint, Artists Lookout, which gave the iconic panorama of MV.
The whole place didn’t disappoint – it was superb. The rock formations. the bleached desert grass, interspersed with fresh green sage-brush and other plants. It was utterly beautiful and mesmerising.
I don’t think we would visit again however. This felt like a ‘tick box’ sight, albeit a wonderful one; unless you go on a tour which takes you closer to the mesas and buttes, or do the one walk 3 mile which is allowed, that’s it. So, off we headed for Grand Canyon, the most spectacular gorge in the world and a World Heritage Site.
Would it live up to the hype?? To use a Glasgow phrase of approval – it didnae half!
Monument Valley/Valley of the Gods –More Photos
Next – GRAND CANYON