Arizona & Utah National Parks – Sept 2016

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, view from the Visitors' Center
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, view from the Visitors’ Center

In September 2016 we embarked on a week-long driving tour of northern Arizona and southern Utah, joined by our friends Mark & Joanne Guralnick from Brooklyn, NY. While Liza and Joanne worked out all the accommodations, Robert was the daily trip planner (with the help of Arizona Highways and Highroads magazines), with a focus on national parks and monuments. There were some obvious goals – the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Petrified Forest & Painted Desert. But I have to say, we went to other national monuments that I’d never even heard of! What a great variety of parks, monuments, memorials, etc. we support!

Following is a (verbose) trip overview; click here for the full slate of photos.

We started the trip up in Prescott AZ, after picking up Mark & Joanne from Sky Harbor in Phoenix. Dinner was at the quirky El Gato Azul restaurant in Prescott, serving up tapas and paella – a real find. The next day we were on the road up to Williams (“the gateway to the Grand Canyon”), passing through the precariously-perched mining town of Jerome, visiting Tuzigoot National Monument (one of those I’ve never heard of), wine tasting at the Oak Creek Vineyards in Cornville AZ, lunching in Sedona, and eventually arriving at the Grand Canyon B&B in Williams. Even managed a walk about the Grand Canyon Railroad Depot, and returned to the historic downtown after happy hour for a light dinner. (Click photos for larger versions.)

The next day was Grand Canyon National Park day. We confined ourselves to the south rim, checking out the visitors’ center, and hopping on/off the shuttle bus that ran out to the west past Grand Canyon Village to Hermit’s Rest. Later in the afternoon we drove east of the visitors’ center to Shoshone Point, recommended by our B&B hosts; a lovely 1 mile walk through the forest brought us back to the rim of the canyon, with gorgeous views in the afternoon light – and no people. We saw elk on the way out of the park, nicely posing near an elk sign (although all the cars pulled over was the big giveaway). Dinner that night was back in Williams at the fun and very neon Cruiser’s Cafe 66 on, of course, Route 66.

It’s hard to top the Grand Canyon, but fortified by another terrific breakfast at the Grand Canyon B&B (I would so stay there again), we were on the road to Bluff UT. En route we visited Sunset Crater National Monument and Wupatki National Monument, and had lunch at the Cameron Trading Post. Fry bread, anyone?

Bluff UT was our jumping off spot to visit Monument Valley back in Arizona – the fee area being a Navajo Tribal Park and not a National Park – as well as Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah. Even got a peak at the Bears’ Ears in the distance, which at this time is being considered for national monument status.

At John Ford Point
At John Ford Point

What can you say about Monument Valley? If you’ve seen any John Ford western, e.g. Stagecoach with John Wayne, the broad sweep of the valley with the iconic sandstone monuments is instantly recognizable. The panoramic views from the visitors’ center and at the aptly-named John Ford Point are spectacular, but there are plenty of marvelous views along the 17-mile gravel loop road.

Moki Dugway, photo by http://bluffutah.org/mokey-dugway-muley-point/
Moki Dugway, photo by http://bluffutah.org/mokey-dugway-muley-point/

The return to Bluff at the end of the day was via the spectacular Moki Dugway switchbacks, a 3-mile dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. Despite it being listed on a “dangerous roads” website, it wasn’t too bad (Liza can say this now that she drove it). The astounding thing was that approaching the mesa, you could hardly see where the road went.

The next day from Bluff UT we headed back into AZ, visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument. Canyon de Chelly is within the Navajo Nation but unlike Monument Valley, is a National Monument (so Robert’s national parks pass worked :-). We drove along the south rim drive out to the Spider Rock overlook. In the afternoon we made a stop at the Hubbell Trading Post; Liza looked longingly at the Navajo rugs, but settled for buying Blue Bird flour (perfect for fry bread) and chocolate instead.

Our overnight accommodations were in the restored and cute Globetrotter Lodge in Holbrook, run by an Austrian couple and their daughter. Dinner was at the beautiful Turquoise Room at the La Posada Hotel in sort-of-nearby Winslow. We’d heard about this hotel and restaurant for years and finally made it! And yes, we made the obligatory stop at the Standing on the Corner Park.

Last, but not least, we cruised out of Holbrook the next morning and visited the Petrified Forest National Park, the northern part of which extends into the Painted Desert. We’d been there years ago, but must have blown through in a hurry, because neither of us remembered the visitors’ center, or the giant logs short loop walk behind the building. The Painted Desert area of the park is definitely reminiscent of the badlands of South Dakota.

That did it for us for national parks, monuments, historic sites, etc. Overnight in Globe, a couple hours outside of Phoenix, driving past/down the spectacular Mogollon rim – what a drive! But no photos. 🙂 Then home for all four of us.

If you look at the right-hand photo above, you’ll see Liza photographing her Buddy Bison stuffed toy. Buddy is from the National Park Trust, he was picked up at the Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming last September on a great Black Hills & Badlands cycling trip. Liza has enough photos of him now that he has his own facebook page, check it out. 🙂 The National Park Trust has a kids-to-parks program and they encourage kids (big kids too) to take Buddy to national parks and post the photos on their web page and on social media. You can search for #BuddyBison on facebook to find other photos of him by other adoptive parents.

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Buddy Bison at Natural Bridges National Monument, UT

Well, if you’ve read this far, you’ve gotten the full trip description. Again, lots more photos if you’re up for it, click here. 🙂 Happy travels!