Saturday 4th April
Left at 0830 this morning and picked up the I-25 towards Alerquerque. At Bernalillo we got onto US-550, crossed over the Rio Grande and headed north for Monument Valley. Passing through towns Cuba and Farmington picking up the US-64 up to Shiprock where we got onto the U.S-160. We were now definitely in Navajo country as we had soon election posters for candidates seeking election to the Navajo council. We turned off the 160 to pay a visit to Four Corners Navajo Tribal Park which is a landmark in the middle of nowhere where you can straddle four states - Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah - if you spread eagle across the marker.
There was a central plaza with the marker in the middle and few stalls around selling jewellery and gifts. We had a takeout lunch from a little catering outlet, fresh made Navajo tacos with salad and beans - nice. Back on the 160 and it is really getting to look like cowboy land reminiscent of the old western films. Bright red butts and mesa rock formations and slender pointed spires. Just across the border in Utah is Monument Valley where we had booked in at Gouldings Campground which is part of the historic Goulding Trading Post that was set up in the 1920's by Harry and Leone (Mike) Goulding. When the Depression hit in the 1930's the Navajo Reservation in the area suffered and Harry Goulding heard of a movie production company looking for locations in the southwest. He believed that bringing a movie company to Monument Valley would help the local Navajos with much needed income. The outcome was that John Huston filmed Stagecoach starring John Wayne in Monument Valley. Over the years the Gouldings continued to host film crews and built lodge rooms and a dining facility. Other notable films with John Wayne was 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers. The original Trading Post building is now a museum. From our RV pitch we have a perfect view across the Valley and watched the sun go down as we eat dinner - brilliant red colours reflecting off the sandstone.
Sunday 5th April
This morning we were up early to watch the sunrise over the Valley. Tony took some pictures and just as the sun hit the sandstone rocks there was an Indian chant that sounded across the valley.
After breakfast we had a look around the Gouldings site. There is an Earth Spirit Theatre. Earth Spirit is a visual journey through the creation of Monument Valley, followed by a documentary about the geography, history and culture of the Valley. Nightly they show John Wayne movies - of course. The Stagecoach Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner but no alcohol (due to Navajo Tribal Law no alcohol is aloud on the reservation). The Gouldings old vegetable store was used as Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) quarters in 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' the 1946 film.
Next we travelled the four miles to the Navajo Tribal Park. At the entrance is a Visitor Centre, Hotel and restaurant all with superb views over the monuments. Here is the start of the 17 mile valley drive past the monuments that have been shaped by erosion from water, ice and wind. Driving around the dirt road the sandstone shapes look like they have been sculptured and some of the shapes have been given names such as Elephant Butte, East and West Mitten and Camel Butt. The place I recognised the most from the old western films was Artist Point Overlook where the wide plain has several sandstone butts and spires rising out of the earth like sentinels. There has been many a horse or wagon chase across this place. Monument Valley is a truly special place but it was time to move on and go west.
We got onto the US-163 to Kayenta, the 160 to Tuba City then the 89 to Flagstaff where we picked up the I-10 to Williams and back onto Route 66. On the way the wind really got up and Tony had to keep a tight grip on the steering wheel because of the gusts of wind coming across the highways bringing mini sand storms with it. The landscape changed to forests of Ponderosa Pine as we travelled through the Kaibab National Forest. We had booked in at the Railroad RV Park and as the name suggests we were parked right next to the Santa Fe Railroad line that goes up to The Grand Canyon. The RV Park ran transport into town and in the evening we were dropped off at the Long Horne Saloon on the main road - Route 66 - through town. This part of town had the old fashioned wooden side walks and old western style frontages. We had dinner in the saloon and then went for a walk along the street which by this time had lit up in good Route 66 style with plenty of neon.
There were shops and bars and a hotel all in well preserved original buildings. The gift shop we found our way into had some really good memorabilia, not too tacky and I bought myself a Route 66 handbag. We made our way back to the saloon for a last drink and started talking to a couple and their son that had recently made Williams their home. For most of their lives they had lived in southern California and raised their four children there. The lady told us that when her youngest daughter was working at the local mall she promised that the next time she heard of a drive by shooting she would leave the town. A week after she said that, one happened, therfore, they sold up bought an RV and left town. Since then they had travelled and visited their three daughter that were living in separate parts of the country and for a while they managed a horse ranch just outside Houston for a couple that lived in town and only visited at weekends. When they visited Williams they thought it was just the sort of small town they were looking for and decided to stay, We tend to agree that Williams did have something special. The town is suffering from the problems that most Route 66 towns seems to have when they are bypassed by the interstate but they were working hard to attract people in. They had the rail station that sent two trains per day with observation domes up to the Grand Canyon through the pine woods, the vibrant Main Street with vintage motels and diners and smart bars and restaurants with a taste of the old west thrown in. Soon it was time to say bye and get our lift back to the RV park.
Monday 6th April
Breakfast is provided free of charge at the RV park. Cereals, boiled egg, decent fresh made waffles and of course coffee. This was particularly handy as we had run out of milk. This morning we went to a local wild life park called Bearizona which we had been recommended to see. It's a drive around park with North American wild animals in separate areas but all set in the pine woods. The most notable moments were with the wolves and the bears. A wolf came right up to the car and looked in with his large grey head filling the whole window. Then there was the juvenile black bears play fighting in woods just a few meters away.
We then went to watch a display of birds of prey which of course John was particularly interested in. There was no free flying just a demonstration in a small theatre set but the birds did fly across the audience just skimming over our heads and the lady from High Country Raptors was extremely knowledgable about the birds.
We went back into Williams to the Golden Diner for lunch then took the US-64 for the 60 mile trip up to the Grand Canyon. The area is a national park and as we are members we did not have pay the $25 entry fee. The route we took was along the south rim on Desert View Drive through the pine forests on one side with view points over the canyon on the other. It really is a breathtaking and inspiring landscape being 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep. It has a varied landscape from desert next to the Colorado River deep in the canyon to forest on top of the rim. We stopped at several view points on the way along the route with our most memorable being Grand View Point and the name was not chosen by accident, the views were spectacular. Again it is a geologists dream with all the layers of history on display. With the time we had we really didn't do it justice but definitely a place to revisit and explore properly.
On the way back and just outside the park was the National Geographic building that housed an IMAX theatre. We stopped off to watch a film about the Grand Canyon and its history. Some of the scenes of boats going down the rapids on the Colorado River were unbelievable, real close up detail, no idea how they did it. Went back to Williams got some groceries and stayed in and had chilli for dinner.