Thursday, 14 November 2013

Driving Arizona: Part Two - Monument Valley and the road to New Mexico

Monument Valley - the destination for the afternoon.
The drive from the Grand Canyon took us through an outpost called Cameron, it would be unfair to call it a town. We stopped at a gas station for burritos and refreshments, as well as picking up a road atlas to help with forward planning. We followed highway 160 through Tuba City, Cow Springs and Kayenta, before branching off on to the scenic 163 into the Navajo Indian Reservation, towards Monument Valley. The desert got more beautiful and increasingly other worldly the deeper we drove. Eventually we eyed towering rocks in the distance, the great red pillars of the iconic monument valley. As we motored towards the core of the cowboy landscape, we kept stopping for photographs and to enjoy the surroundings. The odd lone car passed every couple of minutes, but other than that we were pretty much alone. The road reached out to the horizon and then hooked a right, and we floated through rusted red rocks which loomed over us like dilapidated and forgotten tower blocks from a long-gone civilisation. Once we reached the other side, we paused, and turned and around to do it again. Matt took over the driving so I could get some motion photographs, and we trundled through this isolated heaven once more. 

Heading north in Arizona.
Rocky escarpments lined the way.
In the distance - the pillars of Monument Valley.
The American Road.
Like Mars with plants.
Mirages on the road.
Posers by the car.
The road was pretty much ours.
Cowboys and Indians.

Cool school run, but it must've been miles.
Racing by.
A better view than a cop in my mirror.

An iconic view.

After an hour or so of absorbing the landscape, we decided we needed to get a move on. The road unwound north into Utah, and through desolate Navajo communities of dusty shacks out in the rock and rubble. It seemed the sort of place that would have problems with alcoholism. After a while of more unfolding and fantastic scenery, of rugged rocks different hues of red, worn smooth and sculpted by the erosive processes of wind and time itself, we hit a tiny place called Mexican Hat. Mexican Hat, although marked on the map as a dot – to me signifying a town – it consisted of no more than a grouping of huts, including a sorry looking dinner, hugging the cliff face above the river San Juan. We stopped again to gawp and take a few pics, before continuing on the road. We then hit Bluff, another strange and forgotten place, of leafless trees in a narrow valley surrounded by red cliffs, and no one was around. We took a road across country as the sun set and we reached Colorado in darkness. We branched south into New Mexico and stopped for gas and ate a Taco Bell in Shiprock, a small city filled with endless rows of commerce. We planned to reach Albuquerque, where Mark was waiting for us, but a few hours into the night we were both pretty tired, and although could've pushed on, decided to stop off at a motel in Gallup for the night, two ours north of our target, and do the rest of the trip in the morning. As we drove through the moonlit desert towards Gallup, huge black monoliths loomed out of the darkness. Almost like icebergs on an arctic voyage, these were lone rock outcrops, erupting out of the desert, only visible as lightless shadows against the deep blue of the November night sky.

Heading towards Utah.
The strange settlement, and curiously named, Mexican Hat.
The village of Bluff.
Deeper into Utah.
Driving into the night.

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