Next Stop… Cortez

Just Outside Mesa Verde National Park…

Another travel day, but a short one, and then 7 days to explore Mesa Verde, take a day trip, relax, do laundry, clean the windshield on the RV, and prepare for my trip to London to visit my son, Andy. (I fly out of Denver, nonstop, May 13th, soon after we arrive in Jernigan Land.)

We continue northeast on US-163 through the rest of Monument Valley and head to Mexican Hat, Utah.

The last time we traveled this way was in 2016. We were headed southwest on US-163 and we caught the famous scene from Forrest Gump where he finally stopped running.

Here’s a pic to refresh your memory…

We also spent an awesome night in Goosenecks!

After crossing the San Juan River…

…we see the famous rock formation the town is named after!

Still in Utah, we pass through Bluff and take Route 162 past Aneth and into Colorado.

Below is a pic showing why Bluff is so appropriately named…

An hour later we are across the state line and into Colorado heading north on US-491 to Cortez.

I can’t help myself from taking more pictures of cool rock formations!

And now we arrive at La Mesa RV Park…

We take off our shoes, unhook the car, and settle in…

Monument Valley Part 2

Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley is a 30,000 acre Navajo Tribal Park  on the border of Arizona and Utah. Established in 1958, it is located within the 16 million-acre Navajo Reservation.

In the afternoon we take a 2.5 hour guided tour of many of the famous rock formations named after animals and other familiar images they resemble. (For example, the 2 rocks above are Left Mitten and Right Mitten.) Others are named for important persons or historical events.

We begin our tour by visiting a hogan.

This one is a female hogan because of its rounded shape representing a woman’s womb. Male, or forked-pole conical hogans were more predominant in the 1800s.

Wood from the piñon pine and to a lesser extent, the juniper tree is used to build the hexagon-shaped hogan. The doors always face east toward the rising sun. This first sun provides good blessings for the start of each new day.

The frame is covered in bark, weeds, grass, and mud, leaving an opening in the center of the roof for smoke to escape from the central fire pit on the floor.

This lovely woman, named Marian, demonstrates how shorn sheeps hair is spun into yarn that eventually is woven into an intricately designed Navajo rug.

Dyes from native plants are used to color the yarn.

Corn is ground on a large flat rock by using a hand-sized rectangular rock to crush and roll the dried kernels into flour.

A small brush made from a bundle of sticks is used to sweep the residue into a pile and clean the stone tool.

Below, by our guide’s feet, are 4 more household tools used by the native Navajos:

The top bundle of sticks looks like the brush used in grinding corn, but is actually longer. This brush is used to comb hair. The stone to the left is used to dye or bleach the sheep wool. The yucca root is used as a soap and shampoo. And the long bundle of thick sticks is a cooking utensil.

Hanging on the wall is a cradleboard made from 5 pieces of wood and laced with leather. Babies from birth to a year-old can be carried safely when necessary.

The 2 bottom boards strapped together represent the mother and the father. The bottom flap is for the baby’s feet.

On the back, representing the baby (the union of the mother and father) is a small piece of wood joining the 2 larger pieces. The handle-like headpiece could be covered with a blanket to protect the child from the sun or cold. It also provides extra head protection should anything bump or fall on the cradleboard.

Next, we hop back aboard our touring vehicle and head for the red dirt road.

Ten of us are on this tour and, believe it or not, 2 gentlemen are from Palm Springs. But wait, there’s more! They are driving back to Ohio where the one guy is from Dublin, OH, just outside of Columbus. Small world!

Sometimes we stop for a photo op and sometimes we get out. Unfortunately our tour guide is driving in an enclosed truck and his soft voice does not amplify well as we bounce along in the open-sided vehicle.

So, buckle up and enjoy the scenery with me. Later I will name some rock formations and explain how they were formed.

Some formations I can name…

Three Sisters… not siblings but Catholic nuns dressed in their habits

From my Catholic schooling, that’s (right to left) Sister Miriam Therese, Sister Saint Jude, and Sister Mary Stephen…

Totem Pole

Yes, the tall and slender formation to the right…

Rooster… on the left



Left Mitten

The Right Mitten is the site of a dramatic automobile commercial where the car was airlifted and placed on top of the rock formation.

John Ford’s Point… named for the first Hollywood film director to use the Monument Valley location for a film set

That first film was Stagecoach starring John Wayne.

And now I can identify these formations I captured earlier today…

How the Valley was formed

Before human existence Monument Valley was a vast lowland basin. For hundreds of millions of years, layer upon layer of eroded sediment from the early Rocky Mountains was deposited in the basin and cemented into mainly sandstone and limestone rock. Then a slow, gentle uplift created by a constant pressure from below the surface elevated the horizontal strata. What was once a basin became a plateau of solid rock 1000 feet high. Wind, rain, heat, and cold have spent the last 50 million years cutting and peeling away the surface of this plateau. The simple wearing down of alternate layers of hard and soft rock slowly created the natural wonders of Monument Valley that today stand between 400 and 1200 feet tall. (Goulding’s tour brochure)

Jeff and I don’t usually take tours and today we are reminded why. Today’s adventure was okay to disappointing for what it cost us… $76 apiece… ouch! Our guide never introduced himself, could not be heard while we were riding in the vehicle (and that’s when he explained everything), and he didn’t even drop us off at the campground when the tour was over. He told us to take a shuttle back, but the shuttles only run from 5 pm-10 pm! I had to go into the Lodge and ask the concierge about shuttle service. Even he was surprised by our guide’s lack of courtesy.

On the positive side, however, the 8 other guests on our tour were fun to be with as we all chatted away and got to know each other a bit. And while the concierge personally drove us back to the campground, we learned that he lived in a hogan with his family until he was 10 years old and they had enough money to buy a house. He also shared his desire to leave the Reservation, join the Navy, and see the world. (We should have tipped him instead of our guide who we really overtipped… I’m just saying…)

Monument Valley Part 1

Goulding’s Campground

That’s us! I like how the rock formations are reflected on the windshield. They surround our little “RV spirit guide” pot head I bought in 2013 in Madras, NM when Jen and Brian lived in Albuquerque. He sits below our alien “RV spirit guide” I purchased in Roswell on the same trip.

Ah, 2013… the year Jeff and I conceived of our plan to full-time RV when I retired. AND 2013 is the year that the Center for Natural Land Management completed its purchase of the 880 acres of Thousand Palms Oasis!

Yes, we miss the Preserve and our friends. Yes, I still have posts to finish writing. Yes, we will return.

So, back to the campground…

We are located about a half mile uphill from the Lodge. Several short trails surround us but we take the road downhill before discovering a trail that leads down to the Lodge, Stagecoach Dining Room, Gift Shop, Museum, and Theater. (Shuttles run from 5 pm – 10 pm.) At 5500 feet above sea level, the morning sun beats down on us.

We arrive at the upper level of the Lodge and enjoy some spectacular rock formations.

I don’t know what this building is all about, except that it’s built into the hillside.

We check out the amenities (did that, done…) before heading back along one of the trails leading back to our RV. Of course I take some pics along the way…

What a beautiful place! Who knew we were walking parallel to the road!

Through the Navajo Reservation

On to Monument Valley…

Leaving Kingman On I-40 East, we still have a pretty clear windshield and scenic views.

In Flagstaff we head north on US-89. The scenery changes as we travel through the Painted Desert and the Navajo Nation.

Off the highway dirt roads lead to scattered clusters of trailer homes, hogans, sweat lodges, and 3-sided shade dwellings (upright logs with a roof of dried tree branches.) Colorful horses roam freely.

The windshield is starting to collect insect specimens that mar the marvelous views from the front seats when seen through the lens of a camera. But that doesn’t stop me from capturing images of the flavor of our drive.

Check out this series of 3 photos I quickly took out Jeff’s side of the RV:

Outside Tuba City we pick up US-160 as we head northeast toward Utah. I start opening my window to get better pics.

But sometimes a cool sight catches our eye and I have to sacrifice quality.

Below a cloud shadows part of the sandstone hills.

And these rocky mesas start appearing above the hills while hoodas start rising.

Finally we reach the last 25 mile stretch in Kayenta, Arizona as US-163 takes us across the border into Utah and the heart of Monument Valley.

We are staying 2 nights at Goulding’s Monument Valley Trading Post and Lodge Campground.

Harry and Leone, aka Mike, Goulding purchased land and started Goulding’s Trading Post in the 1920s. During the Great Depression they saw an opportunity to bolster the local Navajo economy by bringing in movie production companies. Harry met with director John Ford and soon after the film, Stagecoach, started production in Monument Valley.

Since then Goulding’s has hosted film crews, photographers, artists, and tourists from around the world. The Trading Post has expanded to include a lodge, campsite, tour operations, restaurant, convenience store, and a private airstrip. In 1981 the LaFont family bought Goulding’s Lodge. (

Not too shabby!

Mexican Hat, Utah

image And Monument Valley

We leave Goosenecks State Park and pick up Highway 163 again, traveling through the village of Mexican Hat.


This tiny town of some 100 people is named after a unique rock formation consisting of a large flat rock 60 feet in diameter perched precariously on a much smaller base on top of a small hill. (



Mexican Hat was originally named Goodridge after the family who first settled here in the 1800s. This small community has a historical legacy for once being a hub for sheep and cattle farming, the oldest oil producing field in Utah, a popular trading destination, and a tent city to some 1200 miners hauling ore out of the mountains for processing.

In the 1880s gold seekers arrived here to sluice the San Juan River. Unfortunately not enough gold was ever found to make this a profitable expedition.

Hollywood brought John Wayne here to ford the San Juan River in his movie, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and several others. (

We never see the “sombrero” rock, but “Oz” looms in the distance


as we cross the bridge over the San Juan River



and continue south on Highway 163.



Monument Valley is not a valley in the conventional sense, but rather a wide flat landscape interrupted by reddish rock formations rising hundreds of feet in the air. These buttes, part of the Colorado Plateau (, are the last vestiges of the sandstone layers that once covered this entire region. (

Highway 163, linking Kayenta, AZ to Highway 191 in UT, is the only main road through Monument Valley which occupies most of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

The iconic view below is from the long, straight, empty stretch approaching the AZ/UT border from the north.


You may recognize this scene from the movie, Forrest Gump. After running for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours Forrest (Tom Hanks) stops, turns around and says, “I’m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now.”


Although many spectacular views can be appreciated from Highway 163, even more picture opportunities present themselves from Valley Drive, a 17 mile dirt road within Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. (

And so, we continue south on Highway 163 towards Kayenta. Jeff drives, the dogs sleep, and I take pictures from the passenger’s seat…