Thursday, June 16, 2011

RV Trip Part 2 - Gallup to Mexican Hat

Those unfamiliar with RVs (we were once in that cro-magnon group) will tell you that RV parks are nasty places where your valuables will stolen by some meth-addicted 12 year old. They will also ask you have you seen the Robin Williams movie and did the septic back up... Most (not all) RV parks are exceptionally clean and the people that stay there are some of the nicest you will meet. After all, some of these behemoths on tires cost over $300 grand... not exactly trailer trash. And as for the workings of the RV plumbing, it's simple gravity.

So night one was spent in Gallup and rising early, we departed for Window Rock in northeastern Arizona. For some reason the entire vacation was marked by early bedtimes and early, sometimes pre-dawn, rises. Window Rock is the capital city for the Navajo Nation, a reservation covering some 26,000 square miles, about the same size as the Republic of Ireland and about one-fifth of AZ. It is remarkable for the window rock, a huge 75 foot doughnut hole weathered into the 200 foot sandstone rock.

From here we proceeded to Canyon de Chelly, entirely on the Navajo lands which limits access somewhat. The canyon is a mini version of the Grand Canyon and is known for its Indian ruins and cliff dwellings. The Navajo still farm the valley floor.

Ancient Cliff Dwellings in Canyon de Chelly - for scale see truck in lower left

Onward to the Four Corners Monument, where NM, AZ, UT and CO all meet. It is off the beaten path but the opportunity to be in four states at once mean it is a tourist trap and the Navajo have permanent booths set up, selling pottery, jewelry and other trinkets. Funny how once the White man bought land from the Indians for beads, now we buy beads from the Indians.

Departing the Four Corners around lunchtime, we cut through the most southwestern part of Colorado (and some real bad road) to Natural Bridges National Monument. Three huge arches span the canyons, eroded at first by water and then by wind. We would have liked to hike down closer but it was hot and windy, so our stay was brief.

Natural Bridges arch, several hundred feet high

Next on the itinerary was Goosenecks State Park. Not exactly world renowned but if I had my way, it would be. This place is way cool. 1,000 feet below the viewing area, the San Juan River meanders back and forth carving through the rock, flowing for something like four miles but only going one mile as the crow flies. It is an absolute spectacular example of the impact of a river on rock over time.

Goosenecks State Park on the San Juan River

Leaving Goosenecks for the hamlet of Mexican Hat (smaller than Tulsk) we had a choice: travel 50 miles on paved road or take the 5 mile shortcut, the one lane unpaved switchback riddled "Moki Dugway". Of course, we took the latter. Now I don't know what "Moki" means but it must translate into "only goats need come this way". It was awesome and harrowing all at once. Blows the road to Slieve League away. We found out later it was built for trucks hauling uranium in the 1950's. It is carved into the cliffs and drops 1,100 feet in just three miles. No way can two larger vehicles meet; we were fortunate and did not see another car until we were safe at the bottom. In between, the drive was white-knuckle time and reminiscent of The Wages of Fear, a brilliant 1953 film about trucking nito-glycerin on mountain roads.

The Moki Dugway ("the staircase can be treacherous")

They really should sell "I Drove the Moki Dugway" t-shirts at the bottom.

And so on to Mexican Hat, so named for the huge rock outside town that is shaped like a sombrero. The RV park was on the dodgey side but early Monday we would be heading to Monument Valley, made famous by countless westerns.

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