At Goulding's Campground, Monument Valley, Utah…
Leaving Moab, I was determined to follow highway 163 upon reaching it while southbound on 191. I wanted to approach Monument Valley from the northeast, which we didn't do when we were here in 2010. This highway is about a third-tier road and lived up to the somewhat anemic line on the map that usually signifies an "iffy" road for big RVs. The route passed through a hilly no-man's land of reddish aggregate dotted by scrub brush plants that must have done something hideous in their lives to be banished to this desolate location.
I didn't see another class A diesel motorhome anywhere on this road, and I can understand the reluctance of their drivers to take this route. The road builders didn't do us a favor, for some of the grades were very steep in places, and some of these had sharp turns at the bottoms. I found myself quite busy managing Phannie's upshifting and downshifting while monitoring the speed and RPMs closely. There were few turnoffs to allow following traffic to go by, so I kept Phannie's speed up as much as possible. We were pretty slow in some places, though.
At about 15 miles from Monument Valley, we topped a hill to see a view captured by many photographers of the ribbon-like road across the flat prairie to where the Monuments jut upward in the hazy distance. I stopped to take a photo, of course, but it didn't turn out nearly as well as some I have seen:
I had to take a photo of Phannie, too, since she had a new wash job, and the buttes behind her made a nice background:
We parked at Goulding's Campground, a very attractive RV park nestled in the red rocks above the valley:
We had an early dinner at Goulding's restaurant, which had a nice view but only serviceable food. I had a taco made from Indian fry bread (not a favorite) covered with canned chili with beans, something that no Texan should admit to having eaten. The view from the restaurant was great, but don't go there for the food.
The next day, we signed up for a tour with Navajo Spirit Tours, one of several very busy outfits that carry tourists to the floor of the valley, quite close to the many interesting geological formations. Taking this tour was my idea, but I'm not sure why. I suppose my rationale was that even though I didn't immediately see the point, I really didn't want to miss something that I might have regretted. (The older I get, the harder I try to avoid any regrets; I don't think I'm alone in that mindset.)
As it turned out, I really wouldn't have missed much, but the experience--well, let's just say it was quite an experience. The tour participants loaded into a truck upon whose chassis was an enclosure with three rows of seats and a roof overhead. Our guide was a native Navajo named Will:
Once we were seated, Will headed down the hill from The View Hotel where we loaded. The View, located next door to the visitor center on Navajo tribal lands, is relatively new, and the hotel and restaurant have the best view by far of the iconic monuments in the valley below. (But it will cost you $20 to enter the Navajo nation and reach the visitor center and hotel.)
I knew the roads used by the tour vehicles were unpaved, but I really was unprepared for how ill-kept they were. The ride in places was so bumpy that it caused the passengers to be tossed slightly above their seats. Will made several stops en route to afford some good photo views and interesting geological oddities. At each stop, he would give a brief narrative on the sights we were viewing, and at one point, he picked up a drum and sang an Indian chant of some kind.
We actually enjoyed the outing. The temperature was perfect, and it was not windy, and we marveled at the closeup views of the various interesting formations that showed the results of their slow but inexorable erosion over the millennia. At one point, we visited a typical primitive Navajo hut called a hogan and inside watched a Navajo woman make yarn from sheep's wool. From the yarn, the Indians would make blankets, rugs and fabric for other purposes. The tour took us in places that only the tour guides were permitted to go, and the scenery was quite beautiful.
Here's a photo of the hogan. It is quite a bit larger inside than apparent, and the dried mud exterior is supported by an intricate system of trusses inside made of small tree trunks.
Here's the bottom line on this tour: We didn't think it was worth the price of about $75 a head. If you decide to go on one, I would skip Navajo Spirit and take a Goulding tour. We noticed that the Goulding tour vehicles had a loudspeaker through which the driver (or in some cases, a separate tour guide) could be heard giving a non-stop narrative to their passengers. Our truck had no such device, so we heard from Will only at the stops he made, and the information he imparted seemed quite sparse.
The incredibly bumpy ride was something we may have enjoyed as a kid, but older folks like us don't do well with a lot of bouncing. We have too many fake parts, and our various organs have been in place for so long, they tend not to like being rearranged by all this jostling. We noticed that the other passengers on the tour were about half our age, so that tells us that we are probably not alone in shying away from the acrobatics to be suffered while bouncing along the desert floor. We also learned that about 80 percent of the persons taking these tours are from foreign countries; in fact, everyone else on our truck were from other countries. I'm not sure what that tells us, but maybe we're not as smart as the 80 percent of Americans who don't take this tour.
I also need to mention our dinner at the restaurant of The View Hotel. I must emphasize again that this restaurant has the best view of the valley hands down, but the food underwhelmed, and it was expensive. Examples of atrocities: The fried chicken tasted like that you might find in a frozen dinner; the mixed vegetables were so overcooked, they were mushy, and the baked potato, advertised as baked, was actually boiled. The food is somewhat better at Goulding's Lodge Restaurant, but not by much, I'm afraid. I think these are the only choices in the area unless you go about 15 miles into Kayenta.
Here are a series of photos I shot of some of the more iconic formations in Monument Valley both on this trip and on our earlier visit in 2010. I hope you like them: