Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Hovenweep National Monument; Valley of the Gods; Mokee Dugway; Muley Point, Goosenecks; sunset in Monument Valley

The drive from Mesa Verde to Hovenweep took me over minor roads that were not very eventful. I'd taken my time getting ready, and as such I only arrived in Hovenweep at around 10am.

I took the short trail to Little Ruin Canyon, which allowed me to see the small remains of Tower House and Unit Type House. At some point, there was a sign indicating "Sleeping Ute Mountain" in the distance. The view of the mountain, eighteen miles away, was somewhat hazy; but true to its name it looked a little like a person sleeping on his back, with the head to the left. I reached Hovenweep Castle, a slightly larger and more complete structure that could be inspected from up close since it wasn't at the bottom or across the canyon.

I left Hovenweep some fourty-five minutes after getting there, and headed towards Valley of the Gods; which I reached in the middle of the day, at a time where the light was guaranteed to be flat. I still decided to drive the 17-mile loop road. While the light wasn't early-morning great - and in fact the surrounding rock was more brown than the red colour that normally characterizes the area during the golden hour - it still wasn't as bad as I had expected, and I stopped numerous times to take pictures. The surrounding area was greener than on previous visits, too.

Overall, it had taken me an hour and a half to drive the 17 miles, and I joined the paved highway for just a short while before hitting the next dirt road at Moki Dugway, a three-mile long road that switchbacks up onto the next plateau, which lies some 1100 feet higher. From below, it's hard to even see where the road is - that is, until you see a big white 40-ton truck coming down.

The drive up wasn't technically challenging - the dirt road was smooth and wide enough for two cars to pass. Once I reached the top I stopped to take pictures of the distant views. It's here where it was immediately obvious that the entire area was much greener than it had been on my 2001 trip - back then, everything looked a brownish red; and now everything was green.

From the top of Moki Dugway, it was but a short drive to Muley Point Overlook. The road was quite sandy, but still easily passable in my pseudo-SUV. Once I arrived at the overlook, I took a short break and scrambled around the large rocks. From here, it's possible to see the Goosenecks, as well as Monument Valley in the distance.

I returned the same way I came, which meant driving down Moki Dugway (and stopping for more photos). Once I reached the paved highway again, it was just a few more miles to Goosenecks State Reserve, so called because the San Juan River carved itself a deep riverbed that turns so much that each bend resembles the neck of a goose.

At around 4pm, I was on my way again, towards my final destination for the day: Monument Valley. Even from a distance, the buttes and mittens look remarkable, and it's plain to see why so many iconic movies used them as a backdrop. There's a cliché shot that can be taken straight from the road, and I decided to create a more unique version by driving the other way and framing it in my side mirror. Unfortunately, neither my car nor the mirror were clean, and since there was some traffic I couldn't exactly stand still on the highway; so I only used my small handheld camera.

A little later, I paid my entrance fee at the gate (Monument Valley is a "tribal park" managed by the Navajo, and not part of the National Park system). I parked my car at the visitor center, and took a first shot of the classic Monument Valley overlook. The light wasn't jaw-dropping yet, so I decided to drive the small dirt-road that loops around the main sights, mostly in an effort to pass the time until I could take the real sunset shots.

Once more, this turned out to be anticlimatic - after driving the Valley of the Gods loop earlier in the morning, I had already seen a mini version; but unlike that "insider" place Monument Valley was teeming with other tourists, which adds a layer of complexity because as you drive from one viewpoint to another you either get to drive behind a slow-moving car, eating up dust and getting annoyed by the low speed; or you overtake them and then feel stupid because you're both stopping almost simultaneously at the same viewpoint a few hundred feet later.

As such, I merely went through the motions; but my heart wasn't really in it.

By 6:30pm, the shadows were getting longer, and I was anxious to get back to the first viewpoint, where I was expecting to take the day's best pictures. By 7:15pm, I had set up my tripod and camera. I wasn't disappointed, as the sun was slowly turning the three mittens a deeper red. I talked to an Asian tourist for a while - had she approached me because I had the most professional-looking camera, or because I was closest to her age among the few scattered tourists who were watching the sunset? Unfortunately, there were no interesting-looking clouds, and as such there was something lacking in the background, as the perfect blue sky of the aftermoon had turned a little pale.

With the sun setting behind the horizon, I took a few last shots of the mittens in the dusk, then packed up my car and moved to the adjacent campground. However, I was unable to find anyone I could pay the campground fee to.

Miles driven: 227mi (365km)

Campground Accommodation: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (Campground): -

Written August 5th 2009 in Luxembourg