Monument Valley & Goosenecks
[Caution: This post offers some 48 photos, so if you are on a restrictive cellular plan or simply have an aversion to looking at bad photos, go somewhere else now. The photos are small, but they add up.]
This action-packed day was also packed with goodness, the itinerary being a tour of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park’s 17-mile road before camping at Goosenecks State Park. The one-hour jaunt from Sunset View Campground was pretty and uneventful, and I broke out the twenty bucks it took to breach Monument Valley’s entrance gate.
A quick stop and wander through The View Hotel netted a sandwich, lots of gewgaws for sale, and some impressive historical photographs and artwork on the walls. The place was crawling with shiny tour buses packed with Chinese tourists, whose economic powerhouse has enabled them to see the world. From what I could tell, they liked it. From the hotel, they then tended to descend on the plethora of tour guide vehicles, waving and smiling at passersby. At least the ones without surgical masks were smiling – they were sensibly protecting themselves against the dust clouds that were created by their vehicles and all those who passed them coming the other way. Those tour vehicles were all flatbed pickups equipped with rows of bench seats facing the sides. On the rougher sections of trail, they didn’t bounce nearly as much as the Mighty Furd did, so maybe they were half-tons loaded to the gunnels. The Furdster would have lifted them clear of their seats, guaranteed. Remember school buses?
Ah, the road! There’s always the question of, “Can I take my car on that road?” It started out as a mix of dirt and gravel, descending sharply through hairpin turns. RVs and similar large, heavy vehicles are prohibited from using the Monument Valley Road, and that’s a good idea. Fortunately for me, the Intrepid is technically not an RV. Rather, it’s a pickup truck with a compact camper in its bed, making it the equivalent of the tour vehicles. The first few miles of road were then smooth gravel a full two lanes wide, with only occasional mild washboard here and there.
After awhile, some expanses of solid rock had to be crossed. Although relatively smooth, that wasn’t how the Mighty Furd interpreted them. It was a good thing I had battened down the interior flotsam, because even with slow speed, it was rock ‘n roll time. No matter. Once they were done, the road settled down to a gravel and dirt mix again, and all was well. I was aware however, that the advertised 1/2 to 1 hour travel time would be for small SUVs whose shocks would get a serious workout before the trip was done. This thing is advertised as doable by just about anything having adequate ground clearance, and not a lot was needed, either. Long-snout old front wheel drive sedans tended to ground out their front spoilers on occasion, but not seriously. Just a scuff.
Imagine my surprise when I took a right turn to divert to the John Ford sightseeing area/tourist trap, and the Mighty Furd labored up the steep grade only to founder in some deep, silty dust toward the side of the road. The engine of course didn’t care a whit, and the only way I could tell it was in trouble was a slowing pace and a slight trembling at the rear axle. When it finally came to a halt, I switched on the 4WD, and instead of the usual instant fix, it crawled ahead grudgingly, tires churning slowly to make new clouds of dust. That was a first. I saw no other vehicles having issues anywhere on the entire road, and it seemed to come down to weight, momentum, and line chosen. I had too much, not enough, and was too far off to one side, where the dust was inches thick. Interesting stuff!
Overall, the Monument Valley Road is no threat for 90% of its length. The remainder is the challenge, in patches. Exposed rock surface is bumpy. There are occasional dips and depressions, and in a couple of spots, the silt got deep enough to create quite a drag that you could feel, particularly when the dust was only at the shoulder of the road. On one rather mild uphill, the silt covered the road’s width, and I could once again feel the vehicle slowing down despite the engine burbling happily away. And once again, shifting to 4WD on the fly overcame the problem, but it was still a somewhat laborious, tire-churning affair. I felt like Spock, thinking, “Fascinating”. It called for more momentum and less weight, similar to what succeeds in deep sand. Fortunately for any touristy plans you may have, I’m clocking in at well over 10,000 pounds wet, so given any lighter 2WD vehicle, you’ll make it fine. And your backup plan to overcome these short difficulties will be a faster approach than my 10 MPH. Heckfire, I saw 1-ton dually pickups with empty beds at viewpoint stops along the back half, so it was certainly weight and a lack of using the 15 MPH speed limit. Wouldn’t have hurt to air down the tires either, but that would mean 35 minutes of additional engine idling at the end. Me, I thought it was kind of a cool surprise to have to resort to 4WD now and again, however humiliating it was. I was four-wheelin’! I was also four-wheelin’ at the end, climbing back up those dirt switchbacks. It seems that washboard or corrugations on the incline made it difficult for the rear tires to find a grip. The combo of high-pressure tires and high-rate springs responded to the broken surface by making the tires spend too much time unloaded, and once grip was lost, it tended to stay lost. Since the tires were trying to find bite on a mere series of ridges, and the ridges transmitted vertical movement to the rear axle, too much time was spent with the axle lifted. That’s no way to shove five tons up a steep incline, and a shift to 4WD was necessary in order to double the tractive force.
I made a lot of stops along the way to take far too many holiday snaps, and I can say two things: it took me 2-1/2 hours to complete the trip and, as usual, the photos are a very poor substitute for experiencing this place. Was it worth forgoing a haircut and having to eat pork & beans for a week? You’ll get a definite yes from me. I fortunately didn’t have to sacrifice, but knowing my inherent cheapskateness, you get the picture. The entry pass to the Monument area is good for two consecutive days, in case that’s of value to you, like if you wanted to overnight in the campground on the outskirts, then do some other activity on Day Two. Or camp outside and come back. Whatever.
Once I pulled out of the place, the dashboard had been reading “Drive to clean exhaust” for an hour. And once I got up to speed on the highway, it switched over to read “Cleaning Exhaust System”. It’s that particulate filter thingie that will clog up when the engine runs for too long at idle, so it needs awhile at high speed and load to attempt to burn through the clog. It’s a financial backbreaker to have it professionally cleaned out or replaced when it finally can’t be self-cleared any more, so it literally pays to do what it say, by gum.
What’s remarkable is the first five or so miles heading north from Monument Valley. It’s remarkable in its vistas as well, and there are numerous pull-offs along the way to enjoy the view. If you’re too bucks-down to attempt the gate, this is actually a workable substitute to console yourself with.
Mexican Hat, Utah is a tiny but surprising little village, as it’s located along the San Juan River. but I will leave it at that. Goosenecks State Park is just a few miles up the road, and offers a stunning view of the San Juan as it cuts its own canyon. A day pass is $5, and you can instead overnight right along the long edge for $10. I’m living large as a tourista along this segment of my migration, apparently, since this too appears to be worth the ten bucks to dry camp. Cell signal is two bars of five on the modem, though functionality varies from nothing to “okay but not going to impress anyone”.
My only complaint is the temperature. I’d been spoiled all along so far, because of high elevations. Goosenecks is somewhere around 5,000′, so although by 5 PM Mexican Hat supposedly hit 87 degrees, the strong sun here pumped the Grandby’s interior temps to 94. The outside thermometer sensor indicated 101, but that’s because its location was toward the low sun. It’s in shade, but the whole area heats up. And that’s the side the fridge is on, so it has its hands full. Fortunately, a combination of breeze and the Grandby’s four generously-sized windows made my discomfort almost livable. I could have also popped out my lawn chair and sat in the shade-side of the rig, but my heroic and demented dedication to this blog made that seem a sorry thing to do. So, you can know that whatever suffering you may endure in reading this blog on a regular basis, my own suffering in writing it is at least 25% of yours. Okay, at most 25%, if you’re going to be persnickety.
A full day, but a good day.