Apr 30 - May 29 - Cottonwood AZ & Monument Valley UT
After a rather busy (for us) week at the Grand Canyon, we figured we could do with some low-key time. The 1000 Trails Verde Valley resort in Cottonwood AZ is a perfect place to kick back. So, on April 30 we left Williams AZ (11) and drove about 90 miles to Cottonwood (12).
One of her first days at Curves in Cottonwood, Judy noticed a poster for a "choir concert". We did some internet searching and came up with a concert at the local high school by the Verde Valley Voices, a local "community chorus" group. Sounded interesting, so we went. We weren't expecting much, but we were very impressed.
First, the Verde Valley Voices are about 110 members strong. Then they brought in a guest chorus from Prescott Valley AZ with another 50 or so members. Both groups were excellent, and when they combined for several numbers, the result was really great. Coupled with an exceptional auditorium with great acoustics, the afternoon was most enjoyable. 160 voices can really fill a room. Judy's choir director genes kicked in and she was smiling all afternoon.
While in Cottonwood, the Honda's computer told us it needed an oil change and a transaxle fluid change, so we made an appointment at the nearest Honda dealer, over the mountain in Prescott AZ. We'd never been to Prescott, and were very surprised. Turns out that up until the economic downturn a few years ago, Prescott and Prescott Valley were in the top 10 fastest growing cities in the US. There's still a lot of growth happening, as people from the hotter parts of Arizona are retiring to the Prescott area where the temperatures are more moderate. After getting the car serviced, we had lunch at the local Texas Roadhouse.
Our mail came a few days later, and with it a new Costco coupon book, so we managed to organize another visit to Prescott for a Costco run, followed by a dinner at the Texas Roadhouse. Rather than the freeway, we chose to drive over the mountain via the mountain-side "ghost town" of Jerome AZ. The road from Cottonwood to Jerome is one of just a handful of US highways that are red-flagged for RV travel. Steep hills, hairpin turns, narrow bridges, the works. You'd think everybody with an RV would know about this road. You'd think. We followed a motorhome towing a car up that road to Jerome, through the town, and out the other side. 5-15mph the whole way. We can't imagine the driver knew what was ahead when he or she started up that hill, but by then it was too late - there are no turnarounds. We could only imagine the dialog between pilot and co-pilot. The imagined conversation was quite entertaining.
For about two weeks, we were parked next to a couple from the Sacramento area in a big fifth-wheel camper. We noticed that the lady of the house was doing all the work setting up. And then we noticed the man of the house putting about on a mobility scooter. Turns out he contracted progressive multiple sclerosis, which has settled in his lower back, and it's slowly paralyzing him from the waist down. He says the pain is manageable with a morphine pump and about 75 pills he takes every day. He says they can't travel as much as they'd like, because he has to go back to Sacramento to get his pump refilled every six months or so. And, he says, it really bothers him that his wife has to do all the work associated with that big fifth wheel. So they've just bought a motor home to replace the fifth wheel. They figure it'll make things easier on both of them as they plan to continue traveling.
Somehow we don't mind our piddling aches and pains quite as much now.
After three weeks of doing not much, we hooked up and headed north to a new place for us - Monument Valley UT (13). Shortly after getting on Interstate 17, we found ourselves behind a big boat. It was a pontoon-type boat, wider than both lanes of the freeway, and surprisingly (and thankfully) moved along very well. By the time we got to Flagstaff, it was out of sight. After a gas stop at the local Sam's Club, we continued on our way. About 50 miles further, we caught up with the boat, parked in the median strip in a small town. We guess they were trying to figure out how to proceed, as the roads ahead were all two-lane, and moving the boat would involve obstructing traffic in both directions. Fortunately, we got past it and continued on our way.
Monument Valley is one of those scenic icons of the American west. Spectacular sandstone towers dot the landscape. If you haven't been there, you've surely seen it in pictures. The best parts of it are all within the Navajo reservation, and you pay to gain access. Some parts are accessible only by escorted tours. We didn't take an escorted tour, but we still saw some spectacular stuff. We entered the reservation twice to get views under both morning and afternoon light.
Monument Valley became a must-see place after film director John Ford brought an unknown actor named John Wayne to the valley in 1939 to film the movie Stagecoach. Ford and Wayne returned many times for more films, and to date about 100 movies have filmed in the valley, most recently the new Lone Ranger movie with Johnny Depp. The RV park at Goulding's Lodge is the only full-service campground near the valley, and it was pretty well full the week we were there. Lots of non-English speaking folks in rental RVs. We also encountered a couple of large groups of motorcyclists from Eastern Europe. We think they ship their Harleys over for their outings.
We made two day trips to nearby attractions - one to the Natural Bridges National Monument, where you can view three spectacular natural bridges, one of them the second largest in the world. The largest is Rainbow Bridge, also in Southern Utah. We'll have to go there one of these years. Our second day trip was to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument, in NE Arizona. There are numerous ancient cliff dwellings in the two canyons that make up the park, and you view them and the spectacular scenery from the canyon rims. The National Monument includes the land along the canyon rims, while the land within the canyons belongs to the Navajos, which is why the only access to the canyon floors is by Navajo-escorted tours. Lots of subsistence farming in the canyons. Both trips involved quite a bit of walking and climbing into and out of the canyons.
At the Canyon de Chelly visitor center we encountered Gary Henry - a grizzled Navajo silversmith of some renown - working inside the visitor center. Judy acquired a very nice sterling silver and turquoise reversible pendant - signed by the artist. In addition to his jewelry work, Gary is a member of one of the oldest Navajo families in the area, and is a tribal elder.
Goulding's Lodge and Campground, where we stayed in Monument Valley, was started in 1921 by Harry Goulding and his wife Mike. In 1921, it was possible to purchase land from the Navajos, who badly needed money, and the Gouldings bought 640 acres - about the only people who did. They set up a small trading post, which eventually grew into a hotel. The lodge complex is surrounded by the reservation, and all the employees we encountered were Navajo. Although it's no longer family owned, the lodge operation provides a major source of employment in one of the most poverty-ridden areas of the country. The two times we ate in the lodge restaurant, we shared the facility with multiple busloads of Oriental tourists. And their private airstrip hosted several air tour groups each day. We found out you can get flying trips to Monument Valley from most of the major cities around - Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, etc. Depending on the options, figure on about $1000 a head.
Almost all of the pictures in our slideshow are from our week in and around Monument Valley. There are about 88 pictures, and you can find them here.