We ventured along Comb Ridge, an area of around 100km in length that exhibits the obvious results of an ancient upheaval of the Earth’s crust. As with much of southern Utah, the forces that have been acting on our tiny planet over millennia are stark and so very obvious!
A constant display of Ancestral Puebloan dwellings are to be found lining almost every canyon wall with an undercut along this stunning geological formation. A couple of days easily vanished as we wandered valleys, explored caves and relaxed below brilliant night skies.
“Monument Valley” had been visible in the distance when at elevation for some time now and we really had the feeling that we were entering an area of special beauty as we pushed west. “Valley of the Gods” sits around 45 minutes drive north-east of “Monument Valley” and we had high hopes that stunning scenery awaited our senses as we turned of the highway! I’ll let you be the judge based on the pictures below…
We immersed ourselves in stunning topography that really requires a personal visit in order to fully appreciate it! The ability to wild camp amongst and wander below these magnificent monuments to Mother Nature make this valley an absolute must see!!
At the western end of the “Valley of the Gods” drive, “Moki Dugway” is a stunning switchback road that elevates you from the valley floor containing the aforementioned monoliths up into cooler air and yet another sensory overload. You gaze out over an ancient sea floor with the knowledge that millennia of exposure to the forces of nature has created such a marvel and it’s still quite hard if not impossible to comprehend it.
Back on the canyon floor and “Gooseneck State Park “awaits which contains a riverbend formation that follows the San Juan River for 6 miles or so whilst only moving 1 mile as the crow flies. Such is the meandering power of this river as it sculpts its path onward and downward throughout time and sandstone.
We moved into Arizona with “Monument Valley” absolutely dominating the view!
Thousands have visited this famous location and judging by the never-ending stream of tour buses, RV’s and selfie sticks, it would seem the allure of red sandstone spires is as strong as ever!
I must admit that we found “Valley of the Gods” to be more to our liking. With its own notoriety and stream of keen visitors, it still affords you a personal visit whilst receiving the protection and management from the authorities that it deserves.
Monument Valley, however, is a little more touristic as it is located in Navajo Nation land and every effort is being made by them to capitalize on the natural wonder in their midst – an up close visit was not for us, especially as it’s majesty is visible from miles around.
Such observations are not meant to detract from the experience; I’m just really cynical!
There will always be a good argument and imperative requirement for intensive management at such heavily visited sites. It’s just the murmurings of my mind as I observe locations the world over that easily lend themselves to being locked off from public access to become an attractive and juicy business model!
The town of Page appeared and a Laundromat was first on the list followed very closely by the thirsty desire to restock the alcohol supplies. The Navajo Nation is a dry community and rather hot!!!
The smell of soap powder, wet underwear and grey balls of lint is an atmosphere that only a communal clothes-washing establishment can provide and is always a pleasure! Adding to the experience, I was asked to provide a little liquidity to a local whilst waiting for the dryer cycle, he was out of cash and also quite thirsty but alas I’d used all of my quarters on the wash cycle!
Page is an unusual but pleasant town. It was built in the 60’s for the purpose of supporting the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River which is a carbon copy in many ways of the Hoover Dam. Located in such an arid and inhospitable location, the dramatic changes to the landscape due to the damming of the river are quite astounding. Viewpoints provide striking colour combinations of pinks, reds and creams in every direction with the desolate rocky landscape protruding from the absolutely azure blue of the dammed water upstream of the concrete blockage. This area is now a boating playground known as Lake Powell. A truly man made oasis in the desert easily describes Page!
Who doesn’t love dinosaur footprints! The opportunity to tangibly see and in some cases touch imprints left by creatures of such ancient history has to be a draw for anyone fascinated with such creatures! Well, west of Tuba City on the run south from Page, there is an area a few acres or so in size that is littered with not only the clawed prints of huge creatures but also the remains of – would you believe – Dinosaur eggs! You can’t help but imagine how the Earth must have appeared all of those centuries ago!
Following the Colorado River, we turned west into the Kaibab National Forest and camped just shy of the Grand Canyon South Rim National Park entrance in another free dispersed/wild camping area! Have to give credit to these national agencies (Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest Service) for allowing such free and easy access to camping in the wilderness where solitude enhances the interaction with nature.
Moving slowly along the South Rim, we caught our first views of the magnificent Grand Canyon! No need for words other than to say that it is bloody huge!
West of the South Rim Visitor Centre there is a section of National Park, rarely visited by tourists, right on the Rim. We had booked one of only 3 campsites at Havasupai Point about a week earlier and needed to pick up our National Park “back country” camping permit before heading out there. A stop at the permit office resulted in a 45 minute information session to receive instructions on how to access the area via Native Indian land and a description of the rather harrowing, possibly impassable, terrain that lay ahead of us.
We were also advised not to use GPS mapping, as GPS units don’t work out there because of high levels of iron in the ground! Maybe the ranger uses a magnetic GPS – ours works off satellites but I thought I’d let that slide… Anyway we were finally permitted and underway with a list of instructions and a mud map drawn by the ranger, which turned out to be really handy as there were some confusing turns.
Our GPS mapping system concurred with the mud map and after a long afternoon of quite slow track work and the odd uncomfortable angle just to keep you on your game, we arrived at our campsite on the rim of the Grand Canyon! The track was a very skinny trail and I suspect quite nasty if it was wet! With a great deal of thickly trunked trees on either side sporting limbs stretching across the track above, it created a tunnel effect and likely restricted access to anything much larger than our vehicle in places (noted by the smashed wing mirrors on the ground here and there).
In an aside, we made the journey to Havasupai Point much longer than it needed to be, as Jen thought she had found a trail that would bypass the Indian lands and hence save us the US$25 to traverse the 5kms of Indian land before once again emerging back into the National Park. Needless to say that the trail shown on the maps no longer existed, petering out as we thought we were getting close, and proved to be a sheer waste of time as the car suffered way more overgrown track work than was necessary. When we finally did reach the Indian Lands Boundary, the gentleman that greeted us was so nice and amiable that paying the $25 seemed more than fair. Jen learnt her lesson!!!!
It still amazes me that we were able to camp in complete isolation without the interference of a light anywhere. We had the Grand Canyon completely and utterly to ourselves except for one lone KTM visitor.
Flagstaff sits below snow-capped peaks and just north of Mormon Lake – the chosen location for Overland Expo. We’d been keen to attend this event for some time and had arrived on schedule with a day to kill before registration – primed and ready to enjoy the company of other liked minded travellers.
In need of a restock and a pressing desire to upload a post, as we’d been off the grid for some time, we sat in a shopping centre car park with good coverage and began the task of refreshing our blog! Glancing in my side mirror, I observed a ridiculously large Winnebago making a B-line for us! Must want a chat I thought? The clown driving swings along side with inches to spare between his mirror and my vehicle and immediately put me on the defensive. Ready to get out and attack the occupants, I looked over at the Muppet driving and was met with the laughing Dutch mugs of Erik and Mieke!
Stunned, speechless, akin to being in shock, is the only description that I think covers this event!
We’d been in touch regularly via “whatsapp” and these sneaky Dutch folk had been sending erroneous messages with the intent of making us think they were still hard at work in Holland, not to mention sending those messages on Dutch time whilst they were cruising the states in Minnie Winnie!!!
Apparently they had arrived in Flagstaff and were just about to order lunch when the “whatsapp” beep on their phone alerted them to the fact that we were only 1km away. Menus dropped and they made straight to our location! WOW!!
To add another level of treachery to their planned surprise, we had spent a week together in the UK over Christmas and, you guessed it, they had already planned and booked their journey with tickets to Overland Expo! How they kept that a secret is beyond me…
We managed to find an isolated campsite in a forested area that night that accommodated the Minnie Winnie mere metres from the bitumen and settled in for too much alcohol and a lovely campfire.
The next morning we convoyed the last few kms together and booked into Overland Expo.
Allotted a location amongst a few other vehicles on their own world travel adventures, we set up our camper and 30 seconds later had a frosty beverage, found Erik and Mieke, and began a preliminary wander of the event!
There was an interesting mix of equipment on display with a reasonable spread of RV’s such as Sportsmobile, All Terrain Warrior (from Queensland, Australia) XP campers and the list goes on! Of course modified jeeps were in abundance – rock crawlers to tourers – they were all there.
We were provided with a bit of a show during the afternoon when a Ford F350 with a massive slide on became bogged whilst attempting to find a camp spot. An attempt to retrieve the poor souls was made with a backhoe by the organisers but unfortunately, it seemed as if the operator of the earthmoving machine had, well, frankly NO BLOODY IDEA how to operate it! Hence with the recovery attempt abandoned, the machinery operator informed the stricken owners that he might be back on Monday if the ground dried out a bit and have another go! (It was Friday!).
We were all becoming more and more miffed as time passed and we consumed a little more relaxation juice! Right alongside the bogged Ford was the Land Rover Test and Recovery Course!! Land Rovers smothered in Camel Trophy livery with drivers sporting all sorts of Land Rover branded outfits and Disco’s partying their way around the pre-tested obstacle course!
Alas, it would seem that only staged recoveries were to be undertaken during this display of Land Rover prowess – wouldn’t want to attempt an actual recovery …???
Anyway as the afternoon ran on, the Aussie in me couldn’t stand it any longer. I was becoming more and more mystified as I watched double locked, twin winch toting , maxx trax carrying, 40 inch mud tyre wielding, off road, ready to go anywhere Jeeps and the like cruising past with no intention of helping one of their kin! I guess that’s how they keep their recovery gear so clean and shiny, they never get it out…
In Australia, if you get stuck in the process of an attempted recovery it just becomes a bit more of a laugh! Anyway, I’m digressing… in the end, it was 2 Aussies, 2 Dutch folk and a German in an F250 that resolved the situation, with a large crowd of onlookers, I might add! Anyway, no Jeeps were harmed or got dirty during the production of this story so that’s a positive… Must also be said that 2 locals in an enormous ex-military truck were preparing to assist as the events were drawing to a close. These guys were camped next to Erik and Mieke and were an absolute laugh!! We nicknamed them Wanker 1 and Wanker 2 which they thought hilarious, whilst they camped separately in truck and tent to dispel rumours that they might be intimately involved !!! Which they are not. Hilarious guys!!!
Unfortunately, the next few days were to deliver gale force winds in a non-stop fashion! Tents and marquees slowly disintegrated into tattered shreds of Chinese manufacturing! Nonetheless, all of the visitors deserve full credit, as they arrived in their droves and admirably wandered the displays in the face of the sand grit bath that blasted them all day! It was also great to see the determination of the exhibitors as smiles remained and laughs were had!
An interested visitor to our little display sported a Clearview mirrors baseball cap and Mike turned out to be the owner of Clearview Mirrors Australia! Seeking American business opportunities, he and his business colleague Jay had been wandering the show and had spotted our Patrol with their mirrors fitted! That definitely called for a chat!
They couldn’t believe there was an Aussie Patrol parked in the middle of a 4×4 show in Arizona sporting Clearview Mirrors! Meeting these guys was fantastic. We spent some time relaying how impressed we were with their product as they’ve saved us numerous times by providing such an excellent field of vision (not to mention a great step up from the factory fitted Patrol Ute mirror) whilst being almost indestructible! I know that for a fact having had a Mongolian Bongo van bounce off one amongst other tests of their construction. Check them out at clearviewaccessories.com.au
The style of travel we have chosen is an amazingly rewarding experience if you’re into it! But it can be a little isolationist as well. Apart from a little contact here and there via the Internet, we really are very much on our own and generally for a very long time, often with a rather large language barrier.
Events such as this help you realise that you are not alone in your travel desires. Approaching the event, you see the odd other intrepid traveller, descending on the same location with a big grin ear to ear and an equal desire for a bit of traveller to traveller time!
The first thing that comes to mind when I meet others on their own world journeys, is the strong sense of character they all seem in possession of!
Amazing sessions of story swapping were a highlight of this event! Collective understanding nods when tales of travel woes, experiences and highlights float amongst the group. It does happen to all of us after all!!
The opportunity to also meet an eclectic range of prospective travellers was not to be forgotten with many people stopping for a chat and a look over the map. A high percentage were in the process of planning their own departure from normality and were attending the event in research mode!
A final night was enjoyed with Erik and Mieke! I’ll say no more about their amazing visit, they know! San Francisco was their destination before they returned to the Netherlands.
The whole experience provided us with a fresh intensity around our travels and we really hope to meet some of our newfound family elsewhere on Earth… Our neighbours at the event were a family of 4 South Africans who have been travelling Southern Africa, South America and the USA for 4yrs. Australians and South Africans are such kindred spirits and I know we will see these guys again!!! Check them out at a2aexpedition.com
Flagstaff and a few days out of the camper in the next instalment!