I had my heart set on Monument Valley from the beginning. It was July when I set out on my “road trip to end all road trips” (until the next road trip, that is.) July in the Southwest kind of sounded like insta-sunburn while sitting in an oven. I had to wait. I kept myself occupied with the Canadian Rockies, the Tetons, the Redwoods and the Oregon coast.
The monoliths, buttes and mesas. The red rocks, red sand and expanses. Monument Valley was the inspiration for this whole trip. This peculiar landscape had set up a nice, comfy home in my long term memory. The loneliness, the starkness, the wild beauty had grabbed me by the imagination, and its grip was firm.
At the end of September, I drove north out of Chaco Canyon, stopping at the Four Corners memorial. It was fun to watch people contort like they were in a simple game of Twister with an added requirement of smiling for the camera.
From there I drove with purpose to Kayenta, AZ. I was determined to go shopping. A Coleman stove, propane canisters, a cast iron pan, a spatula and pancake mix were on my list. I had been on the road for the exact amount of time it takes to become homicidal towards oatmeal.
I was in the valley by early afternoon. It was pleasantly warm, sunny and still. There were lots of people about; travelers from all over. I went right to the campground. If I had learned anything on this trip, it was to get your camp site first. The attendant told me to go have a look at campground, and let her know which spot I liked best.
It was a unique campground, like none I had been in for the last 3 months. Located on the side of a hill, the campground faced the Mittens and Merrick Butte. There were no defined sites. It was all sand, and it sloped towards the valley with occasional flat spots. I loved it!
There was practically no one there. Two young women were setting up at a spot at the top of the hill near the parking lot, but that was it. I walked down to the edge of the campground, right up to the lip leading into the valley. I had my spot. Lucky number 25.
With the tent set up and the bedroll rolled out, it was time to go exploring. I hopped into Lady Bird, my faithful Subaru, and hit it. The Mittens were on my left as I drove in. Near a pullout I saw was two fellas admiring their motorcycles with the West Mitten in the background.
I made the circuit of the whole valley twice. I stopped everywhere to soak it in.
I went back to my campsite after spending the whole afternoon in the valley. It was dinner time. Plus, I wanted to watch the sunset from my prime view point. This is the show I got.
The campground had filled up with people while I was away. It was nearly full. A few couples were putting up tents, but everyone stopped to watch the sunset. People were talking softly, taking photos. I drank a beer with my toes covered in warm red sand and watched the sun go down, running long, sharp shadows over the whole valley. It was peaceful and exhilarating.
I slept with the door to my tent wide open, waking up all night long just to look outside and see the moon rise behind the Mittens. Just to see the starts come out.
When pre-dawn began to break across the sky, I got out of the tent.
This moment will live in my mind for years; the warm sand under my tent, smelling sage and pinon, standing in front of my tent in my PJs (shorts and a t-shirt) and feeling perfectly warm, hearing the quiet chatter of the campers around me (young French and German kids), and getting to see THIS…
It was one of the best sunrises of my life. Rare, precious. Unforgettable.