For most of the summer I have been looking in to northern Arizona and southern Utah, planning and raising funds so that I could take a weekend and wander around an area that I have been to far few times. After coming to the realization that after my brother moves back to Manhattan with his fiance our old Jetta would be free for the taking, I pounced on the opening. Less then 24 hours after he left the city I had planned to be on the road, taking advantage of the gas mileage (and windows, and air conditioning, which my jeep lacks). After seeing that my photographer friend Matt had a free weekend, I enjoyed the possibility of having company on this trip. After he signed on another friend of ours, Josh, expressed his interest and we we're glad to let another on.
After setting some rough plans up, we left Tempe at about 6 and arrived at Coal Mine Canyon at around 10? Maybe 11? Perhaps one of the better parts of the trip was not caring at all what time was on the clock. Coal Mine Canyon really is a great little secret, kind of like Arizona's mini Bryce Canyon. An amazing layering of colors and hoodoos of soft and crumbling rock that seemed like a strong gust could topple at any minute.
We stayed there for maybe an hour or so (again, never really cared for the time) and reached Monument Valley later on in the afternoon, unfortunately as the clouds were rolling in. By the time we got in and visited the bathrooms, most of the valley was darkened by clouds, making any photography a pretty difficult task. We did the touristy loop through the valley, making all of the stops and seeing all of the beautiful rock formations, and made our way up through Utah up to Gooseneck State Park.
Although it was a little disappointing, no winding canyon is ever ugly, and it gave us a chance to think a little more about where we would be spending the night at. A few choices came up, but nothing definite was decided upon so we choose to go back to Mexican Hat and grab some water, and head back up north to find a suitable place to stop. Turned out to be one of the best choices of the trip, for as we pulled into the gas station we smelling some amazing food being cooked on the other side of the road at a place called Swingin' Steaks where, you guessed it, they cook the steaks on a wood burning grill while the grate literally swings back and forth over the fire. A little pricey, but the atmosphere and sheer manliness of the guy cooking the steaks (we dubbed him "Tex") was worth it. After convincing the waitress that we were rocket scientists, we asked her opinion on where to camp and the first place she said was Valley of the Gods, so that was the first place we headed to after dinner.
It was a place that had been on our to-do list, and camping there would make it all the easier to get some sunrise pictures of the area. We arrived in the Valley of the Gods just as the sun was setting we found a campsite that had leftover wood from a previous group, which was perfect since there was none in the area that could be used for a campfire. After having a series of good fortune such as the campsite and my friend being able to assemble his cot in under a minute (which he assured us was twenty minutes less then he had ever been able to do before), we felt like the Gods were on our side and the night couldn't have gone better. The clearest skies I've seen in a long time dotted with shooting stars led to one of the best sunrises I have ever seen and some good pictures.
We took the rest of the drive through the valley and made it back to the highway, then started back to Arizona with really no more ideas of places to visit nearby our area. We stopped to see Betatakin at Navajo National Monument which was alright, but a little disappointing. Good place to stretch out the legs though and it doesn’t cost you a dime to get in. After stopping for an always disgusting burger at McDonald’s in Tuba City we had an neventful drive to Wupatki National Monument on the way back to Flagstaff. It was worth the stop, there are some well preserved ruins there surrounded by the sandstone cliffs of where we had just come from and the massive San Francisco Peaks which is where we were going to.
We were rained on as we passed Sunset Crater so we didn't see much, although there wasn't a whole lot to see anyways. Throw in a stop in Verde Valley for coffee, and typical traffic on the 17 outside of the city and you have yourselves an awesome little road trip with great company as always.
I have posted a few pictures below, there are some more in my Album on my profile