What can one say about Monument Valley? Two words leap to mind: Western Movies. Legendary productions such as Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), How The West Was Won (1962), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and a personal favourite, Easy Rider (1968), were all filmed against the iconic backdrop of Monument Valley. Needless to say, I was looking forward to finally seeing seeing it. Shame on me for waiting so many years.
We got an early start start, ate a decent breakfast, by “continental” standards at our hotel. There were other bikers who had stayed overnight in Page and we met a few at breakfast. We sat down with two old time bikers from Topeka, Kansas and exchanged stories about the rotten weather. As it turns out, they happened to be musicians from a new defunct rock band. Normally this would not be so interesting, except that back in the late 1970’s, they were the opening act for two of Canada’s best musical exports: Rush and The Guess Who. I was eager to learn about the band members and see if there were any good yarns to be told. True to form, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart of Rush are pretty low key guys who would return back to their hotels and settle down with some good books. On the other hand, Burton Cummings of the Guess Who was fond of women, at least two at a time and certain controlled substances.
The skies were finally starting to clear, and we enjoyed a beautiful ride to Monument Valley. Just outside of Page we stopped to take a few photos to show the road ahead and the coal fired power plant.
We arrived at Monument Valley around 10:30 AM. The so-called “Mittens” of the valley were already visible and we were surrounded by the iconic scenery of the aforementioned western movies. I was really excited to get right into the park and get a good look at all the rock formations.
We grabbed a quick lunch at the world famous Goulding’s facility which incorporates a lodge, RV park, gift shop and restaurant. After refueling ourselves and the Harley, we made our way to the gated entrance. Surely, this held the promise of being an incredible ride that would reward us with great vistas and photos. Unfortunately, days of torrential rains had reduced the roads to mud and slurry, which meant motorcycles were turned away since the park officials deemed the roads unsafe. Only cars and and SUV’s were being let in. It was our fate to explore only the periphery of Monument Valley.
After an brief tour around the rim, at least the parts open to motorcycles, it was time to make the long ride to Gallup, New Mexico. We rode south from Utah, then through Arizona towards Interstate 40 near the New Mexico border. The lion’s share of this ride would be along highway 191, which takes you through a number of Indian Reservations and very close to Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I last visited Canyon de Chelly in 2003 and it is stunning. It requires at least a full day to see it and must be navigated by an off road vehicle with a Navajo guide.
One fly in the ointment on our way back to Gallup was the sheer number of beggars on the Indian reservations. Every stop for gas or water mean we were swarmed by drunks, each with their own bullshit sob story and outstretched hand for money. The only guy I gave a few dollars to was the honest one who said, “I’m a drunk and will just use your money to buy another drink”. I tossed him three bucks for his honesty and my chuckle at his candor.
Upon arriving at the Arizona/New Mexico border, we stopped at the famous Chief Yellow Horse trading post. Elaine bought some jewellery and I got a few cigars as well as a Navajo bracelet. This stuff is the real deal and much cheaper than being gouged at some fancy Scottsdale store.
We arrived in Gallup just as the sun was setting, checked in to the motel, unloaded the bike and cruised the streets looking for a good dinner spot. We settled on a really good Mexican restaurant on Route 66. After dinner, I lit up a cigar, took a walk and was again annoyed by drunken beggars. “No” is a powerful word and it made them go away. Gallup has really declined in the last decade and it is sad to see it struggling and crumbling away. The root cause of this misery is a Casino just outside of town that has negatively impacted the family run businesses.
It was a long day of riding, and we were both bagged. It was worth it though just to see Monument Valley, even at a distance.