Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Moab to Page, Arizona

Monument Valley

11:40 PM

Holiday Inn Express, Page, Arizona


Local Moab advertisements include "Highpoint Hummer and ATV Tours". You can ride in an Army-style Hummer (not the SUV-type) over slickrock landscapes. Or maybe you'd prefer "skydiving through Arches." A picture shows a skydiver coming in for a landing under one of the natural arches. Then there's the upcoming "24 hours of Moab" mountain bike race, October 14 & 15. This place barely sleeps.

Another kind of ad on TV also refers to Utah's remarkable lands: Kerr-McGee is currently conducting a major public relations campaign, trying to convince us how benign and "in harmony with nature" is their drilling of natural gas in Utah's Uinta Basin. The camera pans across a wild and desolate landscape to show a single well atop a mesa. But I have flown over this region, and have been shocked by the many wells and the web of access roads below. It's not a harmonious vision. They should be ashamed.

The anticipated weather front coming in over the western mountains, I stopped at Peace Tree Juice Cafe for a final meal in Moab. (The Jailhouse might have been more appropriate!)

Left around noon for Monument Valley. Couldn't bring myself to stop at a small winery on the southern edge of Moab. I drove the perimeter of the vineyard and past the farmhouse, but just couldn't stop. Too much like work, and the rain was coming. I didn't want to linger.

It grew stormy as I climbed toward Monticello. Put on the rain gear and kept going. (The mesa on the southern edge of Monticello looks like another good area to invest. I picture lots of vacation homes there in the future.)

Following Ben and Brad's suggestion, I took a detour south of Blanding, traveling west on State Route 95 to highway 261. They said this is an amazing road which descends the mesas to the "Valley of the Gods" and Monument Valley. Storms flowed out of the west, sweeping around the Abajo Mountains and hitting me head-on with wind and heavy rain.

Turned south on 261. A sign indicated "narrow gravel road 20 miles ahead." the guys in Moab didn't tell me about that! With all the rain, I was anxious about what I'd encounter up ahead.

The pavement ended at the mesa's rim. Down the rock wall to the valley below, wound a narrow dirt and gravel road. It turned out to be no big deal, though just as dramatic a drop as Shafer Trail.

Approaching Monument Valley from the north

There were some signs of clearing skies as I approached Monument Valley. Over the years, a Navajo Tribal Park has been developed in the center of Monument Valley. Not the typical Corporate America development, this is a modest business venture. A visitor’s center with restaurant and gift shop, a campground. Clearly, resources are scarce.

Monument Valley

The valley floor is now open to those wishing to take a self-guided driving tour among the buttes. Many years ago, I recall watching the lights of a single vehicle below, wandering far out into this lonely landscape. Today, I could spot 10 to 15 vehicles on the winding dirt road.

The trading post has an exhibit on the Navajo "Code Talkers" of World War II. In the Pacific, the military used the native Navajo language for passing important information. The Japanese were never able to "break the code". Explored their offering of jewelry, still on a mission. Nothing delicate enough though.

At the Navajo Tribal Park Visitors Center, this display case included many items with "pawn" tags attached

The weather had been kind, holding off during my brief visit in the valley, but now that I was continuing the ride west, I again met the rain head-on. After an hour, I turned north on Arizona Route 98 toward Page, and seemed to avoid much of the weather.

In Page, this Holiday Inn Express offered one of the lowest rates I've seen: $59.75, all taxes included. I was a very happy traveler!

Out to dinner at Italia's Family Buffet, a couple blocks away. I was their last customer of the evening, as they closed at 8:30, because it was so quiet. Dean Martin serenading me, I tried the “Grecian Pasta” and a glass of Montes Alpha Malbec from Chile. Met John Mesler, the co-owner. “Are you from Canada?” I asked, noting his accent.

“Near there.” He said he was from from Niagara Falls, Lockport, and Orchard Park, New York. Small world! I told him I was born in Buffalo and lived in East Aurora, near Orchard Park. It’s John’s ninth season operating the restaurant in Page.

Back in my room, a really big person paced the floor above, obviously on a cellphone, for hours. I finally pounded on the ceiling. It continued for a while longer.

For weeks now, my upper back has been plagued by sharp pains. I need a deep massage. Trying to work out the knots myself has been ineffective.

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