Familiar Faces & Interesting Places

It’s always a bonus when a road trip can coincide with visiting old friends! After the Grand Canyon we were bound for Phoenix to spend the weekend catching up with a few friends from various parts of our lives. On Saturday (4/29) we met up with two friends from Seattle who moved to Phoenix about a year ago. They happened to have another friend in town so the five of us tested a couple local breweries before devouring a lovely homemade lamb dinner. It was such a nice afternoon and evening. I thoroughly enjoyed their entertaining company and it felt great to reunite, if only for a short while.

The next morning (4/30) we went to a nice restaurant for brunch with Alastair’s childhood friend and his wife. He was Alastair’s neighbor while growing up in England and moved to Phoenix about 14 years ago. They’ve occasionally kept in touch over the years but the last time they saw each other was shortly after Alastair’s friend moved to Phoenix. There was plenty of catching up to do, especially with new marriages, jobs, and life experiences over the last decade. They were a really friendly couple and the few hours worth of conversation was a nice change of pace.

After our weekend of friendly hang outs, it was time to continue north toward Monument Valley. On the way we made a detour to a meteor crater my Grandpa had recommended we see. It is located east of Flagstaff and is said to be the largest and best-preserved meteor crater in the world. It is about a mile across and 500 feet deep. We wandered along the trails to a couple different viewoints, wondering what it may have looked like at the time of impact roughly 50,000 years ago. I’m glad my Grandpa recommended this quick detour since it added to the list of unique and interesting landscapes we’ve been seeing.

A view of the meteor crater from one of several viewpoints.

Our next detour landed us at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, a beautifully carved canyon within a Navajo reservation in northeast Arizona. To be honest, I didn’t know this place existed but Alastair had done his research and thought it would make for good sightseeing. He was correct. We drove the length of the park and stopped at the last pullout for a quick wander to go see Spider Rock (not exactly an enticing place for me based on the name). This 750-foot pillar of rock stands tall at the intersection of two canyons and is a major geographical highlight of the canyon. We took in the views, had some cheese and pickle sandwiches, then were back on the road to continue the drive toward Monument Valley.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, with Spider Rock standing tall.

This guy. Always has to get the best view.

The drive to and in Monument Valley is characterized by uniquely shaped rock formations jutting up from an otherwise flat mass of land. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the locations of the rocks. Many of the formations looked like abstract figures, reminding me of Rorschach tests that would slowly change as we approached and passed the rocks. This area has also served as the backdrop for a plethora of movies, especially Westerns. This is the land John Wayne subposedly referred to as “God’s treasure” and is also where Forrest Gump finally decided to stop running. I think the Griswolds also drove through here at some point.

Since this area is Navajo reservation, there are restrictions on land use. Many hikes require a permit and/or a local guide so we decided to only stay here for one night to enjoy the scenery but avoid the logistical hassle of trying to sort out a hike. Our campsite within Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park had walk-in tent sites so we had to ditch the Nanavan and cozy up in the tent. The tent sites were incredibly confusing to navigate due to a lack of organization and boundaries between sites, but it had a fantastic view of the West and East Mittens (cutely and appropriately named rock formations). The sunset cast some great, long shadows of the various rocks across the valley, then gave way to a clear night sky full of bright stars.

The view from our campsite of the West and East Mittens.

It was a bit of a long day but we’re glad to have made it this far. We’ve passed the half-way point of our road trip already but still have plenty of things to look forward to on the road ahead!

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