Journey Into the West – Day 5

Escape from Mokee Island

We woke up late. The other guests (human and gnat) were gone, taking all the hot water with them.

The motel owner was shuffling between rooms changing out sheets. She apologized again for the gnats, although she called them mosquitos, which would have been terrifying if true. A swarm of mosquitos that big would be a regional disaster, leaving a trail of exsanguinated livestock and dirt farmers behind it.

We reloaded the car and headed south towards Arizona and the Navajo reservation that contains Monument Valley.

Monument Valley

Accustomed to the wealth of the Oklahoma tribes, driving through Navajo country shocked me. I guess being sequestered onto an infertile plot of scorched earth isn’t a recipe for financial success.

Little shacks dot the road through Monument Valley, each advertising “Real Indian Jewelry”. The shacks themselves are a wonder of carpentry,  built with the exact minimum of 2x4s to keep them upright. Maybe it was a competition. “I bet you two turquoise I can build my shack with just three boards.”

The mental image I had of Monument Valley was the one presented in Mission Impossible, where Tom Cruise climbs to the top of an impossibly tall mesa surrounded by beautiful, red desert.

That’s not what Monument Valley looks like. Sure, the mesas are there, but they aren’t very impressive compared to Bryce Canyon and the other places we had been. It’s just a desert valley full of big rocks and poverty.

The most interesting rock in Monument Valley.

We ate lunch at a surprisingly expensive McDonalds and decided to drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the South Rim, where most people go. We made a stop along the way so Terry could buy a ceramic turtle from one of the “Real Indian Jewelry” stands.

Grand Canyon

We drove into a massive wall of rain as we crossed the valley below the Kaibab Plateau. The rain followed us for the rest of the day. I was happy to see it after baking in the sun the previous day.

Climbing up the plateau, the landscape became greener and more diverse until we were in the Kaibab National Forest surrounded by ponderosa pines. The temperature dropped from the low 90s to the low 50s.

We reached the North Rim in the late afternoon and yet again discovered that all the campsites were full. It was still raining and the canyon was veiled in fog. We drove to a few different lookouts and sunlight snuck through the clouds to burn some of the fog away.

From our rainy vantage point, I could see the desert across the canyon and knew we made the right choice.

The last bit of road to the highest elevations in the park was closed for the season, so we went as high as we could before turning around to find a trail.

The rain stopped as we pulled into the trail parking area and we set off into the forest. The trail met up with the rim of the canyon in a few places but was mostly set back into the forest. There were only a handful of other hikers.

As the sun lowered over the horizon, fog filled in around us and I took pictures of mist-covered trees. This was my favorite hike of the trip.

It was getting dark so we made our way back to the car and set our minds to finding somewhere to camp. There was a campsite in the forest outside the North Rim park, but without the canyon’s moderating effect, the temperature outside the park dropped further and would likely hit freezing over night. Neither of us were equipped for cold weather so we drove on.

Where have all the campsites gone?

I looked at the map and discovered there wasn’t anything around us. No parks, no towns, just desert. So we drove north toward Utah in hopes of finding somewhere to stay.

Not Helpful.

We eventually saw signs for a national monument and found a campsite nearby. It was closed for construction. Terry pulled into a gas station to fill up and asked the clerk if he knew of any place to camp. He did (maybe), but it was an hour in the opposite direction.

So we kept driving, crossing back into Utah. We made our way to St. George, which seemed to be surrounded by state parks. Unfortunately, they’re all gated and close at 10PM.

I busted out my Google-Fu and searched for other options. The Bureau of Land Management operates a campsite not far from where we were, so we drove there, expecting it to be an un-maintained landfill.

On the way we passed an undocumented-on-any-reasonable-source KOA. A quick loop of the BLM park determined that it was serviceable, but cost only a few dollars less than the KOA and the KOA had showers and Wi-Fi. Back to the KOA we went.

Terry filled out the night check-in form and we found an empty patch of grass in a field of slumbering RV-beasts.