Monthly Archives: July 2018

Death Valley December 2014

I’m a bit late (as in a few years) publishing this. Oh well, life happens! I wrote the narrative as soon as we got back but never got around to looking through all the photos my husband took until now.

I have relatives that live in Las Vegas. Which means I go to Vegas more than someone who likes to gamble as little as I do would normally go. On the flip side, we get out and explore as much as possible. In 2014 we visited early enough in December to make it to Death Valley during the “shoulder” season.

In September 1996 I moved from Virginia to California. My mom drove with me in my brand new 1996 Honda accord with all my possessions in the backseat and trunk. We had budgeted way more time than we had needed for the drive and in the end made a detour through Death Valley and up across Tioga Pass road. What I remember of Death Valley was standing at Badwater, the sand dunes, and that the drive out of the west side of the park made my mom very nervous due to her fear of heights. I knew that someday I would make it back to explore a bit more.

DISCLAIMER: We took this trip back in 2014, 10 months before the devastating floods. As of July 2018, Scotty’s castle and the nearby road remains closed and are not anticipated to reopen until 2020.

DAY 1:

I had originally done a lot of planning and gotten advice on Tripadvisor for our trip to Death Valley, but when the time came we ended up winging it a bit. We had both been extremely busy with work related stuff before our trip and wanted a bit more “chill” time than I had originally planned. We had originally planned to get up early and head to Death Valley our second full day in Vegas, but we were kind of pooped and the weather was poor so we altered our plans a bit. After a leisurely breakfast at a casino buffet we eventually headed out. The rain was predicted to taper off in Death Valley in the early afternoon which meant we had a wet drive most of the way heading out of Vegas on route 160. I was a bit nervous in the Spring Mountains because the temperature kept dropping and I was afraid we might hit some snow. Fortunately, the car thermometer bottomed out at 39 degrees so all we had to deal with was some fog. Originally we were going to detour to China Ranch Date farm, but when we reached the decision point to turn or not, it was pouring rain still so we decided to keep going toward Death Valley.

When we got to Shoshone it was still raining so we decided to forgo the cold sandwiches we had packed in our cooler and stopped at the Crowbar Cafe and Saloon. Great decision- they were decorated for Christmas and we enjoyed our hot lunches with more food than we could eat and plenty of ice tea. Unfortunately it was still raining when we left but we headed into the Park via route 178. I was surprised that there was no official entrance station and was disappointed we hadn’t picked up some sort of map at the Shoshone museum. At this point my husband asked how far to our hotel, and when I said 70 miles he was a bit surprised. I reminded him that the park is about the size of the state of Connecticut. About the time we got to Jubilee Pass the rain let up and we could even see a tiny bit of blue sky. It almost seemed like some of the scrub plants were turning green before our eyes.


Rain finally stopped but you can tell where it had been flowing across the road. This road was also damaged in the floods of October 2015 but reopened a few months later.


Desolate and beautiful at the same time.

Continuing towards Badwater we stopped briefly to have a look at the Ashford Mill ruins and to use the pit toilets. PSA- at least in late 2014 none of the pit toilets we used had any kind of hand sanitizer, so consider bringing your own.


Ashford Mill ruins. Note a hint of blue sky and sun!

Along the way to Badwater we enjoyed the view and even saw a Coyote along the road.


Heading into Death Valley toward Badwater. The sky was clearing and allowed us views of the snow covered mountains.

At Badwater the sign I remember having my picture made with in 1996 was still there (or at least a new one just like it!) so I had my husband take my picture there again 18 years after my first visit. I’m a bit camera shy so decided not to post it here. We hiked out onto the salt flat a bit and enjoyed the view up to the sea level sign on the mountainside above us.


Standing in the salt flats at Badwater. The tiny speck of white on the hillside above us is a sign that says “Sea Level” and puts everything into perspective.


Badwater. 282 feet below sea level.

We continued the drive toward Furnace Creek and enjoyed all the beautiful desert views as well as the brief glimpses of the snow covered peaks of the mountains across the valley as the clouds shifted around them. We decided to forgo the Natural Bridge on this trip, and unfortunately the road to access Devils Golf Course was closed due to the recent rains. We arrived at Artists drive at about 2:30, which at this time of year gave us great lighting. We stopped fairly early in the drive to hike up a hill to have a look around. I swear there were sustained tropical force winds at the top of that hill. I had to brace myself to let my husband take some pictures and at times the wind was moving me around. Again, I’m camera shy so will forgo the photos here. We continued on to Artist’s Palette where we hiked around briefly and my husband took a lot of pictures. This place is stunningly beautiful! There was a guy giving people photography tips (an organized class I assume) and people discussing that scenes for Star Wars had been filmed in the area. I would say this is a “don’t miss” in Death Valley!


Artists drive.


Along Artists drive.


One of the overlooks along Artists Drive. It was super windy here.


Artist’s Palette- one of my favorite photos from the trip. I need to get this one printed and framed.


My husband calls this one “self portrait”.


A closer view of some of the colors.


Star Wars fans will recognize this!


Even more beautiful colors.

After Artist’s Drive we decided to head to the Ranch at Furnace Creek (now called Ranch at Death Valley) to check in. We made a wrong turn and ended up at the Inn where we saw where the fire had taken out their laundry building a few days before. The volunteer fire department was still on scene and was diverting traffic to detour through the parking lot. After turning around we made a brief visit to the Visitor’s center to pay our entrance fee, get a map and buy a postcard. The Ranch at Furnace Creek is right next door to the Visitor’s center and after checking in we decided to chill the rest of the day. We had time to play a game of bocce ball and enjoy a cocktail out on our balcony before heading to dinner. We ended up just grabbing a pizza and beers in the Saloon. That worked out well because with the fridge in the room we took the leftover pizza with us for later. We are huge fans of the TV show the Amazing Race so we were happy to call it an early evening to be back in our room in time to watch that night’s episode.

DAY 2:

The next morning we took advantage of the in room coffee and had leftover cold pizza for breakfast before heading out. We headed to Golden Canyon for a hike. We hiked up to Red Cathedral area. We considered doing the full loop through Gower Gulch, but the access to Zabriskie point was posted to be closed at that time (December 2014) and I had forgotten to bring my hiking poles. I could tell the full loop would be more climbing and descending on the side of a hill than I would be comfortable doing without them, so we decided to save the full loop for a future visit. The part we did hike though was just absolutely gorgeous. I would highly recommend even a short out and back though Golden Canyon.



Hiking in Golden Canyon.

After our hike we headed out toward Stovepipe Wells. We stopped briefly at Harmony Borax Works ruins.


Borax works ruins. Could you imagine working in the heat?

The Visitor’s Center had recommended visiting the Salt Creek interpretive trail. Originally, this wasn’t on my radar as something to do, but I’m glad we did- I really enjoyed this short hike. There were lots of animal prints around the creek and even birds and butterflies. We think we saw pupfish in the creek. We took advantage of the picnic tables there to eat the sandwiches we didn’t eat the day before. You really do have to plan ahead for lunch in the park as the places to buy food are few and far apart.


Salt Creek area.


Animal tracks at Salt Creek.

Our next stop was the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. We hiked out across the dunes for a bit, which is very hard work hiking through sand up and over the dunes. It was a lot of fun though, and we watched a bunch of kids out “sledding” on the dunes.


Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

We headed out to Stovepipe Wells Village and enjoyed a cold soda on the front porch of the store there before heading up to Mosaic Canyon. I enjoyed the hike in Mosaic Canyon but thought Golden Canyon was a bit more interesting.


An interesting area in Mosaic Canyon.

By that point, we had actually been on our feet quite a bit and also had done quite a bit of driving, so decided to head back to Furnace Creek to take advantage of the pool. The pool is fed by a warm (but not hot) spring, but I thought it was warm enough while I was in it. However, the air temperature was pretty cool, so once we got out we made a freezing mad dash back to our room. Dinner was back at the Saloon again. Overall, food choices are rather limited at Furnace Creek. That night there was a meteor shower, but it was predicted to be hampered somewhat by the moon. Just sitting out on our balcony we saw a couple of shooting stars, so decided to not get out in the car to try to get a better view. Sleep was more important.

DAY 3:

The next morning we decided to head up to Scotty’s Castle. It was about an hour drive from Furnace Creek and we stopped a couple of times along the way to take some photos of the amazing scenery. There were also a few places on the road where debris had been washed across it in flash floods a few days before. Once we got to the Castle, the weather was very cool so I busted out my hat and gloves. We didn’t get our tour tickets in advance, so we got there a bit before the office opened. It was definitely slow season because we had no problem walking up to get the tickets. This place is absolutely amazing. Such a lavash house basically in the middle of nowhere, and the story of Scotty is quite something. We did the house tour and our tour guide who played the part of the likable scoundrel Scotty did a phenomenal job. There are so many interesting architectural details and amazing art inside the house. There is a “big finish” to the tour involving the player piano, which was even more special because due to the holiday season the music was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. There is also an underground tour of the house we could have taken, but we felt like we wanted to see some other stuff and wanted to be back in Vegas before dark. We did have time though to hike up to where Scotty is buried above the castle and admire the views from there. (My future self feels very fortunate to have visited Scotty’s Castle before the devastating flood of 2015).



Scotty’s Castle, December 2014.


Entering the castle for the tour, December 2014.



Some of the amazing details and art in the castle, December 2014.


The upstairs music room. The player piano is in the left corner. Standing in this room and listening to the holiday music on the player piano is a memory I will always cherish. December 2014.


View from up on the hill where Scotty is buried (photo from December 2014). I can imagine the flood waters the next year racing down this valley.

Before heading out of Death Valley, we headed to Ubehebe crater for a look. We decided not to hike around or down to the bottom though.


Ubehebe crater.


Views from Ubehebe crater.

We then headed out back past Scotty’s Castle (this road was wiped out by the 2015 flood) out to Scotty’s Junction where we got on route 95, only stopping briefly during the drive to take a picture of the entrance sign to Death Valley right at the Nevada/California border.


We stopped briefly in Beatty to visit the Death Valley Nut and Candy company where I bought some old fashioned candy to take back to the people who work for me and we enjoyed some ice cream. We then checked out the ghost town of Rhyolite, which is actually something I would have been okay skipping because I didn’t find it too interesting. After that it was a straight shot back to Vegas in time for dinner and to spend some time with family.


Image from the ghost town.

Death Valley is a spectacular place, and we obviously didn’t have time to see it all. We don’t spend much time in a car in our day to day lives, so we kind of got tired of driving so much on our full day in the park which meant we skipped Dante’s View. So, I’m sad about that but that is definitely on the list for the next trip along with Devil’s Golf Course and the complete Golden Canyon/Gower’s Gulch hiking loop. I would also like to rent a jeep and see some of the things that are only accessible when you have high clearance 4WD.


Las Vegas/Arizona spring 2018

Well, I’ve fallen behind with describing travel but am trying to get back in the saddle again.

We took a short but fun road trip from Las Vegas through Arizona late May/early June 2018. Overall I enjoyed the trip but was somewhat saddened by ever increasing crowds. For this trip, my husband had a normal camera but I took a camera that had an infrared filter. My mom was kind enough to loan us her car.

Vegas time:

Our time in Vegas is usually spent with relatives although we usually get out at least once to stretch our legs and do some hiking. This time we re-visited Floyd Lamb Park. I usually love this park- the lakes and old buildings make it an oasis in the desert. You don’t really expect to see people fishing in Las Vegas! However, we happened to be there on Memorial day and the park was being enjoyed by a lot more people than usual. However, we did escape the crowds by hiking out in the desert past the lakes. I wish we had some binoculars though to get a better look at the birds that make the wooded area there their home. This park is about 17 miles from the Strip, so isn’t really visited by tourists.


Floyd Lamb park in infrared


Peacock at Floyd Lamb displaying for some pigeons.


I think these are Ruddy ducks at Floyd Lamb.


I could use some help with exactly what this is!


A kid with bread got the attention of many goslings


Bunny at Floyd Lamb

On to the road trip:

Day 1: Las Vegas to North Rim Grand Canyon. Google maps: about 264 miles, 4.5 hours. This is the furthest I have driven in some time!

A couple of months ago I was fortunate to snag a hotel room at the Grand Canyon Lodge for 1 night. As teenagers, my husband and I had been to the South Rim on family road trips, plus I heard the North Rim was less crowded. On the way we stopped at the Le Fevre Overlook along highway 89A. This gives you a view of “all the steps of the Grand Staircase“. Definitely worth a stop, there are bathrooms there if you need them too.


View of Grand Staircase from Le Fever overlook.

After another stop for lunch in Jacob Lake, we turned onto the long entrance road (67) to the North Rim. Along the drive toward the park we were blown away by how gorgeous the scenery is- meadows, aspen and pine. In late May the Aspen leaves are still coming in and many were a beautiful almost gold color (think Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay). There are also some bison along the drive.


Pine and aspen.



Once we arrived at the North Rim we went straight to the Lodge to admire the view. The Lodge is amazing- the main building is right on the rim and there are balconies you can sit out on and just take in the view. We did some exploring on the trails around the lodge, but with our combined unease with steep drop offs there were just some areas that we didn’t hike to.


Canyon View from Lodge


Canyon View from Lodge

After admiring the view from the Lodge, we decided to drive out to Point Imperial which is the highest viewpoint in the park.


View from Point Imperial.


View from Point Imperial.


View from Point Imperial in infrared.

Once there we were at Point Imperial we were intrigued by the way the forest in the area was recovering from the 2000 fire so we hiked about a mile and a half out and back on the Point Imperial trail. It was amazing to see how the land heals itself and to escape the people (we saw no other hikers). There were also a couple of places we could get canyon views. At one point though we did get spooked by a loud noise off the trail that we think must have been a mule deer. I feel weird saying this, but I think having this short hike to ourselves was the highlight of the day.


Hiking through the burn area on the Point Imperial trail.


View from Point Imperial trail.

After our short hike, we considered driving toward Cape Royal but after so much time in the car already and the winding road that was indicated on the map just decided to skip it in favor of returning back to the lodge to check in. We just had a motel room at the lodge and although it was very basic, we were in the park! After a quick foray to the North Kaibab trailhead area to remind ourselves how hard a rim to rim hike would be, we spent the rest of the day enjoying some Arizona beers on the Lodge balcony and enjoying the views. It got very crowded as sunset approached, but we grabbed some food from the Deli at the lodge and enjoyed watching the light change during sunset. The sunset is almost behind you this time of year, but the effects are still beautiful on the canyon. If it all possible, I would recommend being there for sunset!


Late afternoon shadows.


Getting closer to sunset.


Last rays of sun hitting the canyon.


Grand Canyon in infrared.

After sunset on the way back to our room we caught the almost full moon rising over Roaring Spring Canyon. A great end to the day.



Day 2: North Rim Grand Canyon to Page. Google maps: about 123 miles, 2.5 hours.

I didn’t plan much for this day thinking we would likely do the drive to Cape Royal at the North Rim. However, after enjoying the beautiful drive from Jacob Lake to the park the day before we decided to do some hiking in the national forest in that area. After enjoying the views from the Lodge one more time and armed with only some basic knowledge that we gained using the slow internet at the camp store, we set off. The first hiker sign we saw, we turned. We followed a gravel road up the mountain and arrived at the East Rim Viewpoint. This is technically the Saddle Mountain wilderness and I do believe the view is into something called North Canyon. The Viewpoint is actually on a segment of the Arizona trail. We hiked a bit along the trail and enjoyed the Aspen forest and views into the canyon. We also enjoyed the relative solitude compared to the national park- we only saw a handful of mountain bikers the hour we were hiking.


Views from Arizona trail segment.



We continued toward Page and stopped several times to enjoy the views of the Vermilion cliffs. We had actually entered the online lottery for The Wave permits for both May and June and were unsuccessful, so that will have to hopefully happen on a future trip. Some of our stops as the highway followed the cliffs were caused by being behind a person pulling a wide trailer that was impossible to pass because they were always creeping into the other lane. Better to stop and take pictures than to be overcome with road rage!


Vermillion cliffs from highway overlook. A few of the raindrops did eventually hit our windshield.


View from an impromptu stop. There are actually a lot of different colors in the cliffs.

On the way to Page we also stopped and walked across the historic Navajo Bridge that spans the Colorado river next to the newer one that cars travel across. The views from the bridge were amazing, although I did stop to take a photo for a family who claimed the teenage son was getting sick of all the rocks looking the same.


View from Navajo Bridge. Again the range of colors in the cliffs really stood out to me.

Just outside of Page we stopped at the Horseshoe bend overlook. Holy tons of people Batman! Seriously, this famous viewpoint is a hot up and down hike (both ways!) to a sheer drop off where hundreds of people speaking very loudly are all trying to get to a position on the edge of a sheer drop off to take a selfie. If you are especially lucky, there will be babies crying and construction noise (they appear to be building a safer overlook). Although my husband was patient and took several photos, for me I can only say I am grateful it was free.


Crowds gathering on the edge.


My husband had a lot of patience to get this and the next shot of Horseshoe bend.


In Page, we weren’t in a hurry to get to the hotel so we found Scenic drive and a overlook for the Glen Canyon Dam. It was couple of flights of “stairs” down to the best observation area and it was definitely worth the 15 minutes we spent there to get a face on view of the engineering marvel that the dam is. We decided against touring the dam as we were more interested in being outdoors.


Glen Canyon Dam from the overlook.

We then headed to the Page Boy Motel to check in. Pluses of the Page Boy: swimming pool, nice refrigerator in room (a bonus for road tripping with a cooler!), walkable to restaurants, and plenty of outdoor seating/tables for chilling outside. They also have a continental breakfast but unfortunately we had to leave each morning before they started serving it at 7 am. We walked to the State 48 Tavern for dinner and very much enjoyed it (great service, fine food, large cold beers, Stanley cup hockey on the TV). We then turned in as early as possible as we had to get up very early the next morning.

Day 3: Page: Canyon tours, short hike.

My husband is really into photography so I booked us a photography tour of the local canyons. After consulting him and a friend who did the tour back in April, we booked the four canyon photography tour (Upper Antelope + 3 other lesser known canyons) with Adventurous Antelope Canyon. This tour was not cheap, and requires cameras with tripods for everyone, but in the end was well worth the cost for us. My husband came well prepared with a nice camera and tripod, I faked it with our lesser camera with the infrared filter and lesser tripod. We arrived to check in earlier than the required 6:45 am time and then waited until our 7:15 departure. Turns out we were the only ones booked on the four canyon tour so had our own guide! Our guide (Cody) had a lot of fun driving us to the different canyons (we even got a bonus fifth side canyon) and gave us photography tips as well as telling us a bit about the area. Three of the canyons we visited were exclusive for our tour company so we were totally alone in those. In the bonus side canyon we saw only 2 other people. However, Antelope Canyon is chock full of people. CHOCK FULL. The business model is to move people along as quickly as possible. But, being on a photography tour we got a full 2 minutes at prime photography locations while other non-photography tours were forced out of the area. Felt like cattle were being herded, but we were the choicest cattle that would yield the best beef. The guides would throw dust into the shafts of light to create the best possible photo opportunities. I could post a ton of photos, but don’t want to fill up my media storage or bore you to tears.


Antelope Canyon.


Antelope Canyon.


Colors and textures in Mountain Sheep canyon.


From one of the quieter canyons in infrared.


Nearby but shot with my iPhone. Maybe a bit over-filtered.


Infrared laser cat sunbeam!


Taken with my iPhone in Antelope Canyon. Kind of looks like the famous 6.5 million dollar phantom photograph, no?

After our tour, we stopped for a late lunch (I won’t mention the place because I don’t recommend it) and then headed back to the hotel to regroup. We ended up going on a short, easy out and back hike before dinner near the Glenn Canyon Dam. The hike is called hanging gardens and ends at an outcropping of rock with a (relatively) high amount of vegetation hanging from it. Toward the end the trail forks and we accidentally went left away from the right hand turn that would have taken us to the actual hanging gardens but we did instead get some nice views of parts of the lake. We had a nice dinner of pizza at Strombolli’s and fortunately had leftovers to have for breakfast the next morning as it was a very early day.


Infrared view of Lake Powell from Hanging Gardens trail.


I think the greenery along the back bluff is actually the hanging garden.


Lake Powell from Hanging Gardens trail.

Day 4: Page to Navajo National Monument; Navajo National Monument to Tuba City. 151 miles total driving, 2.5 hours.

I really wanted to see cliff dwellings on this trip at Canyon de Chelly. However that would have been too far to drive. So I found this “small” national monument that would still let me accomplish my goal of seeing cliff dwellings without driving so much that I wanted to pull my hair out. At Navajo National Monument there are 3 different cliff dwellings, although one (Inscription House) is closed to the public as it is very fragile and another (Keet Seel) is basically an overnight hike as it is 17 mile round trip. The third, Betatakin, is more easily accessible. From the Visitor’s Center you can take a 1.6 mile round trip out and back hike to a viewpoint of Betatakin from across the canyon. However, you must take a ranger guided hike to see the ruins up close. Check with them for the times when you are planning to go, but when we were there the guided hikes were at 8:15 or 10 am. The 8:15 hike is longer (5 miles round trip) than the 10 am hike (3 miles roundtrip). Because it is a shorter hike, the going down (about 850 feet vertical) and then going back up is steeper on the 10 am hike. The hikes are first come first served, and are limited to 25 people. We ended up having one other person on our hike with us, but he said the day before one hike was full as the other was cancelled as the rangers had training to attend. So, I would call ahead a day or two before to double check times.

Unlike other parts of Arizona, the Navajo Reservation observes daylight savings time, so the Navajo National Monument time was an hour ahead of Page time. So, the 8:15 hike would have meant an extremely early wake up call. As it was, getting there in time for the 10 am hike did mean an early wake up. The drive from Page on Google Maps routes you the last couple of miles to over what I think is a dirt road, so we ended up taking 98 all the way to 160 and then took the turn off for Navajo National Monument. We ended up getting there with plenty of time to spare for the 10 am hike. I kind of expected pit toilets and water spigots at a free national monument (they do take donations) but was surprised at how nice the facilities were at the visitor’s center and a ranger was also meticulously cleaning everything too! They have a water bottle filler as well which is important as we had a strenuous hike ahead of us. And, although I did need a light jacket when we arrived at the visitor’s center it would warm up quickly. We spent a few minutes wandering around the trails near the visitors center before the hike down to the ruin.


View into the canyon from near the visitors center. Betatakin is tucked into the left cliff face and not visible from this angle.

This hike was probably my favorite thing on the whole trip. Granted, you do have to have some basic physical fitness to do this hike, and people with bad knees should avoid it due to the steep steps. Also, you are descending into a canyon, and although there weren’t the open sheer drop offs like a few places we saw in Glacier National Park, my fear of heights did set off a few warning bells in my head on the way down, but nothing I couldn’t push through on the way down and the way back up I was fine. This hike takes the Aspen trail which covers the first 350 feet or so the vertical downhill. On the way down our ranger told us about some of the plants we encountered, and what they can be used for medicinally or what nutrients they are high in when used as a food source. The prickly pear cacti were in bloom while we were there. At the end of the Aspen trail you have a view of an ancient aspen forest which does seem quite out of place in the desert. The end of the Aspen trail is as far as you can go down into the canyon without being on one of the guided tours.


View from the end of the Aspen trail. You can see the forest below and tell that we have descended partway down into the canyon.

Our guide says he is concerned for the health and long-term well being of the aspens in the forest and the area is currently in a drought. The last half mile of the hike you are hiking in this forest which in addition to aspen has giant Douglas Fir trees and also oaks. Every once and a while you do see prickly pair cactus which makes for a surreal mix of plant life.




Prickly pear cactus in bloom.

We waited a few minutes for the earlier hike to leave the ruins before approaching. Once you emerge from the forest and see the ruins it is truly an amazing sight.


Approaching the ruin.

Our guide told us about some of the earliest people to “rediscover” the area, and how early photographs indicate the ruin looks similar now as it did then, with some exceptions. Our guide told us about what life would have been like in when the area was occupied from 1250-1300 AD. We learned about a rock fall (a tour was actually present when it happened!) that limits the area that we could see. We did go up a side trail to get a closer view of some of the buildings that had been damaged by rockfalls, passing by the spring that was likely the occupants water source. We could also see the pictographs (paintings) of the 4 clans that lived there- Deer, Fire, Flute, and Water; and also some petroglyphs (carvings). Our guide explained that to respect the people who lived there that he did not like to say that the place was abandoned but instead to say that the people who lived there moved on.


At the ruin.






I felt very lucky to have been able to visit such a special place, which made the trek back up out of the canyon a bit easier. Back at the visitor’s center we did do the hike out to the viewpoint on the canyon rim.


The view from the canyon rim.

I had made a hotel reservation in Tuba City for that evening. In hindsight we could have likely pushed on to Monument Valley or even toward Flagstaff, but I hadn’t wanted to plan too much driving. We ended up getting to the hotel, Quality Inn Navajo Nation, and I was hoping they would have a pool to just relax in but they didn’t. My husband did look on Trip Advisor for things to do in Yuba City and the Navajo Museum happened to be next to our hotel. It’s a pretty small museum as the exhibits were actually put together to have at the Salt Lake City Olympics and then relocated to the present location. However, it was pretty inexpensive (I think either $4.00 or $4.50 a person) and although I’m usually not much for videos at museums, the one they showed about the Navajo creation story was  very informative as the story is quite complicated involving four worlds. The rest of the museum is mostly in one room, and I really enjoyed seeing some of the weavings and reading about how much effort and skill they take to make. There is also a free Code Talkers museum at the next-door Trading Post, however it was closed by the time we we got there. We did walk through the Trading Post but decided we were collecting memories and not stuff so did not purchase anything.

Other than fast food, food choices in Tuba City are very slim, so we ended up grabbing dinner at the Hogan Restaurant which is next to our hotel. The reviews say the food is bland, which I’m going to have to agree with, but at least they have a salad bar too. The Navajo Nation is dry, so no beer or wine with dinner. We got back to the hotel pretty early so I racked up a couple of losses playing cards with my husband.

Day 5: Tuba City to Williams (about 115 miles, 2 hours), plus approximately 40 miles to see Wupatki National MonumentSunset Crater National Monument, and Walnut Canyon National Monument.

The hotel included breakfast at the Hogan Restaurant, so after that we got back on the road. There had been a bad accident on route 89 (this is mostly one lane each way) but crews were on hand to assist and to direct traffic. A lot of the driving we did was on 2 lane roads which did test my patience when it came to dealing with slower traffic (think 3 RVs in a caravan!).

The sightseeing plan for the day was to see the National Monuments in the area. Wupatki and Sunset Crater are connected via a 34 mile loop road and once entrance fee is good at both. Wupatki is very interesting and accessible as several Pueblo dwellings are all pretty short walks from the road, and you can even walk through some of them. The views of the San Francisco Peaks are also amazing. The largest of the ruins is behind the visitors center and accessible via a short trail. This park was not very crowded.


For the first half hour or so we were in the park, this is the only other living thing we shared the trails with!


Ruins at Wupatki National Monument.


Pueblo dwelling (at the Wupatki visitor’s center) in infrared.


Ruins at Wupatki National Monument with San Francisco peaks in background.

Sunset Crater is on the same loop road, but as the name indicates is quite different in appearance. In the national forest adjacent to the monument four wheeling on the volcanic slopes appears to be a very popular activity. As for the monument itself, you can’t hike on the actual Sunset crater, but there is a parking area with a nice viewpoint and also hikes adjacent to it that skirt a really cool lava flow. We ended up hiking the Lenox Crater trail. From where we parked it was about a 1.5 mile round trip hike, but there is a pretty steep uphill. At the top you do get good views of the San Francisco peaks and see how vegetation recovers after volcanic eruptions. The flat part where you start/end skirts the Bonito lava flow and if you didn’t know any better you could imagine that you were on the Big Island of Hawaii. I enjoyed this hike and it took far shorter time than was listed in the park newspaper.


Sunset crater in infrared.


Sunset crater.


Lava field in infrared.


Lava field looking back toward sunset crater.


View of San Francisco peaks from the Lenox trail in infrared.


View of San Francisco peaks from the Lenox trail.

Since it was early enough in the day, after grabbing a fast food lunch in Flagstaff we decided to go to Walnut Canyon. This is a National Monument where you pay per person instead of per car. At the beginning of the trip we had decided against an America the Beautiful pass because we don’t have any National Parks near us at home that we are likely to go to the rest of the year. I think with this per person charge we were at 70$ for all our parks where the pass would have been 80$. Fees went up in the middle of our trip (June 1) at some locations.

Anyway, back to describing Walnut canyon. The ruins there are tucked along the cliffs. There is a pretty steep trail called the Island Trail that takes you down to walk around some of the ruins. I think there have been restoration efforts for many of them. I did that hike, but my husband’s knee was bugging him so he walked along the trail at the rim of the canyon. I only took a few pictures while on the Island trail. You can also see some of the ruins in the canyon from the visitor’s center so even if the Island Trail is too much for you, you can still have views of what the monument is famous for. I think we were there all total about 45 minutes, but I did think it was a worthy stop.


View heading down the Island Trail in infrared. There are ruins in the horizontal rock outcroppings in the canyon.


If you look closely at the overhangs you can see at least three separate areas with ruins in this photo. In the very middle you may pick out some hikers on the Island trail (one is wearing red). This photo was taken from the trail along the rim.


In the middle you can see some of the ruins (photo was taken from the top of the canyon).


Zoomed in view of some of the ruins, also taken from the top of canyon.

From Walnut Canyon we headed toward Williams and encountered our first major road construction along the interstate. It ended up not being too bad and we got to Williams a bit earlier than I thought. That was fine though as our room was ready and I had planned on us going to a brewpub as we love to try local beer when traveling. Williams is a kitschy town along Route 66 and also the home of the Grand Canyon Railway. Keep that in mind if you decide to stay there as the first train of the day (and first train whistle) is before 7 am. After doing some quick research we found out that there were actually 2 breweries in town, so we headed out to the first one which was just a block from our hotel- Historic Brewing Co. Barrel+Bottle. This place gets high marks for its outdoor seating. They also have wine (and a wine tasting room) but we didn’t try any. The beer was tasty too- many more exotic, craft brewery-type selections. We then headed over to Grand Canyon Brewing. They had more beers on tap, and many were what I think of as more traditional styles, and hockey was again on the TV. Not a bad end to the last true day of vacation.


Tastings at Historic Brewing Co.

Day 6: Straight back to my mom’s house in Las Vegas. Google maps: 232 miles, 3 hours 40 minutes.

Breakfast was included at our hotel. So, other than stopping for gas in Kingman, our only other stop was at a lookout about 8 miles from the Hoover Dam to briefly stretch our legs. We could have stopped at the Hoover Dam, but are in Vegas enough that we will put that off for a future visit where we can combine it with other things in the Boulder City area (like hiking!). If you are driving route 93 from Kingman up to Hoover Dam, definitely get gas in Kingman. The gas stations out in the middle of the desert have pretty inflated prices.


Overlook along route 93 a few miles south of Hoover Dam.

All in all, I really enjoyed our trip. I think the only day I would have changed would have been trying to fit in additional things on our day at Navajo National Monument. It ended up being a short day sightseeing wise, but I think my husband appreciated some downtime. I also learned that if I ever want to do the rim to rim Grand Canyon hike, I need to start training now!