Ancient Indians, Red Rocks and Monument Valley…well nearly


30 July, 259 Miles

We were on our way to Natural Bridges National Park when we saw a sign saying Butler Wash Indian Ruins historic area. This looked much too interesting to bypass so we stopped. In the car park was another bike with a couple just preparing to go into the area. We had a bit of a chat with them then followed at a distance so we didn’t disturb their peace.

It was a glorious day, hot – around 35˚C – and we didn’t really have enough water with us so we got rather warm as we walked up the half-mile trail to the site.

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These are edible, apparently

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The rock was absorbing the heat from the sun and reflecting it back as we walked across it. I wondered about the ancient Indians who lived here. Was it this hot then and if so did they feel it the way we were?

Finally we arrived at the protected area overlooking the site. It was a huge overhang in the rocks where erosion had created a large cave that contained the village. How did they get to it? To us it looked completely unapproachable. The other couple were still there, had been to a few of these sort of places before and were happy to share their knowledge with us. Apparently the cave was approached by ladders or ropes from above. It must have been a very hard life. We regretted not taking our dSLR with us (that’s what is in the black bag on the back of the bike in some of the photos) as we could have got much better close-up photos.

People lived in the area between 6500 BC and around 1300 AD when the site was abandoned. I was somehow comforted it wasn’t the European invasion that had forced them out. No one knows why they abandoned the site but their descendants now live on the Hopi Mesas in Arizona, at Zuni and Acoma in New Mexico and in several pueblos along the Rio Grande River.

As you walk along the path to the exit there are quite a few plants and a leaflet showed how many of them were used for all sorts of uses ranging from food (even the prickly pear cactus), to rope and soap making, to making implements for digging, arrows etc.

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One of the things that has really made an impression on us is how friendly people have been. When we were at the overlook a chap came up and we had a brief chat with him. Back in the car park he returned and was in an RV with a Quad on the back. He wandered over and, having seen the bike number plate, offered us an ice cold can of Guinness from his ice box. Neither of us are beer drinkers so we declined but it was a kind offer that was genuinely pleasing to receive. As we rode through the day we kept bumping into him or overtaking him on the road; we always gave and received smiles and waves.

Our next stop was the Natural Bridges National Monument in Lake Powell. I discovered here that a National Monument is similar to a National Park except that a President can declare something a National Monument but it takes an Act of Congress to make a National Park. It seems some Presidents liked certain areas so much they ensured their protection by making them National Monuments. Anyway, here was an area where there were some spectacular natural arches (or bridges), hence the name.

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This feature is a hole (looks like the right eye in a face) and was easy to spot but not so easy to see in the photograph

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This one was quite hard to spot but shows up much better in the photo

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Thomas, a Californian who frequents the UKRM usenet group, sent us a list of roads he thought we’d enjoy. In his email was an intriguing sentence: Highway 261 heads south just east of Natural Bridges National Monument towards Monument Valley…[it] has a stunning surprise that makes it worth going out your way to see. Well how could we resist.

The ‘stunning surprise’ was Moki Dugway, a gravel road that descends 1100 feet in a series of switchbacks totalling three miles in length. It was constructed by the Texas Zinc mining company to transport uranium ore from the Happy Jack mine in Fry Canyon to the processing mill in Mexican Hat.

Kevin was in biker heaven. My knees still haven’t recovered from the clinging on for grim death as we came down a long way in a very short time. Lots of hairpins which could have been awful except they seemed to be relatively clear of gravel somehow with short straights that gave a fantastic view across the plain. It doesn’t get much better and makes up for all those thousands of miles of interstate.

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Made it! Back to ground level (wherever that is – certainly not sea level). Loved this large rock that looked like a frog’s face

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Looking back to the cliffs of the Moki Dugway road

We have a video of the entire trip down the Moki Dugway but editing that will have to wait until we get home.

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We had quite a hike to our next stop which was to be Monument Valley. Our route took us through desert and we stopped at Mexican Hat which was more of a watering hole than a town and is named after a rock formation that did indeed look like a Mexican hat. At the garage where we filled up with petrol and ice cream a guy came up to me and started asking vague questions about our trip (e.g. long journey? where from?) then asked me for a couple of dollars for a taxi home.

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Tantalising views of the Monument Valley structures. It took ages to reach them.

Before we left home Kevin had Googled the co-ordinates of the places we wanted to visit including Monument Valley and it seemed to take forever to get there. When we arrived we saw our waypoint was in the middle of a Navajo tribal park and there was a fee to pay. No problem. Only after we’d paid the fee were we told the tribal park was like Nutbush City – motorcycles not allowed in. All we were allowed to do was ride a few hundred yards to the visitor centre then we would have to take a tour if we wanted to see the valley.

Kevin thought he’d misheard so rode away from the booth as I was considering asking for a refund. He hadn’t misheard, we weren’t allowed into the valley on our bike but could pay for a tour then be herded into a converted pick-up and be driven through the valley to the accompaniment of a very loud commentary. We could hear several of them from the car park. We’re happy to accept it’s their land and they can allow what vehicles they like through it. The entry fee was only $10 for both of us but do we think we should have been told about the restriction before they took it? Answers on a postcard.

We saw a bunch of parked Aussie bikes and the riders arrived back into the car park, squashed into a couple of pick-ups, as we were parking. We decided we didn’t want to do that so took a couple of pictures from the car park then left. We managed to get a few more from the main road.

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Not all the rocks round here are red.

Our last stop of the day was the Navajo National Monument which was very interesting.

I’d been feeling rather poorly all day if the truth be told. Even a very mild walk had me out of breath and getting on and off the bike was really tiring. Vicky had warned us about the altitude and I wondered whether this was beginning to get to me (I don’t think we’ve been below about 5,000 feet in a week). Kevin thought I’d caught too much sun in the morning. Whatever the reason, I was finding it difficult to do anything strenuous so was taking it easy for our last walk of the day.

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Looking along the valley to the left of the overlook

The walk was through a beautiful hillside with trees and bushes creating welcome shade. There were benches at strategic spots along the way which I made full use of. Occasionally there was a small stream with a hand-crafted wooden bridge over it. The path meandered down quite a bit (I kept thinking about the uphill return) and then we were at the overlook looking at a very similar cave to the Butlers Wash cave of the morning.

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As we looked into the cave we could see some tiny structures. It was a long way away but we’d learned from our experience that morning and had the dSLR with us so were able to use the long lens to zoom in.

Without the lens it looked like a dolls house miniature of mud-huts.

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You may think it doesn’t look very impressive but will probably change your mind when I tell you the cave is 450 feet long with a maximum depth of 150 feet at an altitude of 7000 feet. The cave roof projects far out over the village and originally contained more than 130 ground-floor rooms which occupied every foot of available building space. Each of the little boxes above would have housed a family and there was communal space as well.

We took a leisurely walk back up the path and had a nice rest at the top while we planned where we would stay tonight. As we were going to the Grand Canyon tomorrow we decided to try to stay quite close so we didn’t lose a lot of time riding to it. We ended up in the excellent Cameron Trading Post which was about 30 miles away.

As usual we were treated to yet another fantastic sunset.

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