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Day 6: Rocks and Buttes: the Skyscrapers of the Desert

Farmington, NM to Canyon de Chelly, to Monument Valley, to camping at the Navajo National Monument

sunny

We started the day mingling with the local wildlife as we filled up our tank in preparation for a long drive ahead. The flock of turkeys was just a few feet from the gas station!

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Our first destination was Ship Rock, a monadnock (or large single rock formation) that plays a significant role in the religion of the Navajo people and was the cultural center of ancient Anasazi people. We drove through an endless stretch of Native American reservation lands towards the rock and when it never seemed to get any closer, we realized just how huge the rock was. I found out after a quick Google search that the tip of the formation is almost 8,000 feet high.

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Tian even climbed the "fins" of the formation, these natural rock walls that stretched on for miles in all directions.

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On the way out, we passed by what came to be our trip mascot: a single llama standing alone in an enormous and empty field. We dubbed him Pensive Llama, and admired his bravery and perseverance before continuing on our way.

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The landscapes we drove through were flat and barren until we hit a forested area where red rock formations began to surround us and the road became more steep. We paused to see the view of the land we had just driven through from the higher perspective and were excited to find we could see Ship Rock looming off in the distance.

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A little further down the scenic byway was the perfect place to pull over and cook lunch while we photographed the area.

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Next stop, Canyon de Chelly (only slightly less grand than the Grand Canyon).

The last leg of the drive was boring and slow, with no view until we reached the top of the canyon. But when we got there, it was definitely worth it. Spread out below us was the most enormous red rock formation I had ever seen, carved away by time to form the craggy canyon.

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Some of my favorite signs were those that warned visitors about the several hundred foot fall they'd experience if they got too close to the edge.

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The tall and thin formation was called "Spider Rock" and was one of the most famous at the park.

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For a long time, we adventured along narrow paths put in place by the park to find the best lookout points. Some were a short distance from the parked car, others were a bit of a hike away. I think we were mostly just grateful for the chance to stretch our legs again.

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There were even some similar cliff dwellings to those we had seen at the Mesa Verde site.

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Then it was time to leave and head towards our next destination: Monument Valley. The way there took us through incredible red and yellow landscapes with enormous buttes in the distance, and we recognized many parts of the drive there as backgrounds in classic Western films. While unfortunately there were very few places to pull over and take photos along the way, it was definitely one of the most interesting drives of the trip.

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We came across some mountain sheep on the road at one point, and had to stop for several minutes to wait for them all to cross so we could pass through.

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Finally, we arrived in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. This park was famously used by director John Ford in many of his Westerns, and the five miles of land in the park seem to have defined the American West for moviegoers.

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Unfortunately, when we arrived at 5pm (and already paid our fees!) the park had closed for the evening and we were unable to make the scenic drive through the park. Instead, we were forced to photograph the area from the visitor center before heading out, disappointed.

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The drive as we neared sunset and nightfall was beautiful, which helped ease the tragic failure of attempting Monument Valley.

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We stopped at the Navajo National Monument where we would be camping that night, but sadly arrived too late at night to really see the area around us. After setting up camp in a forested section for the night (and using the car headlights as lighting to see what we were doing) we were happy to finally get some sleep.

Posted by aswoger 17:12 Archived in USA

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