USA - SEPTEMBER 2002
THE MOKEE DUGWAY
I told you on the previous page that the view from here had rendered me speechless. Well, this is what I saw.
And if ever I could reproduce a couple of photographs in real life to ensure that everyone else sees what I have seen, then these would be the ones I would reproduce. There were no words to describe the view from up here, as I had said.
There were a couple of roadbuilders at the side of the road who gave me a few pointers about what it is I was looking at. They told me that this place where I had stopped was called the Mokee Dugway, and the view that I had was of the Valley of the Gods.
This sign on the right will give you an idea of what it is you're looking at. That is quite an impressive drop over the edge down to the bottom, and there aren't any guard rails either. Being as close to the edge as this was no place for the nervous.
So while I waited for the roadmenders to finish what they were doing, I took a few photographs. Spectacular isn't the word, is it?
So off I set on the descent to the bottom. It was a single track road with tight hairpin bends, so you need to go slowly and carefully. The routine was to stop on the apex of a bend, and see if anyone was on the next bit of straight heading your way. If so, you waited until they came up to you, otherwise you were clear to go on to the next hairpin bend.
Eventually, I arrived at the bottom. And here there is a choice. Either go straight on through the Monument Valley (about 15 miles further on) or drive into the desert through the Valley of the Gods.
I was told here that when the land around here was returned to the native Americans by the Bureau of Land Management in the very recent past, the family that was living and trying to farm here was forcibly evicted from its home.
THE VALLEY OF THE GODS
It was made quite clear, according to the sign at the entrance to the trail through the Valley of the Gods. You needed a high ground clearance 4x4, a full tank of fuel, a spare gallon or so in a can, a gallon of water per person, various other bits and pieces that I forget, dry weather, and plenty of prudence.
I had the water (well, three pints, anyway), foolhardiness, stubbornness, blind courage, innocence and stupidity; And a Ford Mustang.
But did anyone seriously think I was going to miss the opportunity of driving through what I'd seen from 1100 feet higher up twenty minutes ago? Like hell I was!
So taking my courage in both hands, (the heart was already in the mouth), off I went.
There were some, well, unpleasant rises in the road that were so steep that going up them I couldn't see over the bonnet (hood) so it necessitated stopping the car, getting out and walking up the rise to make sure there was nothing coming the other way.
Another thing that I had to check for on foot was that there were no unpleasant surprises like potholes the Mustang would fall in. I then had to carefully plot the route to miss the rocks and ruts, then get back in the car and give it the gas. Finally, stopping the car and having a look around it to check for potential damage!
Then what with driving along at about 10 miles per hour with a following wind of 15 miles per hour, which meant that I had the unpleasant experience of being overtaken by my own dustcloud, if you understand what I mean. That was uncomfortable.
Even more uncomfortable was that at the end of the journey I had to shovel it all out of the Mustang afterwards. The hire company would have gone berserk if someone there had noticed the dust
But just look at these beauts of buttes over here.
But now a word of warning. You might think I'm crazy driving like this through the desert alone in a Mustang, but
So unless you can match all that, then I don't recommend that you do silly tricks like me - even in a 4x4!
I would not have missed this drive for the world. No words can describe the scenery that I encountered as I drove through the Utah desert. Someone did write to me to suggest that "phallic" was a good word for the view in this photograph.
As an aside, about a year or two after visiting here, I saw the Clint Eastward film The Eiger Sanction and when they came to the scene where Eastwood drove through the desert to dump the drug dealer, well, I recognised all the scenery! What a small world!
I found this view so impressive that I had it as the wallpaper on my portable computer for quite a while.
And I'm not the only one who found it impressive either. If you've ever seen the John Wayne film Angel And The Badman, you'll see the aforementioned go galloping past here like the clappers pusued by a horde of baddies just a minute or so into the film. What with Clint Eastwood and now John Wayne, it's a very popular spot for Hollywood and I wouldn't be surprised if it was by here that Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis drove towards the end of Thelma & Louise .
It's certainly true to say that Ed Abbey had Doc Sarvis, Bonnie, Hayduke and Seldom-Seen Smith driving across here in The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Now, I recognised the subject of this photograph "not the Mustang aerial" - ed from this sort of distance away (about 15 miles as the crow flies, I reckon) and I'm sure you do too, if you look closely enough.
It's the most famous view in the USA and I'd just driven about 300 miles to see it. And I'm going to see it from a lot closer than this too
But first of all, I was going to go into Medicine Hat for something to eat. I was starving. And, ironically, I remembered that it was Hayduke, also starving and going into the same restaurant that I went into in Medicine Hat, that brought about the downfall of Rudolph the Red and the Monkey Wrench Gang
In fact, it made me wonder if Neil Young was in the Valley of the Gods when he was inspired to write about being "lost in rock formations" in "Thrasher". It certainly inspired me. Apparently I phoned Nicole from Medicine Hat to tell her about it. She told me later that I'd spent 15 minutes on the phone (to Belgium!) talking about nothing except what I'd seen from the Mokee Dugway and across the Valley of the Gods
Everyone knows this photograph - or at least the shot depicted in it. Of course there is yours truly depicted in it, and the faithful Mustang (I was getting to quite like this car despite its evident shortcomings. I mean, how do you fit a roofrack?).
Forrest Gump will run past here in a moment, and John Wintergreen's body is lying on the highway just down the road. Always puzzled me, that. If he were really an Arizona cop, how come he was shot chasing the hippies along the highway in Utah?
There's a little ritual at this place. Someone is waiting here in the layby, and takes your photograph for you and then drives off. Then you wait for the next arrivals, and you then take their photograph for them und so weiter.
The people whose photographs I took were French, and they were ever so surprised to meet a Brit driving an American car who could converse with them in perfectly adequate French.
Here's the same shot again as in the one above, only without car, without me, without Forrest Gump and without the remains of John Wintergreen. Just the road, and the buttes of Monument Valley in the distance. This photo you've seen in every travel guide or brochure of the USA that was ever printed. I bet everyone who's driven down here has a personal copy too.
A little farther on there are some more places to have a view of the buttes. But the view isn't particularly exciting really, if you want my opinion.
I'm not quite sure what happened to this particular photo here. Some trick of the light, I suppose. It just adds to the surreal effect.
If you turn off Highway 163 a little farther on, you can drive up to the Monument Valley Visitor Centre for the guided tour, or even hire your personal guide. Maybe that's okay if you have half a day to spare, but if you're in a hurry, or are financially-challenged as I always seem to be, then maybe some other time. This is the sort of place that's so famous that you have to pay to breathe the air.
At least, however, you get to cross the Arizona - Utah frontier by a clear demarcation line. Now I was back in Arizona.
I turned back onto the 163, took a photo of the famous buttes from behind, and that was that.
So that was Monument Valley! Don't know what I was expecting but I was hoping for more than that! Maybe it was because I'd just spend two hours driving around the desert of the Valley of the Gods. There, there was nothing but isolation, a desert wilderness, and sheer magnificence. Nothing could possibly match that, especially after the effort that it actually took to go to visit it. Here in Monument Valley, there was the paved highway, the tourists, the rituals, the souvenir shops. It was all too easy as if here, there was no power of nature, simply the power of the dollar. It was a disappointment
Maybe the Valley of the Gods was so overpowering, then everything else that follows would be a disappointment (which just goes to show how wrong you can be, as subsequent events will prove, if you don't fall asleep before the end!)
To my surprise, shock and horror, I suddenly found myself in a really serious depression. I put it down partly to the disappointment of Monument Valley, but mostly due to my illness. Mind you, it may have been the restaurant. It had an unsettling effect on Hayduke too.
My illness has an uncomfortable habit of rearing up at the most inopportune of moments. Just here, it knocked me back so much that I remember little of the next couple of hours.
I drove on out of the valley, missed the famous and historic Goulding's Trading Post, drove without stopping through Kayenta, the "capital" of the Navajo Nation, where all the police cars, instead of having "Arizona State Police", have "Navajo Nation Police" written on them (that would have been an interesting photograph) and I turned left, direction Farmington.
THE FOUR CORNERS
I was heading for the "Four Corners", the point where the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet. The only place in the country where four states border each other. As I'd spent most of my time in these 4 states, I reckoned a symbolic photograph of me standing in all four states at the same time would be in order.
Mind you, am I naive or what? I should have known. and I bet you can guess too. You drive up the track towards the point and there's this sign "Four Corners - please prepare your admission money". Yes - something else you have to pay to see! Anyone else who tells me that the States is the Land of the Free will get a smack in the mouth.
Joni Mitchell really had a point -
They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
I turned around and headed for Farmington.