Day Twenty Eight – Saturday, September 17, 2016

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First, a milestone. We have officially been on the road for four weeks, having left Mineola on Sunday August 21, 2016. That’s 4 weeks of hotels, four weeks of restaurant meals, four weeks of roadside attractions, four weeks of National Parks, four weeks of unforgettable sights, and four weeks, during which the two of us have spent every minute, of every hour, of every day of the four weeks together! The big news is that we are (A) still enjoying it and (B) still talking!!

There was another sunrise today, as we set our alarm for 6:30 AM, so that we could be up to see the sun come up over the other worldly Monument Valley! Thankfully, unlike the Grand Canyon, The Navajo Reservation follows Daylight Savings Time, so sunrise was an hour later at 7:05 today. Also, since all we had to do was step out on our private terrace, we didn’t have to get up, get dressed, and travel anywhere to see this amazing sight. As you can see in the attached pictures, it was indeed a great show. The sky first started to lighten, then a little hint of the sun comes up, and really not that slowly, the sun really makes it’s presence known! All this and the buttes, the mesas, and the mittens of Monument Valley made for the best sunrise we have seen on this trip. A word however, about sunrises in general. I told Susie that this is the last time I get up in the middle of the night, to see the sun rise over ANYTHING on this trip! This is an alarm free zone!

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Our Tour Vehicle

This morning we had a 9AM Back Country tour of Monument Valley scheduled with the Navajo Spirit Tour Company. So after sunrise, we got ourselves together, packed up, and checked out of the room. We met our guide, Will Cowboy (his real name) and the rest of our tour group in the parking lot, and after he told us a little about himself, we were on our way. I chose the Navajo Spirit Tour Company because this is a cooperative group, made up of Navajo people who conduct tours of this valley that they call home. Will’s family traces it’s roots back many generations in the valley, and he told us that his 109 year old Grandfather was born atop one of the Monument Valley buttes! This man was the real thing, and the information he gave us, the stories he told, and the sights he showed us on our tour proved that 100%.

The tour starts off on the same 17 miles off road loop of the valley anyone can do with their own car (no thanks), but then Will was able to take us into back country areas where only the Navajo people are allowed to go. One stop was at a demonstration village, where we watched a Navajo woman working wool and then making yarn out of it. Then Will explained the many different tools around the hogan (the traditional Navajo home), and the ways they made the various colors in the rugs. He also told us about how a Navajo man and woman got together, and many of the customs of his people. It was not only fascinating but also very educational.

Our next stop was incredible. It was a cave with a hole in the top (used in an Indiana Jones movie) that had the most incredible acoustics. Will had us lay against the wall, and showed us the different patterns in the rock, that made it look like a Navajo warrior, an Eagle, and even George Washington! Then he treated us to two traditional Navajo songs that he sung, accompanying himself with a traditional drum. What a really wonderful experience! Unfortunately, after this stop, we’d run out of time, and we had to get back. The 3 hour tour went fast as we stopped at many interesting places, saw beautiful sights up close, and learned a little about Monument Valley and the Navajo people!

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A couple of notes about the tour. At several of the places we stopped, local people had set up shops, displaying their wares. Will explained that these were people who lived in Monument Valley, and the items they sold were indeed Navajo made, unlike some of the items sold in the commercial gift shops, and every dollar you spent, actually went to a Navajo resident of Monument Valley. You remember Susie’s $1100 necklace from yesterday’s blog? Well, I am happy to tell you that Susie left Monument Valley with her Navajo jewelry. Three necklaces and three bracelets for the fabulous total of $77! Now that’s a good deal that puts the $$ in the right pocket! (And Will told us that the jewelry in the Gift shop comes from South of the Border…not the Navajos!)

Also, if you remember back several weeks to our tour of the Mormon’s Temple Square in Salt Lake City, you may remember the “know it all” tour member from Pittsburg. Well, today on our tour, we met his cousin from Tennessee, who tried to correct Will when we he was telling us where his people came from! Unbelievable!

We had a wonderful time on the Navaho Reservation in Monument Valley. If you ever get to this area of the country, Susie and I cannot recommend enough that you splurge and stay in the View Hotel in Monument Valley. The staff, the accommodations, the restaurant, and especially the view, are a once in a lifetime experience. We also have nothing but great things to say about Navajo Spirit Tours Back Country Tour, and if you are lucky enough to get Will Cowboy as your tour guide, you are indeed lucky enough!

However, all our Navajo Reservation dealings, were not as excellent as our Monument Valley experience. As we headed towards the New Mexico border today, Susie wanted to stop at the Four Corners Monument. This is allegedly on the spot where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. I said “allegedly” because Susie has read that this is not the exact spot where the 4 states meet. We really didn’t know that much about it, but it was only a slight detour, so off we went.

In our opinion, this was the exact opposite of the Monument Valley experience, in that this was a complete ripoff! First, we paid $10 to get it. Then we discovered that there is just a little concrete circle depicting the 4 states, but that it is surrounded by stalls selling things! In our opinion, this was nothing more than a bate and switch situation. We took a couple of pictures and left! If we were there 10 minutes, it was a long time!

Tonight we are in a Hampton Inn and Suites in Gallup, New Mexico. It was Susie’s plan to do laundry when we got to the hotel, and she was thrilled to find out that the guest laundry facility was just 3 doors down the hall from our 4th floor room. I was thrilled to find out that the ice machine was just next door to the laundry, making all our needs very convenient.

Speaking of convenient, the hotel shares a parking lot with a Comfort Inn and Suites and a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Susie was just saying today that she’s surprised at how few restaurants like Cracker Barrel, and Perkins we’ve seen the last 4 weeks. Since it was just steps away from the hotel, we took the “no-brainer” opportunity to walk over, and we had a very nice dinner. They have really great string beans by the way. Since this was the first meal we’d eaten today (we had some cheese crackers, Twizlers, and Swedish Fish in the car), we appreciated everything!

We realized today that the last time we were on an Interstate, was last Wednesday afternoon, on the way to the Grand Canyon, when Route 66 dumped us on I-40. It’s been only small roads since then, and virtually in the middle of nowhere. Since we left the Grand Canyon, till just before we got to Gallup, we were on the Navajo Reservation, so there was very few built-up areas. Tomorrow, we head towards Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Interstate 40 will again come into our plans.

See you then!

Day Twenty Seven – Friday September 16, 2017

Monument Valley

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The above picture is my work space for tonight…our private terrace at The View Hotel, in Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park. We are in room 213, overlooking the legendary valley where great John Ford movies such as Stagecoach were filmed. The monument Valley Tribal Park is over 91,000 acres of the of the over 29,000 mile Navajo Reservation. It’s a place that John Wayne called, “God’s Treasure”. Were we not on the Navajo Reservation, we would be just on the Arizona side of the Utah/Arizona border, in the Northeastern corner of the state.

We woke this morning in our Grand Canyon Cabin a little after 6:15, having hit the hay very early last night. If you remember yesterday’s post, we were up early for sunrise, then took the tour, and explored the rim trail, before heading back to the cabin. We had early cocktails last night on the rim, before heading into the Bright Angel Restaurant for dinner about 5:30. To be totally honest, we were pooped! Between not having a great night’s sleep, getting up early for sunrise, taking the tour, and then walking the trail when we got back, we were ready for an early night. We watched a little TV, worked on editing some pictures, and about 9:30 we headed to bed!

So after checking out, we headed towards the Eastern Entrance of the park. That took us on the Desert View Drive, and after stopping at several view points that we had not previously visited, and taking some more pictures, we exited the park.

Almost as soon as we exited the Grand Canyon National Park, we were on the Navajo Reservation. We expected the same kind of built up area we’d seen going into the Canyon via the South Entrance on Wednesday (multiple hotels, fast food restaurants, etc), but coming out of the East Entrance, there was none of that. It was a very desolate road, and we drove probably 50 miles before saw our first gas station. We really didn’t need much gas, but figuring I didn’t know what was ahead, I topped off the tank. At the same time, we stopped in a brand new Burger King and had a couple of Chicken Sandwiches.

It was early when we got to the entrance of the Navajo Tribal Park, so we kept going on US 163 for 13 miles, to check out something I’d read about online. If you remember the movie Forest Gump, you remember the scene where after running around the country, he suddenly decides he has done enough, and stops. That scene was filmed at mile marker 13, on the Utah side on US 163, and we took the trip to see what it looked like. Unfortunately, they were doing road construction, and there are highway cones all over the road, but we did the best we could. Take a look at some of our first views of Monument Valley.

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Then we headed back to Monument Valley, and checked into The View Hotel. To be able to sit here and overlook this incredible sight is just mind boggling. We have seen this view in so many great movies over the years, and to be sitting on this terrace looking out at them is unbelievable! We are looking forward to sunset tonight, and what the changing rays do to this magical valley!

We just had dinner in The View Restaurant, and then went back to the Trading Post, where Susie earlier had briefly looked at some Navajo jewelry. They had a sign on the counter that there was 40% off marked price, and as guests at The View Hotel, we got another 10% off, and had a $20 gift certificate. The lady helped Susie pick out a necklace and earring set that she liked, and then went to work with her calculator. I swear, she must have done computations for close to 2 minutes, before she turned the calculator to Susie and said, “this is what it would come out to be”. $1096 is what the calculator said, Susie said she’d have to think about it, which meant she wasn’t getting a Navajo necklace! Oh well, perhaps on Ebay!

It’s quiet and still now, as we sit on our terrace and wait for the sun to set at 7:25, and see how it changes the face of the valley. The $258 the room cost for the night, was well worth it for this view of the valley. We are both looking forward to tonight’s sunset, followed by the full moon rising over the valley, tomorrow’s sunrise, and then our Navajo Spirit Back Country Tour. Right now, we are looking at the last of the folks self driving their cars on the 17 mile unpaved Valley Tour Road. After the Sonata has faithfully taken us close to 6,000 miles already, and probably has 3,000 or more to go till we get back to Long Island, there was no way we were going to subject her to that. No, we will let the professional Navaho guide take us tomorrow. We may be dirty when we’re done, but the Sonata will leave the valley in one piece!

I’ll finish today’s blog with some pictures of the sunset and hopefully the moonrise, and give you a full report in tomorrow’s blog about our morning tour!

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Our “Big Trip”

Our recent sojourn down to Florida was, if you will, just an appetizer to our retirement road trip; what we call “Our Big Trip.” We’ve been talking about this for years, and actually figuring dates out once the decision was made that I was going to retire at the end of this past January. The time line in our minds was to leave sometime mid August, and to return, at the very latest, in time for Thanksgiving. Our plan was to drive west, seeing some of the great sights this country has, and to check them off our bucket list. This would be a Bucket List trip for us.

imageWe started by collecting AAA Tour Books for most of the states. We also have added a couple of books with listing of things you absolutely must see across the United States. Some are wacky, like the World’s Largest Ball of String, but many are just not to be missed attractions. Susie has been going through the books taking notes, and the last two days we have both been working diligently on the tour books, and putting together a list of MUSTS for the trip. We also figured that places like Chicago or Detroit were close enough to the East Coast to be other shorter trips, and our intention is to concentrate on more of the Western United States. We figured to head west on a northern route, and return east on a more southern route, hopefully keeping summer weather with us for most of the journey. The first “must” we planned on hitting was Mount Rushmore, to satisfy Frank’s long desire to see it in person (too many viewings of North by Northwest).

imageWhile our plan is to basically wander in the general direction of the west coast, we understand that to stay in some places that are on the “Must List” of ours, we were going to need reservations. Three of those places are Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and Monument Valley. We’ve read online that reservations at these 3 places need to be made months in advance, but figured that as we were 5-6 months out from our dates, we were still within the window of opportunity. Yesterday afternoon, we discovered that we didn’t have all the time in the world, and that our window of opportunity was about to slam shut! So our trip, that before yesterday was still kind of in the imaginary stage, just moved into the realm of reality! We discovered that there were very few availabilities left, and that if we wanted to stay on-site in these three places, we needed to act ASAP. Needing to make those reservations meant that we had to really look at the trip in earnest, decide what we really wanted to see, and forced us to actually come up with a timeline, while still leaving lots of open time to just check out neat looking things and places along the way.

Our “real” trip will commence with us leaving Long Island on Saturday August 21st. Our first reservations are for the nights of August 28th and 29th when we are booked at the Lake Hotel Sandpiper Lodge in Yellowstone Park. From there we have 2 open weeks, as our next booking is the nights of September 14th and 15th at the Yavapai Lodge in the Grand Canyon. Then, on Friday the 16th, we have one night booked at the View Hotel in Monument Valley. The only other defined part of our trip is the October 2nd to 16th two week period when we will be cruising on the Liberty of the Seas out of Galveston, Texas, and visiting with Kenny and Chris and their shipboard family. We still have lots of open space on our calendar to do the wandering part of this trip, and even if we have had enough, and just return home after the cruise, we will be gone 2 months! We always had a plan, but now we really have a plan and the trip is much more of a reality than it was just 24 hours ago!

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