‘Beyond the Park’ Tour of Monument Valley with Goulding’s Lodge

Teardrop Arch in Monument Valley- Goulding’s Tours

For the past 7 months since COVID-19 hit Utah in March, hands down, the single most asked question I’ve recieved on our office’s visitor information line is, ‘Is Monument Valley open?’.  This is closely followed by, ‘When is Monument Valley going to re-open?’ and ‘Is there anything to do in Monument Valley if I can’t visit the park?’

Well, for anyone who doesn’t already know, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is currently closed through January 1, 2021 as of an October 2nd press release issued by the Navajo Nation.  (So that answers questions #1 & #2)  As for the 3rd question- Yes, there are other ways to experience Monument Valley even though the park is closed!

Over the past 7 months I’ve heard a lot of confusion from callers about what exactly is closed at this time.  Many of the people who have called our office have heard that ‘Monument Valley is closed’, and many of them think that because of this closure, they are unable to drive through the area on the highway, for example from Moab to Flagstaff.  While Monument Valley Tribal Park is currently CLOSED, Highway 163 passing through the community of Monument Valley remains OPEN and services (lodging, dining, groceries, gas, etc.) are still available to residents and visitors.

While there definitely are places along Highway 163 where you can get good views of the rock formations of Monument Valley without entering the park, one of the best ways to experience Monument Valley while the park is closed, is to go on a tour with Goulding’s Lodge. While they can not currently run tours in the park, they are running a new ‘Beyond the Park’ tour that takes guests to all the best locations to view the landscape of Monument Valley without entering the park.

On a sidenote, Goulding’s Lodge has remained open and maintained operations of their lodge, restaurant, RV park, grocery store, convenience store, laundromat, gas station, etc. throughout COVID.  They have worked hard to keep their employees who still wanted/needed to work during COVID, employed during this time.  And they have instituted some of the strictest protocol for sanitaion, social distancing, and mask requirements that we have seen in San Juan County!

Goulding’s Lodge- Monument Valley

Knowing about their strict sanitation and social distancing protocols, and knowing the number of people who are calling our visitor information line asking about Monument Valley Tribal Park, I thought I should experience this tour for myself so that I could better provide information to callers on the activities that are currently available in Monument Valley while the park is closed.

I called down to Goulding’s to get the scoop on this tour, since it’s new (Started since COVID) and not one of the tours they have traditionally offered.  I found out that the tour visits the following locations:

  • A traditional Navajo hogan (dwelling) for a rug weaving demonstration.
  • Various pullouts and scenic points along Hwy 163 including the Redlands Viewpoint and Forrest Gump Hill.
  • Back to Goulding’s for a quick bathroom stop at the RV Park
  • Onto the mesa behind Goulding’s with stops at a couple different scenic overlooks as well as an archaeolgical site and Teardrop Arch- a place I’ve wanted to visit for YEARS!

After I got information on the tour route, times, prices, etc., I asked what types of precautions they were taking on tours in relation to COVID, and I was really impressed to hear all the extra steps they’re taking to ensure the safety of their employees and guests.  Here’s what I learned:

  • Goulding’s is limiting the number of people allowed on each tour.  Their vehicles seat 20, but they are currently capping each tour at 8 people to allow space for social distancing.
  • Masks are required at all times on tours.
  • Each vehicle is throuroughly cleaned before and after each tour.
  • Guides are providing hand sanitizer to guests after each stop.
  • Tour vehicles are open-air vehicles, so already perfectly suited for COVID-era tours.

As someone who is social distancing pretty seriously, and still only going to the grocery store, post office, etc. once/week and always, ALWAYS with a mask, hearing the precautions Goulding’s is taking was enough to make me feel that going on a tour with them at this time is safe.  So I went ahead and booked my tour and made the 1 hr 40 minute trip from Monticello to Monument Valley to see what this new tour was all about.

Open-air tour vehicle- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

Upon the recommendation of one of the staff at Goulding’s, I booked the afternoon tour so that I would be able to enjoy the beginning of sunset while still on the tour.  When I arrived, checked in, and boarded the waiting open-air tour vehicle, our guide for the day, Dennis, reminded us to spread out on the vehicle to allow for social distancing, and also reminded us that masks are required at all times on the tour.  I was glad to see that the precautions I had been told about were being followed and taken seriously.

There was just one other couple on the tour, so it was very easy for us to spread out on the vehicle.  They were from Florida and were on a trip that they had planned before COVID, and had to delay for quite a few months until most of the locations they had planned to visit had re-opened.  (This couple, like many other people who have been calling our office asking about Monument valley, had reservations that they’d booked a year or more in advance, and Monument Valley was just one of the stops they’d planned on making as they visited the Mighty 5 or various locations around the Grand Circle.)

Open-air tour vehicles- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

We got started on the tour, and had great views immediately.  If you’ve never been to Goulding’s Lodge, although it’s located outside of Monument Valley Tribal Park and is a few miles from the actual park boundaries, it’s set in a very dramatic location with a tall, redrock mesa directly behind it and a view of the rock formations of Monument Valley from almost eveywhere on the property.

Inside a hogan- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

Looking east out the hogan door- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

We made our first stop at a hogan, which is a traditional Navajo dwelling structure.  Dennis explained the different types of hogans to us- male and female, and told us how the door must always face east towards the morning sun.  He also told us about the construction process which does not involve any nails!  The logs are cut, the bark is removed, and they are all wedged together tightly and covered with mud.

View of Monument Valley from Hwy 163- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

View of Monument Valley from Hwy 163- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

View of Monument Valley from Hwy 163- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

View of Monument Valley from Hwy 163- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

View of Monument Valley from Hwy 163- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

View of Monument Valley from Hwy 163- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

After leaving the hogan, we headed north on Hwy 163 to go to several of the best viewpoints that are located along the road.  I’m constantly asked on the phone if you can see any of Monument Valley without entering the park.  The 6 photos above show you some of the best views you can get from along Hwy 163 between Monument Valley and Mexican Hat.

We went as far north as Forrest Gump Hill, the straight stretch of highway where Forrest ended his cross-country run in the movie.  This part of the road has become a popular photo stop for visitors, and paved turnouts have been added in recent years to allow cars to pull over more safely, but I cringe every time I see people standing in the middle of the road trying to recreate the famous scene from the Forrest Gump, when there are cars and trucks coming.  If you’re going to take a photo here, please, please make sure there are no cars coming.

Dennis was extremely knowledgeable, and at each stop he would point out the rock formations, mountain ranges, etc, that were in view and tell us about them and also tell us about the movies that had been filmed at or near each location.  It was really nice to be on a smaller tour because we had a lot of time to talk with Dennis about his experiences, family, and hear about his previous job of being the Fire Chief in Monument Valley.  Each tour varies quite a bit depending on the tour guide and their areas of expertise, and Dennis was among the best I’ve experienced- so kind and knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions we had.

Teardrop Arch- Goulding’s Tour- Monument Valley

After we stopped at probably 4-5 locations along Hwy 163, we headed back towards Goulding’s and made a quick bathroom stop at the RV park before continuing on to Horse Pasture Canyon, which is the part of the tour that I was most excited about.  I’ve been wanting to visit Teardrop Arch for YEARS, but as far as I know, it wasn’t on any of the regular tour routes since it’s not within the park itself.

Goulding’s Tour- Monument Valley

Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

Archaeological site- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

Goulding’s Tour- Monument Valley

The tour makes several stops in Horse Pasture Canyon- at a couple scenic overlooks that give you awesome, panoramic views of Monument Valley, and at a stop where a short hike takes you to an archaeological site and Teardrop Arch.  If it wasn’t for the uneven ground and the fact that Monument Valley is at about 5,000 ft, I would call this a ‘walk’.  But as the couple from Florida reminded us, not everyone is used to this elevation like Dennis and I are!  Although I’m used to the elevation since I live in Monticello, which is at just over 7,000 ft, this was my first experience hiking in a mask and I could definitely feel it!

Teardrop Arch- Goulding’s Tour- Monument Valley

Teardrop Arch- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

The other side of Teardrop Arch- Goulding’s Tours- Monument Valley

Teardrop Arch did not disappoint!  I’d waited so long to see it, I was hoping it wasn’t going to be one of those things where you’ve built it up so much in your mind that the reality can’t possibily live up to your expectations.  But finally seeing it for the first time as the sun was starting to set and the shadows were getting long was nothing short of magical!  Definitely worth the wait!

**I’ll note here that the ONLY times any of us took our masks off during this tour were when we were posing for a photo and were away from the rest of the group.  And even then, we’d pass our camera/phone off to someone else, walk away from the group before taking our masks off, then put them back on before walking back to join the rest of the group.  I felt like it was done in a very safe way and have no issues being around other people without masks if we’re outdoors and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between us.

The 3.5 hour tour seemed to fly by, and before we knew it, we were heading back towards Goulding’s as the sun was setting.  I think this was my 5th tour of Monument Valley I’ve taken over the years, and although at no point in the tour did we enter the park itself, this tour ranked right up there among my favorites!

The day was perfectly capped off with a quick stop for a Navajo Taco at Goulding’s Stagecoach Restaurant.  Anyone who knows me (or reads this blog) knows that I never go to Monument Valley without stopping for a Navajo Taco at Goulding’s, and this trip was no exception!  The amazing scenery continuted on the drive home as well- it just so happened that there was a full moon that night so I got to enjoy watching the moon rise over the desert as I drove back to Monticello.  Perfect ending to an amazing day ‘Beyond the Park’ in Monument Valley!

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

Distance from Monument Valley to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:

Posted in Monument Valley, Off the Beaten Path, Social Distancing-friendly, Things to do with kids, Tours/Guided Trips, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Big Arrowhead Arch & The Grotto- White Canyon

Big Arrowhead Arch- White Canyon, UT


We’re used to social distancing here in San Juan County, Utah.  With an area of 7,933 sq. miles (larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, or Connecticut) San Juan County is nearly the size of the state of New Jersey!  But while New Jersey has a population of around 9 million, here in San Juan County we have to round up to claim 15,000 residents!  That’s less than 2 people/square mile!  As my coworker says, ‘San Juan County isn’t rural, it’s frontier!’

While living in such a rural place can be inconvenient at times, (it’s 5 hrs to the nearest major airport, overnight shipping isn’t an option here, the nearest Costco is 4 hrs north in Spanish Fork, etc.) access to outdoor recreational opportunities is a huge draw that brings and keeps many of us here.  And when a worldwide pandemic like COVID-19 hits, I think most residents will agree that there’s no other place we’d rather be.

Back in March and April when COVID-19 first hit and people were being asked to stay home and to recreate near their homes, we felt extremely fortunate to live in an area with so much public land for us to safely enjoy without having to leave our county.  There is just so much to do here, that anyone who knows this area well will tell you that you’ll never be able to do it all, and it’s true.  My husband and I have lived here for over 11 years now, and although we feel like we’ve done and seen a lot in San Juan County, there’s always more.  When COVID-19 hit and we were staying closer to home, we were exploring new areas almost every single weekend and I kept saying to my husband, ‘This place is awesome!  Why haven’t we been here before!?’

This is exactly how I felt when we spent several weekends in a row exploring different parts of White Canyon.  I’ve always loved White Canyon- it’s the canyon that passes through Natural Bridges National Monument, and it actually has special meaning to us because my husband proposed to me in the bottom of the canyon while we were doing the loop hike at Natural Bridges not long after we moved here!  But there’s a lot more of White Canyon beyond the boundaries of the monument, and we’ve always had it on our list to explore, we just hadn’t got to it yet.

With social distancing on our minds, we decided that we’d stay away from designated hiking trails since there was a higher chance that there would be other people on the trail, and we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore some different parts of White Canyon.

Ducket Crossing Underpass to Access White Canyon

There are several good access points along Hwy 95 between Natural Bridges National Monument and Hite, and we started with the access point at Ducket Crossing, which is 30 miles (35 min) past the turn for Natural Bridges.  There is a decent sized pull-out on the south/west side of the road, and then you walk under 95 through a cement underpass to access White Canyon, which is on the north/east side of the road.  We were interested in checking out this area because there were several points of interest within a mile from where you park; Ducket Arch, Big Arrowhead Arch, and something called, ‘The Grotto’.

As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t a designated trail of any sort- it’s just a walk/hike along the bottom of White Canyon, which is perfect when you’re trying to social distance.  It’s also nice because, since it isn’t an actual hiking trail, dogs can be off-leash.

Big Arrowhead Arch- White Canyon, UT

Big Arrowhead Arch- White Canyon, UT

Big Arrowhead Arch- White Canyon, UT

Ducket Arch is the first of the 3 points of interest that you come to, and is about .5 miles from the trailhead.  Looking back I realized that I didn’t even take a picture of this arch- I don’t remember it being very easy to capture in a photo, (if you can’t get sky behind an arch, they usually just look like a bunch of rocks) so I think that’s why I skipped it.  Big Arrowhead Arch however, was extremely easy to photograph, so we took way too many pictures of it! (Approximately .3 miles past Ducket Arch)

The Grotto- White Canyon, UT

The Grotto- White Canyon, UT

The Grotto is located just a few hundred feet past Big Arrowhead Arch.  I really wasn’t sure what ‘The Grotto’ was going to be or how we would know when we came to it, but you will definitely know!  It’s an area where the canyon wall have all kinds of cool holes and caves.  We spent some time climbing around checking them out, which was fun.  My husband was definitely more adventurous and climbed up into several while my son and I explored on the floor of the canyon.

White Canyon, UT

White Canyon- Utah

White Canyon, UT

White Canyon, UT

There are countless canyons in this area (San Juan County IS Utah’s Canyon Country after all!) but I’ve always felt that White Canyon is an especially beautiful canyon.  I’m not sure what it is… maybe the colors and patterns on the rock walls?  I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that makes it stand out from the others, but it does.  And I find that any time we’re hiking in any canyon, it’s very hard to stop and turn around.  I always wonder if there’s something cool around the next turn that I’m going to miss if I don’t at least peek around the bend.  And then when you get to the bend, you see that it’s not too far to the next bend.  You can imagine how this could go on and on and suddenly you’ve hiked much farther than you planned, and you still need to turn around and hike out!

Since it was such a short distance to The Grotto, (only .8 miles) we kept walking down the canyon just to check it out.  It was early April when we went, so the weather was finally warming up and my son was begging the whole time for us to take a break so he could play in the sand.  Up the canyon a few minutes from The Grotto, we finally got to a sandy area that not only looked perfect for my son to play in, but there was a nice, steep canyon wall right beside it, which means shade for the rest of us.  Perfect!

White Canyon, UT

One thing that always amazes me in any canyon we’re in, is to see sticks and logs and debris that have been deposited up much higher than you’d ever expect the water level could reach.  Even in a wide canyon like White Canyon, as you can see in the photo above, the sticks are on top of a boulder that’s got to be at least 12 or 13 feet high.  It’s always a good reminder that flash floods are a reality out here in the desert, and of how dangerous it can be to be in these areas if there is rain in the forecast.  We definitely don’t ever go out without checking the forecast first.

White Canyon, UT

White Canyon, UT

White Canyon, UT

One of our favorite parts of the hike was actually an area between Ducket Arch and Big Arrowhead Arch with really cool patterns in the slickrock and lots of holes you could climb around on.  We stopped there both on the way in, and on the way out just to climb around and take some pictures.  Even my 7 year old son wanted to take some pictures and took the picture (above) of my husband and I with our dog… Pretty good framing- I didn’t have to crop it or anything!

All through our hike and definitely after we returned to our truck, the conversation of, ‘Why haven’t we been here before?!’ came up repeatedly!  It’s such an easily accessible, short hike with non-stop cool scenery along the way, and it’s perfect for kids, dogs, and social distancing.  If you’re driving along Hwy 95 between Natural Bridges National Monument and Hite, I highly recommend taking some time to explore this area.

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

COVID-19 Travel Restrictions, Updates, and Alerts for San Juan County, Utah can be found HERE

Posted in Dog-friendly, Geology, Hiking, Off the Beaten Path, Social Distancing-friendly, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chelser Park Backpacking- Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park- Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

As we’re all at home social distancing and trying to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19, I felt like this would be a good time to reflect back on one of my favorite trips in the past year, and also provide some inspiration to others who are at home, to use this time to research and plan your Utah trips and adventures once everything is back open and it’s deemed safe for us to get back out there!

Every spring (about this time of year) my husband and I start planning our adventures for the year.  Last year we had an ambitious list, and we knew we’d have to hit it hard and plan things out well (including making advance reservations for permits- something I tend to shy away from because I don’t like to feel ‘locked-in’ to things.) if we wanted to make it through our list.

Our list included nearby things like our annual weekend camping trip in the Abajos with friends and an overnight river trip on the San Juan River, to things around the state like a long weekend camping trip along the Burr Trail/Capitol Reef/Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and a weekend in Kanab, to much more distant places like Buffalo, NY for my husband’s family reunion.

I think we made a pretty good dent in our list, and we loved every place we visited in different ways and for different reasons, but our favorite trip of the year was in our own ‘backyard’, just an hour from Monticello in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

If you’re a hiker or backpacker and haven’t visited the Needles District, you’re missing out!  The Island in the Sky District, closer to Moab, gets much more visitation, but it has nothing on the Needles District as far as hiking and backpacking go!  When we first moved to Monticello, my husband and I were down in the Needles about once/month and we hiked almost every trail down there.  The only hikes we haven’t done are Devil’s Kitchen, Cyclone Canyon, Lower Red Lake, and Salt Creek.  We actually had a permit for Salt Creek, the summer my son was due, but as the date of our permit approached, I realized that I was in no condition to be hiking 20+ miles with a heavy pack, so unfortunately we had to let our permit go.  But as much as we hiked down in Needles, we never backpacked.  (Salt Creek would have been our first overnight trip.)

Last year, after lots of hiking with our son in the spring, we felt like he was finally ready for a backpacking trip, so I bit the bullet and put in for a backcountry camping permit, and we got the dates we wanted- mid-September, my favorite time of year in the desert!

The permit process for Overnight Backcountry Permits is pretty simple.  You can apply for your permit no more than 4 months in advance, and no less than 2 days before the permit start date.  Some sites are more popular than others and are more competitive  Chesler Park is one of my favorite places in the whole world, so we knew we wanted to take our son there for his first backpacking experience.  I put in for Chesler Park #1 and got the date I wanted on my first try.  Off to a good start!

The reason I chose Chesler Park #1 is because it’s the first backcountry site you come to once you’ve made it to Chesler Park, and it’s almost exactly a 3 mile hike from the Elephant Hill trailhead, and 3 miles was just about the max length our son could/would (happily) hike.

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

The hike to Chelser Park has always been my favorite mid-length hike in Canyonlands because of the diversity of the trail.  You have some stairs, some scrambling on steep uphills & downhills, some open slickrock with views, some sandy sections, and some cool narrow sections before finally reaching the open, grassy expanse of Chelser Park.  My son especially liked the narrow sections, and found the possibility of my husband and I getting stuck (we had wider items such as the tent and my backpacking cot strapped to our packs) nothing short of hysterical!  (Hey, if we have to be the butt of the joke to keep spirits up on a hike, we’ll take it!  Happy kid = happy parents!)

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Spirits were still high when we reached Elephant Canyon, just over 2/3 of the way to Chesler Park.  There’s actually is a backcountry campsite (EC#1) just off the main trail in Elephant Canyon, so we could have camped there and made it a little shorter of a hike, but I’ve always wanted to see sunset and sunrise in Chesler Park, so if we were coming this far, of course we had to make it all the way!

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

The final stretch into Chesler Park is my favorite part of the trail.  While you’ve been able to see the Needles rock formations throughout most of the hike, approaching the spires and fins surrounding Chesler Park is pretty spectacular!  As you reach the top of your last climb, pass through the rocks that line the periphery, and get your first look at Chesler Park… I promise you, it’s something you’ll never forget!

By the time we reached Chesler Park, my son was at the, ‘Are we almost there?’ and ‘How much farther?’ point in the hike.  (Not my favorite part!) And unfortunately, since I’d never camped there, I really didn’t know how much farther it would be, but I can’t imagine it was more than .2 miles from where you reach Chesler Park.  But with a kid asking, ‘How much longer?’ every couple minutes, this felt like THE LONGEST part of the hike!  (At least the views were amazing though, right?)

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

I was so happy when we reached our campsite.  It was immaculately clean (In fact, the whole trail was!) and had I not known, I never would have guessed that the site was used pretty much every night.  Kudos to the campers, rangers, and volunteers who are keeping the backcountry clean!

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

We set up our tent and rested for a little while, then left our campsite to explore a little further into Chesler Park.  We started hiking in around noon, and while we saw quite a few people hiking out, we didn’t encounter anyone else after we arrived at Chesler Park that afternoon, and in fact, we didn’t see anyone else until campers at the other Chesler Park sites started hiking out in the morning.  It really felt like we had the place to our selves.

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

After exploring a little, my son was DONE, so we headed back to camp to make dinner and just hang out.  It’s so funny to me how at home my son is always saying he’s bored even though he has tons of toys, games, books, a big backyard, etc.  But when we take him somewhere outdoors, he is so good at keeping himself entertained.  Give him a couple rocks and sticks (or even better, some sand or water!) and he’s good to go!  When we got back to our camp, my son climbed up on a big rock and kept himself busy making ‘landslides’ with sand through a crack for pretty much the rest of the evening until it got dark.  He was enjoying himself so much, he wouldn’t even come down for dinner, he just ate on top of the rock so he could keep playing.

We watched the sunset which was even more amazing than I’d imagined it would be, and then we got in our tent and played cards for a while waiting for it to get darker so we could check out the stars before we went to bed.  While I had been most excited about seeing sunset and sunrise in Chesler Park, the view of the night sky ended up being my favorite part of camping out there.  We live in a rural area where we can see the Milky Way from our backyards on pretty much any clear night, but I’ve never seen the Milky Way as bright as it was from Chesler Park.  It completely blew my mind… I’ll never forget it.  It was so, so beautiful!

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park- Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

I can’t remember if I set my alarm to make sure we woke up to get to see the sunrise, but likely I just knew that our 7 year old would wake us up as he does every other morning!  Either way, we were awake with plenty of time to boil water so I could sit and drink my tea while watching the sunlight slowly creep down the rock formations and across the desert floor… it was nothing short of spectacular!

Finally!  Over 10 years since our first visit, our Chesler Park experience was complete!  Gorgeous sunset- check.  AMAZING night sky- check.  Peaceful, relaxing sunrise- check.  Now for the hike back to the car!

Needles District- Canyonlands National Park

My son was a trooper throughout the whole trip, and we were really impressed with how well he did, and I think Chesler Park was the perfect introduction to backpacking.  My husband and I came away from the experience excited that our son had enjoyed it so much and looking forward to more backcountry experiences with him in the future!

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

Posted in Camping, Canyonlands, Canyonlands National Park, Monticello, National Parks, National Parks & Monuments, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Overnight Hogan Stay & Tour with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Hogan in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

I took my first guided tour of Monument Valley Tribal Park almost 8 years ago, and like nearly everyone else who visits, I completely fell in love with the landscape of the area.  That first tour opened my eyes to everything that lies beyond the famous view of the mittens and Merrick Butte; the arches, cliff dwellings, and the petroglyphs scattered throughout the ‘back country’, as well as the Navajo history and culture of Monument Valley.

In the past couple years working in the San Juan County Visitor Services office, we’ve noticed a marked increase in visitors and tour operators asking us about off-the-beaten-path places, unique experiences and lodging, and cultural experiences.  We try to keep ourselves as informed as we can about all the services that are offered in the county, and many of them we are able to speak about from first-hand experience, but one thing that I haven’t been able to speak about from my own experience, is the overnight hogan stays in Monument Valley.

The opportunity to remedy this presented itself in the form of a friend’s upcoming 40th birthday… I have a close group of friends who celebrate our significant birthdays with an overnight stay somewhere together.  When the idea of staying overnight in a hogan came up, the three of us who were planning the surprise birthday outing for our friend all agreed that it would be a really unique, once in a lifetime experience fitting of a 40th birthday celebration, so we booked with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours– one of our local Monument Valley guides who we’ve been referring visitors to for years, but had yet to experience for ourselves.

Monument Valley is amazing in any weather!

Our friend had no idea where we were taking her for her birthday, but we had told her that we were camping (partial truth) so that she’d know how to pack.  However, as we drove from Monticello toward Monument Valley we hit some really heavy rainstorms which began to make our friend think that maybe us telling her to bring her camping gear had been a ploy to throw her off the track of what we were really doing, because she said that with the heavy rain coming down, our moods were better than she’d expect if we were really going to be camping.

When we arrived in Monument Valley, it had stopped raining, but we were told at the entrance station that the road down into the valley was closed due to the heavy rain earlier.  We figured we’d still be able to go since we were on a guided trip, but I think our friend was kind of wondering what was going on at that point, and why once again, we were unfazed by the weather.

We met our guide, John, at the designated location and loaded our gear into the tour van.  There were a few other people on the tour with us- a couple from Switzerland who were on their honeymoon, and a woman from Brooklyn, New York who was only doing the tour and not staying in the valley overnight.

As we made our way down into the valley, John began pointing out the rock formations and telling us about the film history of the area.  Working in tourism, I feel like I’m pretty well versed in the movies that have been filmed in Monument Valley, (You can read more about the movies/shows that have been filmed in the area HERE) but he named a couple that I didn’t know about like Pontiac Moon starring Ted Danson- I’ll have to look it up!

John Ford’s Point- Monument Valley

Our first stop was at John Ford’s Point, which is definitely a really well known location within the park.  If you’ve ever seen a photo of a horse and rider on a point in Monument Valley, chances are, it was taken at John Ford’s Point!

Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

Hogans in Monument Valley

Wool Carding & Spinning Demonstration- Monument Valley

Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

We continued deeper into the valley, and after a few short stops John told us it was time to ‘introduce’ us to a hogan, which is a traditional Navajo dwelling.  We pulled up in front of a hogan, and John led us inside and told us about how there are two types of hogans- male and female, and he showed us some items traditionally used by the Navajo people including wool, yucca root, and other plants.

He also told us about some of the different designs of Navajo rugs, and about the spirit line- a line in the corner of each rug that is intentionally left to allow the weaver’s spirit and creativity to escape the design so that they’re able to begin another weaving.  Without the spirit line, it’s believed that the weaver’s creativity would be trapped inside the design and they would have difficulty beginning another rug.  As he was talking, a woman came in and begin demonstrating carding and spinning wool to make yarn, which would then be used to weave a rug.  It was pretty amazing the way she made it look so effortless- I’m pretty sure it’s not nearly as easy as she made it look!

Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei- Monument Valley

Big Hogan- Monument Valley

Singing & Drumming at Big Hogan- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

After we’d had a chance to take photos of Big Hogan, John sang and drummed for us.  It was AMAZING.  Looking back, it was definitely my favorite part of the entire experience (and there’s still some really cool stuff coming up!)  He is an amazing singer- I got goosebumps listening to him sing, and I’m getting goosebumps again right now just thinking back on it!  Our friend whose birthday it was, said later that John was such a good singer, it almost made her cry.  Now if that isn’t a testimonial to how good his singing is, I don’t know what is!

Petroglyphs in Monument Valley

Eye of the Sun- Monument Valley

Channeling Energy in Monument Valley with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Not only was John an amazing singer, he was also really good at showing us how to get the best shots at each location.  He also had some photography tricks up his sleeve, which he shared with us and he took some of our favorite photos of the trip!

Navajo Taco & Steak Dinner in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Navajo Taco & Steak Dinner in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Next up was dinner… we returned to the area we had been previously when we’d visited the hogan, which was where we were going to spend the night.  There were actually two hogans there, and John told us that we would be staying in one, and the couple from Switzerland would be staying in the other.  But first it was time to eat!  When we pulled up dinner was already being set up for us.  Although it wasn’t raining, it was still pretty cold and wet, so John told us we’d be eating inside the hogan.  It sounds like when the weather is warmer the tour groups eat outside.

When we stepped inside the hogan, there was a fire going in the woodstove and it was nice and warm.  We went through the line and got our Navajo tacos and steak and sat down and chatted with each other and the other members of our tour.  After we were finished eating, it was time for Navajo singing and dancing.

Navajo Song & Dance- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

To start things off, John called the birthday girl up and he sang a special birthday song for her and then presented her with a Juniper berry bracelet.  It was such an unexpected surprise- I think our friend thought that we had arranged it, but we hadn’t.  We had mentioned that we were celebrating her birthday when we had booked the tour with Simpson’s, and the birthday surprise was all them!

John sang several more songs stopping in between each one to explain to us the meanings of the dances.  Following the dances, John told us what I would consider to be the Navajo equivalent of ghost stories.  While they were more folklore than actual  ‘ghost’ stories, they definitely had the same effect on me as ghost stories, which I realized later that night when I didn’t want to walk to the bathroom by myself!  (I won’t go into details, but you can google ‘Skinwalkers’ if you want to learn more!)

Hogan Birthday Celebration- Monument Valley

After John had us sufficiently scared, it was time to set up for bed.  The hogans are authentic, traditional hogans, so they have a dirt floor and Simpson’s provides a tarp for the floor as well as sleeping bags and mats.  A couple of us had brought cots with us, and we all brought our own sleeping bags since we were thinking it might be a little cold, but it turned out we really didn’t need to bring them.  Not only was there a woodstove to keep us warm, (and a whole box of firewood!) but the sleeping bags that Simpson’s provides are really nice, thick ones so bringing our own sleeping bags was completely unnecessary.

One of our friends had baked a cake and secretly brought it down into the valley, so once we had our sleeping bags/cots all set up, it was time to celebrate!  Trips to the bathroom require a short walk, and since we all had Skinwalkers fresh on our minds and didn’t want to go alone, it actually worked out perfectly when the birthday girl and I went to the bathroom, our other two friends got the cake ready and surprised her when we got back!

Hogan in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Stoking the Fire in the Hogan- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

After the birthday celebration a couple of us decided to go outside to see if it had cleared up enough to see the stars.  It had, and it was beautiful outside!  I wish I’d thought to give myself a refresher on the night setting on my camera before going, but instead I had to try to figure it out in the dark in the middle of Monument Valley!  The silhouette of the hogan we were staying in with just a crack of light from the door was too good to miss, but I know I didn’t do it justice!

Before John had left us for the night, he had asked if we wanted to get up for sunrise or sleep in.  Although I don’t think any of us wanted to get up early, there was no question that we definitely wanted to see the sunrise in Monument Valley!  He told us he’d knock on our door to wake us up at 5:40am, and let me tell you, 5:40 arrived WAY too quickly!  But it was so worth it!  John packed up the sleeping bags, mats, and other items they’d provided for us while we packed up our stuff.  I have to say, this was all done in record time.  I thought there was no way we were going to make it to the place he was taking us for sunrise, but we did.  And it was amazing!

Sunrise over Totem Pole & Yei Bi Chei in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Sunrise over Totem Pole & Yei Bi Chei in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

He took us back to a place where we had stopped the day before- an overlook of Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei.  From that area, the sun rises right behind the two rock formations, and it’s absolutely beautiful.  Once again, John had lots of tips for us on how to take good photos, and he even took our cameras a couple times and took photos with us in them.

North Window- Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Three Sisters- Monument Valley

North Window- Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

North Window- Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

After sunrise we drove to a nearby area with some tables for breakfast.  One thing I haven’t mentioned was that the yuccas were in full bloom and even on our drive down to Monument Valley we were all noticing how many yuccas there were blooming along the sides of the road.  I already have a major yucca obsession, but in the morning light the yuccas were looking especially amazing with the various rock formations of Monument Valley in the background.  I couldn’t help it, even though it was our breakfast stop, I spent most of my time taking pictures with yuccas in the foreground.  It was just too beautiful!  Yuccas… morning light… Monument Valley… it doesn’t get any better than that!

After our quick stop for breakfast, which included muffins, fresh fruit, and cereal, our tour had come to an end.  John drove us up to the Visitor Center and we unloaded our bags and said our goodbyes. We were all completely exhausted due to staying up way too late and getting up way too early, but as tired as we were, I know I also felt a little bit giddy with excitement from having just experienced sunrise in Monument Valley, and getting to see such incredible natural beauty firsthand.  The 15 hours we spent in Monument Valley with Simpson’s Trailhander Tours was definitely a unique, once in a lifetime experience that none of us will ever forget!

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

 

Posted in Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Parks, Tours, Tours/Guided Trips, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls – Near the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Water in the desert is a beautiful thing.  Growing up in Oregon and on the coast in Southeast Alaska, I never realized how much I took water for granted until I moved to the desert.  In Oregon we call rain, ‘Oregon sunshine’, and I thought I lived in a rainy place until I moved to Yakutat, AK, which is actually one of the wettest places in the US!  (It’s true- look it up!)

Then I moved to the desert.

Water is not a given around here!  That sounds ridiculous to say, but coming from the Pacific Northwest, you really don’t think about water until it’s not there!

Each spring when the weather starts to warm up, we start looking for places to cool off, and luckily there are a couple small creeks with waterfalls in the area that run during the spring and early summer.  Living in Monticello, Indian Creek Falls is definitely a local favorite.  The pool at the bottom of the falls is deep enough to jump into when the water is higher, and just upstream where the creek is wider and shallower is a great place for little kids and dogs to cool off and play.  Or of course, you could always hike up or down stream keeping cool by walking in the shallow water.

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

My son loves playing in the sand upstream from the falls in the shallow water.  He could spend hours digging in the sand making dams and sand castles and floating boats and sticks down the creek.  My husband and I joke that it’s *almost* as good as going to the beach!

Indian Creek Falls- Taken From the Top

Indian Creek Falls- Taken From the Top

Also, if you’re visiting the area with dogs, this is a great place to get them out and let them burn some energy and cool off!  My dog is not a huge fan of water (I’ve never seen her get in water deep enough to swim) but she loves running up and down the creek splashing through the water and fetching sticks.

I’ve recently been becoming more and more aware of how difficult it can be to travel with your dog if you’re wanting to hike…  I would say that the majority of people who visit southeast Utah are probably going to visit at least one National Park during their trip.  Unfortunately, since the National Parks don’t allow dogs off of main roads and paved areas, aside from just driving through, there’s not a whole lot you can do in the parks if you have a dog with you.  One really nice thing about our area is that, outside of Canyonlands and Natural Bridges National Monument, you are able to take your dog almost anywhere with just a few exceptions.

(For more pet friendly hikes and places you can take your dog, please click the ‘Dog-friendly‘ option in the tag cloud or categories on the right hand side of this page.)

If you’re looking for camping in the area, in addition to Hamburger Rock Campground, which is located along the Lockhart Basin Road between Hwy 211 and Indian Creek Falls, there are also a lot of great places for dispersed camping along the road.  There are quite a few spots both before and after Hamburger Rock Campground, some of them quite large if you’re looking for a good place to camp with a group.  If you’d prefer to have a campspot arranged ahead of time, there is also one reservable group site that you can reserve on recreation.gov.

If you’re looking for a fun place to cool off, or a great place camp just outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, the Indian Creek Falls area is the perfect location!

Directions:

From Monticello: Drive north on Hwy 191 for approximately 14 miles to the junction of Hwy 191 and Hwy 211.  Turn west (left) onto Hwy 211 and drive approximately 23 miles. Take the turn off to the northeast (right) for Lockhart Basin/Hamburger Rock Campground. Drive approximately 2.5 miles until you reach the creek and a large unpaved parking area.  Indian Creek Falls is just downstream from the parking area.

It is located approximately 3 miles southeast of Canyonlands National Park and 17 miles northwest of Newspaper Rock.

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

 

 

 

Posted in Campgrounds, Camping, Dog-friendly, Off the Beaten Path, Social Distancing-friendly, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments