Travel Thoughts By Kim
Let’s go on an adventure together…to Monument Valley!
New Mexico was the last state I had to visit to complete my bucket list of visiting all 50 states and I checked it off the list in early October 2019. It was the second half of a two week trip to check off the last TWO states – Colorado and New Mexico.
I flew into Albuquerque airport and immediately took the rental car on a three hour drive to my hotel in Farmington, NM where I planned to spend two nights while exploring Monument Valley and the Four Corners area. The drive from the airport to the hotel was really nice – all good highway, but pretty much nothing but highway – lots of dirt, rock, and buttes with a few oil rigs, a couple tiny villages, several reservations, and several casinos planted smack dab in the middle of nowhere – with a lot of nothing in between. But it was a beautiful and easy drive.
The next morning, I got up about 4:00 am to start another three or so hour drive to Monument Valley. The views I had on my drive from Farmington to Monument Valley were more of the same – so far, I was really getting my fill of stunning views of buttes and wide open spaces. Absolutely breathtaking.
Monument Valley is part of a large Navajo territory that spreads across the borders of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado – the bulk of the land is in Utah and Arizona. The actual Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a National Park that sits well within the Navajo territory and is protected by the Navajo people. The park consists of a cultural center and many natural rock formations, including delicate spires and gigantic buttes. The park spans 91,696 acres. The formations are all natural and not interfered with by humans in any way – if they erode or crumble, they remain eroded or crumbled – they believe that nature must be left to run its course.
From the moment you enter until you leave, it is very obvious why Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Museum and revered as one of the most beautiful parks in the world! Movie directors, like John Ford, shot many popular films in Monument Valley, forever immortalizing it as an icon of the American West.
I booked a tour with Monument Valley Safari Tours. It was an awesome 3.5 hour tour in a 4×4 Jeep with an amazing Navajo guide. There are parts of Monument Valley that are accessible by the public without a tour guide, but they still recommend you use a 4-wheel drive vehicle. However, much of Monument Valley is only accessible when accompanied by a Navajo guide because they want to ensure the formations and the land are respected and not desecrated in any way.
And, it is so worth the cost of the Navajo guided tours – the best views are in those restricted access areas and our guide, Comasheena, gave us such an interesting education on her heritage and cultures – you can’t get that when doing it on your own. She made sure we got the most amazing photos and even sang us authentic Navajo songs using vintage tribal instruments. I highly recommend using this or one of the other Navajo led tours when experiencing Monument Valley.
After I left Monument Valley, I drove about an hour to the Four Corners Monument – the only spot in the entire USA where four states border each other – New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. For such a famous and significant spot, it sure was a letdown to see. It is in the middle of nowhere and is just a large cement area noting the four states, a couple vendor booths with Navajo crafts for sale, a restroom with no running water, and absolutely nothing else. But, it was still really cool to say I was there and I got a photo with one foot in NM and one in CO to commemorate the last two states to visit on my bucket list. I’m glad I did it and recommend everyone do it once just for the bragging rights, if you happen to be in the area.
Then, I drove the three or so hours back to Farmington, got a good night’s sleep (I was definitely exhausted after an absolutely fabulous day). The next morning, I drove another three hours back to Albuquerque, which was my home base for the rest of my time in New Mexico. I spent the next few days checking out the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Sandia Peak (where I rode the tram to the top for awesome views at 10,300 ft elevation), Old Town Albuquerque (very cool – definitely glad I spent time there), Historic Route 66 (including having lunch at the famous Route 66 diner), and Sante Fe (ahh-mazing). I really enjoyed everything I did in and around Albuquerque, but wasn’t impressed with Albuquerque, itself – just a big, congested city with horrible traffic. But, I totally LOVED Sante Fe, about an hour drive from Albuquerque, and wished I had planned to spend more time there.
I loved my time in New Mexico – I put 894 miles on my rental car and made a ton of wonderful memories. I originally planned to do more, though. My original plan was to leave Farmington and drive about five hours south to Roswell, NM and spend a couple days there checking out the alien stuff and spend some time in Carlsbad to see the bats fly out of the caverns before heading back to Albuquerque in time for the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. BUT – best laid plans, as they say! On my last night in Farmington I was watching the news and saw that they were having severe storms, torrential rains, and flash flooding in the Roswell / Carsbad area and it was predicted to continue for several days. I decided to get on the phone and cancel and change hotels, flights, etc., skip the southern part of the trip, and cut my overall trip short by five days. Unfortunately, leaving to come home early, also meant that I missed the Hot Air Balloon Festival, too – I timed the original trip so that was the last big thing to do. I still had a fabulous trip and enjoyed my time in the Albuquerque / Sante Fe area. And that means, I have a great reason to go back so I can do the Hot Air Balloon Festival and all the alien and bat stuff another time.
Visit my blog for more photos from the stunning Monument Valley: https://thoughtsbykim.com/2019/12/14/2019-new-mexico-adventure-monument-valley/
And, you can read all about the rest of my time in New Mexico at this blog post: https://thoughtsbykim.com/2019/12/15/2019-new-mexico-adventure-part-two/