A Not-Quite-Relaxing Meander through Valley of the Gods

Mom & I just had the morning together before she was leaving to drive back to Prescott. Since we had seen so much of Monument Valley already, we decided to venture out a little farther. We drove both Sofia & mom’s rig to Goosenecks State Park. Goosenecks provides a vantage point of the San Juan River winding its way 1,000 feet below. It meanders over six miles in just a mile and a half.

Goosenecks State Park

Goosenecks State Park

After snapping a few pictures of the river below, I convinced mom to go with me up the Moki Dugway. I had heard that the view of Valley of the Gods from the top of the dugway was beautiful & shouldn’t be missed. The road is said to be a crazy unpaved series of switchbacks carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa that climbs 1,200 feet in less than 3 miles. There are big warning signs leading up to it stating 11% grade, not recommended for RV’s, etc. I knew it wasn’t a road I wanted to take Sofia on!

The road was actually in pretty good condition; I’ve been on worse switchbacks in my life. And, the view from the top was beautiful. Although, it was just about mid-day, so a poor time of day for photos. I decided to try to make it back later in my trip for a sunset view. (There is back way to the top of Moki Dugway that I could take Sofia on.)

Looking down at Moki Dugway

Looking down at Moki Dugway

Back down the grade and to Goosenecks, we gave each other a big hug. So happy we got to share this quick weekend together! Mom headed home & my next plan was to take Zeta & explore Valley of the Gods.

It was a little cool outside & I realized that riding a scooter would most likely be much colder with the wind factor. So, I layered up – leggings under jeans, a warm sweatshirt over a t-shirt, and my warm wool coat. I only had knit gloves with me, as I forgot my leather ones at home. I added my helmet & felt like I was as ready as I was ever going to be…I managed to manhandle Zeta down the ramp again, all by myself! Then, pushed the start button & vroom! She started right up! Thank goodness.

“Well, here goes nothing” was the thought that went through my head as I headed out on my first real ride on Zeta. I guess its not too difficult to ride a scooter; much easier than a motorcycle I imagine. But at this point, I was kind of wishing it hadn’t been such a snowy winter so I could have possibly had a few practice rides under my belt! The first several miles were paved getting from Goosenecks to the Valley of the Gods turn-off road. As I drove, I realized that anything above 35-40 mph was just too fast for one thing, but also too windy & cold! I also wondered, as I drove, why I thought it was a good idea to leave Sofia at Goosenecks?! Why hadn’t I drove Sofia to the Valley of the Gods road? Silly me! Oh well, onward I went!

As I drove along, I realized that this whole riding a Vespa thing wasn’t quite the romantic notion I had imagined when I bought her… Below is the image I had in mind. LOL! In reality, it wasn’t like this at all!

My romantic notion of what Vespa riding would be like...

My romantic notion of what Vespa riding would be like…

I was very cold by the time I reached Valley of the Gods, but I knew once I was driving slower on the gravel road I wouldn’t have nearly as much wind & wouldn’t be nearly as cold. I was actually pretty grateful to get off the paved road so I could feel OK slowing down.

The landscape in Valley of the Gods is quite a bit different I think than Monument Valley. There are more features that look to me like eroded mesas, with cliffs up above, then the terraced layers below, where Monument Valley seems to have quite a few features that are sheer-type cliff-faces. Still quite spectacular.

Valley of the Gods Panorama

Valley of the Gods Panorama

I was cruising along at about 15 mph (much more my speed!) and feeling very proud of myself. This wasn’t so bad! The gravel road I was on is a 17-mile drive through the valley. Coming up a little hill, I saw the perfect spot for a photo shoot to document my 1st real ride on Zeta. Cliffs in the background, red dirt & some sagebrush in the foreground, it was great!

Zeta photo shoot!

Zeta photo shoot!

Not quite the romantic notion, but smiling nonetheless...

Not quite the romantic notion, but smiling nonetheless…

Wouldn’t you know, not ½ mile later, there was a really steep (albeit short) hill with the road kind of washed out at the bottom. It was VERY uneven & rocky down there. Of course I slowed down going down the hill, but perhaps that wasn’t the right thing to do either. LOL! I totally psyched myself out! Arriving at the wash, I promptly tipped Zeta over… right on to my right foot. Damn, she’s a heavy scooter! I was like, really?! That’s what I get for over-thinking things. Probably would have totally been OK if I would have trusted both Zeta & myself & just sped on over. The good news is that I was pretty sure I hadn’t actually broken or sprained anything. I was going SUPER slow, so it all kind of happened in slow-motion anyway. And, Zeta only had just the slightest scratch on her front fender. “Thank goodness I already did Zeta’s photo shoot”!

I tipped Zeta back up & hobbled as I pushed her out of the worst part of the wash. Thank goodness, she started right back up. I was afraid the carburetor or whatever was going to be flooded after being on her side. Well, there I was, only about 3 miles or so in on the drive… As I learned as a kid with my horse, what do you do when you get bucked off? You get right back on. And so I did.

I’m very happy to report that the rest of the drive along the gravel road through the beautiful Valley of the Gods was pretty uneventful. There were several times when I was white-knuckling it down some (IMO) steep hills. But, I managed. I stopped several times along the way, hobbling around to take pictures. The road about ½ way through is very close to the cliffs & very spectacular.

Castle Butte, Valley of the Gods

Castle Butte, Valley of the Gods

The funny thing, though, is, I kept wondering to myself why I hadn’t just taken Sofia on this road?! She totally would have made it. Although, of course, I didn’t know that the road was passable in Sofia until I had driven it on Zeta. And, I definitely didn’t want to repeat my mistake from last summer in the Redwoods & take Sofia somewhere where she shouldn’t be. That was REALLY scary!

I moseyed along… definitely enjoying the view. There are not a lot of people this time of year in Valley of the Gods… I probably only had 5 vehicles pass me on the whole road & only saw one campsite occupied.

Cottonwood Tree,  Battleship Rock & Rooster Butte, Valley of the Gods

Cottonwood Tree, Battleship Rock & Rooster Butte, Valley of the Gods

There were so many awesome places I could just imagine pulling Sofia over & camping for the night! I resolved to camp at least one night in Valley of the Gods during this trip. I think it would be especially magical to watch both the sun set & rise within this valley.

17 miles later, I finally arrive at the highway; the end of the gravel road. I was faced with a dilemma. Do I go back 17 miles on the gravel road that I had just survived or do I attempt at riding on the highway? Highway 191 is a much busier road than the side road I originally drove on between Goosenecks & Valley of the Gods. I weighted my options. I was pretty tired. Who knew riding a Vespa would be so tiring! I just couldn’t imagine driving back down all those hills I had come up. And, so, to the highway I went.

“Let’s do this!” is the pep-talk I was giving myself as I pulled out on to the highway. Of course, I ensured there were no vehicles around, but just a few yards down the road, an SUV roared up behind me, swung around me (I still am only going 40 mph) & left me in a wind gust. Whew! Not only did the passing vehicles leave wind gusts, but the wind was really gusting too. Yikes! I really DO NOT like riding in wind gusts. I felt myself getting more & more tense and realized that I needed to relax. I had seen this happen so many times with inexperienced riders on horses. The more tense they got, the more difficult the ride. But, I tell you… riding horses is BY FAR easier!!

“Relax, calm-down, relax”, I kept repeating this mantra as I (in my mind) fought the wind gusts trying to stay upright. Its funny how hard it really is to try to relax yourself in the middle of a really stressful situation. Thankfully, it really wasn’t too far… probably only about 6 miles to the turn off to the paved road back to Goosenecks, then only about 4 more miles or so. But at only 40 mph it seemed forever!

Seeing Sofia parked in the distance was such a happy site to see! I felt completely drained by the time I arrived, both physically & mentally. And my foot still really hurt. All I wanted to do was to find a good spot to overnight in & go to sleep! I couldn’t stay at Goosenecks as I had to work the next day & there was no internet connection. But before I could leave, I had to get Zeta back up on her rack. I tried a couple of times, exhausted, to push her up. I couldn’t quite do it. I was so frustrated as I had managed to do so before. Thankfully a nice man from across the parking lot came over & offered to help. He said no sense in trying to do it myself when he could help me. I was so grateful. The good news is that I’ve finally figured out the tie-down straps, so those aren’t a problem anymore! Zeta secured, I started Sofia up & headed back up toward Blanching as I remembered having pretty good reception there. I also remembered there was a state park I thought I could camp at.

Arriving at Edge of the Cedars State Park, I saw it was just a very small state park with no overnight camping. Good lord… all I wanted to do was call it a day! I consulted my map & saw there was a National Forest campground between Blanching & Monticello.  Back on to the highway I went. But, then I saw a sign. Another national forest campground. Perhaps I had missed it on the map, but “obviously” it was closer. Why not? Turning on to the road, I saw a sign that said 12 miles to Nizhoni Campground. I didn’t really think about what it meant by driving 12 miles up into the national forest at this point. And, so I drove and drove… you can’t really go that fast on a winding uphill gravel road in a big RV. Finally, as I’m passing snow bank after snow bank & suddenly start driving over residual snow banks over the road, I’m wondering, what am I getting myself into AGAIN?! I turn a corner & see this sign…

Not the sign I wanted to see...

Not the sign I wanted to see…

Of course, that’s the road I’d find myself on. The road is probably delayed due to snow banks that need melting! But then I saw the sign for the campground. Yippeee! I had made it! I parked Sofia right at the entrance & walked in. All the camping spots still were covered in snow. I knew I definitely wasn’t going to make the mistake of getting stuck in a snow bank. I saw just down from the main entrance, the parking area for the picnic section and knew that would be the perfect spot for the night. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t level. At least it was off the road & safe. I backed Sofia down to the spot, not wanting to get down there & not be able to get turned around. See, all the past experiences are making me wiser!

As soon as I parked, Geb was asking to go out for a walk. I had promised him in the morning I would take him for a walk that evening. I poured myself a glass of wine, put his harness on & we went out to explore the campground. Of course we were the ONLY people there. LOL! I didn’t even pay, because who would ever know I was up in the middle of nowhere… My foot was starting to feel a little better, but still hurt to walk on it. I saw that there was a trail to some Indian ruins about a mile from the campground, but I wasn’t in any condition to walk that far. And so, Geb & I just wandered around. It was so fun to just be outside, in the forest, in the middle of nowhere watching Geb explore. I love letting Geb lead the way on our walks. Its amazing to get a tiny glimpse into his brain and see how he goes about investigating the world around him. Quite fascinating to see the paths he takes, the bushes he stops to sniff.

Mr. Investigator, Geb

Master Investigator, Geb

Which way do I go?

Which way do we go?

On our walk...

On our walk…

Finally, for the first time all afternoon I felt like I was able to relax. The forest to me is always comforting. I love listening to the wind in the trees & the birds. Seeing the fading sunlight flickering through the branches. Smelling the pine, juniper, sage & humus. Such a calm & peaceful place to be.


Through Monument Valley

The drive south from Moab was such a beautiful one. After the red rocks just outside of Moab, there were the Abajo Mountains outside of Monticello & Blanding. Beyond that I could begin to see Monument Valley in the distance. Even from a distance, it just looked so awing and got even more so the closer I got to the area.

There is one RV Park in the valley, Gouldings Resort, inclusive of a lodge, restaurant, campground, mini-mart, & gas station. Monument Valley is on tribal land, so you can’t just park & camp wherever.  Gouldings Resort is situated right beneath towering red cliffs with spectacular views of Monument Valley. My mom had arrived just before I did & found me just as I got there. We checked in quickly & left Sofia, using mom’s rig as we figured it would be easier to get around. The Gouldings resort has a small little museum. The Gouldings were some of the original settlers in the area who established a trading post to trade with the natives. Later, during the Great Depression, they were instrumental in getting the movie industry started in the valley, which definitely helped the economics of the area. The museum has quite an extensive photo collection of all the movies filmed in the area, as well as some native art, rugs, baskets, etc. Also, their living quarters which were above the trading post were open for viewing. Pretty cool to see. Obviously John Wayne is a pretty big deal in these parts. His “cabin”, I think from a movie set, is located right behind Gouldings trading post which has his picture painted on the side of the building. Not much to see there, but it was kind of fun to be in the same place as John Wayne was.

The Duke

The Duke

Mom & I had decided the best way to view the sites of Monument Valley was a guided tour. As mentioned, the land is tribal land & they don’t like randoms driving all over the place. There is a “17-mile drive” through the valley that anyone can drive on, but based on internet research, the true gems were on the guided tours. The tour through Gouldings that I wanted to go on didn’t start until April. So, I looked around the internets & found a website for Kéyah Hózhóní, Monument Valley Tours (I highly recommend calling them if you’re headed to Monument Valley!). I was drawn to the photos on their site & after sharing it with mom, we booked a tour.

We met our tour guide, Ray, at 3:30 after touring the Visitors Center at the Navajo Tribal Park. Just the views from the visitor’s center were amazing, but we were ready for more! As things ended up, Ray, couldn’t have been a more perfect guide! As he drove us around, he told us stories of his grandmother, the current medicine woman for the Navajo Nation. He told us of a documentary she & he are in; mom & I both made notes to watch it sometime. Its called “We shall Remain – the Navajo”. He showed us where Andrew Zimmern & Bizarre Foods filmed the segment featuring the Navajo Nation. That was super cool, because I remember watching that episode! He explained the differences between a male & female Hogan. The only difference is the shape & way its built. Both males & females & kids for that matter can live in either a male or female Hogan. All hogan’s have the door facing east, so they can welcome the sun each day.

And, to top it all off, Ray often guides photographers. So, at each stop, he’d show me (sometimes it was quite a hike!) where all the photographers go to get “the” shot & when the best time of day & year it was to get the best shots of each feature. I even opened up the Monument Valley souvenir book I bought & the first picture was one exactly the same location & angle that Ray directed me to take. I love it! How fascinating to listen to his stories both of the natives as well as all the photographers he’s guided. He really was such a charming host for us through the backcountry of Monument Valley.

Here are some of the pictures from our tour with Ray…

Me & my mom!

Me & my mom!

Wild horses - I love that the stallion just stood there & posed for the picture. :-)

Wild horses – I love that the stallion just stood there & posed for the picture.

Sun's Eye Arch

Eye of the Sun Arch

Anasazi pictographs

Anasazi pictographs

Ear of the Wind Arch

Ear of the Wind Arch

Star Wars-like rock

Random Star Wars-like Rock

Pancake Rocks & the "Dragon"

Pancake Rocks & the “Dragon”

Big Hogan Arch - super cool cave arch that was round with the opening in the very top middle. Super cool!

Big Hogan Arch – super cool cave arch that was round with the opening in the very top middle. Super cool!

Yei Bi Chei (The Dancers), The Totem, Tumbleweed, & Ripples in the Sand

Yei Bi Chei (The Dancers), The Totem, Tumbleweed, & Ripples in the Sand

The Dancers & Totem

The Dancers & Totem

Monument Valley Panorama

Monument Valley Panorama from John Ford Point

By the end of our tour, we were just in awe of the breathtaking landscapes we had seen. What a magical place indeed…

We were also very hungry. We went to Gouldings Lodge (recommended by Ray) for dinner and had the best stew & fry bread ever! I had Pork Green Chile Stew & mom had Beef Stew. Excellent southwestern cuisine!

Returning to Sofia, I remembered that I needed to deal with installing the battery in Zeta so it could charge overnight, as I wanted to take her for a ride through Valley of the Gods after mom left the next day. Now, I have NEVER worked on any type of vehicle doing anything ever. Installing a battery might not seem like a big thing, but it was a little daunting to me. Especially beings that the battery wasn’t the exact duplicate of the one that was previously in there. This new one was shorter & wider than the original. Thankfully, I was able to somehow wiggle it in the allowable space, all the while keeping track of the wires. I connected it all & just like that! I had done it! I connected the battery charger & figured I deserved a nice glass of wine after that!

Although then once I got back in Sofia, mom mentioned that the carpet was all wet in the bedroom closest to the bathroom. That damn leak; the one the repair guy couldn’t find! A thorough investigation showed that the leak was coming from the water lines leading to the toilet. I tried tightening them to no avail thinking they might just be loose. I was like, really?! More problems on this trip already? I got a towel & soaked up the water all around. Mom found a cup that we placed under the leak. The problem was the cup was filling up full in like 20 minutes! I tried researching the internets for a solution, but then turned to the owner’s manual. It appears as though I didn’t winterize the toilet correctly & resulted in cracking the water valve. Only solution is replacement. Ug. What was I going to do for 9 more days leaking this much water? Mom, the ingenious person that she is, suggested turning off the water to the toilet. There isn’t exactly a turn-off knob like in a home bathroom, but then I remembered the water pump! Turning that off, helped slow the drip tremendously. Short-term solution; yes! Pretty easy to leave the water pump off except for briefly when needed. Ah, yes; always good to find those creative solutions for random things that happen on an adventure.

All the upkeep items aside, mom & I could finally relax & enjoy the rest of our evening together. A couple glasses of wine & looking at all the fun pictures we took earlier in the day – the perfect mom & daughter time for us!

On the Road again…

I had been planning to take a trip to southeastern Utah last fall. We ended up getting a very early snow storm the first week of October, which had me reconsidering. I didn’t want to be driving Sofia all over Utah in the middle of a snow storm! So, I decided to postpone until spring. My company gives us one “Spring Break” holiday day, which this year is Friday, March 29. I thought it would be great to use that as one of my days down in southeast Utah as I would have more free-time to explore.

So, I was set on the days for my trip, but before I left, Sofia needed a quick visit to Camping World to fix a few minor things that needed done from our adventures last summer. I also needed to figure out how to get Zeta running & registered. The problem was that it kept snowing in SLC! There was a huge snow pile behind Sofia. There was no getting her out until about a week prior to leaving. Once the snow melted enough, I loaded Zeta on the back & took her to the Motorcycle Doctor for new spark plugs & whatever needed to happen to make her start. I got her back on Thursday afternoon, the day before leaving, with just enough time to run by the DMV for registration. I didn’t even have time to try to start her once I got home, as the guy from the repair shop told me to charge the battery overnight again. I also managed to take Sofia in this week. The repair guy reported he couldn’t figure out the leak I was having & instructed me to watch for it to see if I could narrow down where it was coming from. Great…

Friday was a hectic day at work as I did annual reviews for all my employees. Finally I got done with those meetings & was able to throw all the last minute things into Sofia & hit the road. It felt so great to be back on the road again… As I drove, I was again reminded how beautiful it is to watch sunsets. Of course, I’ve seen sunsets over the fall & winter, but never have I taken the time to watch an entire sunset from beginning to end since the last time I was driving Sofia in the evening. It really was a beautiful sunset.

I arrived at Melissa’s house in Moab right around 9pm. I was thankful I had gotten out of town when I had as I didn’t have to drive in the dark for too long. I don’t really like driving in the dark outside of a city in my car, let alone Sofia! Melissa had a fire performance that evening; I was going to ride Zeta over & meet her there. I even managed to get Zeta down the ramp all by myself! A little scary, as she’s MUCH heavier than I ever anticipated when I purchased her sight unseen online! I had help getting her up on the rack to take her to the repair shop & the repair guy got her back up there for me. Anyway, I was ready to take her for her first real ride.

I turned the key on, held the brake, pushed the start button, and… NOTHING! Seriously?! Tried again a few times, still nothing. I was cursing the guy at Motorcycle Doctor by this point. A little research on Google (where would we be without Google!) suggested that I replace the battery. I had high hopes that the Moab Napa Auto parts store would have the appropriate battery. And, so, I didn’t make it to the fire show. I did, however, have an awesome rest of the evening once Melissa got back, hanging out & chatting with her. Its always so fun to share an evening with a soul sister!

The guy at the auto parts store the next morning was SO helpful! He came out & unhooked the battery, showing me how to do it. He didn’t have the exact battery in stock & after calling around town, no one did. Lovely… But, he did sell me one that he said would work & sent me on my way with instructions on how to install it once I reached the RV park that evening. It was kind of funny; he asked how I was enjoying my Vespa. I replied that since I had never been able to start her & had never really ridden her other than for a couple blocks around my house, it was basically just irritating at this point.

Back on the highway, heading south to Monument Valley where I was to meet my mom at noon. She got the day off & was driving up from Prescott, AZ to meet me. We were both excited that we could do that! I knew I had a little room in the schedule to stop for a few pictures along the way. My first stop was Kane Creek rest stop, just to take pictures of the beautiful rocks. I love the rocks in the Moab area!

Kane Creek

Kane Creek

I next stopped at Wilson Arch. Wow! So cool that such an arch was just right there, right along the highway. I hiked up & through the arch. A very steep, but fun little jaunt.

Wilson Arch

Wilson Arch

My next stop was a “Viewpoint” outside of Canyonlands National Park. I saw the sign & thought, I’m always saying to myself that I want to take advantage of these types of things & get some good pictures. So often I’m in a hurry & never take the time to stop. And so, I parked Sofia, got out my camera and switched lenses to my telephoto lens. Then, I opened Sofia’s side door & of course, didn’t wait for the stairs to come out, I just jumped right down. Great plan until, the sleeve of my sweater caught on the door latch. It was the hand I was holding my camera in (and yes, of course, I didn’t have the strap around my neck). It all happened in such a split second! I dropped my camera. L It crashed down very hard onto the asphalt below. I looked down & the lens was in two pieces. SO SAD! I was shaking a bit, as accidents like that have that effect on me… I picked up the pieces of my lens & the camera body. I figured I could just change to a different lens & things would be fine.

I did that, carefully walking down the stairs this time. I got out to take the photo & my camera wouldn’t work! The fall must have knocked something loose inside. The shutter button wouldn’t depress & I kept getting an error code. Now I was REALLY REALLY SAD!!! Here I was at the very start of my 10-day adventure to take pictures of beautiful southern Utah with NO camera. L I had broken it before the first shot was even taken! I remembered that my iPhone actually takes pretty good pictures, so I was somewhat consoled that I would still be able to take some pictures. I am still pretty sad about the whole broken camera & lens thing; am hoping the camera repair guy can at least fix the camera body. The lens definitely will be needing a new one for sure.

However, I wasn’t going to let that little setback get me down. I got back on the road again; calming down & spirits improving the farther south I drove.