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.

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