“How did the spider get up there?”
“Look at me! I’m standing in four states at the same time!”
The questions and explanations from four days in the Four Corners are still smiling memories whenever I conjure them. Monument Valley is an amazing collection of sights, culture, and lore. We hiked around the base of the Left Mitten, filled a couple memory cards with photos, bought too many souvenirs, and woke up before dawn each morning to watch the sunrise. As the center point of the trip, Monument Valley puts you in reach of several major Navajo Nation places to visit.
About an hour east of Monument Valley is the Four Corners Monument Navajo Tribal Park. Embedded in concrete is the commemorative brass U.S. Geologic Survey marker of the corner where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona all come together. It is the only spot in the United States where four state boundaries touch. Honestly, Tribal Park is a tourist trap. However if you’re in the neighborhood, you do need to visit.
You no doubt know the Four Courners ritual: People line up for the chance to stand (or sometimes bend) with hands and feet in each of the four states. During our visit, the weather was beautiful, the desert sky the unique azure blue only seen in this region, and everyone was having a good time. People waited patiently for their chance to stand on the Monument, cameras were handed back and forth so photographers could join their families while another tourist took the photo, and the fragrance of freshly cooked food floated in the air.
There is a recently built Navajo cultural center and the Monument surrounded by kiosks where Navajo artisans sell jewelry, artwork, crafts, and of course, souvenirs. The Four Corners Navajo Tribal Park is located off U.S. 160 six miles north of Teec Nos Pos, Arizona. There are food concessions—including the best Navajo tacos I’ve ever eaten—no drinking water or cell service. There is a three dollar per person admission charge, and with the kids, it’s worth every penny.
Backtracking U.S. 162 west to Mexican Hat, you can head south on U.S. 191 to Canyon de Chelly National Monument to take in both the incredible landscape and the tragic history. Canyon de Chelly is another Navajo sacred site. I’ll talk about this some more in other stories, but the most outstanding feature that gives them is Spider Rock. This 800 foot tall hoodoo—the term for the dramatic tall thin sandstone spires in the Southwest—is the home of Spider Woman. In Navajo more Spider Woman is the deity who gave the gift of weaving to the Navajo. You can see all of the North and South overlooks in half a day, or the overlooks on either side of the canyon in two hours. We stayed in the historic Thunderbird Lodge at the canyon entrance.
On a full day, there is time to hike into the Canyon to see the White House cliff dwellings or enjoy a private tour into the Canyon with a Navajo guide in your SUV. Passenger vehicles cannot navigate the in-canyon road. The hike – moderately strenuous, but perfectly possible with casual shoes – is the only location you can go into the Canyon without a Navajo guide.
South from Canyon to de Chelly on U.S. 191 is the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in the Navajo nation town of Ganada. The Hubbell family opened the trading post in 1878. Continuously operated until 1965, the Hubbell family are considered the original promoters of Navajo weaving. The Navajo are internationally renowned for their rugs and fabrics. It was the Hubbell family first generated interest in these works of art. The trading post is still run like a trading post, but is owned by the National Park Service.
Our excursion added two days to the trip, required purchasing an additional memory card, and added a rapidly standing memory scrapbook.
All images by Eric Jay Toll: The author stands in four states at the same time (top); Spider Rock, where Spider Woman taught the Navajo to weave (bottom).
Part 1: Icons and Indians
Part 2: Seventeen Miles – Go in Beauty
Part 4: How to Keep Your Family Safe in the Desert
If you go:
Staying at the Monument Valley Tribal Park:Neaby Kayenta, AZ, has a Hampton Inn, and two locally-owned motels, the Kayenta Monument Valley Inn and Wetherill Inn. Across U.S. 163 from the Park is Goulding’s Lodge – a historic lodge where almost all the actors to have filmed in the Valley hung their hats. In the Park itself is The View, a Navajo-owned property that opened in 2010. Every room has a view of sunrise behind the buttes. Gouldings and the Park have campgrounds.
Staying at Canyon de Chelly: The historic Thunderbird Lodge, built around an 1896 trading post, is located at the base on the Canyon. In the adjoining town of Chinle, Holiday Inn and Best Western, have properties.
There are no accommodations at the Four Corners Monument or in Ganado.
Getting to the Monument Valley Tribal Park:A family visit to Monument Valley is a memory and an experience. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is located on U.S. 163 in the center of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona and southeast Utah—the state lines run through the Park. It’s 6-1/2 hours from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, and longer from Albuquerque or Las Vegas. The nearest regional airports are Flagstaff, AZ (three hours) or Cortez, CO (two hours). From Phoenix or Flagstaff, take U.S. 89 to U.S. 160 at Tuba City, go east to Kayenta, and north on U.S. 163 to the Park. While there are organized bus tours, Monument Valley is best reached and explored by car.
Getting to Canyon de Chelly National Monument: From Monument Valley and Kayenta, go east on U.S. 160 to U.S. 191 and then south to Chinle and the Monument entrance.
Getting to the Four Corners Travel Park: From Monument Valley and Katenta, stay east on U.S. 160 to the Park entrance.
For more information:
Eric Jay Toll is a travel writer living in Scottsdale, Arizona. During their childhood, he dragged his two children (sometimes kicking and screaming) from one coast to the other and parts of Canada. His blog, For Whom The Toll Bells, is at EricJa
yToll.WordPress.com. Eric’s travel writing appears regularly as the Four Corners travel writer on Examiner.com. He has been published in USA Today, LiveStrong, Trails, and Golflinks and is a regular contributor to eHow.com. He is an avid camper, an accomplished chef and not bad with a camera. His son, Michael, turned 29 in May 2011.