Day: 3
Miles: 710
Location: Monument Valley Tribal Park, Arizona
West Mitten, East Mitten, and Merrick Butte, posing for the camera
Today’s destination was the famous Monument Valley Tribal Park which is a part of the Navajo Nation. This is the largest Native American Reservation in the country and it spans three states: Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Its one of those very recognizable but less visited sites in America. If you have ever seen Forest Gump, this is location where he finished his epic run across the country.
This morning began with a glorious sunrise in Sunset Crater National Monument just north of Flagstaff. I stayed for free in Cococino National Forest just outside of the monument. Travel tip; you can camp for free in most national forests for up to 2 weeks (but check before you go!) I rolled on out to Wupaki National Monument 15 miles north on Highway 89. This was an incredible National Monument because it preserves the 1,000 year old pueblos which have long been abandoned. In this arid, high desert, people survived completely on little rainwater and the few crops which could grow. There were also stunning views of the volcanic landscape of Northern Arizona.
Buttes across the stateline in Utah
 Monument Valley is located on the Utah/Arizona stateline and the drive there is phenomenal. First, there was the completely barren Painted Desert. Unlike the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, this was a seemingly lifeless desert with very sparse vegetation. It felt lunar. However as I drove further north, I came across Black Mesa which had thriving populations of juniper trees and a few coyotes.

Finally I reached Monument Valley! It was one of those literal “take your breath away” moments. Standing at the visitors center, I looked out over the desert landscape and saw thousand foot monoliths and town-sized mesas. It was like natural rock-skyscrapers. I couldn’t wait to hike!
A trip to the Southwest without an Edward Abbey book is simply incomplete

Now, Monument Valley isn’t exactly a secret and there were probably a thousand or so visitors in their RV’s, SUV’s, Busses, Space Ships ect. I rather expected this and so I also expected packed hiking trails. The fact that there is only one 3.2 mile hiking trail made it seem like it would be a traffic jam.

The trail was completely empty! LITERALLY! I was the ONLY person out of the thousands of tourists who bothered to hike on the parks ONLY trail! The trail is well marked and traverses around the West Mitten. I relished in the solitude. At one point, in the shadow of three monoliths, I simply sat down and read a book for an hour. Three miles away the beehive of people was bustling with people too lazy to truck themselves and their fat digital SLRs down to the valley. Shame on them! Nevertheless, the hike was more enjoyable with less people.

Tomorrows adventures will take me through Natural Bridges National Monument and Four Corners. Stay posted!