Grand Canyon & Monument Valley

After Bobby finished up his retraining in the jet, we found out he had some paperwork issues, so we’re stuck in Arizona for a few more weeks.  Although living in a dorm room on base is less than ideal, we figured we should be happy we’re holed up in a state where it’s 75-80 degrees in February.  (Thank goodness we are not here during the summer months!)  What better way to pass the time than to take advantage of Arizona’s national parks?  Of course, the most famous of its parks is the Grand Canyon, located northwest of Flagstaff.  I first visited with my parents when I was about nine years old and I don’t remember much other than some mules walking down a path, so needless to say, I was excited to return.  Bobby, on the other hand, although he has flown over the canyon numerous times, had never been!

We drove up on Sunday evening after the crazy NFC championship game and stayed overnight in Flagstaff.  Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so we lucked out and the Grand Canyon had free entry.  We thought the park would be absolutely packed due to the holiday and the gorgeous weather, but surprisingly, there were very few people when we arrived about 10am.

Stitched Panorama

Grand Canyon view at Mather Point

On top of the world at Mather Point

On top of the world at Mather Point

The Grand Canyon was not our only stop for the day, so we didn’t hike down into the canyon.  Instead, we spent about three hours walking the path around south rim and taking lots of photos.

Grand Canyon from the south rim

Grand Canyon from the south rim

It’s quite difficult to capture the vastness of the canyon.  To give you some perspective, the canyon is about 1 mile deep, averages 10 miles wide (although it’s almost 18 miles at its widest point) and is 277 miles long.  It is larger than the state of Delaware!

Interesting statistics

Interesting statistics

According to geologists and anthropologists, about 5 or 6 million years ago, the Colorado River (the river that is now at the base of the canyon) flowed across the Colorado Plateau on its way from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California.  At the time, scientists believe that the flow of water was much greater, maybe even 10 times the flow today.  Each rain washed the sparsely vegetated soils into the river, creating a steep gradient and heavy sediment loads, very powerful tools for erosion.  As the river cut down, the canyon deepened to where it is today, at about a mile below the plateau’s surface.  Now, because the rainfall amount and snow pack is much smaller, only a sheet of paper’s width is eroded each year.

Where's Waldo?

Where’s Waldo?

I found him!

I found him!

Do you see the old man's face?

Do you see the old man’s face? And no, I’m not talking about Bobby!

Beautiful view on a beautiful day

Beautiful view on a beautiful day

At about midday, we drove about 2.5 hours northeast to the Utah/Arizona border to visit Monument Valley.  Run by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation, Monument Valley is a series of sandstone formations from 400 – 1,000 feet in height.  Originally, Monument Valley was a lowland basin. For millions of years, the runoff sediment from the Rocky Mountains built up and created vast plateaus, which were then slowly whittled back away by thousands of years of wind and erosion.  The formations you see today are the result of those forces.

Arriving in Monument Valley

Arriving in Monument Valley

One of the first things you will notice upon arrival is that the ground is really really orange, which allows for some beautiful photos, a car that needs to be washed and some dirty shoes. :)  The most famous way to see Monument Valley is to take the 17 mile scenic drive, which creates a loop around the formations.  The cost is $20 per vehicle, which goes to the Navajo Nation Parks.  At first I thought this was pretty steep, but I was really impressed with how nice the park is.  Okay, I’ll caveat that by saying that the roads aren’t paved, but that was done on purpose.  They want to keep the land in its natural environment and the vehicle speed to a minimum for safety of people getting in and out of their cars taking photos.  Year round, they work to smooth the dirt roads, which is no small task.  There is also a rather nice lodge, restaurant and gift store on the Navajo park grounds.

Most of the formations along the drive have descriptive names given to them by the first settlers in Monument Valley.  The majority describe what they look like, but they also offer a glimpse into Navajo culture, because the formations also have spiritual meanings to the tribe.


The Mittens


A mitten with other formations behind

We found some Canadians to take our photo :)

We found some Canadians to take our photo :)


The Three Sisters – a Catholic nun facing her two pupils

The road was dusty, but it was an easy drive

Rain God Mesa, which marks the geological center of the park


I’m not sure if this one has a name, but he looks like a Siberian guy with a big hat, sunglasses and long coat


The Totem Pole formation

Big Trouble in Little China

We couldn’t find a name for this guy, but he reminded me of Big Trouble in Little China

The good 'ol car tripod selfie :)

The good ‘ol car tripod selfie from the North Window Overlook :)

On the way out of the park, we caught one of the most spectacular sunsets we’ve ever seen.  It was hard to capture it just right with the camera, but you’ll have to take our word for it.

One of the most spectacular sunsets we've ever seen


Sky on Fire

Sky on Fire


The iPhone captured it pretty well….


  1. […] in Monument Valley, the Navajos have given names to a lot of the formations within the canyon.  Most are pretty […]