Not only National Parks, or… few days we spent in Arizona

Patrycja and Dawid walking U.S. Route 163, with Monument Valley in the background.

While traveling through US we rented a car for two weeks. At the time, we drove 5000 km, visited the amazing National Parks and a few other places that definitely deserve to be called exceptional. Stay with us for a moment in Arizona and see Monument Valley, Sedona, Page and Antelope Canyon and a fragment of Historic Route 66.

Monument Valley

Have you ever heard about the Navajo Indians? It’s the second most populus tribe of Native Americans living in the United States. During World War II the Americans battling Japanese were encrypting their messages in Navajo language – you could see that in the movie “Windtalkers”. Navajo have constitutional independence, their own government and land, called the reserve, with an area of 71,000 square km, located in three states: Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

Night sky over the Monument Valley.
Night sky over the Monument Valley.

In this very area you can admire another of the majestic creations of nature – the Monument Valley. Reaching the height up to 300 meters, red sandstone giants rise monumentally (aptly named) above the surrounding, completely flat valley covered with green desert vegetation.

Monument Valley close to U.S. Route 163.
Monument Valley.

Although the entrance to the Monument Valley Tribal Park is not free, along the 27 km route you can see most of the rock monuments. Unfortunately, access to selected parts of the park, like Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa, is only possible with a guided tour. But there’s still one place, where you can admire several monuments completely free of charge. It’s the U.S. Route 163. About 20 km north of the Arizona and Utah border the road goes right between the monuments. We took our photos in that place 😉

Antelope Canyon

Somewhere in the Arizona desert, near the town of Page, on the premises of the Navajo Indian tribe, three periodic river, forming only after heavy rains, carved exceptionally beautiful canyon in the rocks – Antelope Canyon. Not very known place, that many people associate only with desktop background on Windows or the MacOS.

Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon.

For some places you can say the photos couldn’t express their true beauty, however, Antelope Canyon is quite the opposite. Only while watching pictures, you can see exactly this almost magical landscape, created by sunlight playing on the narrow and very interestingly shaped sandstone walls of the canyon.

Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon.

Because it’s not a National Park, Annual Pass doesn’t apply here in Navajo Tribal Park. Walking in Antelope Canyon is only possible with a guided tour , in groups of about 10 people, and advance booking of exact date and time, along with destinations (Upper or Lower Canyon – Upper is most popular as it’s easier accessible).

Patrycja in Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon.

And while visiting the canyon looks more like a little chase of the previous group of tourists and escaping before the next, still it’s definitely worth a visit to see how improbable things can be created by nature.

Page, AZ

Though Page is not a large town, it’s located perfectly. On one of the sides Antelope Canyon, on the other – majestic Horseshoe Bend, which is one of the most photographed parts of the Colorado River. This is where the Colorado River flows in the canyon among the rocks, that are formed in the shape of a horseshoe.

Colorado river resembling a horseshoe in Page, Arizona.
Horseshoe Bend.

It’s hard to find a place in the parking lot at Horseshoe Bend, and about 20 minutes walk leading to the viewpoint is often packed with people. But after reaching the viewpoint you can find a place where in peace and without the crowds you can sit on the rocks, admiring the beautiful view. And although during our visit the sun was getting lower and lower, we didn’t stay for the sunset. Why? Because we wanted to see the… bullriding competition, which was to be held in another part of town.

Presentation of the bullriding contestants.
Presentation of the bullriding contestants.

Finding the exact location turned out to be a bit more challenging than we thought. We didn’t find anything that could be an arena on the map, and the poster said “Bullriding, today 7PM” with a rather vague arrow pointing toward the lake. When we finally found the place, we knew two things: first, that we arrived just in time, and secondly, that we don’t fit in 😉

One of the contestants on a bull during bullriding contest.
One of the contestants on a bull during bullriding contest.

Among around 150 other people sitting in the stands, “non-Navajo,” like us were merely but a few. Fortunately, the strange feeling passed very quickly and we had good time watching the whole evening men trying to stay on the backs of over 900 kg bulls at least few seconds.

Sedona

During our talks with other travelers we meet, we often ask what they would recommend us in places we’re going to. Allison and Danny (Magical Thinking), which we met at Coit Tower in San Francisco, highly recommended Sedona. So we went to see what we’ll find interesting.

Rock monuments around Sedona
Sedona in rain

Sedona is a small town in Arizona, where the biggest attractions are sandstone rock formations surrounding the city. Amazing red color of the rocks seems to take the different shades – from pale orange to dark burgundy, depending on the intensity of the sun illuminating them. It’s indeed an ideal place for both hiking and biking on the trail.

Rock monuments around Sedona.
Sedona in sunshine.

Sadly, when we came to Sedona, we found mainly rain. Some of the trails were closed due to bad weather conditions on the route and numerous landslides or mudslides. Once the sun came out from behind the clouds, we could admire some of these amazing rock giants but only from afar.

Route 66

Since we rented a car, our route was planned to go through the historic Route 66 – a highway, which during the Great Depression in the 30s of XX century was traveled mostly by the unemployed, migrant workers from east to west USA.

Dawid standing next to historic Route 66 sign.
Historic Route 66 sign.

With a length of nearly 5000 km, Route 66 runs through 8 states, from Chicago to Santa Monica. In the period of greatest splendor many smaller and bigger towns developed along the route. Their main source of income were services for travellers – gas stations, motels, restaurants, repair shops and much more. When a network of interstate highways started developing in the ’50s, the importance of Route 66 drastically declined, causing the slow extinction of the entire infrastructure created here.

Old car in front of souvenir shop on Route 66.
Old car in front of souvenir shop on Route 66.

At the moment, fragments of the historic Route 66 that weren’t transformed into Interstate 40, are a popular tourist attraction. Traveling long kilometers almost entirely empty Route 66, one occasionally passes through small towns/villages that once teemed with life. Today, only the memory of the old days and a lot of unique memorabilia is left in them, keeping the characteristic of Route 66 alive.

Practical tips:

  • Monument Valley is located on the land belonging to the Navajo tribe. Unfortunately, you cannot use the Annual Pass here (for the record – a card that allows you to visit more than 2,000 different sites throughout the United States, including all the National Parks and State Parks). Entry to Monument Valley Tribal Park costs 20 USD,, regardless of the type of vehicle, carrying up to 4 people. The park is open 7 days a week in the season (1.05-30.09) in hours: 6:00 – 20:00, and the off-season (1.10-30.04) in hours: 8:00 – 16:00. Detailed information can be found on the official website www.navajonationparks.org.
  • Useful information for those who have little time or don’t want to spend money to visit Monument Valley. Some monuments can be admired from the state road no. 163. About 20 km north of the border of Arizona and Utah states, the road runs right between the monuments.
  • Walking in Antelope Canyon is only possible with a guided tour in organized groups. Depending on the type of trip and the admission hours, the prices are different. Standard hike that lasts about 1 hour 40 min., costs 40 USD (hours: 8:00, 9:30, 13:30, 15:30 and 3 more during the holiday season) or 50 USD (hour 11:30). Photo trip , which lasts about 2 hours 40 min. costs 85 USD. The price difference lies in the fact, that from 10:00 to 14:00 the light is the best in the canyon, which is very important to every photographer. Exact information on prices and availability of tickets can be found on the official website www.antelopecanyon.com .
  • On the contrary, Horseshoe Bend is available for tourists completely for free ;). The only thing you need to do, is to find a parking space and walk about 15 minutes to the viewpoint, which offers a sensational view of the Colorado River.
  • Also the historical Route 66 is free. Still, some of the many tourist attractions along the route are paid. All helpful information can be found on the website www.historic66.com. You can find there a map of the route, historical sites and tourist attractions that can be seen along the way (motels, stores, service establishments or museums) and useful information when and where to expect special events such as festivals and exhibitions.

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