That bold statement on page one of our hotel guide ensured a sleepless night for my girlfriend Jessica. She is a fan of horror movies, and if you look at the long list of horror movies you will find “stormy night at a remote hotel” on the top of that list. We drove through a sandstorm to get to Monument Valley before sunset, just ahead of a snow storm we were racing. The fact that the phone number for the Navajo Police Department was right above the warning did little to raise her spirits.

For her it was a long night of flickering lights and strange noises.

We both lived to laugh about it, but the experience did give me a new appreciation for just how limited my life is. I’ve lived my entire life within 20 miles of the ocean and 20 feet of sea level. I’m used to living near large population centers, and things get almost unbearably rural for me when I’m more than a half-hour drive from a movie theatre that shows foreign and Independent films. “Wide open spaces” to me means a parking lot.

I try not to approach a situation with pre-conceived ideas, but when you look at a map of the desert along the Utah/Arizona border the word “sparse” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I always had the impression that the area consisted of a few interesting rock formations separated by hundreds of miles of nothing. That was ignorance on my part, but I was at least curious enough to go check it out for myself.

Our trip was a circuit around the Grand Canyon. We flew in and out of Las Vegas, and our nights in Vegas book-ended our eight days in the desert. We covered a lot of distance, but it turned out that eight days was not enough.

I sat next to a photographer on the flight out and he told me that southern Utah was just different from anything else I had seen. “Real Wile E. Coyote country” he said. As the sun came up over St. George Utah, I understood what he meant. Red sandstone and mesas made an alien landscape for a guy used to white-sand beaches and palm trees. Zion National Park was a sight to see, but the real attraction was Bryce Canyon National Park. The hiking trails that go down among the hoodoos are probably the most picturesque that I have ever walked.

In Page, Arizona we took a tour of Antelope Canyon and walked to Horseshoe bend. Both were photo-worthy, but know ahead of time that Horseshoe Bend is about a 1/2-mile walk over sand from the parking area.

On to Monument Valley, and to learn just how my sense of scale does not translate to the desert. “Go down the road to the railroad tracks and make a left, then go just past the copper conveyor and make another left. At the next gas station you’ll see your hotel.” Those were the directions I was given to Monument Valley. They were perfect, but it was 40 miles between each landmark.

Monument Valley is on Navajo land, and I wished we’d had more time to check it out along with the nearby Navajo National Monument. Weather did not allow us much time as we woke up and looked out at a landscape covered in ice. News of a bigger storm on the way had us once again racing across the desert to the Grand Canyon.

I was told that the Grand Canyon was beyond comprehension. I stayed five days at the Bright Angel Lodge right on the edge of the canyon, and I still cannot wrap my head around the enormity of it. Pictures do not do it justice. It has to be seen, and even that might not lead you to believe it.

On to Kingman Arizona, with a drive down the old Route 66 to Needles California, then back to Las Vegas. It was a fantastic trip, but I feel like we only scratched the surface of what the area has to offer.
Our Navajo guide at Antelope Canyon told us about some time he spent in Virginia and how he felt like he couldn’t breathe, as if the trees were closing in on him. I can see how he would feel claustrophobic coming from a place where it’s routine to see landmarks 30 miles away or more. I had a different feeling in his environment, away from the densely populated east coast.

I could breathe.

– Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson Lives in Florida and will be writing regular travel pieces for Groove Studio One Magazine, check back and look for his writings. More to Come, Enjoy.


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