Wheeling Solo Across Northern Arizona

It’s snowy and windy today–which I totally expected and was prepared for, but now I have to drive for five hours in it through very remote parts of northern Arizona. After my massage, I checked out, loaded up the car, and…the sun came out!! So of course I had to take advantage and take a few more pictures in Sedona before heading north ;).

After that, I had to make the decision of playing it safe by taking the interstate, or hoping the snow would stay light and fluffy (i.e. not slippery/icy) and take scenic route 89A through Oak Creek Canyon. I took a chance and decided on the latter; and BOY, and I ever glad I did. That was frankly the most awe-inspiring 20 miles I’ve ever driven. Oak Creek is a long, windy, and narrow canyon with a river at the bottom, a pine forest in the middle, and towering red rock cliffs climbing to the top. Because of the snow and fog, the cliffs were partly shrouded and I felt like I was being watched by gargantuan ghosts the whole way. Fall just came to Sedona, so at least half of the trees were a very bright golden yellow, forming a canopy over my car.

By the time I topped out at the end of the canyon, the snow was falling more heavily and the roads were very wet. Fortunately, I made it to Flagstaff without incident, where…the sun came out. Again. Yay!!! The first hour north was pretty boring, but soon the surprises began. It was one of those situations where every 15 minutes I would crest a large hill and see a completely different landscape than the one I just left…along with a different form of precipitation. First I was reintroduced to the Painted Desert, which I first visited during my solo Grand Canyon trip in 2000. The colors are pastels and much more subdued than the bright, deep reds and greens of Sedona, but gorgeous and inspiring nonetheless. Again, I stole this photo because I couldn’t stop anywhere. After that, I crested a hill and saw the place where they had to have filmed ‘The Martian,’ I kid you not. For a solid 20 minutes you would have had to work VERY hard to convince me I wasn’t on Mars. It was completely surreal, and I deeply regret not being able to stop and photograph it.

But at last, after sun, snow, rain, snow, sun, snow, and rain came…Monument Valley. And as luck would have it, I was arriving about half an hour before sunset. I promise you there are a LOT of people cursing the woman in the silver Nissan Altima because I pulled over at least every ten minutes to take another photo. #sorrynotsorry. There were a few puffy clouds in the sky and the angle of the setting sun made the scattered spires before the entrance to the actual Navajo Park look exactly like they do in the movies…but better. Then add the fine layer of snow and…well, here are some pictures :).

Tomorrow my plan is to hire a Navajo guide with a 4×4 vehicle and let him educate me while driving me around the park to get some great photos. Technically, anyone can drive the 17-mile loop through the park, but it’s packed dirt and tends to get nasty when it’s wet.We picked up a couple of inches of snow tonight, and that crap is going to be melting all morning–yuck :(. My Altima will be toast in that mess, and my guide will be pleased that I won’t even ant to get out of the car. I’m also excited to be woken up by the sun. I’m staying at The View Hotel–the only hotel inside the park (Navajo run, of course) and aptly named because every single room has its sliding doors and patio facing the park…with three huge spires only a few hundred yards away. Yeah…it’s going to be an epic sunrise :).

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