This post contains affiliate links.
Monument Valley was one of the original locations placed on the itinerary when trip planning began a full year before we first set out west from Raleigh on I-40. At the time, the boys had been obsessed with the movie Cars for several years and I was excited to show them the landscapes that inspired the movie’s scenery. The obsession waned by the time this trip rolled around, but Monument Valley had always been on my shortlist of must-see western locations so this day was eagerly awaited.
It would be a long day of driving with several pre-planned stops peppered throughout the day. Truth be told, it was deceptively tiring as none of the roads were interstates so 450 miles is longer than it seems when not driving 70 miles per hour! Despite accurate time estimates, the drive still took more time than expected through the scenery was mesmerizing.
The morning was spent retracing our path south from Bryce on route 89 to southernmost Utah, through Kanab, and on to Arizona. The roadrunner that crossed the pavement in front of us was a definite highlight of the morning. We noticed an animal running across the road and then take flight as it reached the grass. Jeff and I both looked at each other, “Is that what I think it is?!” It was a wildlife highlight of the trip for us!
Our first stop after several hours was the Big Water Visitor Center. This is the perfect place for a brief rest during a long driving day. Besides serving as a rest facility, there is a room with dinosaur bones all dug within 30 miles of the building. The man on site not only explained all about the specimens and the prehistoric background of the area, he actually discovered a dinosaur himself! We stayed for about 20 minutes, immersed in local prehistoric artifacts, before hitting the road again.
After crossing back into Arizona, we began looking for a place to eat our packed lunch, finally pulling off onto a random dirt access road as there were no buildings or parking lots for miles and miles.
We stretched our legs again at the Navajo National Monument with a walk to the Betatakin cliff dwelling viewpoint. I always assumed that Mesa Verde would be part of my first trip out west, but it just didn’t work out this time so I was thrilled to notice this location on a map when all of the trip planning had already been completed. It was right along our route and we would see a native cliff dwelling after all!
The Betatakin dwelling was populated during the 1200’s by over one hundred people. We viewed the alcove dwelling from across Tsegi Canyon and also explored several recreated structures including bathing domes called sweathouses.
On the road again, our route took a northerly shift as we re-entered Utah and Monument Valley. Utah also brought rain as we turned off the main highway only three miles into the state towards the Navajo Tribal Park and iconic Monument Valley views. This road took us back into Arizona (we were pulled back into Arizona so many times on this trip!) for views of the Mittens and other buttes.
The Navajo Tribal Park is quite a touristy area with numerous touring jeeps all following the same road. It does lose its charm a bit but the scenery is stunning nonetheless. A 17-mile dirt loop road winds through the park but we chose to drive only a few miles in before turning around at The Three Sisters (spires that look like a Catholic nun facing two students) due to the increasing rainfall. Puddy got delightfully muddy during his brief off-roading adventure!
Back on highway 163, we drove several more miles just past mile marker 13 to stop at the large pull-off for the famous view of the buttes that we had been driving away from. A sign is erected here to mark the place where Forrest Gump decided to stop his cross-country run and go back home. It was a great opportunity to tell the boys to get out and run for a while!
The day was getting late and the road was tiring so we were delighted to soon arrive at one of the few restaurants I noted in this mostly desolate area of southeastern Utah. Our dinner of Navajo tacos at the Twin Rocks Cafe in Bluff was just what we needed!
From Bluff, we headed due north for the final two hours of driving to our motel in Moab. We passed through a few small towns and by several interesting rock formations and arches along the way, our favorite being the BB-8 rock. Well, apparently it’s actually named Churchrock, but four out of four occupants in our vehicle agreed that it looks more like BB-8 when viewed from the south!
We arrived at the quaint Inca Inn in Moab ready to rest up for an early start of hiking at Arches National Park the following morning.