Navajo Nation is filled with so many natural wonders that we had to do a part two blog post. The road trip through this region continues with a trip to Monument Valley and the Petrified National Forest.
Monument Valley- Day 2
No trip to Navajo Nation is complete without seeing where the West Was Won: Monument Valley. Featured in numerous western movies, Monument Valley is the iconic landscape of the Southwest. The drive to the park is about an hour north of Canyon de Chelly, and the monoliths start around the town of Kayenta. The entire desert gradually turns into red sand as the park gets closer.
Monument Valley is right on the Arizona/Utah border. The park usually can reach three digit temperatures in summer, but on this cool January day it was 40 degrees with freshly fallen snow in the valley that added a decorative touch to the monuments. We made a brief stop at the View Hotel, a fitting name for a hotel that literally has the best view of the park. The horizon is unobstructed of anything man-made. The most famous monoliths that dominate the skyline are the left and right mittens, and three sisters. Inside the hotel, there is a gift shop which has the most extensive amount of Native American crafts that I have seen: turquoise jewelry, dream-catchers, blankets, and pottery.
We took our 4x4 SUV through the unpaved park loop, a 17 mile dirt road that passes through the monuments. Overall, I was surprised at how wide-open this park felt. I could hear my echo throughout the park and there were hardly any tourists or remnants of modern life in sight. It was a pure American adventure.
Petrified Forest National Park - Day 3
Forest? Wait, isn't this the desert? Well, not 217 million years ago it wasn't! This park has trees and fossils that are literally frozen in stone with some of the most beautiful natural art.
On the route back to California, we took highway 40, which happens to pass through the Petrified Forest National Park. The park is not to be missed. Upon entering the park, the first thing we saw was the painted desert - a pink and red landscape with wavy desert hills. We continued onward to find that the landscapes got even more surreal.
It is hard to imagine that this bone-dry terrain was once a swamp with large conifer trees that existed when the earth was a Pangaea and Arizona was located near the equator. The logs from the conifer trees crystallized by absorbing the minerals from the water. With time, they became as hard as rocks, although still look like wood. The bark contains semi-precious stones with different colors, like mustard yellow, burnt orange, and hot pink - making them a treasure trove for souvenir hunters in the park to this day. They are quite beautiful to look at and definitely give a sense of how dramatically the earth has changed over time.
Another notable sight at the Petrified National Forest is the Blue Mesa - an area that looks like a purple moonscape. The area is so fragile that hiking is not allowed. The ground is made of "conglomerates" or a collection of cobbles and pebbles cemented together that were carried in a stream laid down 225 million years ago. The ground is covered in purple, clay-like sand that feels like quicksand when you step on it. Fossils have been unearthed of dinosaurs and reptiles. These hills are shaped like tepees and you can see the striations of rock. It is because of all the colors that this area was dubbed the painted desert.
Overall, the Navajo Nation is filled with spectacular sights to photograph. If you can make it within three days like we did, then you will have no problem fitting in these sights. Of course, it is best to spend more time in each park as it will allow you to experiment with different lighting and take the hiking trails which gives you a closer look into the park. Exploring this area will definitely make you feel as though you have entered a whole new world without leaving the USA!
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We are two adventurous young professionals who turned our passion for travel into a blog to help others travel more.