Our next major stop in Utah was the Monument Valley area, which we had actually seen a little bit of before. When our kids were young we took them on a trip to Las Vegas with my Mom, and one day we rented a car and drove round-trip to the Grand Canyon and we tacked on a fast trip to Monument Valley. Lee loves westerns, and some of the most iconic views from those movies are in the monument itself. We all had a wonderful time and took some wonderful pictures, the best of which was each of our girls sitting on a horse on a plateau, and I treasure those pictures to this day.
What we didn’t get to do, not uncommon in those days of traditional vacations, was get to see anything but the park itself. We knew from talking to our friends that there was much more to see, so we scheduled a full five days to finally explore the area.
Almost everyone knows that iconic shot from Forest Gump where he is running down the road with the stone formations near the entrance to Monument Valley. Lee wanted to get some video of us walking down that road, but unfortunately we were coming from the south which was the wrong direction. It was also a pretty cloudy day, and since we knew we would be coming back this way several times, decided to wait until another day. There are several large pull-offs along the road and we saw plenty of people had stopped, so we definitely could have if we wanted to.
Those crowds cleared as we headed north and the road got much more challenging. There were several 6-8% grades, which included one particularly challenging one near Mexican Hat that was a 10% grade with a hard right at the end at a solid wall of rock. Yikes!! Lee handled it like a champ and very soon we were headed onto Highway 261, which is the road Gooseneck State Park is off of. The road has some scary warning signs when you turn onto it stating that it was not recommended for RV’s greater than 10,000 GVWR, but we knew that the warnings were for the Moki Dugway which was several miles beyond the turnoff to Gooseneck.
(For those interested, here’s a video showing the drive from the beginning of the road to Goosenecek to the entrance, without pulling the rig. The video is just under 5 minutes, but it takes longer when pulling a rig. I’ve included it because some people like to know what the approach will look like. I had read it was really steep, and it was not. There are a few gentle grades, and some somewhat tight curves, but overall it was’t bad. Keep in mind the Go Pro’s super wide view tends to make grades and curves look like less than they are. – Lee)
Once we reached the gate we talked to a very nice parks employee who allowed us to park our rig and take a walk around before deciding whether or not to stay the night. Unfortunately many state parks will not allow you to do this, but Gooseneck is a very informal place. It is mostly a day use park ($5 per car entrance fee) and only has a few established camping spots. That being said, there is a huge area farther down a dirt road, where several rigs could fit, and after walking the path and a ton of discussion about where we wanted to be, we finally picked our perfect spot.
We walked back and paid $10 for the night and learned it was exact cash only, but thankfully with some change we had enough for that first night. We also saw that drones were not permitted March through October and the campground had no water or fire wood, but they did have a couple of pit toilets and trash removal. Our site was one of the established ones and also had a very nice campfire ring and picnic table, and the view of course was pretty spectacular, so we felt the price was a fair one.
(And here’s a super quick (40 second) video showing the drive from the gate to our rig. – Lee)
We knew prior to arriving that our friends Harry and Vicki were staying in the same park, but since they were out exploring for the afternoon, after setting up we decided to get the lay of the land. Usually when we hit a new area, I like to go to a BLM office, but unfortunately there wasn’t one nearby. Instead we drove down to Monument Valley in the hopes of getting some information from the visitors center. Unfortunately you had to pay $20 to get inside, and since it was already late in the day we decided to keep going.
Next we went to a large RV park/hotel called Gouldings to see if they had information there as well. They only had information about the tours they offered and although it was a pretty site that wasn’t really what we were looking for.
We kept driving down Highway 163 and arrived at the Navajo Nation Welcome Center and Navajo Market. We went into the Welcome center, which said there were maps, only to be told that we needed to pay the $20 to get a map of the area. At this point I was pretty frustrated, so tried another approach. What I really wanted was information on was the jeep tours, but the companies who ran the tours were inside the park. The woman at the welcome center told me that there were always plenty of guides and their prices varied from person to person. I asked if I needed cash and she said yes some didn’t take cards and at that point I said could you at least give me a rough idea. She very hesitantly said $80 -$100 a person, which at least gave me some idea how much cash to take and then sent us on our way. Update: We ended up paying $110 cash per person for a 2-1/2 hour tour. We took $300 cash with us just to be safe, but found out later we could have booked online. Why this Welcome Center didn’t have an information sheet on the names, websites, and phone numbers of the companies who give the tours I have no idea. Because despite the impression I was given it absolutely was all companies and not individual freelancers giving the tours.
It was hands down the most frustrating experience at a Welcome Center I have ever had. They had no maps, no flyers, no information at all. What they did have was a very small museum, a conference center that the tribe uses, and one person sitting behind the desk who wasn’t able to provide us with much information. Thank heavens a few days later we discovered a visitors center in Bluff that had lots of great information. We also learned from our friend Cori that many of the jeep tour companies have websites. I swear I was extremely polite, no clue why the Welcome Center was so unwelcoming.
After the Welcome Center experience, we decided to just head back to the RV. Since it was a beautiful night, we invited Harry and Vicki down for a campfire and had a wonderful conversation that covered a variety of topics. You know it was good because Lee and I stayed up way past our normal bed time 🙂 It was a great end to the day and after talking to them, I was really excited about exploring the area.
(And here’s one more video driving from our rig, which was in one of the very first sites inside the campground, to Harry and Vicky’s rig, which was quite a bit farther in. Again, this is to give you some idea of the sites and the condition of the road. It gets significantly tighter and bumpier past where this video ends. – Lee)
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