Visiting Northern Arizona’s Red Rock Country

“I’m going to pull over just outside of Shiprock and you can drive for awhile,” my friend Donna announced. I had not driven a stick shift for over 20 years and was a bit nervous. I got behind the wheel, pushed the clutch down to the floor – a long ways in a truck – eased on the gas and glided out on the highway. Without even thinking, it came back to me, and I was shifting without having to think about it. And, all of a sudden I realized that my bionic left knee didn’t hurt, which is what prompted me to swear off cars with clutches years ago!

We didn’t have to go far before the flat desert landscape became hilly. Piñon pines dotted the red dirt and we began to notice unique rock formations.

Red Mesa

Red Mesa

“I want to take a picture of those hills up ahead,” I announced, and was delighted to find a pull-out along the road. The vertical striations and pattern of erosion looked like rows of toes.

Owl Rock

Owl Rock

“I’m probably taking way too many pictures,” Donna stated as we pulled over again to take a photo of Owl Rock while we headed north from Kayenta.

Our RV park was nestled in a canyon just west and over the border into Utah from the Monument Valley Tribal Park. We got settled into our space, conveniently located not too far from the rest rooms and then set out to explore the surrounding area.

Monument Valley vista

Monument Valley vista

As we headed down the road towards the wash trail, we stopped to gasp with awe at the rock formations. “Now I know why it is called monument valley,” I exclaimed.

“There’s a bat,” Donna said later in the early evening, pointing at a fluttering object drift by. The fading light reflected off its translucent gray wings and it resembled a large butterfly.

The back side of The Mitten from trail

The back side of The Mitten from trail

The next morning we headed over to the tribal park where we decided to take the 3.2 mile hike around the “Mitten’ before it got too hot. The trail headed down a slope below the primitive camping area where campers in backpack tents were still sleeping along the edge of the cliff. As the sun changed positions, the colors and shadows of the massive rock formation were ever-changing.

The patch of dune sand which had seemed easy to traverse on the way down, was a killer to trudge through on the way back up to the parking area.

Totem Pole rock formation

Totem Pole rock formation

We bumped along the 17 mile rocky and rutted road through the valley, stopping to admire the interesting rock formations, e.g. Three Sisters, The Elephant, The Totem Poles, and the Thumb. We fixed our lunch and admired the ‘Totem Pole’ rock formation as we ate our lunch.

And, then we were off to spend the night in Page and be ready to head to the Vermillion Cliffs in the morning.

View of Colorado River from Navajo Bridge

View of Colorado River from Navajo Bridge

We arrived at Navajo Bridge at 10 a.m., which is the time I had seen a California Condor on my last visit. Even though they are seen more frequently at this location during the spring, we were hopeful that one might be sunning itself on a rocky ledge in Marble Canyon. We walked out on the old bridge and peered down at some rafters floating down the Colorado River far below. The iridescent blue-green water contrasted with the limestone cliffs.

A clerk in the Visitor’s Center reported that one had visited the bridge area the prior day and also suggested we check the Vermillion Cliffs as we drove towards the Grand Canyon, as well as stop at the release site.

California Condor wing span

California Condor wing span

Each time we saw a bird soaring over the cliffs, we looked for a spot to pull onto the shoulder. Unfortunately, they always turned out to be Ravens.

We stopped at the viewing station adjacent to the Peregrine Fund’s release site. A large sign provided us with a better perspective on the condor’s wingspan, compared with a Golden Eagle and a Red-tailed Hawk.

condor roosting sight

condor roosting sight

Lark Sparrows, Say’s Phoebes and Lazuli Buntings provided a diversion; however, there were no condors at the guano-stained cliffs where they return to roost for the night.

Donna and I were grateful we both had the opportunity to view these majestic birds on prior trips to the area.

We had enjoyed our three-day trek across northern Arizona’s red rock country, but were excited to be heading to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

About judysjottings

I am a freelance writer in New Mexico with interests in birds, the environment, travel and and family history. I am co-author of Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico and Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico. Professional writing memberships include SouthWest Writers and New Mexico Book Coop.
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3 Responses to Visiting Northern Arizona’s Red Rock Country

  1. Sylvia says:

    Loved ‘revisting’ this beloved site with Judy.

  2. Carole says:

    Fabulous Judy! If you have not yet seen Julie and Julia, don’t miss it…her blogging was a great part of the story! Or get her book!

  3. Betsy Landerholm says:

    Judy, Wonderful pictures! Haven’t heard from you in awhile. I am in Korea supervising student teachers. Remembering our first journey as JYA students. Betsy

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