Northeastern Arizona is an arid land dotted with breathtaking canyons, scenic mesas and rugged buttes.
Stretches of highway pass through descriptive places like Wide Ruins, Beautiful Valley, Ventana Mesa, Many Farms and Rock Point, with few man-made structures to spoil the beauty.Three natural attractions here stand out: Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly and Petrified Forest National Park.
A week would allow a visitor time to explore the movie madness at Monument Valley, the Indian legends of Canyon de Chelly, and nature's secrets solidified in rock at the Petrified Forest.
Anyone who wishes to spend time here, though, would be wise to know something about the climate.
Summer is hellishly hot. From November to April, the weather is better for humans, even downright cold in some places.
Petrified Forest National Park is 116 miles east of Flagstaff on Interstate 40. Admission is $5 per car, good for a week.
There are several points of interest that can be reached by car, offering a full day's excursion. The two most interesting sights probably are the Painted Desert and, of course, the petrified wood that is all over the place.
Visitors can kick, throw or sit on the wood if they so desire, but don't put it in your pocket and leave the park. If you're caught, you will pay a fine up to $100. Even so, it is estimated that 12 tons are stolen each year.
From Petrified Forest, head north to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced "shay"), in the Navaho Indian Reservation.
A trip to this canyon allows a glimpse of the pastoral side of modern Navajo life and a peek into their past. More than 700 archaeological sites lie in the twisting sandstone canyons.
Canyon de Chelly lacks the breadth and scope of the Grand Canyon, but many of its glories rival those of its bigger cousin to the west. Fortunately for those who do venture here, it doesn't attract anywhere near the crowds. About 665,000 tourists visited Canyon de Chelly in 1988 (the last year for which totals are available). Almost 4 million visitors descended on the Grand Canyon.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the lower numbers is that Canyon de Chelly is off the beaten track - 80 miles north of I-40, near the Arizona-New Mexico border. The entry fee is $5 per car a week.
The route to Monument Valley from Canyon de Chelly is less direct, so be sure to have a current state map. U.S. 191, Navajo Route 59, U.S. 160 and then I-163 will take you to Gouldings, a former trading post a short distance from Monument Valley. It has the only accommodations and restaurant within 20 miles, so prices are on the high side.
Monument Valley costs $5 per car per day.
There is an eerie beauty here. Huge rocks rise from the desert sands, resembling sentries guarding the sacred lands of the Navajo, all the while thrusting their shadows away from the unremitting sun. Their colors change, softening as the moon rises, turning the rocks into black ghosts.
Although the road is dirt and very rough, the best way to see the valley is by car. The roads seem too rugged for a camper or trailer; instead, many tours are available, with prices ranging from $12 to $46.
The route back to Flagstaff by U.S. 160 and U.S. 89 can include a stop at the Navajos' Betatakin Ruins and Keet Seel Ruins located just west of the town of Tsegi, off U.S. 160.
And if you're really into the Old West by now, don't miss Sedona, 30 miles south of Flagstaff on U.S. 89A. Sedona is famous as a haven for artists who perpetuate, according to the Sedona city charter, "the memory and culture of the Old West" and "ensure authentic representation of the life of the West as it was and is."
IF YOU GO:
Consult a travel agent for information on airline flights and auto rentals.
- For the Petrified Forest, the best bet is to stay in either Chambers, 22 miles east of the park's northern entrance, or in Holbrook, 18 miles west of the south entrance. In Chambers, there is the Best Western Chieftain Motel and Restaurant, $53 a night for two and a good dinner for $10 each. For reservations, call 1-602-688-2754. Holbrook offers four hotels, including the Best Western Adobe Inn (1-602-524-3948), the Best Western Arizonian Inn (1-602-524-2611), the Comfort Inn (1-602-524-6131) and Rainbow 8 Motel (1-602-524-2654). The prices for two people range from $39 to $58.
- For Canyon de Chelly, accommodations are limited. The principal lodging is the Thunderbird Lodge, a pleasant 72-room motel at the mouth of the canyon. It sits on the site of one of the early reservation trading posts. Its restaurant occupies one of the original early-1900s buildings, complete with a vault where pawned Navaho jewelry was stored. The only other nearby accommodations are at the Canyon de Chelly Motel in Chinle, a small Navaho reservation community near the park entrance. A free campground within the park has spots for tents and recreational vehicles.