WiFi is slow to non-existent in places, there’s arguably one traffic light for the entire San Juan County (nearly, the size of New Jersey!), cows stand in the roads and wonder why you’re moving so fast, and people slow down to talk with each other—to connect. The country there is vast, staggering, and beautiful. Ancient markings lurk around every corner, and I truly felt a sense of peace and tranquility. Between Canyonlands National Park and Monument Valley there are plenty of awe-inspiring and meditative moments.
This article was created in partnership with the San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services, Utah. Images by Emily Sierra Photography.
Numerous films made the vast Monument Valley famous. Striking sandstone buttes rise from the desert floor and ripple a rainbow of colors at sunrise and sunset. The valley drive through the Navajo Tribal Park alone is stunning, but for the full experience I went out with a guide from Gouldings. With a Navajo guide, I was able to see sights that are inaccessible while traveling alone. We were afforded uncommon views of the valley and multiple panels of petroglyphs and ancient dwellings. Incredible arches and natural rock features abound there—my favorite being “Big Hogan”. We even stepped inside a traditional hogan dwelling. At night, I hunkered down in my cozy little quarters for the evening, reflecting on beautiful southeast Utah, rich in culture and landscapes.
Dancing and Dogs in Utah’s Canyon Country
I danced in four states at once (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona) at Four Corners Monument before heading north to Hovenweep National Monument. There, I hiked along the trails with views of the stone structures that remain. Towers and dwellings from over 800 years ago stand proud, and I loved imagining life in this prehistoric village. Additionally, entrance to the the monument is free and leashed dogs are welcome on the trail.
Heading north from the monument, I drove past thousands of yellow patches of rabbit brush and spotted the San Juan Mountains to the east. I opened my truck door at 3 Step Hideaway and was immediately greeted by Blue, an overly excited dog looking for a new fetch partner. I lit the wood stove in my cabin and strummed my banjo as the sky turned shades of purple before sparkling with stars. Back at the ‘cantina’ I shared a home-cooked meal with owners, Scott and Julie. The lack of cell service, WiFi, and ambient noise let my evening melt into reflection.
Valley of the Gods
Seventeen miles of dirt road wind through massive monoliths in Valley of the Gods. While this road can easily be toured and enjoyed as a scenic drive, I chose to view the valley on a scenic ride. All day I craned my head back and forth at the sandstone buttes. Without any traffic (as in, I saw 2 cars all day!), the bike ride was easy-going and the best way to slow down and take in the views of Utah’s Canyon Country.
Famished at the end of my ride, I drove down to Mexican Hat to grab a bite to eat at the Olde Bridge Grille. I couldn’t help but marvel at the town’s namesake, truly a hat-shaped rock set against beige ridge combed with red rock.
These experiences are just a sampling of my entire time in Utah’s Canyon Country. Common sentiments from fellow travelers in the area were, “I didn’t know there was so much to see here!” I imagine that many of them left feeling inspired and rejuvenated, just like me.