Monument Valley is both an amazing, but also mundane place. Amazing in that it is a real-life Roadrunner & Wile-e-Coyote landscape, with stunning sandstone towers, spectacular color, and John Ford Western Vistas.
However, it is, and always has been, home to many people, and with people come mundane things like fences, buildings in various states of entropy, and of course the bane of landscape photographers everywhere: telephone and power poles. I will admit to retouching away two poles and quite a few wires from the above shot. It pains me to do so, but …. *bleagh!*
I find myself in this place with my face always up. I spent the night before sleeping out under the stars. In the nighttime, gathered in a group of fellow Jag nuts in the campground I just stared at the sky – soaking in the stars, satellites, and meteors above. I slept (without the benefit of a sleeping bag, therefore snuggled up to the ~500lb iron, aluminum, and stainless steel heat sink known as the exhaust side of the Jaguar XK Engine) staring at the moonless sky whenever I wasn’t asleep. Before dawn I arose (the night had pulled all the heat from the XK, and so I was without my source of external warmth by around 4am) and shook off the chill with a stroll around the campground with my monopod and telephoto lens – shooting dozens of variations of the image above. Eventually the light grew to enable hand-held shooting and the awakening of slumbering campers.
Despite the myriad of telephone and power lines strung throughout the canyon, this campground is truly a visual feast, with wind-sculpted sandstone in every direction. I watch the dawn’s light crawl down the walls and illuminate the whole scene. But I also know that this place is a mere nook of this scenic wonderland and I find myself being drawn out of the canyon and towards those free-standing monuments to the east. Morning light is fading into the day’s haze, so I pack my cameras and gear, bid my camp-friends adieu, and motor off.
I hope to connect with my friend Paul and his “poiple” car for some shots out on the valley floor among the monuments. Unfortunately he spent the night in Chinle, AZ, a lengthy drive from here. I call him, and he’s on his way, so I let him know where I’ll be. I pull up to the parking lot of The View hotel and ponder going out onto the valley floor. The nice lady at the park entrance tells me there is no way my “little car” will make it. The roads are all dirt, and suggested for 4WD vehicles with high ground clearance. I can barely slide my hand between the ground and the E-type’s exhaust!
I pose the car at the edge of the lot and shoot some photos. I can see the valley below me and a few Jeeps and such out there. Then I spy a bright yellow dot bouncing along the road. It is Kjell Nelin and Steve Peterson in Kjell’s Series 2 OTS!
I watch them drive all the way back to the parking lot, and then chat with them about the condition of the road. They tell me that it isn’t too bad if you can carefully pick your way along. They say they drove about halfway out before hitting a spot that really stopped them. Emboldened, I hop in the 65E and head out down the trail.
I drive a mile or two down the road, carefully avoiding rocks and rough spots as I was told. I find a few good photo spots and stop to shoot. I take a lot of pictures of the car in various poses here and there, always looking for that “Calendar shot” for Roger Los’ XKEdata.com annual garage-wall art product. I wish Paul were here in his car too, but he’s still en-route.
An hour or so later, I note that the light is transitional. No longer that low-angle morning light, it is becoming hazy and higher-angle. Additionally the road is becoming crowded with tour-Jeeps and people in SUVs as breakfast time has passed and the day has begun in earnest. Not wanting to get stuck, or covered in red dust, I begin back-tracking towards pavement.
I stop to grab a shot with a particularly interesting foreground rock, then – noticing the near rush-hour like traffic, start skeedaddling out of there.
A particularly enjoyable moment comes when I approach the bottom of a switch-back, and see a huge, red Hummer H3 carefully coming down the road above me. It is traveling west like me, but is coming down the hill rather than up it. I find a wide spot to pull over to allow him by, as he rounds the switch-back and now comes towards me. It is like the elephant meeting the mouse. This enormous machine is creeping just as slowly as I am, despite having enough ground clearance to accommodate a Parisian sidewalk café beneath; whereas you’d be lucky to have a scorpion limbo under my car without burning its stinger on my exhaust.
I should have grabbed a photo. Oh well.
Finally making it out of the dust and back to the hotel parking lot, I wrap up the photo shoot and grab a quick breakfast at the aptly-named “View”.
Paul, and the rest of the tour are gathering across the valley at Gouldings near where I spent the night. I meet up with them, grab some gas, and we head out north as a group.
This is the day that the 2011 Southwest Oil Leak Jaguar Tour really gels as a group. Up until this point we really didn’t coalesce. Many of us didn’t really know each other. We’d traveled together, but had yet to really bond. From Monument Valley we drove north, through Mexican Hat, then on to The Goosenecks…
Here, our Geologists provide explanations of the events that shaped this amazing land. But that isn’t what brought us together.
Moki Dugway does it.
Moki Dugway is an astounding road. Part of Utah State Route 261, it connects the desert floor with a higher plateau and a mountain range. I have driven through this part of Utah many, many times without ever knowing it was here. Leaving Goosenecks, I sprinted ahead to shoot the cars as they went by, then sprinted like mad to catch up with them. We all have radios and I can hear the chatter of the majority of the group, without really being able to make out what they are saying (wind and engine noise drowning out the detail.)
I approach Moki Dugway alone, and am in awe looking up at this seeming solid wall. It seems impossible from below that a road goes up this! Ascending, the road goes from pavement to gravel, and back to pavement again as it switches back. Altitude is gained in huge leaps. Every glance back shows you farther and farther above the desert valley floor. At the far end of an impressive switch back, I find the collected group. Everyone is beaming with mile-wide smiles. This. Is. Amazing.
We all are blown away by this place. This view. This road.
We even meet a fellow E-type owner, from Georgia, though he’s driving a rental car on a western vacation. We tell him about the tour and let him know we’re planning another next year in the Pacific Northwest. He gives me his card so I can add him to the email list. What are the chances of that?
I have no idea how long we stood around at that switch-back but I know that when we left, we were a single, cohesive group. We had all bonded in a way that the previous two days had not accomplished. We had all ascended Moki Dugway.
Our cars, being from a time when technology wasn’t so advanced, are all hot and bothered. We all have our bonnets up to help them cool from their hard drive up the grade.
Despite all the elation, we are only two-thirds of the way up Moki Dugway!
Paul & I wait for Larry at the top of the grade, and once he’s underway we fall in behind him and head north. From here, we drive along empty, Utah mountain roads. It is noticeably cooler up here. What a blast it is to change leads between these three cars – a trio of machines playing Sir William’s Sixth Symphony, echoing off the rocks all around us.
We race along to this wonderful music all the way to The Patio drive-in of Blanding, UT where we enjoy a wonderful (though late) lunch with Malts!
From Blanding it was an easy, uneventful ~90 mile run to our next night’s stay, in Cortez, Colorado. Stay tuned for Day Four…