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October 11, 2011

SOL Tour Day Three: Monument Valley, Moki Dugway, and Malts at The Patio.

Filed under: 2011 SOL Tour,Cars — chuck goolsbee @ 10:02 pm
Dawn at Monument Valley from the campground at Gouldings.
Dawn at Monument Valley from the campground at Gouldings.

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.

The E-type serving as the world's smallest, least-practical RV.
The E-type serving as the world's smallest, least-practical RV.
The angle of my all-night view.
The angle of my all-night view.
My fellow campers finally getting their morning coffee: Larry Wade, Larry's nephew Travis, Dianne Meboe, and Mike Goodwin.
My fellow campers finally getting their morning coffee: Larry Wade, Larry's nephew Travis, Dianne Meboe, and Mike Goodwin.

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 like Big Buttes and I cannot lie…
I like Big Buttes and I cannot lie…

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!

Kjell's Series 2 E-type driving the jeep-trail in Monument Valley!
Kjell's Series 2 E-type driving the jeep-trail in Monument Valley!
Steve and Kjell report on driving conditions.
Steve and Kjell report on driving conditions.

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.

The 65E in front of the famous Mitten Buttes of Monument Valley.
The 65E in front of the famous Mitten Buttes of Monument Valley.

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.

My last shot before I leave the valley.
My last shot before I leave the valley.

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.

Paul & Tweety Arrive in Monument Valley.
Paul & Tweety Arrive in Monument Valley.
The SOL Tour leaves Monument Valley, and drive by Mexican Hat.
The SOL Tour leaves Monument Valley, and drive by Mexican Hat.

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…

Goosenecks, Utah
Goosenecks, Utah

Here, our Geologists provide explanations of the events that shaped this amazing land. But that isn’t what brought us together.

Leaving Goosenecks. Monument Valley behind, and ahead… Moki Dugway.
Leaving Goosenecks. Monument Valley behind, and ahead… Moki Dugway.

Moki Dugway does it.

Moki Dugway. Three Jags from the tour can be seen in the middle of the switch-backs.
Moki Dugway. Three Jags from the tour can be seen in the middle of the switch-backs.

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.

Jerry Mouton's reaction when he stepped out of his car.
Jerry Mouton's reaction when he stepped out of his car.

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.

Larry Wade arrives at the switch-back.
Larry Wade arrives at the switch-back.
Larry's foolishly popped his radiator cap!
Larry's foolishly popped his radiator cap!
Wiggy's Rat Fink shifter knob also likes Moki Dugway.
Wiggy's Rat Fink shifter knob also likes Moki Dugway.

Despite all the elation, we are only two-thirds of the way up Moki Dugway!

Looking back at the tour from the top of Moki Dugway.
Looking back at the tour from the top of Moki Dugway.
Jerry Mouton's 64 FHC tops Moki Dugway.
Jerry Mouton's 64 FHC tops Moki Dugway.
SOL Tour co-founder Paul Wigton, with the valley floor 1100 feet below.
SOL Tour co-founder Paul Wigton, with the valley floor 1100 feet below.
Larry Wade, still regretting opening his cooling system.
Larry Wade, still regretting opening his cooling system.

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.

Between Moki Dugway and Blanding.
Between Moki Dugway and Blanding.

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!

At The Patio, in Blanding.
At The Patio, in Blanding.
Not the usual parking lot scene.
Not the usual parking lot scene.

From Blanding it was an easy, uneventful ~90 mile run to our next night’s stay, in Cortez, Colorado. Stay tuned for Day Four…

2 Comments

  1. Wow!!! Therse pictures, great as always annotated with your usual wit, really, REALLY make me tingle, all over again! This was indeed the day we all ‘became as one,’ and I really, REALLY enjoy reliving the moments through your reportage.

    What a *wonderful,* once-in-a-lifetime trip…thanks for being there, Chuck! Your presence was so welcome and so fun!

    Comment by vrooomie — October 12, 2011 @ 6:22 am

  2. And like the ancient dinosaurs, Dimetrodon, we all had our bonnets open, to cool off…a tip o’the hat to David Fey, for the reference!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dimetrodon_grandis.jpg

    Comment by vrooomie — October 12, 2011 @ 12:54 pm

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