A Relaxed Southwest Road Trip: Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley

Bryce Canyon National Park

On April 1, 2021, we embarked on a somewhat relaxed Southwest road trip. We planned to drive to Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon. We didn’t quite make the Grand Canyon. More about that later.

Bryce Canyon National Park was our first stop, and it turned out to be my favorite of the trip. At first, we were just driving around the park to all of the scenic overlooks and wondering “how do we get to a trail”? The scenery was amazing, but we were beginning to worry that we were only going to be able to look at it from afar. Well, it turns out, we had just driven past the trail heads that were closer to the entrance. Whoops! Time to turn around!

Once we got on the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Combination trail, we no longer had any sense of disappointment. This is the most popular trail in the park, and with good reason. It was absolutely banana pancakes gorgeous.

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This combination is a 2.9 mile loop with a 600 ft. elevation change, so it qualifies as a moderate hike. It is recommended to go clockwise, so that is what we did, and I agree with this recommendation. It reveals the most rewarding view at the end.

The descent from the rim of the canyon was mild and you find yourself among the hoodoos! At the bottom of the canyon, you get to see them from the whole new perspective of a worm’s eye view. There is a nice shaded forest environment at the very bottom of the canyon right before the most challenging part of the hike begins. There is a series of switchbacks that, I swear, account for at least 200 ft. of that 600 ft. elevation change.

Navajo Loop Trail switchbacks
Navajo Loop Trail switchbacks

But do not let this discourage you. Keep going whatever it takes. You do not want to miss the view when the agony of the uphill climb ends and the canyon wall open up on this:

Sunset Point Bryce Canyon overlooking Thor's Hammer
Sunset Point, Bryce Canyon. Overlooking Thor’s Hammer.
Here we are enjoying our view from the top!

Glen Canyon/Horseshoe Bend

So, it turns out that when you drive from Bryce Canyon to Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend is only a 10 minute, $10 detour! Not only was it just 10 minutes off of our driving route, it is only a 10 minute (very easy 1.5 mile) hike from the parking lot to the bend!

Glen Canyon/Horseshoe Bend
Glen Canyon/Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona/Utah. It is one of the most recognized places in Glen Canyon and there are plenty better photos than the one I took here. I just spaced as you do sometimes and forgot to take a better one because we just sat there looking at it! This was midday, so there was a pretty harsh shadow on the vista. That’s the Colorado River down there, and if you look closely, you can see little kayaks!

Mexican Hat

When we arrived in Monument Valley, it was before check-in time, so we decided to drive the 30 or so minutes to the town of Mexican Hat to admire the, well, rock formation named Mexican Hat. It is free to just pull off on the dirt road to view it from pretty close up.

Mexican Hat Rock Formation
Mexican Hat Rock Formation

It looks like a little person’s head wearing a very wide brim hat. Slightly offensive name aside, it is pretty cute. But, honestly all there really is to do is to take a look and move on. It is not a must-do by any means in our book.

Monument Valley

While at Monument Valley, stayed at Goulding’s Lodge. This hotel is an attraction in itself. It is nestled under Rock Door Mesa and all the rooms face Monument Valley. We had a balcony with a breathtaking view.

Goulding's Lodge

Goulding’s Lodge

With a stay at Goulding’s Lodge in Monument Valley, you’ll be within a 15-minute drive of Oljato-Monument Valley and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The front desk is staffed during limited hours. Free self parking is available onsite.


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You can watch our short video walkthrough here on You Tube.

During the time of our visit, the Monument Valley Tribal Park was closed. However, the hotel still offered private tours of some of the scenic vistas that are still easy and safe to access. We took the Sunset Tour which lasted 2 hours and took us to a Navajo Hogan, two public scenic overlooks, and two private scenic overlooks that you can’t access without inside knowledge or four-wheel drive! The coolest stop was the Teardrop Arch. Our guide, Leo, made sure we were there at the perfect time to get the sunset shot before the shadow came. Alex and I were the last two to get up there for the photo, so you can see how quick that shadow came in. We snapped a few photos with Leo yelling, “Hurry! Hurry!” You can see the shadow coming in on the second photo below.

The next morning at sunrise, we went to highway 163 to get a very iconic shot of Monument Valley.

Yes, here I am being extra as all get-out in a race car cocktail dress in the location where Forest Gump decided to stop running and go back to Greenbow, Alabama. But, if that doesn’t sum me up, then what would?

I am used to shooting in over the top looks in all kinds of places and have never felt silly for it before. I just don’t care what other people think of me in those situations. However, for the first time ever, I felt a little silly when we pulled off to a nearby overlook and a sweet little timid dog came waggling up to us. At first, she would only come to my friend, Rebecca. Then, I realized she was scared of my big flappy bright red dress. I must have looked like a deranged pterodactyl to her.

We realized the dog had been living under an empty makeshift sales booth. Then we saw the sign…

And then rest of the day had been planned for us. I took off my flappy dress, we skipped the Grand Canyon and took this sweet dog all the way home to Palm Springs.

We cannot keep Utah, but we could not leave her there. We are fostering her until we can find her forever home. The good news is, we already have several parties interested in adopting her! And, we are going to get her medical care and take care of her until we can transport her to her real home.

Apparently, this area and our hotel are common dumping ground for strays. There are really no resources in the area for abandoned pets. But, it does turn out that there is a animal sanctuary about 3.5 hours away in Kanab. So, if this happens to you near this area and you can’t take them home, contact Best Friends Animal Society and see if they can help.

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