United States 3: Grand Canyon to Monument Valley

With the Grand Canyon challenges completed, the team set off on the next leg of the race.  Driving east along the Canyon Rim, they stopped in at the varying scenic turn offs along the way.  Then on the long descent from the Canyon Rim to the plains below, they received their first surprise detour.

A surprise detour is a challenge that is sprung on the team at any moment during the race, and usually will significantly alter travel plans.  In this instance, the surprise was to drive a couple of hundred miles further east to Monument Valley where they would receive their next clue.

For the Half Life fans out there

Driving east, they entered what could only be described as a moonscape, a vast barren land devoid of anything living, except Navajo settlements amongst the rock piles and sand aggregate hills.  Simon again wished for a rope as there were stretches of exceedingly straight and long roads through this area.

Until that is, they crested a hill and entered the Monument Valley region.  Their pace of travel slowed considerably as every opportunity was taken to stop and take photographs of the buttes.

The team entered the Navajo Tribal Park, and quickly decided to see if accommodation was available for the night at the Navajo Monument Valley View hotel.  There was one room left so they were in luck yet again.

The view from the team’s room
Valley Panarama

The team enjoyed the spectacular view whilst dining in the hotel restaurant.  They then joined the crowds watching sunset and 2wd car get rescued from the 4wd track before watching ‘Stage Coach’ (starring the Duke, John Wayne).  Their hosts, the Navajo who worked at the hotel seemed to all be young with great senses of humour.

Late afternoon Monuments Sunset Monuments
Monument and Moon

Again alarms were set early and Ang and Simon commenced the main task for this leg of the race.  They watched the sun rise, then headed off to walk the Wild Cat Trail, a 6.5km round circuit that passes up close to the buttes.

Sunrise Monumets by day

Despite some mild concern regarding rattlesnakes and actual wild cats, the team enjoyed the spectacular walk.   They covered the first section easily and were on the return journey when they lost sight of the stone cairns that marked the path.

Slanty Valley

Picking up an alternative path through the desert flood, the team walked along what seem to be a goat track (with a few human footprints thrown in for good measure).  It turned out that it was indeed a goat track as the team happened upon a herd of goats guarded by a lone dog and three to four Navajo on horseback, high up on a ridge.  The team knew they were being observed as they made their way back to the visitor area.  Simon said, “now I know what John Wayne must’ve felt like”.

Then it was north out of Monument valley, stopping only for brief moments to recreate pivotal moments from the Beatles and Forest Gump’s careers, and onwards to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Ang does this all the time Monument Valley Road

United States 2: Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

For the few who don’t know, Americans drive on the other side of the road.  If you have not previously driven on the other side of the road, there is a certain amount of anxiety to be had by first timers.  Said Ang regarding right hand drive, “the last time I drove on the opposite side, I was just back from Norway and it was in Australia.  Lucky no one died”.

With the space of a few minutes, much of the traffic rules had been worked out and the team headed south out of Las Vegas towards Flagstaff.

Hoover Dam

They drove for about five hours and after taking short detours to the Hoover dam and along the largest remaining stretch of route 66, they decided to try the small town of Williams for overnight accommodation.  Their accommodation of choice was a restored former brothel and was located in convenient walking distance to the main after 6pm attraction in Williams, the nightly gunslinger shoot out.

Shop in Williams

Refreshed after their night’s sleep, the team commenced the next task of this leg of the race.  They were to drive themselves to the Grand Canyon, but first they had to complete a detour to Sedona, a small Bangalow-esk arts and crafts town located amongst a bunch of impressive rock formations.  Ang remarked that “she was really glad to have come to Sedona and couldn’t get enough of the views”.  Simon was particularly interested in locating or at least viewing a vortex, as the area is famous for having the highest concentration of vortices in the world.  Unfortunately the local hippy types were either away or still in bed, so exact coordinates could not be given, meaning the team had to skip this task.


Done with Sedona, the team commenced the drive back north through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon.  Simon, who had previously been to the Canyon, said that “he didn’t remember there being such long straight roads on the approach, and that if he had remembered, he would have brought some rope to tie off the steering wheel to make the car (with cruise control), fully automatic.”  Ang just rolled her eyes with a smile.

Arriving nearly 2 hours after setting off from Sedona, the team progressed through the park to the rim lodges.  There they asked for and were granted the last remaining room in the complex.  Booking formalities completed, they approached the rim of the Canyon for the first time.  Ang said “Holy crap”.  Simon had that tingling sensation, which soon past, but was still impressed, “it is just like a painting”.

Grand Canyon

The first task at the Canyon was to find the ideal vantage point for sunset.  Ang was particularly keen to take the perfect photo but with the heat in the canyon it was quite hazy.  After walking about 8 km, they team watched the sun descend over the western rim.   Alarms were set for the second part of the challenge, sunrise.

Ang and Canyon
Simon and Canyon
Plank and Canyon
It is a big hole
Even more Canyon
Possibly Rabid, but cute

Waking before dawn, the team took a shuttle to Yaki point with a bunch of Euro types.  There they took full advantage of the lack of crowds to position themselves to photograph and watch the sun come up over the eastern edge of the canyon.

The race continues…