Straddling Arizona and Utah in the Navajo Nation can be a challenge in time management. Arizona does not use Daylight Saving, Utah and Colorado are on Mountain Time and The Navajo Nation is Pacific Time. A cell phone might display a different time as it changes towers even while you are sitting still. It is easy to lose track of time.
We arrived at Oljato-Monument Valley (the official Navajo name) early, but after sunrise. The sun was unsuccessfully trying to break through the clouds leaving the usually red colored monuments a bit flat. This area was made famous as the backdrop of countless Western movies, many starring John Wayne. The park places you in the middle of a wonderland of spires, buttes and red rock creations. The majestic valley is accented with the clouds and sun casting shadows on the 400-1,000 foot tower formations of fragile sandstone. The scenery is vast and wonderful.There is a 17 mile dirt road scenic drive that has 11 marked view points to take in the amazing landscape. After negotiating the steep and rocky first half mile down Mitchell Mesa to the valley, the road levels out but we were mindful of the rocky terrain. We saw both East and West Mittens, Merrick Butte, the Three Sisters (which I call W) and all the rest as we enjoyed our self guided tour. There are Navajo guided tours available for a deeper experience which will bring you to restricted areas and also let you walk closer to monuments.Our backroad journey continued east and north to Cortez, Colorado, where we stopped for lunch and a walk around the cute town filled with murals. There was a great quilt shop and a farm to table restaurant, The Farm Bistro, that served excellent food and coffees and even yak burgers (yes, there is a yak farm nearby). Ready for an after-lunch adventure, our car climbed up thousands of feet to Mesa Verde National Park. This park preserves and interprets the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who resided here between the years 600-1300. There are more than 600 cliff dwellings and thousands of archeological sites.Most of the park was snow-covered which meant no visiting and climbing the Balcony House. We did walk around the Spruce House, the Temple of the Sun, cliff houses and pit houses, too. While earning another junior ranger badge for my growing collection (6) we learned much about the indigenous Pueblo people who survived and thrived in the area. Another fun fact learned: dendrochronology is the study of dating trees. Arizona, Utah and Colorado are three states with amazing rock formations and panoramic views. They offered up two outstanding parks completely different from each other. This was a complete and enthralling day. 3, 2, 1-derful.