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HOWDY PARDNER–Moab to Monument Valley

July 17, 2012

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NOTE:  This is the 3rd installment of my 2011 ride across the American West.  You can read the other stories by selecting the appropriate links on the right side of the page.

The ride today would be permanently burned into my brain.  It’s one of those once in a lifetime rides that stays with you forever.  I’d rate this in the top ten of all the places I’ve visited and, it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to see.

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Today’s trip would include 150 miles of some of the most scenic motorcycle riding in Utah.  The destination – Monument Valley.  Just the words bring up Cinemascope John Ford Western movie memories.

This is one of the most iconic motorcycle destinations in the world.  Just imagine what it feels like to be riding towards Monument Valley.  It’s hard to describe.  There were days on the road where I felt I might die if I saw another amazing site – that I had used my entire lifetime’s capacity for beautiful vistas.  America has some seriously “big country”

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Ok.  Let’s get back to how the morning started.  Suzanne and I had a great nights sleep in the cabin.  With the only problem being that the plastic cover on the mattress was awful.  Imagine sitting on a plastic covered couch.  Not that we were actually touching it – we had sleeping bags and sleep sacks – but the dam mattress was noisy as every time you moved even a little bit it crinkled.  Nasty.

Adventure Travel Tip:

Sleep Sacks were invented to prevent you from having to sleep in beds with questionable sheets and bedding (don’t ask – there was this one south Georgia no-tell motel……….ug).  They are also useful to increase the range of your light sleeping bag by adding a bit more low temp insulation.  Conversely, they are fantastic at helping you sleep comfortably in insanely hot conditions.  I was tent camping at the BMW MOA in Bloomsburg, PA last year in temps that exceeded 112 in the daytime and 105 at night – HOT.  Thank god for the COOLMAX Sleep Sack. 

A company called Sea to Summit sells a variety of Sleep Sacks (Cotton, Silk and COOLMAX).  I bought mine at REI for something like $40.00.  It has quickly become one of the most important items I travel with.  I hate the feel of the nylon of the tent and sleeping bag.  The Sleep Sack eliminates that feeling completely.  Also, these things are cut square and there is a huge amount of room in the feet to stretch out.  If you buy one consider spending a few more bucks and get the silk version which is even better than the COOLMAX version.  DO NOT BUY the Cotton version.  It’ won’t “give” or stretch and will begin to rip down the seams almost immediately (I know from experience.  I decided to save a few bucks and buy the cheapest one and it was in shreds a few nights later). The COOLMAX or Silk will stretch and give you plenty of room to move about.

 Enough said about that!  Back to the ride story.

It was an absolutely beautiful day and perfect for riding. From the map at the top of the page it was not rocket science to get to the destination today.  Essentially South down US Highway 191 to Mexican Hat. 

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America is amazing.  Imagine creating a business centered around “A Hole in The Rock”  The World Famous Hole N’ The Rock is a 5000 foot home carved inside this lump of stone.  FULL DISCLOSURE – I DID NOT STOP THERE.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WAY.   I AVOID CRAP LIKE THAT LIKE THE PLAGUE. 

But………..

As I sat down to write the article this morning, I got to wondering what the attraction was about.

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The next few photos were pulled from the Hole N The Rock website.  Among other things, I learned that the original reason FOR the hole in the rock was that the original owners (Albert and Gladys Christensen) needed a place for the young Christensen boys to sleep.  So, instead of doing something completely irrational (like build a house, pitch a tent, build an Adobe brick hut, mobile home, Teepee, etc., etc.) they carved out an alcove in the rock.  Charming.  I bet Al was voted “Father of The Year” more than once……..

Anyway, shortly thereafter, the Christensen’s decided to get a carvin’ and make a beeeee-o-utiful home for them selves.  Again, apparently more conventional building materials must have been unknown to Al and Gladys and  eventually they carved out a 5000 foot square subterranean palace – complete with a petting zoo and gift shop.

There is nothing that says home like shag carpet and a bunch of creepy dolls.

Like I said, I did not stop – but I did enjoy that last bit of humor.  What a dump.  Not for me, not at all.

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This is seriously beautiful country for motorcycling.

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Looking left.

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Looking right.

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Looking backwards.

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Located on the banks of the San Juan River, the San Juan Motel is a great place to stop and stretch your legs, grab a bite to eat or spend the night.  I think this would be  fantastic base for some serious ADV/Off-Road riding as it offers easy access to Valley of The Gods, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges (the world’s first international dark sky site) Goosenecks State Park, etc. 

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The Mexican Hat Lodge was an old Indian Bar and Dance Hall.  Operated from 1950 t0 1990 and recently “renovated” to include 10 rooms.

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I rolled into the parking lot, Suzanne jumped off and I shut off the Aprilia and put down the side stand.  I’d arrived in Monument Valley.  It’s one of those times where you just take off your helmet and sit there, on the motorcycle, and take in your surroundings. 

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The Trading Post and Museum are a short walk up a set of stairs.  The area is comprised of a motel (Gouldings Lodge) a café (Gouldings Stagecoach Dining Room), the museum, and of course, the gift shop (which was forgettable).

Goulding’s Trading Post and Lodge was founded in 1924 by Harry Goulding.  Harry knew he found a special place when he first visited the area in 1921.  Born into a family of sheep ranchers, Harry spent his entire life ranching and trading.  The only time he ever took off his cowboy boots was during his service in World War I in France. 

Harry was as tough as the land – he had to be.  Lodging began as a 10 by 12 foot tent and progressed into the two story building that housed the trading post and living quarters (where the museum is today).  Most of his early business was trading with the native Navajo Indians.  The Depression did nothing to help as did two drought’s in 1934 and 1936.  Trading virtually dried up.

Harry decided to take an amazing risk.  He would go to Hollywood and pitch the Valley as a location for film westerns.  With a book of photos taken by Josef Muench, Harry packed the car with bedrolls, grub, the coffee pot and drove off to Hollywood.  He arrived at the gates of United Artists and made it as far as a receptionist before being told that without an appointment there was no way he would be seeing anyone.

Harry, being Harry, said no problem.  He would be back in a minute – he was just going to get his bedroll out of the car and get comfortable.  Eventually the location manager for the movie Stagecoach arrived and had every intention of throwing the cowboy out when he got a look at Harry’s photographs.  Shortly thereafter, Director John Ford got a look – and the rest is history.

A photo of Harry and his wife “Mike”  Why is this woman called “Mike”?  Well, Harry, who did not have much of an education, had a hell of a time spelling her given name ‘Leone”.  So in frustration, he eventually just wrote “Mike” on her letters and it stuck.  Tell that to your wife/girlfriend/etc. 

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Everything you see – for one square mile, was purchased by Harry from the State of Utah for $320.00

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Painting of “The Duke” from the museum.

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John Ford while a brilliant director, was a dedicated alcoholic and by all accounts an extremely difficult individual.   He earned four Academy Awards and created some of the most iconic films in history – The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Mister Roberts, Cheyenne Autumn, etc.   When Orson Welles was asked who his favorite directors were, he answered “John Ford, John Ford, John Ford.

Cheyenne Autumn was the last film Ford would make in Monument Valley. He died in 1973. 

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Ok, here is where I really, really, dropped the ball.  Somehow I missed the opportunity to get out in to the country and ride around the formations.  The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park  offers access to the area on a 17 mile dirt/gravel road.   I may have been worried about riding on gravel with Suzanne – who knows. Oh well, next time.

If you are planning a trip to Monument Valley and want to ride off-road I’d suggest visiting www.advrider.com and searching for adventure riding information about the area.  FYI – there is fuel available at Gouldings Lodge.

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There was an opportunity to visit “Four Corners” on the way back.  I skipped this intentionally.  First, the monument is NOT in the right place and is located almost 2.5 miles away from the actual state boundaries.  Second, it’s a freaking tourist trap with 43 or so vendor booths selling everything from T-shirts to rubber moccasins.


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We arrived back in Moab just in time for cocktails and a swim in the pool.  It had been an unforgettable day in Utah.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

A ride from Moab to Salt Lake City and on to Big Sky in Montana………….

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Frank Gorshin permalink
    July 17, 2012 1:15 pm

    Who is Suzanne?

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  1. Through the American West - Moab to Monument Valley - Ducati.ms - The Ultimate Ducati Forum

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