A few hours of shut-eye later, my wife, Dee, and I were doing our 6:30am breakfast run with our sleepy teenagers 30 minutes behind us. Nearing the end of our meal, Guide Chris shouted from the door that a few elk had been spotted outside. Cutlerly clanging, 8 of us raced out the door and slowly pursued two massive elk as they sauntered across railway tracks and into the surrounding green-spaces. While the animals were wary of our quiet camera crew, they still deigned to provide a number of photo-ops for us tourists.
Some elk hold a debate outside Thunderbird Lodge.
Our coach left the Thunderbird Lodge by 7:30am on what would be the longest travel-day of the tour - Grand Canyon to Moab, Utah by way of Monument Valley. While a DVD played to help pass the time, the real show was outside the coach windows. The rolling hills gave way to frequent sightings of colourful buttes and mesas as we grew closer to the Utah border. At the 3-hour mark, we stopped at Goulding's Lodge, located withing the Navajo reserve that surrounds Monument Valley.
As we de-coached, we were met by Mike, a local Navajo guide who be taking us for a tour of Monument Valley. Mike's conveyance was an open-air truck (of sorts) with padded benches and clear, retractable coverings acting as protection from the clouds of red dust that dominated the landscape from time to time. We found our seats and Mike - via his PA system - narrated the short drive down the highway as we made our way into the Valley. At first I found the plastic windows a bit of a nuisance for getting a clear look at the outside scenery, but as we descended down the dusty hills into the Park it became obvious why we needed protection from the elements. Fine red clouds of dust found its way into everything: clothes, cameras, hair, etc. and etc.
Our tour coach awaits.
Once onto the Valley floor, the winds died down and Mike began naming off Monuments left and right (the kids especially liked the Left Mitten and Right Mitten). We soon stopped at a look-out where, conveniently, local Navajo merchants had tables with local jewelry and crafts for sale. It was at this stop where Mike rolled up the plastic windows on our truck so as to afford us an unobstructed view. Back on the bus, we toured the Valley some more and stopped a second time at John Ford Point. The view was amazing and it was obvious why so many Hollywood Westerns had been filmed in the area. Again, local Navajo merchants had tables setup and this time we bought a few items (at very reasonable prices). We toured some more, making one final stop where Guide Chris had our Group yell out in unison - all to experience the unique echo qualities of the rocks surrounding us.
Mittens, Left and Right.
Mike took us all back to Goulding's and, along the way, serenaded us with his renditions of Navajo songs. While I'm sure it was part of his normal tour itinerary, there was a poingnancy in the experience - staring out at the landscape and hearing Mike singing his songs through scratchy speakers.
Back at Goulding's, it was time for lunch and I can heartily recommend their Navajo Tacos. There were a few minutes for pictures (check out the John Wayne cutout) and gift shop exploration before we began the final 3-hour leg of the day's journey. We passed through Moab and followed the Colorado River via Highway 128 (one of America's most scenic drives) to take us to our destination: Red Cliffs Lodge.
There we were greeted by attentive and friendly Lodge staff who bid us welcome and directed us to glasses of lemonade. In no time we had room keys and directions towards the outbuildings where we would be staying. It was clear that RCL was going to be a very special place - everything you might imagine a Western horse-ranch to be and more. After a few nights at the modest Thunderbird Lodge, RCL was positively palatial: oh-so-spacious split-level rooms, kitchenette, a large patio overlooking a creek and horse pastures. This would suit us quite nicely for our 3-night stay!
Red Cliffs Lodge main entrance.
With a hour of cleaning up behind us, we met the Group for a (very good) taco dinner in the main lodge. Guides Mike and Chris gave us instructions for the following day - a hike in Arches National Park, a few hours to explore Moab, and a free afternoon at the RCL (and more!). We broke for the night after lots of leisurely dinner conversation (and maybe some wine or beer). Many of the kids dragged their parents to the pool for a nighttime swim. Dee and I elected to do laundry (facilities also by the pool) to get rid of some of the red dust we'd accumulated. And by 11pm, laundry had been folded and lights were out...