Our Day Eleven trip was ambitious! We had a six hour drive south to Monument Valley, Arizona and planned to arrive at the Grand Canyon early evening to watch the sunset over the rim.
I think I have mentioned this in every post, but remembering that the drive IS part of the vacation/adventure is important when traveling with kids – that especially echoed true today. Our kids continued to impress us and traveled like rockstars. Not too long after we left Moab, we saw a questionable sign for “Dinosaur Footprints.”
Dinosaur Footprints, ya’ll! 65-200 million years ago dinosaur footprints. We knew that Utah was full of dinosaur fossil findings and footprints, but this advertisement was intriguing. Homemade spray painted signs made out of wood and siding promoted this stop on Navajo Nation land. These tracks are right outside Tuba City, Arizona and I am so glad we did a quick turn at the spray painted red arrow on the dirt road to stop and see. As you arrive, you will see about 10-15 shack lean-tos selling Navajo items with members of the community awaiting your arrival to serve as your tour guide. Our guide was an elderly Native American woman. It appeared that the guides await a vehicle and take turns inviting you to take a walking tour of the grounds. Armed with nothing but a plastic water bottle to squirt on the footprints to highlight the dinosaur impressions, we were on our way! While we found some of the information shared by our guide questionable, there was no doubt the tracks were there! I was awestruck by the irony of the unbelievable gold mind of fossils and footprints and tangible poverty of the tribe.
My mind was blown. There were so many tracks. Thousands. Just right there. You were walking all over them. As soon as water was poured on them, they almost ‘came alive.’ Our guide claimed that at one time in history (millions of years ago!) this was a watering hole. This explained the number and varied species of dinosaur footprints we were seeing. It was so surreal that we started to feel like we were being taken for fools! We continued to the ‘tour’ and took a million pictures. The tour is free of charge, but at the end a donation is requested. We gave our guide $40 and she encouraged us to consider more as she was struggling and recovering from being an alcoholic. When we declined, she was nothing but grateful. The kind woman thanked us many, many times. I walked away amazed that this tribe has to be sitting on most likely one of the largest set of dinosaur tracks in our country and are flat out broke. There was a double-edge beauty to the entire experience.
As soon as we got in the car we googled the heck out of the stop and we found several paleontologists whom confirmed the authenticity of many of the tracks. Dinosaur Footprints Tuba, Arizona Mind blown.
The stop at the dinosaur tracks took about 45 minutes total and then we were on our way to Monument Valley in Navajo County, Arizona. I was grateful we had a full tank of gas before we left as there was nothing…nothing…but wide open spaces for hours. When we started to get hungry for lunch we finally came through a town that had a community picnic shelter at a run down playground. As we stopped and pulled out our picnic tubs we were instantly greeted by “Brownie.” Brownie was a sweet dog that appeared to be fed off the kindness of strangers and the community. He was dirty, missing fur and appeared to have a broken leg. He followed us to our picnic table and just laid next to us during our meal.
At one point, Kira stopped eating and was crying. When we asked her what was wrong, she just said she felt bad eating when he was so hungry. She took her entire plate over to him and just left it for him to eat. After he finished her lunch, we took some of our paper bowls and left him some bowls of water to drink as well. He finished them off before we even left. Sweet little Brownie.
As we were leaving the shelter a Native American man rode over to us on his bike and told us some of his story. He made several mentions of being free of the evil – which for him was alcohol. Although I doubt he was free of his vice, he was kind and hungry. We offered him bottles of water and food and he accepted. However, he requested that we not directly hand any of it to him. He provided an explanation we did not understand but were able to figure out that we were to place the items on the ground between us. Once we did so, he said a few things and then picked up everything. It was an odd experience and at the same time, a sacred encounter.
We continued our drive into the historic and stunning Monument Valley! The contrast of flat open desert and buttes and rock formations required a constant reorientation that we were still in the United States! It is so unlike any other place we have visited before. If you have never visited the West, you will walk away with a completely new appreciation of the significance and wonders contained in the United States. Our piece of North America as it relates to the story of our planet, not just the metamorphosis of civilization, but the evolution of the planet is truly exceptional.
Finally, we continued our journey south to the Grand Canyon. We arrived with just enough time to explore the park and find a location on the rim to have a picnic dinner and toast the sun-set. We reserved one evening for this visit so we did not set up any excursions into the canyon, but the abyss will forever hold a special place in our family’s heart as a moment of taking in something larger than you can imagine, together. Watching the shadow of darkness slowly rise up the canyon until it became pitch black – amazing.
Despite a huge day of travel and experiences, everyone was in great spirits and we checked into our hotel at the Grand Canyon. It was a quaint hotel with a southwest vibe we all enjoyed. Kamiko’s American Girl doll, McKenna, even found this to be one of her favorite lodges. Tonight, we go to bed slightly melancholy that tomorrow we will make the long drive to Albuquerque, New Mexico (where we lived for a number of years and all three girls were born!) because it means we are days away from this epic adventure ending. We have plans to pick up our new rental, eat at the BEST breakfast restaurant EVER and drive further south to Carlsbad, New Mexico to explore the caves with the girls! Sweet dreams.