Leaving Moab was bittersweet. We were excited to reach our destination after 2 weeks of constant “go-bag” living, but sad to leave such a beautiful place. Gas for the car, coffee for our bodies, and onward we pushed. Our route would take us just under 400 miles SSW through Monument Valley, across the Arizona border and into the mountains of Tonto National Forest and Strawberry, Arizona.
We started our journey on route 191 through southeastern Utah, past scattered small western towns surrounded by a desolate desert landscape in the canyonlands. We continued through the high desert surrounded by endless layers of cliffs and canyon pits below. Past cities of stone rising from the auburn soaked clay miles in the distance. Signs of humanity were evident as we cruised through the desert. But not good signs. Glistening along the side of the highway were empty soda cans and water bottles, potato chip bags and broken brown glass from beer bottles discarded days or maybe years ago.
Monument Valley is a wide expanse of massive buttes, mesas, and spires of all shapes and sizes. The highway runs to the bottom of the bowl and then climbs back up and out, winding and disappearing around a sandstone table 500 feet high and twice as wide. The scene is iconic; as well known as awe-inspiring places like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. Although I’ve admittedly never seen Forrest Gump, I had to take the obligatory photo.
We continued through the Navajo Reservation, past shoddy wooden roadside stands selling jewelry and fabrics, though they appeared closed for the season. As we drove up over a ridge, we caught our first glimpse of Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona, just outside Flagstaff. Towering at an elevation of almost 13,000 feet, it is a stark contrast to the surrounding desert. Somehow, once we could see the mountain, it still took about 2 hours to drive to it. More and more rolling burnt earth filled with nothingness accompanied us as we approached Flagstaff from the north.
Alot of Northern Arizona is not what folks think of as Arizona. Arizona is a hot desert with tons of sun. Right? Well, to the south, in the Valley where Phoenix sits as the largest metropolitan area of the Sonoran Desert, that would be true. But in the North, up out of the valley, that isn’t always the case. Coconino and Tonto National Forests are filled with tall Ponderosa pines and more temperate shrubbery, and large mammals like elk, deer, moose, and bears call it home. Much of this land sits well over a mile above sea level and forms the Mogollon Rim, the southern escarpment of the Colorado plateau. The climate is still noticeably drier than the White Mountains or Green mountains of New England, and the temperature this time of year sits between 30-60F. We reached Victoria and cousin Reza’s house in Strawberry, neighbor village to the fittingy named Pine, AZ, a bit before dark. They gave us a tour of the area and we headed to a good sunset spot on the hillside of the town. The clouds melted into a warm pink and orange as the sun fell out of view behind the tops of the pines. Then a fiery red. Then, dark. It was a sight that is not infrequent in Arizona. With cleaner and clearer air and typically less clouds, the sunsets dazzle. Dinner was at a small bar and restaurant nearby, with fresh local ingredients for their pizza and salad. We turned in for an early night and prepared for the final 2 hours south the following morning to our new home in the Valley- Chandler, AZ.