Exploring California's Eastern Sierra
A guide by Ridgemont Ambassador Royce Fonseca
Road trip to the Southwest
We are known for our spur of the moment trips and this was definitely our best and quickest so far! We knew the Super Moon was coming and after years of planning for the moon to be in just the right spot, Axle knew we had to get to this amazing place. We packed up the Subie with all our gear ready to spend the next 60 hours including drive time to the majestic southwest from Northern California and back. To some this might sound crazy, but if you’re like us, you don’t mind the drive to see some of the most spectacular places in the US. Here’s a few spots from our weekend experience that we think are the “must sees” if you find yourself in the American Southwest.
Coal Mine Canyon
There’s some beautiful places in this world that you don’t hear about, Coal Mine Canyon is one of those. Just a short drive down a dirt road off the main road and you’ll quickly arrive at this gorgeous canyon. The views are spectacular and there’s so many areas to explore there. We arrived just as the sun was coming up, captured some beautiful images of the colored formations and hiked around the area. If you’re a sunrise chaser or an explorer we highly encourage you to check this place out.
(Look for the giant windmill on the left, that’s your road)
Out of all the places we have visited so far this has to be one of the most spiritual and unique places we’ve been to. The lands belong to the Navajo and are very well protected; there is no hiking allowed for the purpose of protecting the monuments. You will find some of the most unique sand stone formations here (mittens, totem pole and elephant are our favorites). If you watch a lot of western movies you will recognize some of them, most are filmed here because of the beauty it holds and it’s true Southwestern feel. We were lucky during our journey to find a pack of wild horses roaming the area. The park has a $35 charge to take the drive in and it’s well worth it. You will have access to a dirt road that goes through the entire park to view the monuments closer. (SUV/Trucks are encouraged; this road is not good for cars since the road isn’t maintained well). As you drive through you will meet some of the locals selling their handmade jewelry, which is absolutely gorgeous.
The best time of year to visit the park is mid-spring. However, if your up for a real adventure wait until some snow has fallen to get some beautiful colors. We encourage you to stay at Gouldings lodge, they have cabins, camping and RV parking. Ask for Scott Laws or message him via IG: @Scott_laws_photography, he’s a local and very knowledgeable of the area. Make sure and check out their gift shop for local artists handmade jewelry and art.
While the desert is always a bit warm, the winter is cold. LIKE REALLY COLD. Luckily we had our Kuhl jackets to keep us warm! Did we mention how cold it can get in the winter? Especially when that sun starts to set.
Monument Valley Information: http://navajonationparks.org
Goulding Lodge Information: https://www.gouldings.com
If you’re an athlete like Royce, an adventurer or movie buff you have to see this place. Most everyone is familiar with the popular Forrest Gump movie and the spot he stops running…this is that iconic hill that he stopped on. The drive is about 15-20 minutes from Monument Valley (which you most likely will be quoting lines from the movie while driving there) and has a large pull out spot, so you can take your fun photos or maybe even just a quick run! The best times to visit the hill are sunrise or sunset. The views are stunning with the sun behind the monuments in the distance.
Super Moon and the Anasazi Ruins
Our evening finished off with friends at “Teardrop” (which is only accessible if you are with a local that’s willing to show you where it is located) to capture the Super Moon. After the meticulous planning all calculations were correct, the moon lined up perfectly, allowing us all to get some incredible shots that really only made the land feel that much more magical. Once finished our good friend and guide took us on a short hike to see a truly special place where there was some Anasazi Ruins. These are remnants of a tribe called the “Anasazi” or “Ancient Ones” who were well known for there architecture. To be so close to a ruin and know that the Ancient Ones were once in the same location so long ago is something one cannot describe, you must experience it for yourself to truly appreciate it.
It goes without saying that the preservation of these ruins is highly important and educational for us all. Always be respectful of the land. Don’t wonder off on random dirt roads and be considerate of the locals way of life. If you want to see some of the hidden gems in these areas you can take the guided tour where you can see parts of the park you couldn’t see otherwise including some of the Anasazi ruins.
Just outside Tuba City, AZ you will see signs that say Dinosaur tracks, you can’t miss it and kids will love it! This is a definite must see. A local Navajo family owns the land and are very knowledgeable about the area and the history of the tracks themselves. You will get a guided tour and walk right along the Dino footprints. There are various types as well as fossilized eggs that you can see in the ground. The owners of this prized piece of land allow tourists to stop here only asking for a donation. We highly encourage you to leave a tip if you can for the family or purchase one of their handmade items displayed.
The Grand Canyon
The park itself is so close we definitely encourage you to take the detour to see the magnificent Grand Canyon. This is such a beautiful place, you can get lost just looking at it for miles and miles. The canyon is so deep and the ridges are so colorful. It’s hard to explain what feeling you get from standing there at the overlook, you have to visit it to truly immerse yourself in its beauty and amazement.
Our top spot for the views at South Rim is the Desert View Watchtower. Here you can get some gorgeous views from the overlook as well as the top of the watchtower. There’s also a cute little gift shop and a small cafe open daily for visitors.
Take a drive through the park for some awesome lookout points over the canyon. You’ll never be disappointed; it’s truly an unbelievable sight.
-Axle Ethington & Royce Fonseca (and Muir 🐶)