Monument Valley, Arizona

Straddling the Arizona-Utah Border

          Monument Valley in northeastern Arizona is another must-do side trip from Sedona, Arizona. One of the most photographed and recognizable landmarks in the United States, Monument Valley has been the setting for countless western movies, beginning in 1939 with John Ford’s Stage Coach, starring John Wayne. To reach Monument Valley, head north from Sedona and get on US 89 at Flagstaff. Then take US 160 heading northeast near Tuba City. Be sure to stop at Bashas’ Supermarket in Tuba City to stock up on snacks and to experience a wonderful encounter with the friendly Native Americans working and shopping there. The 200 mile drive from Sedona to Monument Valley takes a little over three hours going through some interesting territory. We made the round trip comfortably in one day and this works fine for those with limited time. Of course, if time is not an issue, it would be even better to make it an overnight trip. The The View Hotel and Goulding’s Lodge are both popular places to stay at Monument Valley and accommodations are also available at Kayenta, about 20 miles south on US 160.

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

          The vast collection of red sandstone buttes in Monument Valley were formed over millions of years by erosion of the Colorado plateau. This stunningly beautiful landscape has been occupied by various Native American groups since the ice age period, somewhere between 12,000 and 6,000 BC. The Anasazi peoples inhabited the area until 1300 when they abruptly disappeared. They were followed by the Navajos, but the exact time they came to the region is unknown. In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur added the region to the Navajo reservation by executive order and it remains part of the Navajo tribal lands to this day. Now known as the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, this incredible landmark is administered by the Navajo tribe. While professional tours are available, you can take a self-guided tour in your own vehicle for a fee of $20, paid at the entrance near the The View Hotel and Visitor Center.

Scenic Drive on Dirt Road in Monument Valley

Scenic Drive on Dirt Road in Monument Valley

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post

          Just north over the border into Utah you’ll want to visit Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post. Harry and Leone ‘Mike” Goulding bought 640 acres of land for $320 when it became available after the government swapped the land with the Paiute Indians. Together they established a trading post in 1924 and it was Harry Goulding who introduced producer John Ford to the region in 1938. And the rest, as they say, is history. While the property has changed ownership several times, it is still private land in the midst of an Indian Reservation. You can visit the gift shop and museum, as well as the lodge and restaurant where many Hollywood stars have found accommodations while filming western movies in the valley. Professional tours of Monument Valley are available at Goulding’s and many private tour buses stop there to let their passengers have lunch at the restaurant. Despite the crowds, the restaurant is surprisingly efficient and you should definitely plan to have lunch there as part of your visit. We had a wonderful bowl of beef stew with Navajo Fry Bread that is ‘to die for’! Check out the video below for an easy way to make this delicious Native American staple in your own kitchen.

Goulding's Lodge and Trading Post

Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post

Navajo Fry Bread and Stew at Goulding's Restaurant

Navajo Fry Bread and Stew at Goulding’s Restaurant

The Monuments

          The seventeen mile drive through Monument Valley begins at the View Hotel. With your $20 entrance fee you will get a map pointing out the most prominent monuments along the scenic loop drive. You will immediately recognize the East and West Mitten Buttes, so named because of their resemblance to hands with separate thumbs reaching for the sky. One of my favorite stops on the route is John Ford Point, also one of the director’s favorite locations. In addition to the spectacular and familiar views from this spot you will find Native Americans selling their crafts at open air tables. Be sure to stop at each of the vendor areas along the route, as you may never find a better opportunity to purchase some of these works of art right from the artists themselves. Since returning from my trip to Monument Valley, it seems that I have been watching Western movies nonstop, looking for the familiar locations I had just visited where so many scenes were filmed. Guess I just can’t get enough of these beautiful red sandstone buttes!

East and West Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley

East and West Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley

Native American Crafts at Monument Valley, Arizona

Native American Crafts at Monument Valley, Arizona

Check Out This Recipe for Navajo Fry Bread

The Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park

          The splendor and enormity of the Grand Canyon is so mind-boggling that it’s no wonder people flock from all over the world to see it. On my recent trip to this World Heritage Site I encountered so many enthralled visitors speaking foreign languages that it almost felt like I was in another country. This one mile deep, eight mile wide canyon was formed over a period of millions of years through erosion carved by the Colorado River which snakes through it for 277 miles. Various Native American cultural groups inhabited the canyon dating back as far as 1200 BC. President Theodore Roosevelt was a frequent visitor to the area and was instrumental in preserving the Grand Canyon, which became a National Park in 1919. If you’re staying in Sedona, the Grand Canyon is just a 117 mile, two hour drive north, making it an easy day trip.

Colorado River on the Grand Canyon Floor?

Can You See the Colorado River on the Canyon Floor?

Spectacular Colors of the Grand Canyon

Spectacular Colors of the Grand Canyon

Historic Sites

          We encountered a bit of a wait at the South Rim entrance to the park, but that’s the price you pay to see one of the world’s most popular destinations. Speaking of the price to pay, don’t forget that seniors (age 62 and older) with a lifetime pass (one time fee of $10) do not have to pay an entrance fee at this or any other national park. There is ample parking within walking distance of the viewing areas and the shuttle buses. Take a gander at some of the vintage trains parked in the nearby depot, part of the Grand Canyon Railway, which has been transporting tourists on the 64 mile trip between Williams, Arizona and the South Rim since 1901. Of course, you’ll be tempted to spend most of your time taking in the spectacular views, but be sure to check out the historic El Tovar Hotel, a former Harvey House Hotel, and the nearby Hopi House, both opened in 1905. The Hopi House is a pueblo style building which houses the largest gift shop in the Grand Canyon and an impressive array of Native American crafts and artwork, arranged in museum fashion. Precariously perched on the rim of the canyon is the Kolb Studio dating back to 1904, which has a great selection of books and a magnificent art gallery, not to mention a wonderful view.

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

El Tovar Hotel, Grand Canyon

Hopi House, Grand Canyon

Hopi House, Grand Canyon

Spectacular Views from the South Rim

          By now you will have mastered the network of shuttle bus routes that lead to the various lookout points on the South Rim. The views across this expansive chasm are breathtaking and it’s easy to see why it is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Although there are 19 viewing points on the South Rim, Mather Point and Yavapai Point are two of the most popular. If time permits, hike a little bit of the Bright Angel Trail, a somewhat notorious path that leads to the Colorado River on the canyon floor below. The truly adventurous can hike from ‘rim to rim’, but any trek in this wilderness area should only be undertaken after careful planning and preparation. The once nearly extinct California condor was re-introduced to the Grand Canyon in 1996. There are now thought to be around 70 condors in the canyon area and with a little patience and luck you can see them gliding gracefully over the steep cliffs. After a visit to the Grand Canyon it is impossible for even the most seasoned traveler to leave without a sense of awe and a renewed appreciation for nature.

Grand Canyon South Rim Shuttle Bus

Grand Canyon South Rim Shuttle Bus

Bright Angel Trail to the Grand Canyon Floor

Beginning of Bright Angel Trail to the Grand Canyon Floor

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

          After my first visit to Sedona last month, I found myself wondering why I had never been there before. It does take a little doing to get to this off the beaten path destination in the middle of Arizona, but all of your efforts will be rewarded many times over. Whether you make the 12 hour drive from San Francisco or the 7 hour drive from Los Angeles or just fly into Phoenix which is only 118 miles from Sedona, it’s a trip well worth taking. The stunning red rock scenery surrounding this small resort town will blow your mind! After a day of hiking or sightseeing, you can relax and unwind while strolling down the main street lined with boutique and new-age shops, restaurants and art galleries. For a dose of spiritual and physical energy, be sure to pause for a moment in a vortex. Accommodations are plentiful, but reservations are definitely recommended.

Scenery Surrounding Sedona, Arizona

Scenery Surrounding Sedona, Arizona

Nearby Sights

          If you’re arriving by car via Flagstaff, you’ll drive through Oak Creek Canyon, a gorge forged by a river with some breathtaking scenery. You’ll want to stop at Oak Creek Canyon Vista on your way down for a view of what’s ahead. The winding road can be a bit hair-raising at times, but just take it slow and enjoy the ride. You’ll pass by Slide Rock State Park and other campgrounds before arriving in Sedona and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of an Elk or two…truly magnificent animals. There are many other points of interest nearby besides the main downtown area. Just outside Sedona is the Catholic Chapel of the Holy Cross, perched on a butte overlooking the valley below…definitely worth a stop! Nearby, you’ll get an up close and personal look at the huge Courthouse Butte, a red monolith so named because it looks so much like a castle. If you’re looking for an easy hike with some beautiful scenery, try the Fay Canyon Trail just out of town. You’d be hard put to find a more pleasant place to pass a couple of hours.

Hiking in Fay Canyon near Sedona, Arizona

Hiking in Fay Canyon near Sedona, Arizona

Shopping

          Sedona and the surrounding area is a shopper’s paradise, especially if you like Native American crafts, jewelry and other Western items. One of my favorite places is Son Silver West located a little south of the main drag. It’s an indoor-outdoor gallery of unique items and you could spend hours looking at everything they have. Their wares run the gamut, from classic artwork to Mexican trinkets. Just north of the main drag, Clear Creek Trading is another large shop loaded with interesting souvenirs, art work and craft projects. If you like Kachina Dolls, check out the Kachina House west of town. This unpretentious building houses an amazing collection of Native American dolls, arranged in museum fashion. It’s operated by a friendly group of knowledgeable ladies who will guide you through the vast array of items. Finally, no visit to Sedona would be complete without numerous stops at the outdoor Native American tables, where friendly vendors sell their own crafts at reasonable prices. For a good sampling of Indian artwork, check out the group of tables located just north of town on Highway 89A and the ones at the Oak Creek Canyon Vista mentioned above. You’ll enjoy visiting with these genuine local Native American artisans keeping their proud culture alive…and you can get all of your Christmas shopping done in one place!

Courthouse Butte from Chapel of the Holy Cross

Courthouse Butte from Chapel of the Holy Cross

Day Trips from Sedona, Arizona

          There are endless attractions near Sedona, Arizona…enough to keep you busy for weeks. There’s the pre-Columbian cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument, the Tuzigoot pueblo ruins, the Petrified Forest National Park and the Meteor Crater, to name just a few. With only a week to explore this incredible region, those sights will have to wait until my next visit, as if I needed an excuse to go back! We did get to Jerome, an old mining town perched on a steep hillside overlooking the beautiful Verde Valley. There are lots of shops and restaurants in this easily walkable town thirty miles southwest of Sedona. Between Jerome and Sedona is the town of Cottonwood, located in the Verde River Valley. There are two places you absolutely must see in this quaint little hamlet. First, you have to visit ‘Larry’s Antiques and Things’, featuring two acres of ‘antiques, collectables and treasures’. Then you must go to the Blazin’ M Ranch for their Chuck Wagon Supper and Western Stage Show. This place is bound to please everyone in your group, from kids to seniors. With its old west town attractions and shops, a delicious and plentiful barbeque dinner and an awesome show featuring the Blazin’ M Cowboys you’ll feel like a genuine buckaroo by the time you head home. This was truly one of the highlights of our trip to the Sedona area! Be sure to check out our next articles featuring two more day trips from Sedona…The Grand Canyon and Monument Valley.

Western Show at the Blazin' M Ranch, Cottonwood, Arizona

Western Show at the Blazin’ M Ranch, Cottonwood, Arizona

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri…the Gateway City

          Whether this is your main destination or you are just passing through, St. Louis, Missouri is a great place to visit, especially in the Spring and Fall. Situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River, St. Louis was founded in 1764 by Pierre Laclede and named after Louis IX of France. To this day the French influence can be seen everywhere throughout this beautiful Midwestern city, as evidenced by the ever present fleur-de-lis. There are many cultural, historic and architectural points of interest that you will want to see during your visit and most of them are either within the city or just a short drive from St. Louis. St. Louis is home to Busch Stadium and the St. Louis Cardinals, the internationally acclaimed St. Louis Symphony, the world class St. Louis Art Museum and one of the finest Zoos on the planet. There are many other areas to visit during your stay, including the ginormous Forest Park, the Italian restaurants on The Hill, shopping at St. Louis Union Station and the beautiful campus of Saint Louis University in midtown. And you won’t regret splurging on a stay at the historic and beautifully renovated Chase Park Plaza Hotel.

The St. Louis Gateway Arch in Fall

The St. Louis Gateway Arch in Fall

Old Courthouse, St. Louis

The Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri Where the Dred Scott Case Was Heard

Historic St. Louis

          The St. Louis region was an active center of Native American culture dating back to 900 AD and a side trip to Cahokia Mounds across the river in Illinois is a must. The United States acquired St. Louis along with the rest of Missouri from France in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. A year later, Lewis and Clark embarked on their expedition of exploration from the fledgling metropolis of St. Louis. Soon after, steamboats began plying the waters of the mighty Mississippi, making this region a major hub of commerce and the starting point for many pioneers heading west. A self-guided walking tour down by the river will take visitors to the Gateway Arch, constructed in 1965, the Eads Bridge completed in 1874, the riverboats moored nearby and the old courthouse where the historically pivotal Dred Scott Case was heard.

The Beautiful Campus of Saint Louis University

The Beautiful Campus of Saint Louis University

The Hill, St. Louis, Missouri

The Italian Neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri Known as The Hill

Day Trips from St. Louis

          Just outside the city you can visit the cabin built by Ulysses S. Grant in 1855 on land that he was given by his bride’s family as a wedding gift. The area is now known as Grant’s Farm and is a reserve for animals, including the awesome Budweiser Clydesdales. Just west of St. Louis there is the Museum of Transportation, most notable for its outstanding collection of locomotives and rail cars. Just a few miles further west across the St. Charles River is the Daniel Boone Home and Heritage Center in Defiance, Missouri. Boone was in his sixties when he moved to Missouri and he died in the house in 1820, although the actual location of his grave is somewhat of a mystery. A scenic 116 miles drive north along the Mississippi River brings you to the quaint little town of Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. In addition to Twain’s home, there is a replica of Tom Sawyer’s fence and several other period buildings. Walking up the nearby hill affords a wonderful view of the Mississippi River. As you can see, there is much to see and do in St. Louis and Eastern Missouri, so what are you waiting for!

Grant's Cabin, St. Louis

General Ulysses S. Grant’s Cabin Near St. Louis, Missouri

Tom Sawyer's Fence in Hannibal, Missouri

Tom Sawyer’s Fence in Hannibal, Missouri

Union Station, St. Louis

Union Station Shopping Center in St. Louis, Missouri with Gateway Arch in Background

The Mighty Mississippi River Near Hannibal, Missouri

The Mighty Mississippi River Near Hannibal, Missouri

Elko, Nevada

Ruby in the Jeweled Crown of Nevada

          Straddling one of America’s major thoroughfares, Elko is a great place to stop on Interstate 80 between Reno, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah.  Elko is a friendly ‘cowboy town’, so don’t be surprised when you’re greeted with a pleasant ‘hello’ by strangers passing on the street.  Elko County is the third largest ranching county in the United States and is known for raising grass-fed calves.  Bing Crosby had several ranches here where he enjoyed relaxing and getting away from the bright lights of Hollywood.  In fact, Bing was honorary mayor of Elko until his death in 1977.  Elko was settled by cattlemen and sheep herders in the mid-1800s and lies on the Humboldt River, the Immigrant Trail and the Transcontinental Railroad.  Many of the first settlers in Elko were Basques from the Pyrenees region between France and Spain and their influence is still very much present in the region, especially in the many fine Basque restaurants to be found in Elko.

Elko County Ranchlands with Ruby Mountains in Background

Elko County Ranchlands with Ruby Mountains in Background

Ranch in Elko County, Nevada

Ranch in Elko County, Nevada

What to See and Do

          Whenever I’m near Elko, my favorite side trip is to drive about 20 miles south through the rich, beautiful ranchlands of Spring Valley on the Lamoille Highway (227) heading toward the Ruby Mountains.  On the way I stop at the picturesque town of Lamoille, basically a one street hamlet lined with cute little houses and a couple of unique hometown restaurants.  There’s a special treat waiting for you at the end of the road…a beautiful little church that looks like it should be a scene on a Christmas card!  Continuing south from the town of Lamoille you will come to Lamoille Canyon, one of several glacier carved canyons extending up into the ‘Rubies’, as they are called.  This stunningly beautiful region seems to be known only to locals, but is a must see for anyone who enjoys the mountains.  And it’s an ideal place for hiking, picnicking and camping, too.  Back in the city of Elko, there are several museums chronicling the frontier history of the area.  Right on Idaho Street, the main drag, be sure to stop at the Visitors Center and the Northeastern Nevada Museum.  About eight miles west of Elko on Interstate 80 is the California Trail Interpretive Center, where there is no admission fee to visit the indoor and outdoor exhibits highlighting the history of the immigrant trail in the northern Nevada region.

Little Church of the Crossroads, Lamoille, Nevada

Little Church of the Crossroads, Lamoille, Nevada

Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains

Lamoille Canyon in the Ruby Mountains

Where to Stay and Eat

          There are many fine accommodations in Elko, running the gamut from budget motels to elegant hotels with flashy casinos.  Whenever I’m in the area I stay at the Click for Contact Information, because it’s centrally located, has reasonable rates and comes with an excellent breakfast.  And if you’re traveling with an RV, there are a number of good RV parks right in town.  If you savor food from south of the border I can recommend a great little Mexican restaurant, La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant, on Commercial Street and for a taste of Basque cuisine, try The Star Hotel on Silver Street.  Located in a historic, 100 year old property, the dining room serves family style meals with portion sizes that have almost everyone leaving with a doggie bag.  Whether you’re just passing through or coming specifically to visit the beautiful high desert country of Northern Nevada, be sure to take time to stop and explore the wonderful little city of Elko.

The California Trail Center

The California Trail Center

John on the Immigrant Trail

John on the Immigrant Trail

Virginia City, Nevada…A Taste of the Wild West

Wild West Mining Town

          The historic mining town of Virginia City, Nevada is a great place to get a glimpse of life in the old west.  The nearby Lake Tahoe/ Reno area is one of four side trips within a few hours’ drive from the San Francisco Bay Area that visitors will want to include on their Northern California itinerary.  The other three are Yosemite National Park, Carmel-by-the-Sea and, of course, the Wine Country of Napa County.

South Lake Tahoe, California

South Lake Tahoe, California

          On a recent camping trip with family and friends to South Lake Tahoe we took a side trip to Virginia City, Nevada.  Less than 90 minutes from all the action at Lake Tahoe, the drive took us over the beautiful eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and out into the open desert of Nevada.  Once there you’ll find the streets of Virginia City lined with historic buildings such as Pipers Opera House, unique restaurants like the Mustang Ranch Steakhouse and interesting shops with western wear and souvenirs.  As you stroll the main street you can watch a Wild West shoot out, stop to sip a sarsaparilla at the Bucket of Blood Saloon and take a gander at a $65,000 gold nugget.

The Main Street of Virginia City, Nevada

The Main Street of Virginia City, Nevada

Mark Twain Slept Here

          After silver was discovered in the Comstock Lode in 1859, Virginia City literally sprang up from the desert, eventually reaching a population of 25,000 at its peak.  Plagued by extremes in temperature, devastating fires and declining output from the mines, Virginia City saw its best days come and go in less than 20 years.  One of Virginia City’s most famous inhabitants was Samuel Clemens who lived there from 1862 to 1864 and it was there that he first used his more familiar pen name, Mark Twain.

Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada

Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada

          No trip to Virginia City would be complete without a visit to Boot Hill, which is located at the northeast end of town.  Wandering among the tombstones you will find everyone from outlaws who were hanged to Civil War Veterans to pioneer families buried here.  Speaking of veterans, hats off to Virginia City for honoring its veterans, past and present, with banners on the lamp posts lining the main street!

Boot Hill, Virginia City, Nevada

Boot Hill, Virginia City, Nevada

Planning Your Trip

          Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area you will take Interstate 80 East to Sacramento, where you can stop and visit the California state capitol.  Continuing east on Highway 50 now, you will enter the foothills made famous by the ‘gold rush’ of 1849.  Midway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe make a pit stop at the town of Placerville for a look at some of the old buildings dating back to the gold rush era.  Placerville was originally known as ‘Hangtown’ for the many hangings that took place there during this lawless period in California history.  Moving east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains you will eventually descend into the Tahoe Basin, arriving at South Lake Tahoe.

Virginia City, Nevada

Virginia City, Nevada

          The attractions and activities at South Lake Tahoe are limitless and include visits to secluded Fallen Leaf Lake, fabulous Pope Beach with it long stretch of clean, white sand, the historic Baldwin Estate and the casinos at Stateline on the California-Nevada border.  Hiking, biking, swimming, boating and fishing are all available here.  For campers and glampers, I recommend the nearby Fallen Leaf Lake Campground.  So, if you’re fortunate enough to have a few extra days while in Northern California, the Lake Tahoe/ Reno area is a great place to spend it and nearby Virginia City, Nevada will give you a taste of the Wild West.

Reno, Nevada...The Biggest Little City in the World

Reno, Nevada…The Biggest Little City in the World