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The American Southwest – Day 5/6 – Monument Valley & Manti-La-Sal National Forest

Day 5 and 6 was our movement time. We had an in between to head north and we knew there was a ton to see along the way. Driving out of the Grand Canyon, we knew we had to stop at Monument Valley National Monument on the way. I’d always seen the pictures, the Forrest Gump scene, the cultural impact the location has had on the world’s view of the “American West.” Amazingly for us, we pulled into the main visitor center, which was closed, but heard distant music and people stirring just nearby. Closing in, we noticed a local Navajo community event happening. Complete with tribal dancing, traditional wear, and people of all ages, it was a perfect welcome into the area. Hitting the main loop road in late afternoon turned out to be the best decision. We had time and everyone else was making their way out of the area of the day. It’s a pretty magical place when you stop and think of all the lore, the history, the tribal lands, the crazy magnitude of nature that formed such a place with its monolithic mesas. Kicked up dust and the lowering light made for a visual feast that afternoon.

In search of a spot for the night we veered west when we hit Monticello, UT and just after sunset slowly drove our way into Manti-La-Sal National Forest, a massive 1.2 million acre, broken up forest with numerous peaks, Mount Peale topping them out at 12,721 ft.  After some failed attempts and uber creepy looking campsites, we found a perfect spot at Buckboard camp, site #8. We set up camp late that night, got a fire going, had some sneaky deer come right up on us, and fell asleep under the whispering Aspen trees overhead. Up early, we decided to leisurely drive our way through the national forest. Climbing up and up around Aspens, through creeks, along Elk Ridge Bypass and then down into some nerve racking desert terrain that seemed to switch instantly to a death trap. Pushing through, Megan was a trooper through our 50 miles or so of twists and turns, up and downs, iffy drop-offs, and the potential of us having to ration our water for days. We FINALLY made it out after having to drive through a moving creek overflow near the final 50 yards to the main highway. Manti-La-Sal, a place not be taken lightly. Both beautiful and terrifyingly remote at the same time.

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