From John Wayne to Westworld in Monument Valley

We awoke at 6am and emerged from our tent to the fresh morning air of Bryce Canyon.

We had a quick breakfast, packed our tents, loaded up the van and hit the road.

From Utah, we soon crossed back into Arizona resulting in an hour time difference. We’d also entered Navajo Nation – the traditional reservation of the Navajo Native Americans.

The late arrival in Vegas and limited sleep in the tent meant that we took the opportunity for a quick nap en route to Antelope Canyon – what felt like a few minutes was probably nearer an hour, awaking to find we were driving past the stunning Lake Powell and Glen Dam.

We had a short stop at a service station in the nearby town of Page Arizona, just enough time to send up the drone and take a few long distance photos of beautiful turquoise blue lake with its Dam and Canyon.

From Page we carried on the short 15min drive to Antelope Canyon – from the car park the canyon wasn’t visible, looking more like a roadside shop than a natural wonder.

Despite it being only 10am, the tours were running an hour behind and the mid-morning sun was reaching a stifling 41c. We kept to the shade before joining out Navajo guide, Rocko for the descent into the canyons.

We headed down a winding metal staircase, out of the sun and into the cool shade of Antelope Canyon. We were immediately greeted by spectacular swirling rocks, with a rainbow of colours – all carved naturally over millions of years by rivers, flash floods and wind erosion.

The walk through the cave was slow due to the number of groups ahead of us – but gave plenty of chance to enjoy the spectacular colours and shapes of the rocks, many with distinct resemblances to animals.

We posed for photos in front of the ‘Lion’, ‘George Washington’ and the ‘Lady with her hair in the wind’ – all iconic landmarks, made famous as computer screen savers and National Geographic cover images.

The tour continued through the winding canyon, up and down ladders, each turn revealing a unique view with glimpses of the clear blue skies contrasting with the exotic colours of the rock.

After nearly an hour we exited the canyon through a tiny crevice – almost invisible from the surface. We found Mike our guide and joined him for some lunch before hitting the road.

Once on the road again it again struck us just how massive and diverse the US is – every few miles the landscape changed.

By early afternoon we began to get sight of the iconic Buttes and Messas – the backdrop for every Cowboy and Western film you’ve ever seen.

As we drove to our campground the view didn’t disappoint – a spectacular front seat view of the entire of Monument Valley from a small plateau.

We set up our tents and met Jean Greyeyes our Navajo guide who would be taking us on a jeep Safari of the park. We descended in the open truck down the winding switchbacks into the Valley and the size and scale of the Buttes and Messas became even more striking.

We drove along dust roads, through eroded gullys until we reached Robert Ford point – named after the Hollywood film director who shot dozens of westerns in the park, including a number of John Wayne classics in the 1930s-1960s. The point offers spectacular views of the Valley and the Three Sisters spires.

Jean explained the Navajo names for the various rocky outcrops, pointing out the ‘mittens’, ‘John Wayne’s boot’ and the ‘sleeping giant’.

We continued our scenic drive around the valley, stopping every few minutes to take in the view and hear more about the region, it’s Flora, Fauna and people. We stopped in the shade of a large butte to take photos of the ‘money tree’ – reported to bring you good luck if you rub it, before circling back towards our camp.

After finishing our tour, and saying goodbye to Jean we headed out of the park, a short drive to ‘Sheila’s House’, a friend of our guides, for traditional Navajo Tacos.

The house was a classic American prairie house, straight out of a Hollywood film, with rusted out cars, friendly dogs and horses and sheep roaming. The view across the prairie to the Valley was spectacular.

Our hosts welcomed us into their house and we all took a seat at the large dining table. We were served a delicious bread like taco, filled with beans, salad and cheese. Another memorable glimpse inside local life.

As the sun set the winds picked up and in the distance were flashes of lightening but no thunder. Unfortunately, we’d left the tents wide open trying to get some air flow – after taking photos of the storm we returned to find out tent and everything in it covered in fine red sand.

We made a half hearted attempt at dusting things down but the with the winds outside now gusting, there was nowhere to sweep it – except to the bottom of the tent. Cocooned in the tent, the winds picked up further, threatening to blow the tent over or snap the a-frame.

Any thoughts of heading out into the dark to shower, ended when the storm passed overhead – spectacular flashes of lightening illuminating the tent, followed by the deafening crack of thunder. It was going to be an interesting nights sleep!

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