On my way across southern Utah, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing to "Valley of the Gods." That sounded promising, so I turned onto the dirt road.
I’ve generally been a cautious off-roader in my new 4Runner. In the past, I have driven rental Jeeps over Sedona roads with gusto. But the combination of owning the car, not yet knowing the capabilities of this car, and being alone without cell service, has made me more tentative. As I’m choosing roads, I’m paying attention to the difficulty ratings they are given.
But, this was a long day of driving from Durango to the Grand Canyon. I was en route towards Monument Valley and was feeling a bit skeptical that the place made famous by John Wayne and car commercials would be an enjoyable stop. Given its popularity there are numerous necessary restrictions around how one might engage with that part of the earth. The idea of having a little dirt road all to myself was appealing and I could spy a few interesting rock formations to my right. So off I went, without really knowing what might be ahead of me.
The next 17 miles were some of the most breathtaking I'd driven in Utah: cedar red formations jutting towards the sky, watching as you move through them. Later, I learned that this land is held sacred; many believe that the pinnacles are Navajo warriors frozen in stone.
This special place had been a part of the recently established Bears Ears National Monument. In 2017, Trump reduced the size of Bears Ears by 85%; Valley of the Gods didn't make the cut. "Together, we will usher in a bright new future of wonder and wealth," he said, removing protections on this land as well as parts of Grand Escalante Monument -- opening both up for future mining activity. "Wonder and wealth" mean different things to different people.
For anyone wondering, Monument Valley was exactly as I had expected it would be. It was nice to spend some time doing the one hike you are allowed to do there — around the mittens. I only saw 4 other people during that walk, and it gave me a better feeling of the place than driving the road spotted with places you can pose on a pony.