Four Corners Road Trip (and more!)


Recently my family visited from Virginia and wanted to see more of Arizona than we've explored in the past.  Over the course of several weeks of planning they devised a route to take us through practically everything a person could want to see in Arizona.  Or, at least in Northern Arizona.  Seven of us piled into a rented Yukon and drove over 1,000 miles in the next four days.  Those miles took us through four states, multiple National Parks/Forest, the Navajo Reservation, and a Sonic drive-in.


Before I tell you about the trip, let me give you a few tips:
  • Renting a car may be a good idea.  1,000 miles is a lot to put on your car over four days, so it may be worth the hundred or two dollars to save the wear and tear on your car... especially with the rugged roads of Monument Valley.
  • Plan your stops and hotels beforehand.  Having never lived or really traveled in remote areas (in the US, anyway), I took for granted that there would be gas, food, and hotels whenever we needed them.  Not the case.  At all.  In Chinle there were only 2 restaurants - one closed, the other Burger King.
  • People say that Tribal police are more inclined to issue speeding tickets, etc.  I don't know if that's prejudice or fact, but it's not worth finding out.  The Reservation does have a different set of customs, culture, and law.  Respect them; respect the people. 
  • The Navajo land has areas with poverty unlike most of us have seen.  Empathize, don't patronize.
  • Gather your routes and any other necessary ahead of time, you won't always have cell/data service.
  • Like the WPA posters, but don't want to risk bending them?  Order online - http://www.rangerdoug.com/.
This itinerary leaves from Phoenix, but works from almost anywhere in Arizona with only some schedule adjustments.  Details about each attraction will be provided in separate posts.

Day 1:  Phoenix to Winslow Crater, Petrified Forest/Painted Desert, & Chinle

Big day!  The car is clean of chex-mix crumbs and empty water bottles.  We are fresh and ready to rumble!  Leaving Phoenix at 8:00AM puts you in Flagstaff around 10:30AM for a quick bathroom and coffee stop.  From there, east on I-40 brings us to our first stop - the Winslow Crater.  The Crater is a few miles off the road and costs about $20/person for entry.  Pricey, but where else are you going to see a 1-mile across meteor crater?  Spend an hour or so there and maybe grab lunch at the Subway in the gift shop before hitting the road again.

I've seen it twice and didn't go in.  Here's the sign and Mt. Humphreys.
From the crater, head east again toward Holbrook where you turn off and follow signs toward the Petrified Forest.  You can safely resist the temptation to stop at the gift stores, there are plenty more of those over the next 3 days.  Soon enough you will arrive at the south entrance to the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert.  There are numerous stops along the route and you can safely spend time at most of them and still arrive at the exit in time for sunset over more of the Painted Desert (depending on the time of year).  This is one of the most uniquely scenic stops on the whole trip and you can end here for a day trip from Phoenix/Flagstaff/Prescott/Kingman.





Hopefully you either have dinner food with you, or you can bring yourself to stop at one of the few options when you turn off the 40 toward Window Rock or in Window Rock.  There's not much more after that.  We arrived in Chinle around 8:00PM and stayed at the Best Western.  Our only meal option was Burger King.  Best Western has a nice gift shop.  I bought a blanket.

Day 2:  Canyon de Chelly, Four Corners, & Mesa Verde, CO

Another big day!  Get an early start because today you are fitting in stops at Canyon de Chelly, Four-Corners, and Mesa Verde.  Dining options are still limited, but the Basha's beside Burger King has hot breakfast food, coffee, and other provisions.  Stock up because you won't pass much until Cortez, CO. 

Canyon de Chelly's website lists some suggested schedules depending on how long you have to spend in the park.  You'll be happy to know that in 2 hours you can see all 10 of the stops along the south side.  This is where you want to be in the morning anyway because this is where you see the illuminated north-side of the canyon for your views and photographs.  Expect to see vendors in the parking lot of each stop.  In recent years there were break-in problems in the parking lots so the Park's website lists dire precautions, but it seems the area is safer now... basically, be smart with your valuables.




After a couple hours here you are off again to the Four Corners.  This is a longer drive, so be ready to ride for a while.  It will pass quickly, though as you take in the stunning views of northern Arizona with snow capped mountains as backdrops.  Or not snow capped probably, if it's summer.  The Four Corners is an easy turnoff to pass because the sign sort of comes out of nowhere.  Just make a quick u-turn.  I want to manage expectations, this is a little underwhelming.  It's nothing like the scenery of that Simpsons episode where Sideshow Bob tries to escape prosecution by killing Bart at the Four Corners while they are in different states.  Also, that won't get you out of prosecution.  But go ahead and take your pictures standing in four states.  Oh, my aunt read that GPS won't get you to the Four Corners.  That's wrong; Google maps took me right there... but this is really a spot you want to have the navigation going right away because data is spotty.



Don't spend too much time here because there can be a lot to see at Mesa Verde.  Though, honestly you can easily cherry-pick a couple of the really impressive sites at Mesa Verde and get in and out quickly.  I had never heard of Mesa Verde before this and was pleasantly surprised.  The highlights of this park are the incredible view from the fire lookout, the "Spruce Tree House" walk, and the Cliff Palace ruins.  I would have been satisfied seeing only these.  There are many more ruins that demonstrate progressions of architecture, those tidbits aren't my style but you may love them.


Head back to Cortez for a relaxing evening.  This is the biggest town you encounter until returning to Flagstaff and has a quaint downtown area with a solid assortment of dining options.  We again stayed in a Best Western - this one had a family suite, of sorts, and was the only place all 7 of us were able to stay in the same room.

Day 3:  Monument Valley & Grand Canyon

We didn't exactly have a route planned to Monument Valley so we stopped at the Colorado Visitor's Center for about 17 maps of various scale and detail.  Please don't do this, it creates unnecessary confusion.  Get one good map ahead of time, find someone who can read it, and don't second guess because this drive is not incredibly well marked--we didn't know we were in Utah until asking at a gas station miles inside the state.  But on the plus side, the drive is gorgeous.  Lookout for wild horses and some great photo opportunities en route to Monument Valley.



Monument Valley is beautiful, but honestly by the time you have driven this far it's not incredibly different from everything you have already seen.  But it would be a shame not to drive the loop, right?  Hopefully you have that rental we talked about earlier because this a rough dirt and rock road.  The first half-mile is the worst, though... it gets better.  If you weren't sure about renting horses before entering the part don't worry, there is another chance.  The trading posts here are some of the better gift shops you'll see on the trail.




We spent a few hours here between shopping and sightseeing.  For God-knows-what-reason we had lunch at the Sonic in Kayenta.  So...

Another long drive takes you to the east-side of the South-Rim at the Grand Canyon.  If you're pulling in around sunset you are in luck... this is gorgeous, and the Watchtower makes a great landmark in your sunset photos.  From here it's about another hour to the Grand Canyon Village, and the most awesome Best Western (yes) ever... it has a bowling alley, arcade, multiple restaurants, and a great breakfast buffet. 


Day 4:  Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, & Sedona

Get back out early and catch the Canyon lit up in sunrise color, or wait a little bit and just see it in daylight.  The Bright Angel Lodge has good views and also a nice set of shopping options.  I never felt the need to see more than the main entrance overlooks and the Bright Angel Lodge overlooks...  An hour or two should be sufficient. 



If you're not anxious to be home, stop in Flagstaff for lunch, some cool local shops, freshly-brewed beer, or a nice cup of coffee. 

Take the Sedona/Oak Creek exit off the I-17 just outside Flagstaff to take in even more of Arizona's unique beauty.  This is a gorgeous drive, but steep and full of twists and turns so drive carefully.  You can pretty much safely stop anywhere and enjoy yourself amongst beauty.  If you're really feeling feisty, make the short trip over to Jerome and wander the streets of this neat mountain town with artisans and wine.  From there you're a quick 2-hour drive back to Phoenix, or your home of choice. 

Ah... what a trip!

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