08/14/2001 Entry: "Ride West--Day Five (Friday, Aug. 10)"
Begin: Taos, NM
End: Bluff, UT
Distance: 413 miles (20823-21236)
I left Taos via Highway 68 north. Just past the town of El Prado, I turned off onto Highway 64 west towards Chama. The stretch of Hwy. 64 between El Prado and Tiera Amarilla was one of the most scenic and most fun stretches of highway on my whole trip westward. Less than ten miles into the drive, I crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande River Gorge, where I stopped to take pictures of the impressive gorge the bridge spans. Shortly after Tres Piedras, the roadway ascends in a series of fun twists and turns into the Carson National Forest. I'm not quite sure what the summit elevation was, but it was almost certainly around 10,000 feet. The descent down the other side was just as beautiful and fun, despite being stuck behind a park service garbage truck for part of the ride. On the eastern side of the forest, the vistas are of Western pine forests and granite mountains and promontories, on the western side of the summit, the views also include some dramatic buttes and mesas.
At Tierra Amarilla, Hwy. 64 west joins with Hwy. 84 north until just about 12 miles outside of Chama, where Hwy. 84 heads north. I stayed on Hwy. 64 through Farmington and on into Shiprock. Outside of Shiprock, I saw one of those sites that is definitive of the West to me. Beyond the Shiprock itself--which is to your left as you exit town heading west on Hwy. 64--there was a massive thunderstorm in progress. I could see the entire storm isolated in the sky, dark rain pouring out of the clouds at the bottom, occasional flashes of lightning reaching the ground, while the storm clouds stretched thousands of feet up into the sky. For the rest of the ride, I saw a series of these storms taking place, all fortunately to the west of where I was riding. They made a dramatic backdrop to the buttes and mesas of the parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah that I traveled during the course of the day.
Hwy. 64 crosses the Arizona border just a little shy of Teec Nos Pos, where it ends at the junction with Highway 160. I took Hwy. 160 west through Mexican Water and Dinnehotso towards Kayenta. About 25 miles past Dinnehotso, Hwy. 160 intersects with Hwy. 163. Kayenta is about two miles north on Hwy. 163 and is the southern gateway to Monument Valley. I made the turnoff onto Hwy. 163 north towards Kayenta, where I stopped for gas. Then I headed into Monument Valley. I stopped over and over again to take pictures while crossing Monument Valley. This was my first trip here in my adult life and it was as impressive as my childhood memories of it.
During the drive through Monument Valley, I crossed over into Utah. On the northern end of the Valley, you come out at Mexican Hat, a small town with several hotels and a few restaurants that is situated under dramatic cliffs above the San Juan River. My immediate thought was that it would be a bad place to be in a heavy downpour, but that is probably not true as the town didn't appear to have suffered from any flooding damage. I continued north and east on Hwy. 163 to the town of Bluff, where I stopped for the day at a very pleasant hotel, The Desert Rose Inn, and had an excellent barbequed chicken at the Cottonwood Steak House.