Highway 163 (Part 1 – The Journey North)


The majestic views of Highway 163

The majestic views of Highway 163

Life is full of adventures and with the right attitude, they can be very rewarding. And sometimes even misfortune can turn around and become something positive if you give it room to do so. The key is to never give up and keep plugging along.

I’ve lived in Arizona for nearly seven years and I am still in awe of the beauty this state keeps showing me. Just when I think I’ve seen all it can offer, I find something new. In this case, I discovered the most breathtaking drive I’ve ever had, which took me through northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.

Now, I’ve driven some spectacular roads in Arizona and all through the southwestern parts of the US. If you’ve never had a chance to visit the copper state, you must explore Hwy 89A through Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. The views are amazing and the town of Sedona is one of the loveliest I’ve ever beheld.

The red rocks of Sedona

The red rocks of Sedona

Or, if you’ve got the stomach for it, you can try State Route 88, the Apache Trail from Apache Junction all the way out to the Roosevelt Dam. Bring your camera and your courage because the road is narrow and the cliff drop offs are steep.

A view of Apache Lake from the Apache Trail

A view of the Salt River from the Apache Trail

For an easier, majestic drive, try Hwy 87, the Beeline starting around Fountain Hills (don’t forget to check out Red Mountain) and drive up through Payson to the Mogollan Rim. These are but a few of the amazing drives you can experience here.

But recently, my adventure took me to the northeast corner of the state on the Navajo Nation reservation. From Phoenix, I drove north on Interstate 17 to Flagstaff. As I approached the moderately sized town, I was greeted by the looming San Francisco peaks. Mt. Humphreys is the tallest mountain in the state at 12,637 ft. It still was capped with snow although the rest of the area was dry and rather warm for February.

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A quick jog onto Interstate 40 took me to Hwy 89 which I took north onto the reservation. The terrain changed from lush Ponderosa pine forests to bare, colorful sandstone mounds as I approached the northwestern border of the Painted Desert.

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I then turned on Hwy 160 which took me northeast towards Tuba City. A short pitstop for gas and I was on my way to the road that would take me to Monument Valley, which was my ultimate destination.

Hwy 163 starts (or ends, depending on which direction you’re traveling) in a small town called Kayenta, not far from the Utah border. While it is far from what I would call a booming metropolis, Kayenta does have its charm which I will describe later in my tale. For now it was the start of a drive that took my breath away. Even from town, one can start to see the edges of the fantastic sandstone buttes and mesas that have been made famous through pictures and movies that have been filmed there (including a commercial for the medication Xarelto which is airing now on television).

As you leave behind the town, a magnificent landscape opens up and the red rocks gleam in the sunlight. Evening is the best time to visit as the setting sun is perfect for taking pictures. As I traveled north, I passed the Utah state border and that’s where the famous buttes are located. They seemed almost surreal. Years of erosion had left them standing tall and proud above the valley below.

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Monument Valley alone would be enough to bring anyone this far into the edges of civilization, but the drive just gets better as you proceed north. Several miles ahead I found Mexican Hat, a town thus named after a rock with an amusing description.

Mexican Hat Rock

Mexican Hat Rock

It’s located along the canyon which has been carved away by the San Juan River and there is even a motel that has built it’s rooms along side the cliffs so that you can look out your window and the yawning chasm below.

Motel in Mexican Hat, UT overlooking the San Juan River

Motel in Mexican Hat, UT overlooking the San Juan River

The landscape is covered in dark red dirt and rocks and looks more like the surface of Mars than something of this earth.

Mars or Utah?

Mars or Utah?

North of that is the Valley of the Gods, more sandstone marvels that look in some ways like the larger ones in Monument Valley. It’s almost too much to take in.

Butte near the Valley of the Gods

Butte near the Valley of the Gods

Continuing north, I made my way to the end of Hwy 163 as it merges with Hwy 191 in Bluff, UT. Here is another quiet little town nestled away in a gorgeous canyon that seems like the perfect getaway for… anyone looking to get away!

The photos I’ve shared in this article don’t do the drive justice and the only way to truly appreciate this scenic roadway is to traverse it for  yourself.

My return back to Phoenix was where the real adventure begins and I’ll detail that in Part 2…

~V

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