There was another problem. It was now late afternoon, and out here the winter night temperatures can fall to around 14F (-10C). Being unsure of the way out was now very serious. I had a mental flash of a news headline back home, “Aussie couple freezes to death in Utah desert. No supplies. No equipment. No map. No brains”
Then, after twenty minutes, I found our tracks. Instead of coming down from the high part of the rock area, we had actually driven in from behind a huge boulder at the side. Our tire marks were the proof, but I still cannot remember doing it. That night in Moab, we went to a restaurant and celebrated our return to the living with a great four-course meal.
Even after our short stay, leaving Moab was a bit like leaving home. Like most Aussies, the people at Moab were laid-back and friendly and we sensed a true ‘community spirit’. And, because it was far enough from anywhere else, the town seemed to have its own, unique, personality. We will be back. There are still dozens of things we haven’t seen, and we know we will enjoy thoroughly ourselves again.
Next stop was Kayenta; the closest town to Monument Valley.
Mistake No.1 was booking into the Best Western motel. Only stay there if you are desperate, like the rumble of heavy trucks to help put you to sleep, and don’t like the idea of being able to get a feed within walking distance.
Mistake No.2 was made after we drove around looking for somewhere (other than a fast food joint) to have dinner. We chose a restaurant that was at the front of a decent-looking motel. A woman, dressed like a character from a Victorian storybook, showed us to a table, and then, with an exaggerated flourish, introduced us to the waiter.
While he was taking our order, and explaining that the ‘wines’ listed were non-alcoholic (and, we “wouldn’t know the difference”) the waiter must have sniffed twenty times. Then, as he left our table, he let out a great sneeze into the air in front of him. “Let’s get out here”, Helen said. Then I made my third mistake: I explained that there was nowhere else to go, so we might as well wait for the meal. Needless to say, the ‘chardonnay’ tasted like flat lemonade, and the food wouldn’t have been accepted in an army canteen.
Almost mistake No 4. At Monument Valley we were collared by a local Navajo Indian who gave us a big spiel about the tours his business was offering. He claimed (almost in a threatening manner) that if we didn’t sign up for one of his half-day tours, we wouldn’t get to see the best parts of Monument Valley. I forget the price he quoted, but it seemed like a hell of a lot of money. Then, after pounding our eardrums, he made a huge mistake, by revealing that we would have the privilege of seeing Monument Valley in true American style - from the back seat of a soft-top Wrangler!
Despite these minor hiccups, Monument Valley was fabulous. Sitting there, majestic against the vast desert sky, are what could be million-ton direction markers for some ancient, alien race. We were told that the best time to visit is just before sunset. That didn’t fit with our plans, but even in the middle of the day the sights were stupendous; made even more so by recent snow that helped highlight the dramatic shapes.
It was time to hit the road again. To revive old memories, we had booked a night’s stay at Grand Canyon, and then, with an early morning start, we could make it back to LA in a day.
That night, an unexpected six inches of snow put paid to our early start, as we had to wait for the snowplows to clear the road south to Williams. Then it was pedal-to-the-metal. It’s amazing how fast Americans drive. I guess it’s the excellent condition of the highways, and the fact you rarely see a police car outside the town limits. At one stage we were traveling at 80mph when a GMC dual-cab pickup, with four bikes in the back, blew past like we were standing still!
On a last day we decided that, before we returned the Montero, we should do something to spruce up the vehicle's appearance. The tree branches at Gemini Bridges hadn’t scratched the paint, but the marks in the surface wax sure made it look like they had - and I didn't want to explain to the rental company how they got there. So, we bought a tin of polish, plus some cloths, and went looking for somewhere quiet along the LA coast, to ‘work’ on the panels.
That’s easier said than done. It seemed that every square inch of LA was occupied, designated ‘No Parking’or 'Private Property', or required some sort of permit. By midday, we had run out of options. Then, when we called into McDonalds at Malibu, I had an idea. Why not do it right here, in the carpark?
Helen said, “You’ve got to kidding!” I said, “It’s our only chance.” So while Helen sat in the Mitsubishi, pretending to read a magazine, I gave that wagon the polish of its life. As I worked, I could feel a hundred eyes peering at me from inside the restaurant. Don’t worry, I told myself. This is a first from them as well.
by Ray Barker
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