Desert Camping in Utah

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163 North

Drive on US 163 heading north through Monument Valley and it feels like you are in a Western. It is difficult to appreciate the space and colossal rock formations from a picture. Notice the house next to the bluff?

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Bluff in Monument Valley
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John Wayne Just Rode Through
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High Sun Switchbacks

After driving through Monument Valley, Route 163 will take you to Mexican Hat. It is an unassuming village next to the San Juan River. When you leave town three minutes later, turn left and drive ten miles. Careful going up the switchbacks. On top of the bluff, panoramic views await and free camping. Find a level spot and pitch your tent.

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Saddle View of the Valley of the Gods
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Campsite at Dusk
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Sunrise at Four with Venus and Jupiter

The stars under the campfire were innumerable and the night a perfect temperature for sleeping. At four, the red sunrise flirted; I tried to capture the transition from night to morning.

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Sunrise over the Valley of the Gods
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Bluff in Pink Shadows
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Perculated Coffee
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Desert Sea Monster
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Moki Dugway Scenic Overlook
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Morning Haze over Glenn Canyon

This mini Grand Canyon sinks 1000 feet to the San Juan River. This was one of the best camping nights I’ve ever had. Which shot do you prefer?Ā 

60 thoughts on “Desert Camping in Utah

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  1. No favourite this time, Cindy, as I love them all. Camping in John Ford country, unchanged over the decades, just amazing! That isolated house below the bluff is simply crazy. Talk about no neighbours!
    A great trip, and it has made me truly envious. Thanks for taking me on your journey.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Oh wow. Such incredible shots Cindy, thank you for sharing! These really bring back some memories. When my family had just moved to the States in the ’90s, we moved to Texas. My dad took us frequently out on excursions across the panhandle and occasionally we’d explore further and into Arizona and New Mexico. I remember (just barely) navigating up those dangerous switchback roads, and having to stop and pull over to allow another car to pass going the other direction since the road was so narrow and exposed. These stunning images have brought back the feelings I had when I first saw Monument Valley. What a unique place. What a great post.

    1. Hi Tom! Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve only been here for 3.5 years and I’ve explored AZ and we wanted to try Utah and Colorado. They haven’t disappointed. It’s not easy to look at a desert setting and seeing the beauty compared to, say, the mountains or the ocean. I was surprised how beautiful camping on the top of a bluff was. The stars! Wow! It was a great experience.

  3. Omg Cindy, I loved each and every one, your right I can’t imagine, it has to be so surreal
    If I have to pick one .. I guess I’d pick. Sunrise over the gods!!!
    Amazing shots cindy

  4. I can remember flying over there many times and wondering how anything or any person could earn a living there. The view coming into the airport was stark and bare too. But the desert does have its beauty when you are present in its solitude doesn’t it? Just don’t get lost!

    1. It’s scary and thrilling. I think it takes patience and skill to calm yourself and feel the space and quiet and allow it to come to you and seep into you. We are so used to noise and congestion. It’s a primal and ancient environment and humbling. Certainly meant to be shared. And with adventures like these, it helps when you read novels and watch films. You understand more in a meaningful way like understanding a poem you once glossed over but it didn’t touch you. That’s the power of nature.

    1. Great! I’m trying to figure out how to take night shots with not much success. I couldn’t believe how large Jupiter and Venus were shining at me and that red rising up from the horizon was spectacular.

  5. This is the worst group of photos from which to pick a favorite. :/

    Vast, barren, and alluring – I love them all! šŸ˜€

    1. šŸ™‚ I was initially not in the mood to camp there precisely because of the barrenness of the region. Who wants to look at a bunch of rocks? I was in a hurry to get to CO imagining Aspens and water and greenery. This side trip was worth it. I love the feeling of being up high looking out like a bird on a ledge.

  6. That coffee shot…dear me! Absolutely love these. Reminds me of a fantastic family trip I had years ago. I went out west with my parents, brother, and now deceased grandparents and we had a marvelous time. Albuquerque up to Durango over to Four Corners down to Flagstaff and to the Grand Canyon. And still we missed so much!

    Gorgeous shots Cindy.

  7. I love it. There are huge expanses of Australia that you’d enjoy as well. I have somehow missed notifications. My blogs have been through the wringer lately.

    1. Well, I’m always happy to have you stop by, later than sooner. šŸ™‚ I have been to Australia only once, but from other bloggers who have posted pictures, and from what little I’ve seen of the continent, I agree, there are many similarities of the Outback and the Eastern part of Australia that resemble parts of the states. I’m sure I would love exploring Australia. Damn the fuel charges that make it almost impossible for me to travel!

    1. Welcome, Andrew. We shot on through the main road. If we had had the time, turning right would have taken to many more landmarks some, I’m sure, featured in old Westerns. I love ‘The Searchers’ and kept looking for that one. Thank you for commenting.

  8. All the shots are great, but I like the third one best. Talk about iconic. I almost expect to see John Ford somewhere in the background pointing a movie camera at some cowboys.

  9. Hi, Cindy:

    All superlative shots!

    You have some prime cinematic real estate to hike and play around in. And this from a guy who’s learned that “The Great Outdoors is where you park the car!”

    Nice to see others appreciate that the day has two “Magic Hours” before sunrise and through sunset. You capture them extremely well as shadows dispel and slowly become solid.

    Your Monument Valley shots are epic!

    1. Hi there, Kevin! So glad you popped by. Thank you for the kind words. It’s a fun hobby. I’m still working on the night shots. Can’t seem to manipulate my camera the way I need. What I’m shooting at helps! Hard to take a poor shot with such stellar views. Thanks, my friend.

      1. hehe thanks for the words of encouragement! I think I might do some wondering today… though I don’t think I could ever match those views. Surreal is a great way to put it, they look breath-taking

          1. Hmm I actually never thought about that. I remember doing it in high school where we had access to all this cool lighting equipment, but haven’t tried it since. Hmmm thanks for the idea Cindy! šŸ™‚

  10. This looked and sounded like a fantastic camping experience, Cindy. I can also understand your hesitation about staying there. I may not have realized how this would turn out had I not seen these awesome photographs. I am so glad you had caffeine up there. I have found my need for this in the morning increases, as I approach 60 later this month. Fortunately, my Mom still drinks 3 to 4 cups at 87 with little health problems due to caffeine intake šŸ™‚
    The sunrise over the Valley of the Gods” was stunning!

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