Driving along, we're around Tonalea and see these really tall and strange looking gray formations; I glance at a map and see the name "Elephant Feet". These sandstone pillars (5502 feet above sea level) are grayish white instead of sandstone's typical brownish red; giving the illusion of an elephant's feet and lower legs. I'm posting two photos of them; my hubby, Roy, is in one and this will give you a good idea of how massive these pillars truly are.
By the way, remember I just said I "glanced" at a map; that's how we found the Grand Canyon by accident...not reading a map, just glancing at it. You'll understand as this story progresses along.
As I stated before, the landscape is desolate; gray adobe hills breakup the monotony and you can see trails left by ATV adventurers upon them. Perhaps a lonely horse is strolling around hoping to find some type of greenery to munch on.
We stop in Tuba City to gas up and decide that we will follow Route 160 until it ends at Route 89; then turn around and make our way back home again. That was the plan..."was" being the key word. Now as we ride along, I begin seeing on the sides of the roadway these little canyons and I remark to Roy on how they look like "mini-Grand Canyons". At the end of Route 160, the junction of Route 89, is a large green sign that says, "Grand Canyon, South Rim, North Rim" with arrows pointing to the appropriate direction. We both look at one another with "what the heck?" looks, pull over and read the map this time, not just glance at it. Holy Moly!!! We're practically at the Grand Canyon!!! That's right folks, we had no clue, no idea at all that the routes we were traveling were leading us to one of the meccas of National Parks...The Grand Canyon. Talk about a "Duh!" moment.
Did we turn around and go back home? Hell no! We flipped a coin and made the left turn to the South Rim; and that is how we found "The Painted Desert". The Painted Desert extends from Cameron-Tuba City southeast to the Petrified Forest, roughly 120 miles long by 60 miles wide (about 7500 square miles). The hills are composed of stratified layers of easily erodible siltstone, mudstone, and shale of the Triassic Chinle Formation; the colors come from abundant iron and manganese compounds. They're simply fascinating to look at!
Before making the turn onto Route 64 towards the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, make a stop at the Cameron Trading Post. Besides the main building, there are smaller shops within the adobe buildings featuring artists. There is also a hotel connected to the Trading Post, so you can always stay there if getting into the Grand Canyon's hotel was impossible.
So, just by wanting to step into Arizona and see a little bit of it, we found a cliff dwelling, elephant feet, a painted desert and the largest canyon in the United States. If you think about it, this little road trip ended up being one giant, happy accident...and off to the Grand Canyon, but that story is for another day.