So much of the adventure and fun of Roadtreking across North America is serendipity – the places you find while you’re on the way to somewhere else.
So it was for us as we were making our way to the Grand Canyon and came across the Vermillion Cliffs, the Navajo Bridge and the Rock House in northern Arizona. They are three separate places that make for great stops of an hour or two each.
The Vermillion Cliffs is actually a National Monument, located just south of the Utah border on the Colorado Plateau, bordering the Kaibab National Forest to the west and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the east. It’s remote and unspoiled, 280,000-acre of spectacularly diverse geologic landscapes made up of buttes, canyons, cliffs and plateaus, ranging in elevation from from 3,100 to 7,100 feet.
In an RV, it’s a place you tend to see from a distance, in our case, the side of Highway 89A. There are no paved roads within the Monument. While the House Rock Valley Road/BLM 1065 is a maintained dirt road it may be impassable when wet. Other roads on the Monument require a four-wheel drive-high clearance vehicle due to deep sand.
We stopped in several turnoffs and snapped photos, marveling at the way the sandstone changed colors as the sun played peekaboo with the big white puffy clouds. It’s unlike most National Monuments. There isn’t much access. Not even a visitor’s center. Just wilderness.
The Vermillion Cliffs were on an important route from Utah to Arizona used by settlers during the 19th Century. In fact, highway 89A basically follows the old wagon route west.
Keep going past Bitter Springs on towards Jacob Lake and you soon encounter the second attraction – Navajo Bridge. By the way, there is no spring at Bitter Spring. Nor is there a lake at Jacob Lake. Ask the locals and they’ll give you several explanations for the names.
But Navajo Bridge is a great stop. Actually, it’s two bridges, both similar in appearance and right next to each other, spanning Glen Canyon the Colorado River. These two bridges, one historic and one new, represent one of only seven land crossings of the Colorado River for 750 miles. The old one opened for traffic in 1929. The new one was built for the larger trucks and autos and RVs. The old one was turned into a pedestrian bridge and opened in 1995.
There’s ample parking on the west side. There, the old rest area was remodeled and expanded to include an interpretive center. On the Navajo Nation (east) side of the bridge, there is an area for Native American craft vendors.
Dogs are welcome. We took Tai across and he found great delight in looking down at the river. We were delighted to spot a condor resting on the girders of the new bridge. The Vermillion Cliffs are a California Condor release site.
There were not a lot of vendors on the east side the day we visited. But just down the road, a few miles to the west near Old Cliff Dweller’s Lodge is another place worth pulling over. It’s known as the Rock House and there we found several native American craft vendors with great displays. As Jennifer shopped, I investigated the rock house.
There’s quite the story there. It contains the remnants of a life once lived by 1920s Ziegfeld Follies dancer Blanche Russell, who left her career to care for her ill husband. Traveling northwest from the Navajo Bridge into Marble Canyon, Arizona, the Russells’ car broke down. Blanche built a meager lean-to against the largest rock and spent the night.
Deciding she loved the splendid isolation, the solitude, the scenery and the endless blue sky, she and her husband Bill bought some land and in the 1930’s established a camp and a small trading company proceeded to build their unique stone house and its various outbuildings.
The house and outbuildings are still there.
See what I mean about serendipity?
You just never know what you’ll find while Roadtreking. For every place has a story.