Monday, May 12, 2014

Primitive Camping in Southeastern Utah's Valley of the Gods

       On a warm Friday evening Tim and I entered the Valley of the Gods.  This “Mini Monument Valley” is traversed by a 17 mile dirt road and views of the real Monument Valley, 20 miles away, can be seen along the drive.  We’re on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land, and dispersed camping is allowed throughout the valley.  After passing several spots outfitted with campfire rings we pulled into a site tucked between sandy hills and rocky outcrops.  Home for the weekend!

View of Monument Valley from our campsite.

        We set up our bedroom (tent), bathroom (portable toilet) and kitchen (folding tables and Coleman stove), then cooked our camp staple of mac n’ cheese with sausages and stewed tomatoes. 
       After dinner Tim started a campfire and we lounged by the blaze sipping from mugs of Earl Grey tea.  Sighing breezes, trilling rock wrens and distant whining traffic interspersed with the desert quiet. This being her first camping adventure, our dog Annie wasn’t exactly sure of the protocol.  She enjoyed exploring the desert around our campsite but, as darkness fell, she thought we should be jumping into the truck and heading for our real home.  After a bit of coaxing we herded her into the tent and soon she was snuggled by my side.

Evening in our desert home.


           Early Saturday we crawled from the tent and started the morning with Annie's daily walk.  Rounding a bend in the road we noticed hoof prints, then saw cows in a desert wash.  So those were moos which woke me at dawn.  With sparse vegetation and little rain this seems a terrible place to graze cows.  But here they are.

Annie, out for her morning walk.

In the west we share our public lands—even these seemingly
 inhospitable locales—with cows.

          Back at the site water boiled for coffee and tea while we started breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and sausage.  I love breakfast in the wilds.  And this spot qualifies.  We ate gazing south and west toward Monument Valley, its rocky spires reaching into the sky.  It’s easy to understand how this landscape inspired classic western movies.  John Wayne with his posse of cowboys was the only scene lacking from our morning vista.

Where is John Wayne when you need him?  Tim relaxes in the morning at
our classic Western campsite (sans a cinematic cowboy).

          Today we drove the Moki Dugway road, a 2.2 mile, 10% grade switchbacking road which climbs high above the Valley of the Gods.  At the apex we stopped to let Annie stretch her legs and we all met a couple from upstate New York, completing the final few days of a southwestern road trip.  They exclaimed over the 20-30 mile views, views we sometimes take for granted.
         Back in camp the evening’s dinner was followed by another of our camp traditions—s’mores with a big glass of milk.   Tonight, as we turned out our headlamps and unzipped the tent door, Annie crawled right in.  Her second night of camping and she’s learned the routine.

The Moki Dugway road inspires awe among tourists and travelers.

High above Valley of the Gods Annie poses on a ledge along the Moki Dugway road.


          The final day.  After a morning walk Tim cooked breakfast while I rolled up blankets and sleeping bags.  We savored Sunday morning quiet while downing our eggs and hash browns.  Then it was time to pack up the tent and tables, load everything into the truck and be on our way. 
         Primitive camping is not for everyone.  But with an adventurous spirit and willing companions—both human and canine—Valley of the Gods is an ideal destination for a spring weekend.   

Learn more about Utah’s Valley of the Gods by visiting this website:

If you’re intrigued by Valley of the Gods but not interested in camping, you’re in luck—check out Valley of the Gods Bed and Breakfast 


  1. Rita, many of the places you and Tim visit can be described in no other way than simply "jaw-dropping". Your adventure at Valley of the Gods is certainly a prime example of one such experience! Stunning!

    Yes indeed, John Wayne and his posse of cowboys was the only element that was missing from the magnificent vista at your campsite. But even without John Wayne, your photo of cattle grazing in the desert certainly looked like something straight out of a classic Western movie!

    And lastly, Annie's reaction to this first time experience was comical, but logical. Why wouldn't you be jumping into the truck and heading for home?! Isn't that the way things have always happened before? :-)

    Excellent report, and thanks so much for sharing!


  2. Hi John,

    Valley of the Gods is one of those jaw-dropping places, unlike anywhere else we've ever camped. The only negative to this experience was the fine red desert dust—it was everywhere, including in our clothes and gear, and in Annie's fur! Still a great destination though.

    And you're right about Annie's reaction being logical (and comical). Every time we've been in the wilds with her, we get back in the truck and go home for the evening. Luckily she's a quick learner and adapted very well to our tent-camping routine!

    Thanks for your very kind comments, John!

  3. You brought Valley of the Gods back to me in wonderful detail, though it's been 45 years since I've been there. A great account of a frills-free camping experience, rewarding in its simplicity.

  4. Janet, if you returned to the Valley of the Gods I think you would find that little has changed in the last 45 years—except for the presence of 30-40 foot recreational vehicles. Yes, they are there.
    But peace and quiet, and frills-free camping sites are also available. I find it somehow gratifying to know that everything we needed for a weekend could be contained in the back of our Ford F150. Simple living at its finest!
    Thanks for commenting!

  5. I sincerely hope you're able to visit southern Utah someday, Soumyendu.
    Thanks for reading!

  6. Hi Rita,

    I tried reading this at work when you first posted it, but couldn't go beyond the first paragraph without wanting to jump in the car and go on vacation. The vistas of Monument Valley from Valley of the Gods are "jaw-dropping" as John said. You picked a great camping spot, to be able to sit at the campfire, eat breakfast and dinner overlooking such vast sandstone monuments is astounding.

    I'm so glad Annie enjoyed her first true camping adventure - even though it took her out of her routine! :)

    The rugged, arid beauty of our western deserts takes a bit of getting used to for those of us from the lush northeast, but the opportunity to see such magnificent geologic structures and enjoy the peace and quiet are precious.

    P.S. I'm curious: What does a rock wren sound like?!

    1. Hi Vickie,

      I was happy to read that my blog post inspired you to want to go vacationing and exploring. That's the goal of my blog, after all!

      You're right about the desert taking some getting used to. I didn't appreciate the landscape the first time I traveled from the northeast to the "bleak" American southwest. Now, of course, I'm awed by the magnificent geology, and the peace and quiet.

      The rock wren has a pleasant trill and call. Here is a link to a site about the wren. You'll find the sound play button about halfway down the page:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Vickie. Great to hear from you!

  7. Very cool! Thanks so much for the link. That's a beautiful call. The site mentions the rock wren can learn as many as 100 songs - wow!