How to get to Monument Valley without a drive belt.

We were preparing to drive around to the Four Corners Monument that morning, when a car pulled up. Not sure of what to expect, Lee went to speak to the bloke who got out of his car. He tried to tell us that it was $10 to park here for the night, and then gave up and went away when we said that there were no signs saying that there was any fee. This was much like the morning we awoke at near Shiprock and someone turned up and asked us for petrol money as we were camped. I think this is a case of trying to blag easy money from the tourists, which I can’t say I’m into although I bet some suckers actually pay.

Once we were alone again, we packed up and drove the short distance down the road to the monument. This is aptly named four corners as it is a central spot where the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all join in one spot. Clearly, this is normally a busy tourist attraction judging by the amount of available parking and also the signs dictating a 3 photo limit on the viewing points. However, we were one for a handful of people looking, which meant we didn’t have to worry about busy photos or queues, and for $10 it was nice to see this unique place.

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This is fairly reasonably priced compared to some of the attractions on the reservations. From what I understand these are the main money source for the native Americans that live there and they are free to charge whatever price they deem fit, in some cases this is incredibly expensive! Around the outside of the monument itself, are a multitude of booths selling native American jewellery and handcrafted souvenirs. We spent some time walking around and having a look, as well as chatting to the craftsmen. One of whom showed us how they make arrowheads. We ended up buying several things not only for ourselves, but for friends and family back home, I think it’s nice to support individual tradesmen and the stuff they were selling was nice too!

Having ticked this one off the bucket list, it was time to head towards Monument Valley. In the heart of the desert we drove on. Passing quickly back into Colorado and then on into Utah for the first time.

P1010679P1010683After a little while we stopped off to try and find a laundrette in Bluff, and for a quick photo at Twin Rocks. P1010685

After fruitlessly driving around the village we managed to find the slightly tatty laundrette and wash our soggy and muddy clothes and floor mats from spending a few days in the snow. We then decided to head to one of the near RV parks and get a shower. We drove into one that reviewers said the owners didn’t check until evening, perfect opportunity for a sneaky shower. We were also at the unfortunate time where our compost toilet needed emptying, so we wanted to get this sorted too. Thinking we would get away with some freebies in this nearly deserted park, we drove in and headed down to the far end where we could dig a hole and bury our poop. As we were mid toilet disassembly, a man started walking towards us. When he reached us we explained that we didn’t want to stay the night, just use some of the facilities. He explained that he was the camp host and said that would be $10, which seemed pretty reasonable and we gave him some cash. While I kept removing toilet parts, him and Lee got chatting and he recommended some places for us to camp up that night and enjoy what he reckoned would be a fantastic sunset. We were just about to start shovelling poop into a pit, when he reappeared and gave us our money back, wishing us happy holidays. This was a lovely gesture, and we assured him it wouldn’t be long before we were on our way. Water tanks filled, toilet sorted and two amazing piping hot showers later, we were ready to set off. Just in time to drive to the spot he had recommended which was supposed to have incredible views of Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley in the distance. We weren’t far out of the town when Lee commented that he could smell burning, still being a bit ill I hadn’t got much sense of smell so I couldn’t say, but I did glance over shortly after and notice that the battery warning light was on. Pulling over at the side of the road I went back to the engine bay and immediately saw the problem. One of the tensioning bolts for the alternator had sheared off, causing the alternator to drop down and shred the drive belt in the process, hence the burning smell. There was still remnant of belt left, but it was no longer tensioned and therefore not charging.

We decided not to risk the large mountainous climb to the view point, and instead pulled over on another spot on the side of the road just short of Goosenecks state park. Not a bad view for a breakdown, but there was absolutely no one near us!

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We would definitely need a new belt, and probably a garage’s tools to remove the remains of the sheared bolt. I went from being in the best of moods, surrounded by beautiful scenery and feeling wonderfully clean after my shower to being in a pretty bad mood. The scenery and shower forgotten, I sat on my phone trying to find a company that would stock our new belt. It didn’t help that it was only a few days before Christmas either. To make matters worse, our drive belt is a custom size as I have removed the power steering pump. A Subaru belt would be easy enough to source, but this one is off a Ford Fiesta, and I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen one of those in the US. We messaged Brian who we thought might be able to get one sent out quick to us and then there wasn’t much to do except review the situation in the morning.

Having had a surprisingly good nights sleep, I awoke to see if I could get the sheared bolt out of the alternator. It was a pretty nippy morning, but the sun was warm at least. Having given the bolt a prod, the good news was it was kind of loose. It still took me a while to get it out as it had sheared completely flat, and I ended up using a combination of a screwdriver and a ratchet as a hammer, and then some magnets to get it out. Still, fairly happy that we no longer needed to find a garage or someone with a drill, I set about trying to find us a new bolt. Initially I tried to steal one from a less significant engine component, but nothing was either long enough or the right size. Then I realised that the threaded bar that makes the battery holder was the right size and there is quite a bit of it spare. After sometime hacksawing the top of it off and managing to find two nuts that fitted from the heating system, I made us a bodged spare bolt. It was now possible to re-tension the alternator, which was a step in the right direction.

All we needed now was a belt. Brian had contacted us and said he couldn’t get hold of anything the right size, and as it was for a Ford Fiesta I’m not surprised. If it’s got an engine capacity of under 2.5L, America doesn’t seem to be interested. This left us with trying to order something online and limp to wherever it would ship to, the only problem with this was that Christmas was imminent (and it was nearly the weekend too) and this was having a definite impact on shipping times. The other problem was that out here in the desert, Wi-Fi and signal were not widely available meaning it was hard for us to get online and find someone who stocked one.

In the meantime I tried using the remains of the old belt, which snapped as soon as it was tensioned, a pair of my tights which just melted and fell off and then nothing. I was also concerned that whatever weird belt substitutes we used, could end up getting sucked in the alternator or crank pulley and making things far worse. So we charged our leisure batteries and decided to set out using them. We wanted to visit Goosenecks, named so because the shape of the river at this point arches back on itself in a shape similar to that of a goose’s neck! This was only a few miles down the road so we went down for some pictures, it was a shame we hadn’t realised what a beautiful spot this was or how close, because you can actually camp here and the view is quite spectacular.

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Aimee had a blast running around , diving in and out of rocks and squeezing herself into impossible small holes between the rocks teetering on the cliff edge. P1010695

After enjoying the view for a while, it was time to start heading the right direction. This took us through the town of Mexican hat and towards Monument Valley. We stopped on the approach road to get some photos of this rather iconic landscape.

Before heading in between the improbable rock formations towards the visitor centre car park. Supposedly $20 to get in, the gates were open and the ticket booth closed which suited us just fine. We planned to do a 4 mile hike around one of the ‘monuments’, but first we headed into the visitor centre to see if they had Wi-Fi and we could source another belt online. It turns out that they didn’t, so we ended up sampling some fried bread as this is apparently part of the ‘authentic’ experience for being on an Indian reservation. The best bit about the meal, was probably the view. The food itself was ok, but the view was fantastic, although still we had no signal.

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Giving up on our drive belt hunt, we decided to head out on our walk. We gathered the cat, and set off on the trail out of the car park.

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The walk was relatively flat and straightforward, heading out to circle this great rock formation.

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Aimee kept pace with us, after her usual digging and initial exploring and actually managed to do the entire 4 mile hike.

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Back at the car park, we got some final pictures of the near sunset over the valley before deciding where we would stay that night. P1010731

Our batteries were not particularly charged and it would be dark soon meaning that the headlights would drain them further. We decided to drive and see how far we got, with me sitting in the back to check we didn’t wreck them, as then we really would be stuck. In the end we didn’t get to the campsite we would have liked, and instead ended up parking up in Kayenta, behind a Burger King. Not the most exciting of stops, but at least we could use their internet and run the generator in the unmade section of the car park in preparation for another drive tomorrow.

Having not got very far with finding a replacement belt, we sent my dad back in the UK a message, asking if he could source one to bring out to us when they visited on Christmas Eve. To add to the disappointment, we had just found out that a place we were excited about visiting tomorrow, Antelope Canyon, was actually a very expensive thing you had to book a tour to do.

Nevertheless when the morning came we decided to drive past the canyon anyway, and see if they had space on a tour as it was on the way to Zion, the direction wet we’re headed in. We pulled over at the side of the road where they were selling tickets for the tours and was told there was space, and that the price was $77 each. It wasn’t the best of days either, a bit of a grey sky. If I’m going to pay some extortionate fee for something like that, I at least want a nice day for it. Looking at all the pictures, it’s all about the sunlight on the rocks down the cavern walls, and I don’t think it would be the same on a gloomy day. Anyway, this was way too expensive, so we decided to add this to the list for next time. After some debate we decided to power on to Zion, and spend two days there rather than trying to cram anything else in. We had also wanted to visit Bryce, but due to its elevation and the time of year we weren’t sure how much of it would be accessible. Thinking that we didn’t want to drive up there and discover it was a waste of time, we continued on to Zion. According to one of our camping apps, there was some free parking in the woods on the outskirts of the park.

The only downside to this was that it was still a fair drive from where we were. Aimee wasn’t happy at being copped up, and our batteries wouldn’t get us all the way there so we decided to pull over and do a short walk while they charged. We stopped at a short trail on the side of the road that was a mile or so walk up to ‘The Toadstools’.

Aptly named, these larger rocks balance on top of their smaller companions to give the impression of large rocky mushrooms in a alien landscape.

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This is kind of how I imagine Mars to be, barren red rocks stretching out in front.

P1010738It was only a short hike, but well worth it to stop and see this strange place.

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Despite wanting to get out of the van, Aimee did not want to cooperate with walking. Hell bent on ascending anything vertical rather than walk a horizontal path, progress was slow. While this did give the batteries more time to charge it also meant that the afternoon was wearing on and we waved to avoid driving with our lights as much as possible.

After an hour or so we coaxed her back to the van, where she promptly fell asleep in the back. At least we had briefly tired the cat out and we now had enough power to get us to Zion, we hoped. It was another hour drive, and in the end with around 15 miles to go we couldn’t avoid having the lights on any longer. After what seemed like a long time as I stared at the battery voltage panel, we pulled up to nice secluded spot only a few miles from the park itself. Generator back on, we settled down for the night and began to have a look at what we wanted to do in terms of walking tomorrow. We planned to spend a night here and then park up on the west side of the park the following night to get ourselves that bit closer to Vegas.

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