Valley of the Gods

Head off the highway to a sandstone wonderland, hiking, and a hidden B&B

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While you can catch a glimpse of the valley from the highway, the best way to explore is on the narrow, graded-gravel track of the Valley of the Gods Road (County Road 242). The road bumps, grinds, rises, and falls for 17 miles, winding past most of the dozen or so major formations that climb above the valley floor. Some of the formations are named for obvious reasons: Battleship Rock does indeed look like a massive ― albeit rusty ― ship mired in dry dock, and Setting Hen is a knockoff of a roosting fowl. Balanced Rock, though, bears a striking resemblance to a Lady in a Tub, which is its other name.

Established primitive campsites, not formal campgrounds, branch off County Road 242. Eight miles into the valley, I find a site between Castle Butte and De Gaulle and His Troops, a formation that obviously inspired a lot of imagination.

The valley's lack of designated trails is not a drawback. I enjoy a rock-reddening sunset my first day, perched high above the valley floor on the shoulder of Castle Butte, a broad yet thin band of rock. After a night under the star-choked sky, I grab a fanny pack with water, snacks, and film and head up one of the washes that skitter here and there across the valley. Broad and deep, the washes are proof that when water does come to the Valley of the Gods, it does so furiously.

April and May are the perfect months to visit, as spring here is both cooler and drier than summer. A dappling of wildflowers across the desert floor suggests that the past winter's precipitation was sufficient. Purplish scorpion weed, reddish Indian paintbrush, and the tissuelike white petals of birdcage evening primrose add colorful contrast to the red-rock backdrop. Yucca, whose thick flower stalks are primed and rising up from between spiny leaves in late April, usually blooms by late May or early June.

 

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