September travels #7 – A monumental rip-off !!

I very rarely write anything negative about my travels and adventures, the places I visit, or the people I meet. I always try to approach the world with open eyes, open ears, and an open mind.

I think few, if any, would ever call me a racist, and this blog is in no way intended as any sort of racial slur. However, I do know a rip-off when I experience one. And almost all of my recent dealings with the Navajo Indians have left something of a bad taste in the mouth.

I’m a traveller. Of course I’ve been ripped-off before, and I imagine I’ll be ripped-off a few more times before my travelling days are over. But Monument Valley, on Navajo lands on the state border between Arizona and Utah, will take some beating in the rip-off stakes.

I first came here five years ago, as part of my “100 Goals in 100 Weeks” adventure. I was in an RV at the time, and having heard of Monument Valley, and the links with old John Ford and John Wayne western movies, decided the detour would be worthwhile.

It was indeed. I paid a reasonable entrance fee. I toured the long gravel road loop in the RV, winding in and out of the amazing formations. I could stop where I pleased and wander around, and stayed to enjoy sunset among the huge rock outcrops.

That night I parked (for free) in a gravel carpark just back from the main viewpoint and enjoyed a quiet evening and night.

All good value, and worth putting on the itinerary for this year’s RV adventure. I was looking forward to showing Vanessa around this special place.

At the entrance station we were charged $20 for the vehicle with two passangers – not too bad. As a point of comparison, entry to National Parks can cost anything from zero to $25 for the two of us in the RV, and with our $80 annual pass which grants access to all National Parks and Monuments, we feel we’ve had great value from the National Park system.

However, at the entry station we were informed that we wouldn’t be able to take our RV around the scenic drive – no RVs and no motorcycles – cars only. We would be able to take a Jeep tour with the tour operators inside the park though, if we did want to tour the scenic loop.

How much would a tour cost? The lady in the ticket booth said she didn’t know, which set a slight alarm bell ringing in the back of my mind.

How much could it cost to take a tour in the back of an open Jeep with half-a-dozen other people around the short scenic drive? Twenty dollars? Thirty at most, surely? It didn’t take long to find out, as we were hailed by enthusiastic tour operators as we parked the RV.

We were regaled with endless enthusiastic details about the tour, but when we finally got to hear the price I was amazed – $75 for the short tour (1.5 hours), with prices increasing for longer tours further into the park. Each! $150 to take a short drive around the loop I had driven freely in my RV the last time I had visited.

The carpark I had stayed in overnight on my previous visit has now been turned into an RV park. It is still a gravel carpark, but with the addition of a couple of picnic tables, and some numbered stakes in the ground, a free night is now no longer an option.

How much could they possibly charge to allow us to park in a gravel carpark – no electric hook-ups, no water connection, no sewer connection – just plain old dry camping?

In the National Parks, for what are almost always better facilities – at minimum a picnic table and a BBQ/fire pit in a reasonably sized area – we have paid anywhere from $4, in Amistad Recreation Area in Texas, up to $18. The higher prices are charged at popular premium parks such as the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.

My inflated price guess was $25. Vanessa upped the stakes, suggesting it might be $30 plus. We both spluttered when we were told the price was a whopping $41.50. “But that includes taxes,” the helpful attendant informed us.

Vanessa could hold back no more. “Surely that includes electric hook-ups?” Apparently not. “Water?” Nope. Just an RV-sized spot in a gravel carpark, crammed in among the others who had obviously paid that price too. “Come on Ian, we’re going. Everything about this place is a rip-off.”

We later discovered that we had been offered a bargain price. The Navajo brochure for Monument Valley states that the price for RVs staying at the campground (gravel carpark) will be charged $49.95 and upwards, plus tax. The brochure states, and I quote directly, “These are off season prices. Prices will increase during the peak season. The number of guests will increase the costs.”

They may as well simply say, “We’ll shaft you for as much as we think we can get away with!”

Don’t get me wrong, Vanessa and I have nothing against people charging a fair price for a decent service, We are big advocates for the free market economy. The Navajo people have a wonderful place to visit, and have every right to make money by charging fees for entry, tours, and overnight camping.

But seriously? A $20 entry fee, $150 for a tour and over $40 to park in a carpark for the night? We had just left the North Rim of the Grand Canyon a couple of nights earlier, where camping permits to stay down by the Colorado River were just $5 per person per night.

After finishing six days of hiking in one of the most stunning places I have ever seen we parked the RV in a beautiful secluded spot in the Kaibab National Forest. We didn’t see another soul there. Cost for the night? Nothing. Free.

The next night we stopped at Lees Ferry, the scenic and historic starting point for rafting trips down the Colorado and through the Grand Canyon. The cost for a night in the campground there with a view over the majestic river? $12.

At Monument Valley we watched the sun set, took a few photographs then drove away.

We spent the night in a quiet roadside rest area just a few miles away. There was nobody else there so we didn’t have to listen to the noise of a generator running in an RV parked next door.

There wasn’t a house or street light for miles around and the sky was clear so the stars were brilliant. And the cost? Free.

My advice…? Cross Monument Valley off your travel list. There are thousands of places in the American Southwest that are equally spectacular, and many that are more-so. And I can guarantee that they will all be much, much better value.

Since my previous visit in 2009 Monument Valley has become a monumental rip-off. I won’t be coming back again.

Coming up next…

Arches National Park.
Entry: $10 (although we don’t have to pay as we have an annual pass)
A spot for the RV for a night: $20
Drive and hike anywhere we want to: Free
Not feeling ripped-off by Navajo Indians: Priceless!

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