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Great south-west RV drive

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ben Dark is back on the road — this time in a 11.6m RV for a drive across the south-west of the United States. It's a place of magnificent landscape and beauty and where a great part of the American dream was created.

It's easy for your mind to waft back to the 1800s, a time of settlers in covered wagons, gamblers and hungry gold prospectors, all making their way through the rugged and unexplored country. There were new lives and fortunes to be made and hardships to be endured, but the promise of a whole new world kept them going. What would have taken them a week to travel is now covered in an hour!

Ben drove into Navajo country. It covers 63,000 square kilometres of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona and it took Mother Nature around 50 million years to sculpt the magnificence. She left behind colourful, stratified sandstone buttes towering to 300m.

In 1935, sheep rancher Harry Goulding got wind that Hollywood was looking for locations for a new genre of film: the western. The enterprising farmer armed himself with photographs and showed great insistence at movie studios until someone just took one look at his album.

Harry was rewarded with a cheque for US$5000 — an enormous amount in those times — and John Wayne soon turned up to shoot Stagecoach. That was the beginning of Hollywood's love affair with Monument Valley's awesome landscapes.

Most tourists tend to drive around the valley's 27km ring road to see the spectacular formations. The dirt road is not recommended for large RVs but that suited Ben. He was itching to join Jamison Black, a Navajo guide, and get the feel of the place on horseback.

Jamison is a fascinating character. He was born in Monument Valley, the sixth of 11 children. He weaves wonderful willow baskets, an art his mother was famous for. It is unusual for men to weave, but his creations are stunning. He's also a medicine man!

Jamison and his family accommodate visitors in a Hogan, an eight-sided adobe home with dirt floor. At night he cooks on an outdoor fire pit under a vast canopy of stars. You can find out more about him at Twin Rocks Trading Post at

If you come across all-American mom Suzie Ball, make sure you stop and try her barbecued ribs. She's out there every weekend and profits go towards helping her son's dream of being a track star.

Ben continued west along Highway 98 and just like his impression of Monument Valley, 200km ago, he was stunned by the beauty of the Grand Canyon.

The steep-sided gorge was carved by the Colorado River. The canyon is 446km long and ranges from 6.4km to 29km in width, reaching a depth of 1.83km. Its size and colour are overwhelming, and if you do nothing more than stand and take it all in, you will feel you have done something extraordinarily special.

If you fancy following in Ben's footsteps, it's quite an easy thing to do. So popular are RVs, they are well catered for in camping grounds and parking stations. Camping grounds have facilities for draining grey water which needs to be done every couple of days. Despite their size, you don't need a special licence, and they take regular petrol.

From Monument Valley in Arizona to Las Vegas in Nevada via Utah.

El Monte RV rentals start at around $73 a day.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is open for scenic driving between 6am and 8.30pm between May and September and 8am and 4.30pm between October and April. Entry fees are $5 per person and camping fees are $10 a night.

Horse trail rides start at around $45 for half an hour. There are many rides to choose from so check their website.

V Australia has return flights to Los Angeles. Fares start from:

Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne $1299
Adelaide $1599
Perth $1899

Fares are available for a limited time, so visit their website for further details.

Prices correct at February 11, 2010.

For further information
V Australia

El Monte RV
Ph: +1 562 483 4956

Monument Valley Utah
Navajo Tribal Park Visitor Center
Summer (May to September) 6am to 8pm
Spring (March to April) 7am to 7pm
Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day

Twin Rocks Trading Post
913 E Navajo Twins Drive
Bluff UT 84512
United States
Ph: +1 435 672 2341

Visas: Most Australians do not need a visa, providing they have a machine-readable passport with at least six months' validity after the departure day, have a round-trip non-refundable ticket and do not intend to stay longer than 90 days. Australians need to complete a pre-travel authorisation at

Electricity: 110V to 115V at 60Hz. Outlets take two-parallel, flat prongs. Australian visitors will need a US adapter and converter.

Time zone: The United States has nine standard time zones. Atlantic, Eastern, Central, Mountain, Pacific, Alaskan, Hawaii-Aleutian, Samoa and Chamorro. New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona are in the Mountain time zone at GMT -7.

Currency: The American dollar.

International dialling code: +1.

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