Let's face it, with such scenic wonders as the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone , and Glacier national parks along the route of US Highway 89, it would be easy to dismiss parts of the old highway in northern Arizona simply as "drive through country". Sure the summer days are hot and the lack of water (and thus the color green) can make even the most die-hard road warrior weary at the thought of driving through such a desert. But take another look! The Painted Desert is full of wonderful surprises and is sure to enchant anyone who simply takes the time to know it on its terms.
Leaving Cameron and its historic trading post, drivers immediately cross the bridge over the Little Colorado River and enter "kaleidescope country". The Chinle Formation is a geologic treasure! It contains deposits from ancient rivers that hold multi-hued clays, petrified wood, and fossils of our planets earliest dinosaurs. You may not see any fossils or petrified wood but the colorful rocks abound. And what look like piles of gray dirt placed here by a dump truck are actually claystones that were once spread across the whole surface, only to be eroded into these fantastic shapes.
The show continues past the turnoff to Tuba City and soon another geologic companion appears - the Echo Cliffs. This stately escarpment rises 1,000 feet above the roadbed and directs travelers north towards Bitter Springs, where Highway 89 splits into two segments. The Echo Cliffs contain rocks from the Jurassic time period when the America Southwest looked much like the Sahara Desert does today. Within these orange-colored cliffs are petrified sand dunes stacked one on top of the other. A late afternoon drive on this stretch of highway is a photographers delight.
The entire segment described here traverses the western portion of the vast Navajo Indian Reservation. Many bead stands are located along the frontage of this road and one place even sells delicous jerky (you'll see the signs for these). The Navajo are a friendly and easy going people who laugh readily. Take the time to stop at one of these stands and experience their hospitality. And whether geologic or cultural, you are sure to enjoy this stretch of US Highway 89!