El Tovar and the Valley of Fire

The Adventure Begins!

Don Pedro de Tovar was a Spanish explorer, military man, and colonial ruler.

In his service to Vasquez Coronado, he searched for the Seven Cities of Cibola seeking gold and riches.

El Tovar never found the cities of gold. He became aware of the great Colorado River and Grand Canyon but never reached them.

Author’s note: In September 2021, as we were all excited to travel, be social, and enjoy a sense of normality, my youngest son and I hopped in our beloved Defender 110 and traveled through Nevada and Arizona for several weeks. The route hinged on attending Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, where we would link up with several other board directors of Wildwood Open Lands Foundation.

Part of the compromise in pulling our little man out of classes was that he would continue his schoolwork on the road and share his adventure with his 1st-grade classmates upon return. He and I fabricated a story around the journey we’d taken together.

This post is an adaptation of that elementary school presentation, told from a 6-year-old’s perspective.

El Tovar is remembered (in part) for being the first European to make peace with the Hopi Amerindians.

My Dad and I took up the search for El Tovar’s path. We traveled through Nevada and Arizona to reach his unmet goal. This is the story of our adventure.

We explore in our truck named angus!

Angus is special for exploring!

Don Pedro de Tovar ended his expedition with the Hopi Amerindians.

To pick up his path we decided that we should explore in the direction where he finished. We left Lake Tahoe and headed South, into Nevada.

First, we started looking for El Tovar at a motel just for clowns!
It was really, really, spooky.

No one had heard of El Tovar…

We walked through a forest made of old cars and buses!  They were planted in the ground like trees.

We found no clues from El Tovar...

Then, we discovered a town full of ghosts riding bikes and painting pictures in the desert!

At supper, they told us to head to Arizona if we want to find the path of El Tovar!

SO, we went to Arizona. We stopped and camped for a few days with A LOT of other explorers who were on their own adventures!

These are some of their adventure trucks!

I learned a lot from the other explorers! How to use a map & compass! How to guide my Dad over rocks! And saw some funny stuff too!

We went to ask Aquaman to help us find the path of El Tovar! So we waited by his car, but Aquaman never arrived…

We left the explorers and went to the Wupatki and Wukoki Pueblo Ruins. Many different people lived, farmed, and traded here a long time ago.

This was our best chance yet to find clues to the path of El Tovar!!

We think that we are close to the path of Pedro de Tovar!

Maybe we can go farther than he did!

I got to walk through the ruins and see how people lived long ago!  Some of their pottery and grinding stones called metate are left behind.

At the Pueblo Ruins, I learned about animals and their habitat and how different rocks are formed.

At the end of our visit, I became a Junior Ranger!

We made it to the Grand Canyon!
Pedro de Tovar dreamed of reaching the Canyon and Colorado River.
I am proud that we made it here!

My Dad and I hiked the ‘Journey Through Time’ along the rim of the canyon. We learned about the different rocks of the canyon and how it has been forming over almost 2 billion years!!!

At the end of the trail is El Tovar! On top of the cliff, this hotel was named after Pedro de Tovar. It overlooks the canyon and river that he never reached. But we made it here, finishing the expedition that Pedro de Tovar did not – and that made it special!

…but our adventure is far from over!!!

We turned west and drove through the desert all day – until we stopped to explore the Valley of Fire!

We camped here in the valley and watched the sky change colors as the sun went down

We found petroglyphs, arches, and petrified trees in the Valley of Fire. But overnight – we had a lot of visitors in camp – it was super cool!

These are some of the animals that came to visit us!

I named the kit fox ‘Wayne’!

It got really hot in the Valley of Fire, so we moved on. We jumped in this HOT RIVER in a nature preserve!

After our swim, we drove through the desert for a long time until we discovered a huge volcano in a volcanic field. We were totally alone out in the desert!!

On the last day of our adventure, we stopped at different ruins. These were not as old as the pueblos. People had painted all sorts of different pictures on the walls. 

My Dad said it’s a different type of art. Kind of like modern petroglyphs, but I’m not so sure that he’s right about that. He said this was called Coaldale Junction. Now it’s just empty buildings in the desert.

We were almost home. We made one last stop at a museum all about the history of American missiles and bombs. The army keeps more bombs here than anywhere else in the world.

Our search for El Tovar took us more than 1700 miles through Nevada and Arizona!

I had a lot of fun exploring with my Dad.  I was happy to be home to see my mom and brother and cat and friends.

We saw a lot of new things. Adventure travel and meeting new people was fun too.

I am excited for the next adventure that we can all do together!

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