Valley -- Land of Many Stories
It's 7:30 AM, sunrise. I stand in the parking
lot of the Monument Valley Tribal Park Visitors Center, waiting for my
The wind stirs and I zip up my jacket, crunching my boots in a patch of
January snow as I step in place to keep warm.
The sun emerges in a
burning vermilion ball of light, turning the Valley's dramatic sandstone
monoliths a flaming red, and my eyes fall on two of these massive
structures – square buttes which jut from the ochre sand like a pair of
giant hands, thumbs pointing skyward.
I turn at the Navajo
greeting. Harold Simpson, my albino Navajo
guide who owns Simpson's Trailhandler Tours stands behind me with his
"I see you've noticed
the Mittens," he says with a grin, pointing to the giant mitten-shaped
buttes. "Did you know that Dinéh, the
believe the Mittens fit the hands of the Gods, and at one time,
Monument Valley was the Gods' playground?"
I look again at the
Mittens, imagining them filled out by a pair of giant Godly hands.
"My Grandmother said
that the Gods left their mittens here so they could come back and
reclaim them." Harold's blonde hair wafts in the breeze as he smiles
at his dark-haired brother. "But... Richard says they look like two
elephants lying on their backs with their feet in the air."
The story reminds me
of why I've come to this high, windswept heart of the Southwest: to
learn the Navajo tales first-hand -- age-old legends that have been passed
down through the generations. I want to explore this sacred place,
home to gentle people, roaming horses, and scenery so striking it has
been used as the background for countless movies and TV commercials.
In fact, being a
movie buff, I'd chosen Goulding's Lodge and Tours as home base for my
weekend stay, because, in addition to being the only accommodations
right in Monument Valley, Goulding's operates a museum, open to the public,
in the trading post and original stone home of Harry Goulding.
Harry Goulding, known
as "the man who brought Hollywood to Monument Valley," convinced director John Ford to use
Monument Valley as the setting for his western movies in the
The museum, filled with memorabilia of
Goulding's friendships with John Ford, John Wayne, and other Hollywood
celebrities, had kept me entertained all evening, followed by the
Earth Spirit Show, a film showcasing the stunning images of
photographer Ric Ergenbright. Retiring to my room, I'd popped the
movie Stagecoach in the VCR, chosen from a selection of locally filmed
videos available at the front desk.
Ford filmed Stagecoach in
1939, the first of many movies made here, including the more recent
Vertical Limit in 2000 and 2001's Windtalkers, starring Nicholas Cage.
Despite what you saw in Vertical Limit, though, rock climbing is
off-limits in Monument Valley.
Visitors can, of course, drive the 17-mile
loop, which descends through the valley past Navajo homes.
However, Ronnie Biard, the Operations Manager of Goulding's Lodge and
Tours, says, "If you don't get a guide you're missing the boat. With a
guided tour, you get the Navajo
culture, and you get to go into the backcountry which would otherwise be
True, indeed, I muse, as
Harold maneuvers our jeep along the bumpy road through the unspoiled
landscape. Fluffy cumulus clouds drift across a pale sky that turns bluer
by the minute, and we make our first photo stop by a group of horses
grazing on the roadside.
Monument Valley, Utah
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Harold regales me with
and then explains why he started Simpson's Trailhandler Tours six years
ago -- to share with others his experience as a Navajo
growing up in Monument Valley.
He conveys his love of
the land by fondly pointing out arches, buttes and columns with enchanting
names such as "The Three Sisters", "Sleeping Dragon", and "Ear of the
Wind." He and Richard laugh as they recall childhood adventures here, such
as sliding down winter snow-covered dunes on the hood of a car.
Rounding a large rock
formation we behold our next stop -- a genuine Hogan where an elderly
named Suzie Yazee will demonstrate the art of weaving.
From the outside, the
round, mud structure blends into the umber sand. We duck through the
east-facing doorway, leaving the brightness behind to enter the one-room
Warmth radiates from a
crackling fire. Suzie gives us a gap-toothed grin as we examine the
sheepskin rugs that cover the clay floor, the smoke hole that pierces the
domed roof, and colorful woven carpets that decorate the floors and walls.
The word Hogan (Hooghan)
means "place home", combining the meaning of "home" and a "sense of
place." Despite the primitive lack of electricity and running water, it's
a cozy shelter against whipping winds, summer heat and winter cold.
began demonstrating rug-weaving to tourists in the 1940s," Harold says,
explaining the process while Suzie spins and weaves. Seeing her pull loose
a strand of soft, grey wool through the border, I remember the legend of
Spider Woman, a Spirit Being who taught that every Navajo
blanket must be woven with a pathway in the border, to keep the weaver's
spirit from being imprisoned by the blanket's beauty.
We say good-bye to Suzie,
and then hike to an arch called "Big Hogan", where a natural Indian
profile appears on the wall. Harold walks behind a nearby dune, and we
rest against the cool rock.
"Look up," says Richard.
Overhead, skylight filters through the hole in the arch. Suddenly, the
earthy strains of Harold's Native American flute echo off the walls,
followed by a mesmerizing chant to the beat of a primeval drum.
We are brought back to
the present when we hop in the jeep and drive to a rock formation called
"The Titanic." Needless to say, the rock has been weathered into the shape
of a ship, sinking into a sea of sand.
At John Ford Point, the
filming location of Stagecoach, we see Frank Jackson, the "Navajo
John Wayne." Clad in vivid red, he rides his horse out on the mesa – a
perfect opportunity for photographs.
In this unchanging vista
time seems to stand still, yet my watch tells me hours have passed.
Tomorrow I will see the
ruins in nearby Mystery Valley, but already the trip scores high. I came
here for the stories, and I'd heard many – from Harold's ancient Navajo myths
to Harry Goulding's Hollywood tales.
We drive back to the
Visitors Center, and I see the Mittens once more, still waiting for the
Gods to return. They are symbols of this enduring land, a place, I am
certain, that will inspire people for ages to come.
© 2005 Melody Moser, Added January, 2006
About The Author: Travel writer
Melody Moser's articles and photos have appeared in publications such as
The Orlando Sentinel, The AAA Touch, Arabella Romances
Magazine, Connecting Solo Travel News, The Globe, and GoNomad.com;
she also writes regularly for The Tourist News, a supplement to The Miami
Herald. She can be reached through her travel blog at
Article provided by:
Monument Valley Tribal Park
P.O. Box 360289
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