Day 8: Monument Valley
Friday, July 10th, 2009
After having spent three days in Colorado, enjoying the beauty of the Rockies, we had reached the heat of New Mexico to begin a tour of some of the most beautiful national parks in the southwest.
The plan for the 8th day of our trip was simple: wake up without any rush and drive west from Farmington, NM through the Red Mesa, all the way to Kayenta, AZ. The idea was to arrive at the entrance of the Monument Valley (on the border between Arizona and Utah) around lunch time and wait for the mid afternoon to actually enter the park.
While planning the trip, I had read about the Shiprock, a rock formation rising nearly 1,800 feet (550 m) above the high-desert plain on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Our route was passing close to it, so I figured that it was worth it to take a quick detour and visit this majestic rock which plays such a significant role in Navajo religion, mythology and tradition.
The GPS wasn't really helping us locating the rock on the map, and Google Map wasn't being very helpful either due to the fact that a lot of the roads it suggested turned out to be private Indian roads, closed with gates. So I decided to resort to my traditional driving approach when in discovery mode: use luck to get to the Shiprock, and then use the GPS to get back to the main road.
This picture was taken from one of the many "dead ends" we stumbled into during our exploration. We tried taking several dirt roads, each time ending up "lost" -- well, you know, as lost as you can get with a nice SUV and a GPS on board.
Finally we got exactly where I wanted to be, at the right distance and with the perfect light.
Back on the road, U.S. 160, that is, driving west, into Arizona, towards Kayenta, through the Red Mesa.
I cannot even begin to imagine what this land looked like millions of years ago. These spiky rock formations are nothing else than the remains of the cores of huge volcanoes.
While I was taking this picture all I could think of was about the amazing changes this desert had gone through during hundreds of thousands of years. A thought that made me feel small and vulnerable, like an ant walking on a large table amongst the leftovers of a big party.
Around lunch time, we finally reached Monument Valley!
Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park (30,000 acres) established in 1958 and located on the border of Arizona and Utah, within the 16 million-acre Navajo Reservation. The park features a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 1,000 ft (300 m) above the valley floor.
But Monument Valley is much more than that. Having been featured in many movies since the 1930s, in the words of critic Keith Phipps, "its five square miles have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West," becoming therefore an iconic symbol of the American West for people all over the world.
After grabbing some lunch in a restaurant right before the entrance of the park, we finally entered the park. From the visitor center, located near the entrance, we enjoyed the spectacular view of the East and West Mitten Buttes.
The park can be visited by car, driving around a course that allows the visitor to enjoy some of the most recognizable views of the park. Some areas are closed to the public and several private roads lead to where traditional Navajo people still live, without running water and electricity. They prepare and spin wool the old-fashioned way, using dyes made from native plants. Navajo rugs are treasured by collectors all around the world, and can be purchased in the park.
Some of the areas closed to the traffic can actually be visited, but only if accompanied by a Navajo guide, who will drive you there. This is an amazing opportunity which we didn't have time to experience this time around. Instead, as most visitors do, we followed the main open road, stopping here and there to enjoy the amazing views the park has to offer.
Traditional Navajos use native plants for many things, including medicines. The yucca plant alone provides the basis for shoes, baskets, clothing and soap. While driving around the park vendors can be found with stalls where they sell some of these products, handmade jewelry, and all sorts of handmade goods.
I don't believe in God. At least not in the way the Catholic religion teaches. I have to admit, though, that while I was standing in the silence of Monument Valley, looking at the amazing sky and at the beautiful rock formation all around me, I felt something. I am not sure how to describe it. What I can say, though, is that it made me feel welcomed, as if I had finally reached home, part of the beautiful land around me. Maybe I was a Native American in one of my previous lives?
We had seen this newlywed couple many times that day, in different locations inside the park, happily taking pictures of themselves. Once we arrived back at the visitor center, they also were there, probably ready to go back to their room at the View Hotel located right next to the visitor center. They were just too perfect, with their cowboy hats, not to take a picture of them. Who knows, maybe one day they will find this picture by pure accident, and I hope it will be a good memory for them. The ways of the Internet are unlimited.