Monument Valley: a place I’ve wanted to visit as long as I could remember. And visit I did. For a brief time, I walked in the footsteps of John Wayne and learned some of the sacred history of the Navajo Indian tribe, the valley’s original inhabitants. Throughout my time there, I thought about my father and his love of the Hollywood Western. The images I saw with my own eyes had graced our television for my whole life. And now, here I was, breathing the hot Arizona air myself.
The previous night, on Wednesday, I was pulling my hair out trying to figure out what our plan was going to be on Friday, the day we planned to spend at the Grand Canyon. There was so many options as far as where at the canyon to visit and what time would be best. We started looking at some guided tour options (as I’ve never been IN the canyon) and that opened up a whole new world of impossible choices. Somehow, I found myself looking at information on tours in Monument Valley, a stop en route to Flagstaff. Even though Monument Valley was the primary reason a flight to SLC to see Alex turned into a road trip, I hadn’t even considered anything guided. We found one that was highly cited on TripAdvisor, called, and made a reservation for the next day.
The drive was easy, and my anticipation grew as our destination drew closer. All of the sudden, we crested a hill on Highway 163 and the iconic mesas were spread out across the horizon. I immediately recognized the area as the spot of road that Forrest Gump decided to stop running, so of course I had to stop and take some pictures. It was also a great place to get a feel for how vast the valley was. We drove down to our meeting place: The View Hotel, a resort of sorts on Navajo land right at the entrance to the valley. The view, as one would expect, was absolutely spectacular. Our guide, Aaron, arrived and we set into the valley at about 1:00.
Aaron was Navajo and throughout our trip we learned about the local culture as well as his history. He had been in construction most of his life and returned home a few years ago to raise his two young children. His family had been running these tours for many years and, although he still had a lot to learn himself, enjoyed sharing his culture and heritage with others. Much like Arches, there were people from all nationalities here. For most of our journey through the valley, we were by ourselves.
After hitting some of the big places like the Mitten Buttes and John Ford’s Point, Aaron drove us back to the areas available only to Navajo guides. Our jeep skittered around on sandy trails as we passed homes and traditional hogans (pronounced ho-gones) still occupied by Indian locals. All of the mesas and buttes had names that carried meaning and history; moments underneath the Suns Eye and near the Sleeping Dragon were so absolutely quiet that I could’ve gone deaf and not realized it. Our solitude was most appreciated when Aaron took us to the Big Hogan, a natural rock formation that mimicked the traditional hut, where I stared into the sky while listening to him play a traditional cedar Navajo flute. At that moment, I was seeing the exact same thing that the Navajo saw for hundreds of years. I didn’t even have to close my eyes and pretend. It was in that moment that my thoughts of my father were the strongest; oh how I wish he could have been there with me.
We saw a few more of the sights around the valley after that, including an AMAZING view of the valley from what’s called the Northern Window, before saying goodbye to Aaron and Monument Valley. The drive to Flagstaff was uneventful (save some small rain pockets) and the Ramada was a welcome sight after such a hot and dusty day. Tomorrow brings the Grand Canyon, and although we finally decided to just drive up and wing it, I know it’ll be spectacular.