Monday, June 16, 2014

Monument Valley - An Awesome Place

We left the green mesas of Colorado and drove southwest into Arizona.  It was quite a dramatic landscape change.  We left green topped mesa's and some green valley's to almost desert like conditions outside of Cortez, CO.  It's a pretty desolate road to Four Corners. We had to stop at the Navajo Tribal Park and do a photo op. Where else can you place your body in four states simultaneously?

Cav wanted to ride along Rt 160 down into Arizona.  This was the route Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper rode in the movie Easy Rider. Its sparse, lonesome, and beautiful.

At Kayenta, we took Rt 163 northeast up to Monument Valley. All I can say is wow.  Just north of Monument Valley towards Mexican Hat on Rt 163, is where Forrest Gump stopped running ("I'm awful tired, I think I'll go home").

Rt 160 to Kayenta, AZ
Rt 163 where Forrest Gump stopped running
We found our way to Gouldings just a mile west from the Monument Valley Tribal Park entrance. The complex (Gas station, Convenience store, Lodge, Grocery, and Campground) is located in a beautiful canyon.  You're surrounded by huge sandstone walls. The campground is basically an RV park with rigs parked about 30 feet apart.  They have full hookups, pool, laundry, a camp store, wifi, and even cable TV. Cell service is spotty and don't count on any mobile data.  But its location, location, location.  The views are beautiful.  They also offer an assortment of tours into the valley. The park was fairly full when we arrived, mostly with rented Class C motor homes.

View from Gouldings Campground
J. Dawg's rig at Gouldings
We visited the Navajo Visitor Center and the Monument Valley Tribal Park Visitor complex, which is four miles up the road from the visitor center.  To get into the park and up to the Tribal Park Visitor Center will cost you $20 per car load.  The ticket is good for four days.  The Visitor Center, which is relatively new, has exhibits, tour operators, a gift shop, restaurant, and hotel.  It also gives you breathtaking views of the valley.  You just want to stand there and soak in the views. This is where several John Wayne movies were filmed (The Searchers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, Stage Coach) and others like Once Upon A Time in the West and the Eiger Sanction.

Cav at Monument Valley
At the lower Navajo Visitor Center you can also shop for a guide to take you on a tour into Monument Valley. There are several to choose from. The park has a 17 mile dirt/sand loop road that you can do in a car if you're adventurous. Its recommended that you have 4 wheel drive.  No RV's are allowed on this road. I always like to get up close and personal and get some local info on an area. We spoke to two tour operators.  Prices vary widely. We only wanted a short 1.5 hr tour and we found a good one with Charlene of Dineh Bekeyah Tours (  Unlike other tours, we got to pick our time for the tour (at 9:30 am, cooler and better light), the type of vehicle (4 wheel Suburban with A/C vs open truck), and requested it be just for Cav and I.  Her rate of $60 per person was the most reasonable. At Gouldings you can get a 2.5 hr tour for $60 that leaves once a day at 1:15 pm and you're packed into the back of an open truck with 16 other people.

The tour was well worth it. You really don't to experience Monument Valley until you go down into it.  The mesas and buttes are massive.  Also, there's a lot you can't see from the Visitor Center.  Our Navajo guide, Toney, was very informative.  He told us all the names of the landmarks and pointed out where certain films were shot. Here's some pictures I took in the Valley.

Mitchell Mesa

John Ford's Point (scene from The Searchers filmed here)
Cav at Camel Butte

The Window
While on the tour, I got to ask our guide a few questions about the Navajo people and culture.  The Navajo consider Monument Valley sacred ground.  There are about 200 Navajo's that live in the Valley.  We saw a couple residences while on the tour. Most are summer hogans.  I've read a little about the Navajo culture and I asked Toney about Yei's like Rainbow Man or Spider Woman (they're sort of like Saints or minor deities in the Christianity cultures).  I was curious to have him give me a first hand description of their significance and how the Navajo treat them  I also knew that Navajo's were very superstitious.  Toney said that they talk about Yei's in the winter when they tell their stories (much of the Navajo culture is passed down orally).  To talk about them in the Summer is bad luck.  If you talk about then in the Summer you could get eaten by a bear or bit by a snake.  He was dead serious.  I hope I didn't put a jinx on us or Tony. I wouldn't want any of us to get eaten by a bear.

Monument Valley is an awesome place.  We spent two days and it was just enough to soak it in.

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