Going into this past road trip I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. Then again I hadn’t planned on extraordinary. We’ve got a great system in place so far as picking destinations, mapping out routes & budgeting for any extras that might pop up. But when you come across a natural wonder that has breathtaking beauty, nothing prepares you for the shock and awe. This was my reaction to Monument Valley.
After rendezvousing with our friends, Paul & Lisa, and continuing on to Moab for four days of fun and relaxation, it was time to move on. The drive down from Arches National Park to Monument Valley is nothing spectacular to speak of. It’s a rather benign drive with a typical Utah backdrop as a constant companion. This is something that, I feel, no one can ever under appreciate or gloss over. Utah’s beautiful scenery stays with you as a reminder, even as you venture home. It gives you something to look forward to and keeps you coming back for more.
Driving closer to the Arizona border and deeper into Navajo country the landscape begins to morph in front of you. The dark reds begin to pale leaving a washed out orange with a distinct yellow hue seen only in the Colorado Plateau. This particular stretch of highway dips and swerves with great respect to the unforgiving terrain. Along the way the turnoffs and shoulders are dotted with shanties and kiosks hawking handmade Navajo jewelry. One final apex in the rolling roadway and just when your vehicle begins to dip down, across the horizon massive buttes majestically jut out from beneath the arid earth. They stand stoically, head and shoulders above their surrounding monoliths and spires. And as quickly as the desert plain takes a drastic turn, so does the colour. Back are the deep reds and vivid multi-dimensional oranges that can only be seen here as well as in the Moab desert. The view is impressive and nearly all traffic stops to take pictures. We pulled over and took several shots from this lookout before continuing on our way.
We arrive shortly at the gate to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Both Devon & Paul drive low profile cars. Normally this isn’t a concern but the scenic drive around the buttes & mittens in Monument Valley is on rather loose sand. We stopped in at the visitor’s centre which has a gift shop and a restaurant attached to it. The centre is chock full of knick knacks, trinkets and miscellaneous sundries. The indoor overlook has a full 360 view of the entire valley. As we were reading information about the buttes and their sacred spirits, it was brought to my attention that in either corner there were dinosaur tracks, preserved and on display for all to see. When you step outside onto the overlook you are immediately taken aback by the gigantic rock formations jutting out from valley floor. They stand proud and for centuries have been a beacon for the indigenous people, the Navajo. The wind whips around whistling and carrying ancient stories to the elders who in turn pass them on. These are the stuff of legend, whose tall tales turned up in dime novels in the late 1800s. These grounds are sacred and must be treated as such. The feeling that encompasses you here is one of complete calmness and a heightened sense of wisdom.
After taking some stunning pictures of the three most famous buttes & mittens, we decided to try and drive around the valley loop to get a closer look. Since we couldn’t tell from the top of the loop how soft the road was we just went for it. After one hill and an embankment, we could tell this would be a fun and trying drive. The sand isn’t compact and in some spots it seems like quicksand. One would think that a national monument would have paved roads to allow for greater access but that is not the case when it concerns Navajo country. Paul’s car is a little lower than ours and has a trailer hitch, so this small loop was proving difficult. Up and over big rocks and down into sandy ditches we go. I imagine the jostling about was similar to riding around in an old jalopy without shocks. Watching Paul’s car dip and bounce about was both impressive and amusing. We both ended up bottoming out and stopping to check our cars. In a turn out, taking pictures and checking the undersides of our cars, we somehow became roadside fodder for truckloads of kids on a guided tour. One group of kids waved excitedly at us saying “bonjour”. I guess they think all Canadians are bilingual.
Examinations of the undercarriages proved that the path was too difficult to do in our respective vehicles. Turning our cars around and attempting to make a run back up the hills and onto paved road, we had to time our runs with the oncoming truck tours. You never knew when your car might jump sideways as it tried to dig in and find solid ground. As it turns out, coming down into the valley loop was much easier than trying to climb back out of it. At some points, we lost all power and traction. With Paul leading the way, we watched him struggle and slide back, coming within inches of our car. Every time they went a few inches forward, we did too. And every time they lurched back or let up on the gas, Devon skillfully retreated to a safe distance without losing too much ground. After rolling back down a bit, Devon said, “F*** it!”, dropped it into first and gunned it up the final hill. The three truck loads of tourists cheered us on as we summited and finally arrived safe and sound at the top.
We flirted with the idea of pulling over and hiking around the base of one of the buttes but after that frustrating loop attempt, clearer heads prevailed and we decided to check out the Navajo markets instead. We strolled about in the market place and took in all of the beautiful arts and crafts. They use such amazing colours and utilize turquoise in such a way that it’s both tasteful and subtle. The bracelets and necklaces are magical looking with every colour of the rainbow represented. Everything is handmade and polished to perfection. I was particularly smitten with the knives, bows and arrows. But it was the fry bread that had me on the first bite. Fry bread is essentially a Navajo flat donut. This is a traditional sweet snack in Navajo country and it can be prepared in a plethora of ways. I chose to sprinkle icing sugar on mine. Walking about the arid outdoor mall, the hardest part for me was seeing all of the feral dogs wandering around, looking for food, water & cool shade to hide in, in an effort to beat the oppressive heat. The pregnant dogs almost tore my heart out and I found myself wanting to tear up. Both Devon & Lisa assured me that the local people took good care of these wild dogs, which eased my mind a bit. Looking about the vendor’s wares, Devon & Lisa picked out a nice, simple silver ring for me and a beautiful purple bracelet. In the very last shop we stopped in the proprietor was a very sweet woman who cared deeply about her goods and spoke fondly of their meaning. After shopping and as I waited for my fry bread, I watched as she took a bag of food outside and left it along side of the building for one skinny dog to eat. She had water out for the dogs as well. This filled me with renewed faith in mankind and I was able to let go of the fret I had with the dogs. Devon told me that this was their way of life and this was normal for these parts. With our new jewelry in hand and a giant fry bread to consume, we packed up and headed out for our next adventure, Sedona AZ. But we will cover that fun in another post.
Monument Valley was both barren and beautiful, stark and stunning. The air was filled with an energy that cannot be put into words. The terrain takes your breath away and the rocks themselves, if you listen close enough, speak to you like you’re the only person there.
What they said to me, I cannot say. You just have to go there for yourself.