Quackgrass Sally: On the Trail 8-13-12
I believe everyone has dreams of places they would like to see and visit, what most now refer to as their “bucket list.” I have mine, some have been with me since I was a little girl, and recently I was lucky enough to have one dream come true.
Unlike my sister, who had music-idol posters pinned all over her bedroom walls, I had dozens upon dozens of photos cut out of Arizona Highways magazines. With their breathtaking monumental landscapes and the contrasting bright blue skies, I created my own special “heaven.” Growing up, I couldn’t get enough of Western movies … Ward Bond, Ben Johnson and John Wayne were my bigger then life heroes, and when they rode with the cavalry down through the glowing red rock formations of Monument Valley, I KNEW I had to someday go there. If I could just once, feel and taste the wind-tossed dust and view the majestic wonder of this unique place … that would be a dream come true.
Tagging along during a recent work trip with my best pal, Candy Moulton, she asked if I had ever been through the lower part of Colorado and Utah, into Arizona. Knowing that I have always been avidly interested in the Native cultures of that area, she was surprised to learn I’d never visited.
“Well then this will be an adventure for you … we are going to take a side trip and go through Monument Valley! You will love it,” Candy declared. (I think I didn’t breathe for several minutes I was so excited!)
Known as the 8th Wonder of the World — where the Earth meets the Sky — Monument Valley has been a unique place since pre-historic times. Here, among 29,817 square miles of Navajo Tribal lands, lies a hidden valley that John Wayne called “God’s Treasure.” Established in 1958 as a preserved environment by the Navajo Nation Council under the Division of Natural Resources, Monument Valley is a geological wonder. Sitting 5,564 feet above sea level, the Park extends into Arizona and Utah, about 91,696 acres. Some of the red-rock monuments rise from 100 to 1,500 feet tall, displaying the wondrous natural sculptures created by erosion. The most famous of these rock formations are the hand-shaped West Mitten and East Mitten, so often featured in the John Ford western films.
It truly is a place where “time stands still” and where the people who live inside the “Tse-Bii-Ndzisgaii” (the valley within the rock) have long sustained life through simple living. The majestic scenery inspires local families to fashion their work into incredible art through hand-woven rugs, sand paintings, pottery and authentic jewelry. Here sheep are also a source of wealth and Candy and I saw several small herds roaming in the valley, their fleece tinted a light pink from the surrounding sunset-red sands.
To enter Monument Valley Park a small entry fee is charged but once there, you can take a self-guided Valley drive or hire a local native-guided tour. Here, too, you can explore the Visitors Center and Museum, which overlooks the whole valley. The area has some outstanding photo-ops, including the famous “Mittens” view. Next to this is the View Hotel, the only hotel built within the Tribal Park, and the View Restaurant, famous for their signature Green Chili Stew. There is a 3.3 mile hiking trail loop around the West Mitten Butte, which we were told gives hikers spectacular valley experiences. Some primitive, dry camping sites are available, located on the northern rim of the Valley, but keep in mind there is no water or restrooms on site. (I bet the stars at night would be unbelievable!)
Located about five miles outside the Park is Goulding’s Lodge. Established in 1924 by Harry Goulding and his wife “Mike,” this trading post provided a place where Navajos could exchange livestock and handmade goods for necessities. When times got tough, Goulding pursued the film director John Ford, convincing him that Monument Valley was THE place to film Western movies. For years this compound was used as the headquarters for Ford, including when he filmed the famous Western classic, Stagecoach, with John Wayne. Today there is not only the Lodge, but also cabins, a store, and the Goulding Museum, which displays Native American artifacts, Goulding family memorabilia, and an excellent Monument Valley movie exhibit. Hundreds of still photographs taken during the many film shoots fill the walls. If you look out the museums’ back window, you can also see the rock and log cabin that John Wayne stayed in while he stayed here.
As Candy and I were headed out, down Hwy 163, the sun began to slowly set, highlighting the rock monoliths dotting the landscape. Everything was bathed in a red glow that reached from horizon to horizon. Closing my eyes, I took a last deep breath of the desert air streaming in the window, wishing to hold a bit of it inside me for “always ‘n forever.”
Hey … was it my imagination or did I hear the distantly faint, ghostly call of a cavalry bugle and the nicker of horses! ❖