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Spirit wanderers: A trip through Monument Valley

Joyce Hartman
Montrose, Colo.
Joyce Hartman, Montrose, Colo.

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My husband Doug and I have lived in the West for 40 years (26 in Colorado) and we had yet to see Monument Valley. Job demands, weather conditions and other circumstances had somehow interfered and we decided this was the year we would finally succeed.

We left Montrose at 7:15 a.m. in mid-May with our yellow Lab and fifth-wheel trailer in tow and headed for Goulding’s RV Park and Resort in the heart of Monument Valley. Descending Lizard Head Pass into Dolores, we came upon two young cow elk ” probably last year’s calves ” at the side of the road and a wild turkey a little farther on. We had made reservations for two nights at Goulding’s and covered the 260 miles to our destination by 2:15 p.m., which included brief stops for gas, a roadside lunch and a quick dog run. By three we had checked in, set up, enjoyed some cool refreshments and taken a nap before a short walk around the campground. It didn’t take long to discover we were among the few Americans there. We heard German, Russian, Italian and French spoken and other languages we weren’t sure of. Goulding’s is the only campground in the area, except for a primitive site inside the tribal park, and has an interesting past.

Harry Goulding and his wife “Mike” purchased a plot of land in the valley in the 1920s and set up a trading post where the local Navajo people traded hand-crafted items for food and other goods. (Their first permanent building now houses the Trading Post Museum.) When the Great Depression hit in the 30s, the Navajo Reservation suffered terribly. Hoping to find relief for the natives as well as themselves, the Gouldings took their last $60 and headed to Hollywood where they had heard that a film production company was scouting shooting locations in the Southwest. As luck would have it, they met director John Ford and the rest, of course, is movie history. Ford was impressed with Harry’s photos of Monument Valley and soon arrived with his crew ” and John Wayne ” to film “Stagecoach,” the first of nine movies Ford shot here.

The Gouldings soon expanded their property to include a lodge and dining facilities and continued to host movie crews as well as tourists from around the world.

Harry passed away in 1981; Mike died in 1992. Today, Goulding’s is owned by the LaFont family who continue to introduce the world to the beauty and spirit of Monument Valley. The lodge complex now includes the museum, a gift shop, a movie theater where a John Wayne film is shown nightly in addition to two documentaries on Monument Valley, John Wayne’s cabin from the movie set, Internet service and a fitness room. A free shuttle runs between the lodge and RV park and we took advantage of it to visit the lodge after dinner. Guided tours of the valley can be arranged at either location. There is also a full-service gas station and grocery store as well as a small airport.

The following morning dawned clear and warm and, leaving the dog behind in the air-conditioned trailer, we headed over to the tribal park in Monument Valley to take the self-guided tour. The Golden Age Pass is not recognized here, but the $5 per person entry fee seemed reasonable. The all-day ticket includes entrance to the Visitor Center, which, unfortunately, was closed for renovation. The View Hotel and Resort next door just opened in 2009 and blends unobtrusively into the desert landscape. While the yuccas were in bloom, we were too early for the bright blossoms of the prickly pear cactus.

The 17-mile trail winds through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Southwest, most notably the rock formations recognizable from numerous films, magazines and television commercials known as The Mittens. The map we were given was easily followed with numbered stops along the way. A word of caution, however; the dirt road is extremely rough and not recommended for vehicles with low clearance, especially RVs. Check with tribal park headquarters beforehand.

The loop took about two leisurely hours to complete and when we returned to our campsite, we were ready for lunch and a dip in the pool, which we had to ourselves. We spent a relaxing afternoon catching up on our reading. After dinner, we watched a DVD of “Paint Your Wagon” ” an annual tradition. The film was one of the first we had seen after moving to Denver from the East Coast in 1969.

Ready for our next adventure, we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon the next morning.

For information about Goulding’s, please call (435) 727-3231, email gouldings @gouldings.com or log on to http://www.gouldings.com.

For Monument Valley information please contact Navajo Parks and Recreation Department at (928) 871-6647 or log on to http://www.navajonationparks.org.


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