Some people say that, the Navajo know…. November 2009
The journey from the snowy peaks of Taos to the amber sandstone buttes of Monument Valley was a reasonably short but atmospheric one. As the Trek van rolled along the highway surrounded only by miles and miles of arid plains and desert, I found myself listening to the likes of the Pixies and early ’90s Red Hot Chili Peppers. The music seemed to juxtapose so well with the dusty, heated landscape around us and I found myself having a bit of a ‘moment’, so to speak. We had a little bit of trouble crossing the state border to Arizona, when an MVD Enforcement officer conducted a thorough check of the van’s paperwork and licensing. Once through we gladly advanced further and further into the valley, slowly beginning to recognise our surroundings from its frequent use in popular culture. Most infamously, we stopped and took photos at the spot along Route 163 where Tom Hanks finally stopped running in ‘Forrest Gump’:
The landscape of Monument Valley is like something you would expect to encounter on the surface of Mars; red and desolate except for the sprinkle of oddly (and often amusingly) shaped buttes which jut up from the ground. We made our way to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which would enable us to get a little more ‘up close and personal’ with this mysterious expanse of land.
Once there, the 13 of us boarded a jeep and a Navajo guide drove us all around the national park and it was no real surprise to learn that the area had been used as the setting for many Western movies. It’s funny to think that an area like this can be only a few hours away from Las Vegas but this why I love the U.S.A – it is diverse, and there is so much more to it than you would expect.
The sandstone buttes often have nicknames, and we stopped at various points to take photos. Most infamous are the ‘mittens’, a group of buttes shaped uncannily like a pair of… mittens:
You may note from my interesting choice of attire that it was quite windy and cold when we went to Monument Valley – classic November weather – yet sunny all the same. In Summer weather the valley gets very hot, and in a strange way, I think I was happy about the fact it was slightly cooler when we went.
When we reached the Eye of the Sun (see the photo directly above), our tourguide performed a traditional Navajo chant. I recorded it on my camera. Unfortunately I had to stop recording halfway through as something occurring in the background was making me laugh, but this will give you a good impression of the atmosphere:
After that, we continued our journey and arrived at a cluster of hogans in which some of the Navajos live. Another Trek tour were there too, and we all ate a traditional Navajo dinner of fried bread, mincemeat and beans together. Hogans are the traditional homes of the Navajos, instantly recognisable by their cone-shape and small doors facing east to welcome the rising sun. Made of mud, wood and earth, they are usually brown in colour and are very hot inside.
I’ll never forget eating dinner with the Navajos at sunset. It was probably the first time in my life I’d ever experienced a culture abroad which was so different to my own, and it left me wanting to know more about the world. We went back to the car-park and Mandy drove us to our motel in Utah. The breeze had left most of us with sand in our clothes and our faces feeling flushed, but it was an amazing experience, and I’m so glad to have been there.