Exploring Navajo country
the lands of the Native americans have a stark yet glorious beauty that draws visitors, especially Navajo Valley, which has also been the setting of many a movie.
The Earth is beautiful. The Earth is beautiful. The Earth is beautiful.
– Navajo blessing song
IT was 7am when the tour van got stuck in the sand, and the temperature was 32°C, and it was still a little dark. My sister and I, the only passengers, got out of the battered vehicle and stomped around to keep warm amid the sharp grey-green sagebrush and snakeweed. Otherworldly spires in the distance were silhouetted by the impending sunrise. All was silent in this magnificent Navajo tribal park along the Utah-Arizona border.
Then I heard clanking. It was the driver, Don, trying to jack up the rickety Dodge Ram van’s right rear tyre in the deep sand of the off-road trail. Then he trudged out of the ditch. He called someone on his cell. He said, “I knew I should have brought my own truck, but they made me take this one.”
He didn’t say much else. He tried driving us out of the ditch, half-heartedly, a few more times. Then he called the tribal park version of AAA, a friend with a truck.
Outside the van, my sister and the driver stood patiently and silently in the crisp splendour of Navajo country. Inside the van, I grumpily sneaked a sip from the driver’s flask of hot coffee and plotted how we could avoid paying US$95 (RM313) each for the hopelessly delayed three-hour tour.
I have to explain that visiting Monument Valley has been a dream of mine for at least three years.
A photograph of Monument Valley’s awesome topaz and sapphire-coloured landscape is thumbtacked to the bulletin board next to my desk. The park’s three-year-old The View Hotel has garnered rave reviews for its service and vistas from every room.
Monument Valley is so iconic that anyone who ever saw a movie will recognise it. It’s the place where Forrest Gump tires of running and says, “Think I’ll go home now.” It’s the place where sandstone buttes and strange-shaped spires stand like beautiful monuments carved by God. It’s the place that has been the backdrop for famous Westerns – from John Wayne’s first film Stagecoach in 1939 to Johnny Depp’s bomb The Lone Ranger last year. The part I didn’t know is how quirky this park, which gets 360,000 visitors a year, is.
Operated by the Navajo Nation, the park has excellent, well-paved entrance roads.
However, the 27.3km loop tour inside the park has dirt roads that are really, really terrible – so terrible that they recommend you do not drive your own vehicle unless it is four-wheel drive, and certainly do not go off-trail lest you get stuck in sand or tumble into a ditch. Tours are operated independently by Navajo vendors, so you deal directly with each vendor and get what driver and vehicle they offer – rickety van, nice truck, chilly open-sided vehicle or sturdy Jeep.
And you really do need to do the tour if you want to see the park’s hidden wonders, which we did, which was why I was on this sunrise tour in the middle of nowhere, tapping my foot. Monument Valley might have eternity, but I did not. Naturally, we got out of there. After an hour, a friend of Don’s came with a big Chevy and towed the van out in two minutes, and away we went. It was done in what is often called the Navajo way – not much talk. Not much mention of what happened. Just continue on.
And Don didn’t scrimp on the tour. We started near Totem Pole, a famous spire that is one feature of Monument Valley’s unique geology. Rocks you see today are about 160 million years old, formed when water, wind, volcanic eruptions and an uplifting of the Earth’s crust created what look like statues and monuments across a vast plain.
In the valley, we saw Anasazi rock drawings
Giant formation: tourists walking along the Wildcat trail past the Left Mitten monument
in Monument Valley, utah.
the sandstone spires, buttes and mesas of Monument Valley were created when a massive inland sea retreated millions of years ago; weather and wind have done the rest. the spire on the left is called totem Pole.