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 Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TRAVEL - Story and pho­tos by ELLEN CREA­GER

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.

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