Monument Valley, Utah: April 4-8, 2012

Reminders: 1. Posts are in chronological order with most recent on top. 2. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them and then using the back button (not close) to return to the text.

Between weather and mechanical problems, we’d re-routed our path out of the Southwest numerous times. At one point, Monument Valley was out of the itinerary, but our trip to Aztec put it back in. And are we glad! The area is a part of the Navaho Nation, and as a result, the Navaho people are very present in its operation.

We stayed at Goulding’s Lodge, home of historic happenings. In 1921, Harry and Leona (“Mike”) Goulding bought 640 acres adjacent to Monument Valley. They lived in a tent for four years, until they built their Trading Post/living quarters and finally got under a roof. From the Post, they continued trade with the Navahos that was profitable for both sides. In the 1930’s, when the world was in depression, Harry learned that John Ford was looking for a filming site. He and Mike traveled to Hollywood and encouraged the famous director to visit The Valley. The rest is history; after seeing the site, Ford brought young Marion Morrison — a.k.a. John Wayne — to the site and shot Stagecoach, followed by six other adventure westerns over the next twenty or so years. Dozens of other movies, documentaries and commercials have also been filmed here — and still are. Harry and Mike sold the property long ago, and it has had two owners since. The current operation reflects much of the earlier traditions. The campground is above the Lodge; it’s hilly but very well-equipped. And what a view! Registration entitles you to the amenities of the lodge, including nightly movies, both a documentary and a Ford/Wayne film.

The historic jewel of the place is Goulding’s Trading Post. One of the two rooms downstairs memorializes the original shop, while the other charts the Hollywood history. Upstairs, their home is charmingly maintained. One room houses displays of family pictures, stories and rewards. The latter include correspondence from a sitting president and a general with the presidency in his future. Harry received a letter from General Ike in 1943 thanking him for organizing war efforts at home, especially the mining of radioactive ore on Navaho land. Mike received a letter from President Reagan thanking her for making him increasingly aware of the beauty of the Southwest. On display on the dining room table is the china from Czechoslovakia that Harry bought for Mike; the two regularly ate off even during their years in the tent. Behind the building is John Wayne’s Cottage, in which he never actually lived but did complete some of his movie scenes.

One could drive The Valley, but it was a foolish exercise with anything but a Hummer or Jeep — though there was a generous smattering of fools. We rightly opted for a Navaho-escorted tour in an open-backed truck designed for the purpose that departed right from the campground. The entrance to The Valley is on the other side of the main highway; from the campground to the entrance is a straight five mile run. A few hundred yards further down is the newly opened The View Hotel, on the hillside overlooking the valley.

The driver made made numerous stops, the first of which was at a Hogan where a talented woman, the elder sister of our guide, demonstrated local crafts. The highlight of her demonstration occurred when she put up the hair of both a mother and daughter tourist in traditional Navaho fashion.

Then it was off on the bouncy ride, with half a dozen stops at key locations. At every stop, locals were plying their wares, most of it lovely jewelry. At one stop, a Navaho cowboy rode his mount out on a precipice and invited tourists to be photographed in setting. At another, petroglyphs were in full view. Mostly, it was a series of Kodak moments beyond our expectations. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

The View Hotel houses a museum too: The Navaho Nation Museum. Its exhibits do a very credible job of portraying both history and progress of America’s largest Indian Reservation. A number of its displays reveal indigenous dress and artifacts. One case held a round woven tray into which the symbol of the nation has been preserved. There is a major exhibit on the history and success of the Navaho Code Talkers. Using the language of their ancients, they served in every Pacific Theater battle from 1942 to 1945, saving thousands of lives with their unbreakable cryptology.

One wall of this large room exhbits original artwork of the Navaho, some very contemporary. I hesitate to take pictures of original art, especially when it’s for sale, even when there’s no prohibition. But I did shoot the opposite wall, which displayed a chronolgy of important dates in Navaho history. I don’t expect you to be able to read much of this material. I forgot my camera and had to use my cell phone to take these; it was only my second, very unskilled use of it. But I want you to take note of the 1972 blurb in the fourth picture — the longest one on the exhibit. It reveals the birth year of championship golfer and PGA Rookie of the Year, Notah Begay. In addition to his successful career with his clubs, he designs golf courses for tribal settings and sponsors a program of sports activities for Native Americans. Also chronicled are key dates in the development of the Navaho Tribal Council and successive moderinization of their self government, as well as the year (1930) when they were officially recognized as American citizens. Navaho energy contributions, from wells to windvanes, also get good space.

The Navaho Nation (map at left) was designated in parcels beginning in 1868, just four years after the atrocities of The Long Walk and continuing until 1934. It now covers 27,425 square miles of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Despite the fact that some Navahos live in Colorado and the reservation is in the “Colorado Plateau,” none of the reservation is in Colorado. An adjacent room contains an expansive history of the governing structure, including rosters of officials right up to day. (There are many Begays in these lists!)

We had another demon windstorm before we left. Albuquerque was bad, but this time it kicked up red sandstone dust as fine as pumice and blew it everywhere. Our window on The Valley from our site was obliterated from view. We had the truck windows closed this time, but the bed was very red inside when I opened the tonneau. This time I was prepared with the shop vac; the stuff is so insidious, however, that films of red still remain inside the bed and all over the RV.

We arose on Easter Sunday to the sunrise shown below. After breakfast, we packed up to leave for the Grand Canyon. I hooked up the truck and pressed the switch to pull up the landing gear on which the RV rests when the truck is separated. Nothing. The switch would lower the gear, but when pressed the other way, not even a click. We called our excellent road service, provided by Good Sam, but our remote location stymied them. Fortunately, there was a manual override (crank) that we used, with the help of neighbors, to retract the legs.

We were on our way. But instead of the Grand Canyon, we adjusted our course to Page, Arizona — Good Sam advised us they’d lined up a serviceman there who could help us Monday morning. There was no way we were going to miss The Grand One, however. As soon as we could separate from Page, we’d backtrack down to it.

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