National Parks Tour: Monument Valley – the Navajo Nation

Thursday, September 2, 2021 (continued)

After leaving the Grand Canyon, we headed toward Monument Valley (valley of the rocks) Utah. Monument Valley is a region of the Colorado Plateau characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes. It is located on the Arizona–Utah state line near the Four Corners area. The valley lies within the territory of the Navajo Nation Reservation.

The landscape was pretty desolate as we drove – mostly just wild sagebrush and sand. The Colorado River was very muddy in places. Only wildlife spotted were some cows, sheep, and horses. We watched a train that was running parallel with us for a while. Al said it was carrying coal from the mesa to Page, AZ.

During our travel, we had two stops before we reached Goulding’s Lodge that afternoon. One stop was a photo opportunity of the Painted Desert. The other stop was a lunch stop at the Trading Post at Cameron, AZ.

The Trading Post was a popular spot. They had a large area set aside for our group. Al had told us that one of the best meals they offered was a Navajo taco – A traditional fry bread topped with a chili-style meat and bean mixture and toppings like shredded Cheddar cheese, chopped lettuce, and sour cream. He warned that even the small was big enough for two people – he was right. Chuck and I split one and it was plenty to eat.

Typical Navajo Taco

I enjoyed looking at the Native American art that was located throughout the restaurant and the gift shop.

Handwoven Navajo Rug

I also went around the back of the restaurant and looked at the Colorado River. At this point, it was just a very muddy creek. Hard to believe that this small creek is part of the river that carved out the Grand Canyon.

The Painted Desert colors seemed more muted to me than what I remembered from 1972. On Monday, August 7, 1972, I wrote “The Painted Desert was so beautiful, it looked like a picture.” – Profound, I know. But still I remember there seemed to be more of a mixture of colors than it appeared now.

We arrived at Goulding’s Lodge around 3:30 and we only had about 30 minutes before we had to get ready for our open-truck tour of the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. According to the signage, people could only go far into the Park by being on a guided tour.

Thank goodness the truck had padded seats because the road was bumpy, and we were jostled around. It was also so very dusty. I was being covered in a fine coat of red sand that was sticking to my sweaty skin. I only brought my phone to take pictures and I was constantly wiping the red sand off. I was hoping it wouldn’t get ruined. But the buttes and towers were nothing like I had ever seen – a very stark beauty. They were massive.

The buttes and towers are called monuments because they resemble structures created by humans and because they are higher than they are broad. Each tower and butte had a name. The guide rattled them off so fast that I can’t remember them all but what I remember: East and West Mittens, Three Sisters, Elephant Parade, Totem Pole, and the Rooster. There were many more. We made a circle around the Park and there were plenty of stops for photos, including one that we could pay and sit on a horse at the edge of a butte – Nope.

Monument Valley was the scene of several John Ford westerns. Our guide said Ford met with the Gouldings who convinced him to check out Monument Valley for his movies, and he and John Wayne stayed at their Lodge every time they came to film. One of the stops on the tour was to see the trailer that John Wayne used when filming on set. Because of COVID restrictions, it wasn’t open to tour (despite the We’re Open Sign on the window).

Our next stop was to leave the Park and head for an outdoor cookout. Al had asked us earlier that day what we wanted to eat at the cookout – steak, chicken, or vegetarian. Chuck and I chose steak. He radioed ahead to the Lodge so they would know what to provide.

As we rode out there, I couldn’t help but wonder about all the boulders that were sitting haphazardly all over the mountains surrounding the Lodge and other buildings. What made them stop rolling? What might make them start rolling again and over the edge? I hoped the trigger wouldn’t be a bunch of open-air trucks bumping up and down the road.

There was already another tour group getting their food before us. We were under a large pavilion seated at picnic tables. We all got water, lemonade, or tea. I was so thirsty and hot, I got two bottles of water. I drank the first bottle quickly.

Once the cooks put our steaks on the grill, they called out the temperature of the meat – rare, medium rare, etc. Once your temperature was called, you lined up and they gave us a plate filled with salad, pinto beans, corn on the cob, fried bread, and a piece of spice cake for dessert. The steak was large, and Chuck and I would normally split one this size. But it was perfectly cooked, and I tore into it like a hungry hyena and ate it all.

After the meal was over, they brought us back to the Lodge. Chuck and I sat out on the balcony for a while looking at the stars. I still felt so gritty, hot, and tired that I went in and took a cool shower so I could sleep. Chuck said he saw a coyote slinking around the rocks.  I was too tired to stay up and see if it came back.

It was a very interesting day, but the heat really took a lot out of me. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow also. Onward to Moab.

Travel Trivia

Harry Goulding was a sheep trader looking for a new business opportunity and a place to call home. In the early 1920s, Harry and his wife Leone, whose nickname was “Mike,” visited Monument Valley and were enamored with the area. Although Monument Valley had once been part of the Paiute Indian Reservation, the reservation relocated and areas of land opened up for sale. The Goulding’s jumped at the chance to purchase a substantial plot of land in Monument Valley.

Monument Valley is popularly used in media due to its prominent symbol of the Wild West. Numerous films have featured the valley and monuments including Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), Easy Rider (1969), and Forrest Gump (1994).

*Trivia provided by Wikipedia and Globus

Author: mmmtravelmemories

A retired college administrator who loves to travel. I write to remember the experiences and, I hope, to inspire others to make their own travel memories.

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