Monument Valley

Monday, July 30, 2007
Monument Valley, Utah, United States

 Last night’s thunderstorm had really cleared the weather and we set off along the East Rim Drive in lovely sunshine, stopping at various viewpoints to take in yet more stunning views. We had a break at Cameron Trading Post, a greatly overpriced tourist trap with a very large selection of souvenirs. Onwards to Tuba City, and across the state line to Utah and Kayenta, the gateway to our next destination of Monument Valley; the roads had great views of the badlands/desert in the Navajo Nation as we approached the turn-off in the middle of nowhere.

 We had last visited here in 1997 with our daughters, and all loved it – we drove the 17 mile loop road in our own car marvelling at the vistas and the red, red rocks, so we were keen to see if it lived up to our memories. Somehow we overshot the entrance road by over 10 miles (been here once, how could we miss the sign?) but as we retraced our steps through the magnificent mesas and buttes we saw sights we wouldn’t have seen otherwise!

 Our 29ft RV didn’t seem the ideal vehicle to drive the rocky dirt loop and we were keen to see other parts of the park so we booked in with Totem Pole Tours; it was $50 each for a 1hr 30mins drive on the loop road or $60 each for 2hr 30 with access to the back country – no contest.

 We were so lucky in our guide, Delbert, an English speaking Navajo grandfather of 10. He was full of fascinating facts and gave us and the others on our tour (a Japanese couple plus a French guy) a real insight into Navajo life. We saw all the formations we remembered from last time: the North and South Mittens looking exactly like...well, mittens, and the icon adopted by our younger daughter – she talked about them for years.

 Other memorable sights on the loop were the 3 Sisters (3 rock fingers, obviously) and the amazing vista of John Ford’s Point, famous for its inclusion in many of his Western movies. We went past Elephant, Battleship & Camel buttes (no prizes for guessing what THEY looked like) then veered off down the back country trail where only Navajo-led tours can go.

 There were more amazing formations here, with arches and buttes plus the Sun’s Eye, a huge curved cliff with an eye-shaped hole through which the sun shone. Sun’s Eye was also covered with painted pictograms and petroglyphs carved into the walls – Bighorn sheep, antelope, stylised figures and patterns, and we paused here for a while to just drink in the atmosphere.

 Passing even more huge buttes, we arrived at the Big Hogan, a vast cave with a hole in the top, its shape just like a hogan, the traditional native dwelling like a teepee but built with red earth walls. Delbert stood on a rock to tell us a Navajo story, then sang it in his native language. It was wonderful; it echoed all round the cave and made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

 We moved on to the Totem Pole & Navajo Dancers, the site where the early scenes of The Eiger Sanction were filmed; we were especially pleased to see this as the film starring Clint Eastwood is one of our all-time favourites. We saw a natural spring seeping up from the ground (strange to see water coming up out of the desert) then turned back onto the main loop and back to the visitor centre. It had been a very hot and bumpy ride but absolutely fabulous in every aspect and our cameras were just in overdrive at the wonderful sights we saw.

We both agreed that it more than lived up to expectations and we were reluctant to leave, but we needed a site for the night and headed for the tiny town of Mexican Hat and Valle’s RV, where we stayed on a gravel pitch behind the diner for $19. One of the other RVs contained 2 retired naval officers and their wives on a 6 month trip and who were a mine of information on places to go – we enjoyed talking to them over drinks. Yet another storm came in that night, with thunder, lightning and torrential rain but we still slept well.

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