Three years ago I embarked on the second big trip of my life and spent six weeks trekking around North America. Here is a tale of a place I visited on the way…
A few days over the halfway point of the trip and leaving the bright lights of Las Vegas behind us, my companions and I travelled for several hours, watching the structure of the city skyline morph into wide red rock mountains. Via the beauty of Zion National park and The Grand Canyon National park we then found ourselves at the entrance of Monument Valley.
Watched over by the Owl and Agathla, guardians of the valley, nothing could have prepared me for the natural splendour that awaited. Miles upon miles of red desert stretched out, with mountains worn and shaped scattered around as far as I could see and the still afternoon sun beating down on this scene from above. Bleak surroundings for some, but the quiet calm that descended on me immediately gave me a sense of this being a place where I could really breathe.
The Navajo tribes that live in the valley are both welcoming and patient with the many visitors to their beautiful home, and we set with our Navajo guide for a Jeep tour of the sights of the valley. We held our hand up for photos with “the Mittens”, walked up part of the John Wayne trail (there may have been a Circle of Life photo from the cliff at the end) and prayed to the Rain God’s mountain that today we would not get rained on. It didn’t work. Nevertheless our tour continued until an hour later we pulled up, dripping wet and laughing away, to a social area nestled in a curve of a mountain way out in the desert.
Made up of a covered seating area complete with long tables and benches, some giant wood stoves and a make shift dance floor, this looked like easy living at its best. After thanking our driver, we were greeted by more Valley friends who treated us to plates of Indian tacos, a filling meal of handmade flatbread and steak, covered in bean and tomato sauce, perfect for warming up a group of drowned rats.
As soon as we were fed, we were promptly told that some entertainment was about to begin and we gathered around the dance floor, keen to see what was in store. Over the next few hours we heard stories, sung songs and tried our hands at some dancing. The highlight of this being some traditional Navajo dancing. Watching the bright-clothed man move in time to the accompanying drumming and singing as he performed “The Crow”surrounded by the wildness of the desert and stars is an experience that can only be thought of as something that should be seen rather than described.
Following this, I was given one last treat. Our hosts called for anyone with birthday in the current month. Mine was a couple of days later and so up I went to stand with four others in front of the crowd. The drumming started again and a birthday blessing was sung in our honour. We then received a handmade present and shook hands with all the performers. It all felt like a very special gift.
After some photos with our hosts we returned to the Jeep and were taken to our camp for the night. Most of the group elected to sleep under the stars while two of my companions and I chose to stay in a Hogan, a traditional Navajo dwelling made of mud and wood with a hole in the centre of the ceiling. But as our trip guide had pointed out, “the way the Navajo look at it, when the skies open you get wet and be thankful for the rain”. It had to be drier than being outside, right?
Well it was, and we woke up feeling refreshed, and surrounded by the rest of the group, to the sounds of the Jeeps starting up. Our new friends busied around, getting us ready to go and see the sun rise in one of the best places in the valley. That was some sun rise, only the second I have ever seen and the perfect ending to our time there. I’m not the slightest bit sorry to say, we took a ridiculous amount of touristy photos. Hearts with our hands, facing the sunrise, writing in the damp red sand, we did it all.
Several of the funniest moments of my American adventure also happened here. Seeing my friend screaming and running through the dark desert, yelling that she saw eyes in the grass. Waking up with a start in the Hogan with someone shouting “Snake!” then hearing “oh wait, it’s a fly” just as I’ve jumped to the door in my sleeping bag. Laughing so hard at the huge thunderstorm that surrounded us after our Rain God’s prayers as we continued to solve America’s drought problems one state at a time.
Every minute of our time in Monument Valley was worth it. Our Navajo guides were generous in every way, sharing their homes, their food, their traditions and their knowledge with us. And the scenery well, maybe to some it could be seen as bleak surroundings, but to me the richness of what you find in that valley makes it one of the most beautiful places I have seen.
It was the type of experience we travellers all search for and something I will never forget.
The next stop was Santa Fe but that’s another story…