Friday, July 10th, 2009
After having spent three days in Colorado, enjoying the beauty of the Rockies, we had reached the heat of New Mexico to begin a tour of some of the most beautiful national parks in the southwest. That plan that day was quite simple: wake up without any rush and drive west from Farmington, NM through the Red Mesa, all the way to Kayenta, AZ. The idea was to arrive at the entrance of the Monument Valley (on the border between Arizona and Utah) around lunch time and wait for the mid afternoon to actually enter the park.
While planning the trip, I had read about the Shiprock, a rock formation rising nearly 1,800 feet (550 m) above the high-desert plain on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. Our route was passing close to it and I figured that we might take a quick detour and visit this beautiful rock which plays a significant role in Navajo religion, mythology and tradition.
Since the GPS wasn't really helping since I couldn't locate the rock on the map, and Google Map also wasn't helping because a lot of the roads turned out to be private Indian roads, closed with gates. So I decided to resort to my traditional driving recipe: use of luck to get to the Shiprock and then use the GPS to get back to the main road.
This picture was taken from one of the many dead ends we found in our exploration. We tried taking several dirt roads, each time ending up "lost" -- well, you know, as lost as you can get with a nice SUV and a GPS on board.
Finally we got exactly where I wanted to be, at the right distance and with the perfect light.
Back on the road, U.S. 160, that is, driving west, into Arizona, towards Kayenta, through Red Mesa.
I cannot even begin to imagine how this land looked like millions of years ago. These rock formations are nothing else than the ghosts of big volcanoes and when I was taking this picture all I could think of was how this land used to look like and what amazing changes it had gone through during the various ages. It made me feel small and vulnerable, like an ant walking on a table amongst the leftovers of a big party.
Around lunch time, we finally reached Monument Valley!
Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park (30,000 acres) established in 1958 and located on the border of Arizona and Utah within the 16 million-acre Navajo Reservation. The park features a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 1,000 ft (300 m) above the valley floor.
But Monument Valley is much more than that. Having been featured in many movies since the 1930s, in the words of critic Keith Phipps, "its five square miles have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West," becoming therefore an iconic symbol of the American West for people all over the world.
After grabbing some lunch in a restaurant right before the entrance of the park, we finally entered the park. From the visitor center, located near the entrance, we enjoyed the spectacular view of the East and West Mitten Buttes.
The park can be visited by car, driving around a course that allows the visitor to enjoy some of the most recognizable views of the park. Some areas are closed to the public and several private roads lead to where traditional Navajo people still live, without running water and electricity. They prepare and spin wool the old-fashioned way, using dyes made from native plants. Navajo rugs are treasured by collectors all around the world, and can be purchased in the park.
Some of the areas closed to the traffic can actually be visited, but only if accompanied by a Navajo guide, who will drive you there. This is an amazing opportunity which we didn't have time to experience this time around. Instead, as most visitors do, we simply follow the main open road, stopping here and there to enjoy the amazing views the park has to offer.
Traditional Navajos use native plants for many things, including medicines. The yucca plant alone provides the basis for shoes, baskets, clothing and soap. While driving around the park you can find some vendors who sell some of these products, handmade jewelry, and all sorts of goods.
I don't really believe in God. At least not in the way the Catholic religion teaches. I have to admit, though, that while I was standing in the silence of Monument Valley, looking at the amazing sky and at the beautiful rock formation all around me, I felt something. I am not sure how to describe it. What I can say, though, is that it made me feel welcomed, as if I had finally reached home, part of the beautiful land around me. Maybe I was a Native American in one of my previous lives?
Once the sun started going down, before 8PM, we drove back to the visitor center, to take pictures of the mittens from that location.
We had seen this newlywed couple many times that day, in different locations inside the park, happily taking pictures of themselves. Once we arrived back at the visitor center, they also were there, probably ready to go back to their room at the View Hotel located right next to the visitor center. They were just too perfect, with their cowboy hats, not to take a picture of them. Who know, maybe one day they will find this picture by pure accident, and I hope it will be a good memory for them. The ways of the Internet are unlimited.