Rolling up to it, I was almost afraid, it’s iconic beauty blazing in the southwest sun. I timidly rolled down my window, nervous with excitement, and took in the sweet, sweet smell of clay earth that surrounded me. Wild horses, amber red terra firma, indigenous Navajo people buzzing about, riding horses at full gallop beside Route 64. This was a childhood dream of mine, seeing this alien landscape. I was here, it was my birthday, and this, was Monument Valley.
Formed millions of years ago by rushing water meandering and carving the rocks along this portion of the Colorado Plateau, Monument Valley has been changing in it’s fluidity before we were even an idea. Around 400,000 visitors travel from across the globe to see this place, and leave awe inspired by it’s beauty. My boyfriend and I had just hit the Grand Canyon, and following a two hour drive down AZ-64, we arrived at our accommodations on the Navajo Nation reservation, The View Hotel. Boasting views of the valley from every room, the hotel is shaped liked a long cigar box, careful not to overpower the landscape with it’s modern construction, the hotel sits nestled in a hill, facing the mesas. Our room was clean, and tastefully decorated with traditional Navajo accoutrements, much of what we saw at the road side craft shops on the way there. After a restful (and hungry, the restaurant closed at 9:00pm reservation time) night, we woke up early for our Navajo Spirits Tour.
Let me tell you something about this tour, it was NOT what I was expecting. Our guide, who was cheerfully waiting for us in the lower parking lot of our hotel greeted us, and told us his name – Will Cowboy. While I don’t know if this was his real name, the novelty of it added to our bemusement early on. He was a stout Navajo man, who told us his family had legit been living in the valley and atop, yes, on top, of the mesas for 500 years. He could trace his ancestry back 18 generations. I immediately became envious, I can’t lie. As a black person in America, who’s ancestry and history is often muddled at best, I wished I’d been able to trace my lineage in the same way, but alas, slavery and Jim Crow erased much of what could have been salvaged where black folks are concerned. But back to the tour. We loaded into the open air Jeep with one other older couple, Midwestern folks escaping the Ohio cold. As we descended down the unpaved road, I was immediately awestruck by the up-close and personal beauty of this place. These mesas, were gigantic, this valley looked like a negative torn straight from Ansel Adams’ private collection. I was in love.
Our first stop over looked a mesa formation called the three sisters – also the site of the famous Marlboro Man advertisement – a piece of Americana for sure. Here I got the opportunity to saddle up onto a beautiful horse name Spirit, something I hadn’t done since my boarding school days, and take a ride out to the overlook of the valley. The enormity of it, and my little place in this vast land and world weren’t lost on me in that moment, it overwhelmed me. We hopped back in the Jeep and proceeded to roll through the valley until we reached an arch formation that towered over us, each angle producing a new image for us to marvel at in our minds. Somehow we’d all failed to notice that Will was carrying a tribal drum in his hand during the tour, and with the amazing acoustics as his loud speaker, Will began to chant a song about love and marriage, and the journey we all take to find each other. My boyfriend and I were in a trance at this point.
We continued on, and Will showed us some petroglyphs, made by indigenous warriors more than 1500 years ago. The carvings depicted their hunt for food, and dominance in this land of wild bucolic. To be standing where warriors, indigenous to this land and intimately connected with it were standing all that time ago made me feel connected to this place somehow. They were gone, I was here, and one day I’d be gone too. All interconnected wisps in time’s wind.
Our last stop before we continued back to the hotel (seems short, but we were out there for four hours,) was at a traditional Navajo hogan (pronounced HOE-GAHN). These structures, made of cedar wood and earth use to be the meeting place for men and women to decide tribal matters. There were two different types of hogans, one shaped like a sort of rounded pyramid that was representative of males, and another shaped like a gum drop, representative of females in the tribe. The doors always face east, so that the first thing it’s inhabitants see is the rising sun. Inside of the one we went in, was a Navajo woman, looming yarn out of sheep’s wool. Beautifully dressed in traditional Navajo turquoise (that I wanted to have for myself, lol), she had a quiet, positive confidence about her. To us, where frivolity and who can have the most STUFF is the name of the game, her hogan shop and trailer were all she needed to be content. Trust me, the poverty on some reservations isn’t lost on me, but her quiet peace, wasn’t something you encountered everyday. Maybe the key to happiness isn’t what you can attain, but rather our peace with ourselves. If you don’t have shit, and you’re happy with that, who’s to say you must succumb to society’s pressure anyway?
We ended our tour back at the hotel, where Bobby and I chowed down on Navajo fried bread and green chile stew, I can still taste it. I’m ready to go back, now, and if you are too, let me know before you go.