is one unusual natural feature in Monument Valley,
Utah. It is hard to get a scale on it until you see
the tiny person below. It is part of the signs on
the 17-mile tour loop in the park.
Earth is beautiful. The Earth is beautiful. The Earth is
beautiful." ó Navajo blessing song
VALLEY, Utah ó It was 7 a.m. when the tour van got stuck
in the sand, and the temperature was 32 degrees, and it
was still a little bit dark.
sister and I, the only passengers, got out of the battered
vehicle and stomped around to keep warm amid the sharp
gray-green sagebrush and snakeweed. Otherworldly spires in
the distance were silhouetted by the impending sunrise.
All was silent in this magnificent Navajo tribal park
along the Utah-Arizona border.
I heard clanking. It was the driver, Don, trying to jack
up the rickety Dodge Ram vanís right rear tire in the
deep sand of the off-road trail. Then he trudged out of
the ditch. He called someone on his cell. He said, "I
knew I should have brought my own truck, but they made me
take this one."
didnít say much else. He tried driving us out of the
ditch, half-heartedly, a few more times. Then he called
the tribal park version of AAA, a friend with a truck.
the van, my sister and the driver stood patiently and
silently in the crisp splendor of Navajo country.
the van, I grumpily sneaked a sip from the driverís
Thermos of hot coffee and plotted how we could avoid
paying $95 each for the hopelessly delayed three-hour
have to explain that visiting Monument Valley has been a
dream of mine for at least three years.
photograph of Monument Valleyís awesome topaz and
sapphire-colored landscape is thumbtacked to the bulletin
board next to my desk. The parkís 3-year-old the VIEW
hotel has garnered rave reviews for its service and vistas
from every room.
Valley is so iconic that anyone who ever saw a movie will
recognize it. Itís the place where Forrest Gump tires of
running and says, "Think Iíll go home now." Itís
the place where sandstone buttes and strange-shaped spires
stand like beautiful monuments carved by God. Itís the
place that has been the backdrop for famous Westerns, from
John Wayneís first film, "Stagecoach," in 1939
to Johnny Deppís bomb "The Lone Ranger" early
part I didnít know is that this park, which gets 360,000
visitors a year, is quirky.
by the Navajo Nation, the park has excellent, well-paved
the 17-mile loop tour inside the park has dirt roads that
are really, really terrible, so terrible that they
recommend you do not drive your own vehicle unless it is
four-wheel drive, and certainly do not go off-trail lest
you get stuck in sand or tumble into a ditch. Tours are
operated independently by Navajo vendors, so you deal
directly with each vendor and get what driver and vehicle
they offer ó rickety van, nice truck, chilly open-sided
vehicle or sturdy Jeep.
you really do need to do the tour if you want to see the
parkís hidden wonders which we did, which was why I was
on this sunrise tour in the middle of nowhere, tapping my
Valley might have eternity, but I did not.
we got out of there. After an hour, a friend of Donís
came with a big Chevy and towed the van out in 2 minutes,
and away we went. It was done in what is often called the
Navajo way ó not much talk. Not much mention of what
happened. Just continue on.
Don didnít scrimp on the tour. We started near Totem
Pole, a famous spire that is one feature of Monument
Valleyís unique geology. Rocks you see today are about
160 million years old, formed when water, wind, volcanic
eruptions and an uplifting of the Earthís crust created
what look like statues and monuments across a vast plain.
the valley, we saw Anasazi rock drawings of animals,
echoes of an ancient Southwest people who lived here as
long ago as 1300 AD They vanished, long before the Navajo
arrived 400 years ago.
van bumped along and made it safely to two iconic outposts
that have famous openings in the rock ó Sunís Eye,
surrounded with stripes on the rock that look like
eyelashes, and Ear-in-the-Wind, in the shape of a human
ear. We passed buttes shaped like elephants and camels and
the twin buttes Right Mitten and Left Mitten (eerily
shaped like Michigan). The van shuddered on sandy roads
past a trio of spires called the Three Sisters, and past
mesas as big as whole city blocks.
used to the emptiness of national parks might find it
jarring, but people live in Monument Valley. Some Navajo
clans still dwell in tiny enclaves, and their trailers are
dots in the landscape ó but a definite human presence.
From the valley, we also could spot the VIEW hotel in the
far distance. Low-slung and tan colored, it was nearly
invisible. Which is exactly as the hotel designers planned
on a high cliff, we stood at John Fordís Point, where
the movie director liked to stand when orchestrating his
magnificent Westerns and where today you can take a
picture of a horse in front of the scenery for $2. A local
vendor was struck by lightning and killed at that spot in
Don talked as he drove. He worried that kids today arenít
ambitious. He said his dad would whip him if he didnít
obey, but now you canít spank kids, too bad.
then he drove us back to the hotel parking lot.
we got there an hour late, nobody said anything about our
mishap, the tour vendor didnít apologize, and I donít
know why but I only made a token attempt to get our tour
rate cut. In the end, I paid for the whole thing, plus a
$20 tip for Don, who was still brushing the sand out of
went in for breakfast, I realized that it didnít matter,
the money or the delay or the ditch.
mattered was, the Earth is beautiful.
THERE: Monument Valley is 300 miles north of Phoenix, a 5
1/2 hour drive. Along the way are Sedona and Flagstaff and
the Navajo towns of Tuba City and Kayenta. No gas stations
except in the towns. The park is open year-round and gets
little snow, but in winter the challenge is making it
through snowy Flagstaff to get there.
$5 per person to enter the tribal park. It is not part of
the National Park system. Its Navajo name is Tsť Biií
Ndzisgaii, and it is 5,564 feet above sea level. ((,
435-727-5555), or try Gouldings Lodge (4 miles from
Monument Valley) or the Hampton Inn in Kayeta (30 miles).
The park is building a new RV campground but itís not
Book tours when you arrive from vendors in the hotel
parking lot. Tours are daytime, sunrise or sunset, last
between 1 1/2 and 3 hours; a three-hour tour is about
$100. Driving the 17-mile loop on your own generally
requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. You also can hike the
3.2-mile Wildcat Trail or take a horseback ride.
The VIEW hotel is attached to a visitors center and the
large Trading Post gift shop featuring Navajo pottery,
rugs, jewelry, flutes and blankets; find authentic Hopi
baskets at the TUUVI Travel Center in Tuba City on the
No alcohol is sold inside the Navajo Nation, including
SEEN IN THE MOVIES
Valley has been the background for hundreds of Hollywood
films, magazine shoots, video games and TV commercials
since the 1930s.
its films are "Stagecoach," "Forrest Gump,"
"2001: A Space Odyssey," "Once Upon a Time
in the West," "The Lone Ranger," "She
Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "Back to the Future Part
3," "Easy Rider" and "National Lampoonís
autonomous Navajo Nation spreads across four states ó
Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Its 27,000 square
miles contain about 173,000 residents.
data show 42 percent live below the poverty line, with 38
percent having no electricity, running water or cell
phones. Opening hotels, shops and its grand natural
attractions for tourists brings in jobs and dollars.
Monument Valley, the Navajo Nation has Canyon de Chelly
and other attractions. See