Monument Valley was made famous by Hollywood blockbusters like Forest Gump and John Wayne’s western movies. At the place where Forest Gump stopped his run on Highway 163, the obscured silhouettes of buttes and mesas of Monument Valley welcomed us to this sacred Navajo land in a red sand storm.
We camped at the Goulding’s Lodge with the distant view of Monument Valley about five miles away. But the view was discounted by the flying red sand in the air. When I opened the door tried to get in the trailer, the door swung open by the wind and dragged me over. We experienced the highest wind we ever had on the road that night. Our trailer was rocked by the high wind and blasted by the red sand throughout the night. In the morning, we found our doorstep was moved by the wind by several feet. And the TV cable was damaged. That was our first taste of the harsh living environment of Navajos.
Navajos’ economy suffered during the Depression. Thanks to Harry Goulding and his wife, Leone, who settled down in this valley in the 1920s. They sought help from Hollywood Director John Ford to make movies in Monument Valley. Film making and tourism keep the economy in Monument Valley growing.
Luckily the wind calmed down in the late morning. We finally made our trip to Monument Valley in the early afternoon. The ticket was $20 per car for self-guided drive on the 17-mile loop, and it is good for two days. The bumpy dirt road tested our endurance. But we were better off than those tourists on the open tour trucks. A couple of trucks were busy spreading water to keep the sand down. Mittens Buttes and Merrick Butte are the first stop for photo shoots. The Mittens look like hands reaching out from the ground. Navajos believe that they are spiritual beings watching over the valley. Each monument in the valley has significant meanings to Navajos.
Three Sisters are spires standing by a mesa. The view at John Ford’s Point is a classic scenery in the western movies. Under the blue sky and lazy white clouds, the bright orange-red soil land extends to the distance to meet the dark red color mesas, buttes, and spires. Iron oxides give the soil the splendid red color. Few vegetation planted their feet in this part of the valley. It is a vast red sandy land. Using Camel Butte as the background, a group of Bollywood girls were dancing to the music when the camera crew taking shoots. The unique landscape of Monument Valley attracts people from all over the world. The center of the park is Rain God Mesa. Like Navajo medicine men, I also prayed to Rain God to show my respect. I hoped that our presence didn’t disturb the Navajos’ Gods.
The monuments of the Yei Bi Chei and Totem Pole are amazing. Yei Bi Chei are Navajo spiritual Gods. The rock formation looks like a group of dancers wearing masks emerging from a Hogan (a traditional Navajo home) to attend the ceremony. The Totem Pole is a high and straight spire that was sculpted beautifully by nature’s hands. The wind picked up again and the red sand swirled in the air. Artist’s Point is another stop that one could appreciate the beauty of this wild wild west scenery. The picturesque scenery looks like a bright colored oil painting. From North Window Overlook, two buttes frame East Mitten Butte and Castle Butte.
We stopped by the world famous Mittens again on the way back. At last, we went to the Visitor Center. From the Photographer’s Point on the balcony of The View restaurant, we found the best view of Monument Valley – a panoramic view of the Mittens and Merrick Butte and beyond. In the evening, looking from our campground, we saw the setting sun giving the buttes and spires a golden red color. The golden glow disappeared gradually as the sun moved lower to the horizon. Unlike the first night, it was a peaceful evening. We left the valley in the morning the next day and stopped at the place where Forest Gump stopped his run again. Looking back to Monument Valley, the red sand and the rock formations are there to stay to protect this sacred land. And the color of sand – red – stayed in my mind.