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Hovenweep National Monument Canyon de Chelly National Monument

29th June 2010

The Awe Inspiring and Truly Monumental Monument Valley

Panorama of the West and East Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte from the Visitors Centre      (please use scroll bar)

    My night down by the river was very peaceful. A couple of French lads in a car had had the same idea.
Approach to Monument Valley from Utah End
The Most Popular Stop along the Valley Drive was John Ford's Point,
Which was said to be the Film Director's Favourite View of the Valley
    I reiterated my journey to Monument Valley. The valley provided perhaps the most enduring and definitive images of the American West. The isolated red mesas and buttes surrounded by empty, sandy desert had been filmed and photographed countless times over the years for movies, adverts and holiday brochures. Because of this, the area seemed quite familiar, even on a first visit, but it was soon evident that the natural colours really are as bright and deep as those in all the pictures. The valley was not a valley in the conventional sense, but rather a wide flat, sometimes desolate landscape, interrupted by the crumbling formations rising hundreds of feet into the air, the last remnants of the sandstone layers that once covered the entire region.
The Three Sisters
    On this bright sunny day the drive in from the Utah end was amazing. I had been pre-warned by fellow travelers that the drive in from the Arizona end was nowhere near as spectacular. I stopped to take pictures, and then a mile further on I would find even better pictures. This was a photographer's dream, and I hadn't even entered the valley properly yet. Although much could be appreciated from the main road, a lot more of the landscape was hidden from view behind long straight cliffs (the Mitchell and Wetherill Mesas), east of the road on the Arizona side. This was contained within the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, reached along a short side road directly opposite the turn-off to Goulding. From the visitor centre at Lookout Point there were good views across three of the valley's most photographed peaks - East and West Mitten Buttes, and Merrick Butte. The park had only one hiking path, the 3.2 mile Wildcat Trail which started just south of the visitor centre and looped around West Mitten Butte. I motored on over Monument Pass and turned off to the visitors centre.
    The view from Lookout Point was spectacular enough, but most of the Navajo Tribal Park could only be seen from the Valley Drive, a 17 mile dirt road which started at the visitor centre and headed southeast amongst the towering cliffs and mesas, one of the most famous being Totem Pole, an oft-photographed spire of rock 450 feet high but only a few meters wide. From the visitors centre the road appeared dusty, steep in places and rather uneven. The literature says that a 4WD was not necessary, but I patiently watched and saw most vehicles were struggling, so I decided not to take the van down into the Valley Drive. I opted to take a guided tour with one of the Navajo guides. I didn't accept the price they charged, and offered 30% less and I wouldn't budge. I got away with it. When I saw the state of the dirt/bedrock/potholed track, I was glad I made the right decision. I don't think the van could have coped at all. The bonus of taking the Navajo guided tour was that I got to see various formations including arches and petroglyphs that would have been out of bounds for individual motorists.
Ear of the Wind Arch
Yei Bi Chei and the Totem Pole
    My fellow passengers were three German couples who must have been in their late 60s, and an Italian lady whose husband dropped out after the first 300m. They were all good company, and the Germans, who all spoke excellent English, were a barrel of laughs. They often visited America, and were in Monument Valley 13 years ago. They remarked how much more commercialised it had become since then. One of the chaps asked me what I thought about the Germany v. England game in the World Cup. I had to admit I didn't even know they were playing each other. He explained that, although England lost four goals to one, England had a goal disallowed that was clearly a goal in his mind. I was later talking to one of the other guys who had been an airline pilot, and mentioned that I would be dipping into Mexico. He had spent a lot of time in Mexico, and really raved about it. He filled me in on places to visit, which were too far off the beaten track for my agenda, and were also well away from the problem border towns. All Americans had warned me of Mexico, and here was a German over the moon about it.
The North Window View
    As we toured the valley, our female Navajo guide would pull up at key viewpoints and indicate the various mesas and buttes, reeling off their names. At some mesas she was interpreting rock patterns as the Elvis Presley Rock etc, and I started to wonder what she had been smoking that morning. Her guidance was minimal, but at one of the arches she sang two beautiful Navajo songs for us. Of course, many of the stopping off points along the main trail had stalls with Navajo Indians selling jewelry and bracelets. Again it paid to haggle over prices.
Arch Directly Overhead
    We bumped and lurched back to the visitors centre suffering from innumerable spinal injuries, but richer in spirit for having visited that wonderful valley that inspired so many artists and film directors. The guide had reeled off countless films and adverts made here.
    Inspired by that truly monumental Monument Valley, I pointed the van towards deep Arizona and headed towards the Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I had considered this canyon when I drafted out my itinerary, but dropped it since it was out on a dog-leg to where I was aiming for. However, I had made time up on the trek, so I decided to include it. Charles and Fiona, who I met at the tea house up in the mountains above Lake Louise, had strongly recommended I go, so off I went.
    The journey across was tedious, made bearable by the air-conditioning working at maximum output accompanied by Dire Straits at maximum volume. I hoped to find a campsite that had showers; this was my third sweaty day without a shower, and I badly needed one. I found the campsite at Chinle; it was absolutely free and worked on a first come first served basis. It had washrooms, which was an improvement on the Durango campsite, but alas no showers. In desperation, I drove back into the town and found what I was looking for, a sports centre. I strolled in and casually explained my predicament to the girl on the desk, and we came to an agreement, I could have my shower for $1; an excellent deal. I felt a new man after my shower, and returned to the campsite, found an empty pitch, and started typing what you are reading now. I looked forward to exploring the Canyon de Chelly in the morning.
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Hovenweep National Monument Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Uploaded from Thunderbird Lodge Cafe, Chinle AZ on 30/06/10 at 10:15

Last updated 30.6.2010