Tse'Bii'Ndzisgaii. Diné (Navajo) for The Land of the Rocks. Monument Valley, spanning from Arizona across the Utah state line, is an amazing space that everyone should experience in real time. We have all seen some of these magnificent sandstone buttes in old westerns, but it's nothing like navigating around these images on horseback through the sinking sand and under the desert sun just before high noon. I took a ride with Elvis, a Diné wrangler through this valley and felt as if I were transported to the frontier days. Other than the stunning View Hotel, the valley appears untouched. Elvis, soft-spoken, funny and direct, pointed out the famous buttes and formations. Elvis explained to me the Diné's use of plants in the valley, shared some of his Diné history, and the politics between the outsiders who came to profit from the land and his people.
Under the high desert sun, the lizards scurried, just out of step of our horse's hooves, to take refuge under sage brush and in the sinking sand. Like a chameleon, the terra cotta colored vista playfully displayed its varying hues, keeping time with the movement of the sun. In the shadows of the buttes, the sprawling sun cast tones of acid washed pinks to deep reds. While the air was cool, the desert sun performed it's daily cleansing ritual, and is hot enough, where even in May, you may feel the burn. Wear sunscreen!! Bring your sunglasses, too, otherwise you may experience some sun blindess, as I did on my first trip to New Mexico. Until my eyes adjusted, I felt as if my pupils were dilated, taking in the shrill brilliance of every ray.
The stillness of this space is its own sound; full, meditative, and calm. When the wind kicks up and lifts the sand, it is only then you are reminded of the desert's danger, force and fury. This ride took place the day after a major windstorm in Arizona that kept me stranded in Chinle, and away from Utah. In the midst of the storm, a friend said I should photograph it, but I was only seeking shelter. Corrugated roofs were blowing off buildings and gas stations, and into the streets. The wind was high and thick with red sand. I couldn't see beyond the hood of my car, and certainly could not see the road, so I waited. I ate lunch at the Thunderbird Lodge, only to experience a blackout from the wailing winds. I met some nice people who gave my good advice about traveling that day, and I took it. I waited. The wind had to stop some time, didn't it?
The next morning, it was clear enough leave, but I was unsure what I'd find in Many Farms (a naturally "dusty" spot, as I was told) or Kayenta. That day of weather for me was surreal and outside of my comfort zone of blizzards, tornadoes, and n'oreasters, but it blazed a lasting memory. Even though my time in Monument Valley was cut short, the natural beauty I encountered along the drive to there erased any disappointment. Like the calm after any storm, the clarity in the desert astonishes. Other than a sand-strewn parking lot at the View, there was no evidence of the storm.
Everyone should see the astounding beauty of this landscape. A 360° panorama!
Want to see more?