Saturday, October 8, 2011

John Wayne Country -- Monument Valley, UT

Thursday-Friday, October 6-7

After our brief snowy stay in Arizona at the Grand Canyon, we moved back to Utah to Monument Valley, a familiar sight to John Wayne film fans. We stayed at Goulding's RV park and they offer a John Wayne western every night for their visitors. After touring the monuments, it was fun to see the movie, The Searchers, and identify some of the rock formations by name.

Monument Valley is on the Navajo Reservation and is operated by the tribe. The 17 mile dirt road through the area is rough and rutted. We started out on our own and, after traveling the first quarter mile, returned to the campground to take the tour. Let their trucks take the beating! The two hour tour could be summarized as "shake, rattle, and roll." Our guide, Irvin, a Navajo, was also a jokester who thought it was funny to drive as close as possible to the edge of a steep ravine. At one point he drove through a rut that tipped the truck so far down to the left I thought we might turn over. He was up front cracking jokes -- "Oh, Mama!"

We toured the visitor center and were impressed with an exhibit created by high school students in New Mexico about the "code talkers" who created an unbreakable code based on the Navajo language for transmitting messages during WW II. Ultimately, about four hundred Indian men were recruited and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as "code talkers." It is the only code never to be broken by the enemy.

 But what I liked best in the museum was a series of photos of Indian grandmothers. To the Navajos the grandmother is the wisest of the wise. She is consulted before all major decisions. As a grandma of 20, I thought that was a great tradition that should be followed by other cultures.

What can one say about the monuments except that they are amazing. To look out over the countryside and see flat desert dotted with huge rocks in unusual shapes makes you want to rub your eyes and look again. Can it possibly be real? The formations have interesting names that relate to their appearance: left and right mitten, the king on his throne, the cock, elephant butte, the three sisters who look like nuns going in to prayer, the camel (who also looked like Snoopy lying on his back), the totem pole, etc.

In addition to telling us a little about the rocks and their names, Irvin described how the Navajo used some of the desert plants we saw for food, basket weaving, building, even for soap and shampoo (the root of the yucca plant). The last stop on the tour was at a hogan (made of wood poles covered with mud without use of nails or any other joining materials - put together sort of like interconnecting pieces of a puzzle). There we met Grandma Bessie who was carding and spinning wool and had a partly completed rug on her loom. The Navajo weavers have no pattern to follow, they carry the designs in their heads and grandmothers and mothers pass the skill on to their daughters.

At the lodge there is a small museum which is in the house that the original owners built back in the 1920s. Harry Goulding was a sheep buyer who was so taken with the valley that he bought a piece of property and established a tent trading post with his young wife "Mike." During the depression when the Navajos were hard hit, the Gouldings used their last $60 to go to Hollywood to meet with director John Ford who was looking for a place to film a western. They had a hard time getting in to see Ford but Harry in his persistence said he didn't mind waiting; he'd brought his bedroll. When he finally got to meet with Ford, he showed him photos of the valley and Ford was so impressed he ended up making about a dozen westerns in the area. Many of the local indians served as extras in the films. The cabin John Wayne stayed in during the filming, which was also used for some exterior shots, is preserved at Gouldings.

Our day and a half in Monument Valley (I kept thinking of the song, I Remember the Red River Valley because of the red dirt that got into everything!) was fun and we had our introduction to Navajo fry bread which is similar to supapia and delicious! Best of all it wasn't snowing although it was chilly.

Looks like we'll get plenty of use from our winter jackets in these last weeks of our trip. Up until the Grand Canyon we were mostly wearing short sleeved shirts and shorts/capris. Temps the past few days have hovered around 50 during the day and down to freezing or below at night. It feels colder though because of the wind and mostly cloudy skies. We are promised warmer temps and sunshine in Mesa Verde, our next stop.

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