A Monumental Valley
His name was Myron Red Moustache, and he was going to tell me the story of how he came to have such a name. But first, I was to climb into the truck cabin with him, leaving our three German tour “hitchhikers” in the back. He was going to tell the story to me, not them.
We were in the middle of Monument Valley, otherwise known as the Valley of the Rocks. It is a dry landscape of huge sandstone buttes immediately familiar to fans of Hollywood Western films. Actor John Wayne and director John Ford were regulars. Indeed, there is one lookout spot called John Ford’s Point, so common was the area’s landmarks part of the director’s films.
Monument Valley is Navajo land, in a part of Navajo Nation where Arizona meets Utah. Myron Red Moustache is a friendly Navajo guide working with one of the tour groups that ply their trade from the car park of The View Hotel, a Navajo-run hotel in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. But there is Mexican blood in Myron, too, as his name might suggest. He is a walking, talking piece of the sunburnt and sometimes bloody history of this land. The story of his name helps paint more of a picture of the people who inhabit the area and those who once did, where they came from, what people thought of them, and where they went. He told me the story because I had booked a private tour of his homeland, and he tells the story to all his one-on-one guests. The “hitchhikers” in the back were kept none the wiser. And if you want to hear the story, go search out Myron and let him take you on a tour.
I almost missed out on the story, and seeing this amazing place, myself. I was stunned by the majesty of the Mittens, three huge rock formations jutting out from the valley that you look out on from the car park. The ease of seeing the Mittens might make you think you don’t need a tour to see what the rest of the land offers. Believe me, you do. The Mittens are the spectacular tip of an incredible rusty red and orange iceberg that awaits when you push on past the obvious.
Monument Valley had been highlighted in my guide book many weeks ahead of the start of my holiday. But arriving in my hire car alone, I was put off by the idea of paying the cost of a one-on-one tour. I was trying to haggle them down, and not getting all that far, when I finally thought, ‘what am I doing? I might never be in this part of the world again’ and accepted. On my way from the car park in a battered van with Myron, we came across two young men and a woman, thumbs out, laughing. They were German travellers with not much money but keen to see the Valley. “How much is not much?” I asked. About 15 minutes later, with a new tour price for four people and a switch to a bigger truck, we were bouncing along the rough gravel track past the Mittens and into the Valley hinterland.
Being driven through suck countryside was amazing. Our tour lasted a couple of hours and included stops at several places to stretch and, obviously, take pictures and hear the stories from Myron. One such stop was John Ford’s Point, which we reached quite late in the day, allowing us to be some of the last visitors through and allowing some photographs in the late afternoon or golden hour. The stops were the only real time you could take photos easily. The gravel track was so rough that snapping any photos with one hand as you held on to the truck with the other was nigh on impossible.
The sun was getting lower, and I was desperate to get back to the car park to get pictures of the Mittens at sunset. We bounced our way back to the car park, with Myron telling the story of his name and, later, asking about Australian rules football and telling of his love of the Dallas Cowboys. At the car park, we said our goodbyes. The Germans earned the ire of Myron by not tipping him, despite his verbal reminders to them that it was the done thing.
Then with sunset rapidly approaching, I got out my tripod and put the camera on long exposure and watched the Mittens change from yellow, to orange, then pink as the valley grew blacker and blacker. It was a moving moment, when one felt connected with the Navajo, the Mexicans, the white man and the film crews, and the landscape itself carved out over thousands of years. It was a moment only slightly spoilt by the endless chatter of a few Japanese tourists who seemed to be discussing everything and anything except what was unfolding before their eyes.
And with night arriving and the temperature dropping, I packed up my camera and tripod and headed off in search of a motel.
Have you been to Monument Valley? Did you take a tour or only get as far as the car park? I would be interested in your comments.