2015: Monument Valley

Roughing It

April 6 - 7


I hated to leave Lake Powell; even with so little water, the scenery remains some of my favorite. But there was nothing left for us to do there, so it was time to hit the road. I mean, I couldn't fly on a helicopter every freakin' day. Mike drove Behemoth to the local diesel stop to fill up, while I drove the car separately into Page to get an adjustment on my sunglasses at the local optometrist. It was weird to be off driving around knowing my house had already left without me. But we rendezvoused easily at the service station, hooked up the car, and were off again together.

This time we left town by a new route that took us right by the big coal-burning power plant and its spewing smokestacks. So much for scenery. It was a short and boring two-hour drive to Monument Valley, except for the wind. Oh, the wind. Mike was complaining for most of the trip about needing to crab to the left. Little did we know what was coming.

You can see some of the unmistakable formations in Monument Valley about twenty miles away on the highway. I didn't realize that the place was largely unknown until a series of movies by John Ford in the 1950's put it on the map. In fact, they show John Ford movies every night at one of the RV camps nearby. People may think Monument Valley is a national park, but it's not -- it's all Navajo land and everything is completely operated by the Navajo Nation.

We were staying inside the park boundaries at a fairly new campground connected with the also-new hotel called The View. I use the term "campground" loosely -- because it's just a gravel parking lot with aluminum picnic tables. No hookups, no water, no power, no nada. But as the name suggests, you come for the view. When we went to the office to check in, we got a real taste of how hard the wind was blowing. And I do mean taste. Red grit, right in the mouth. So apparently we do get something for our money.

The young man in the office suggested a particular extra-long spot for our big girl. But once we pulled in facing a bunch of outhouse-like cabins blocking the view, we decided to move. We had our choice of spaces - there wasn't another rig in the place.

NOT 'The View'. Now that's more like it!  It's so dang crowded here!

I thought the challenge here would be dry-camping, but it was turning out to be the wind. Gusts were rocking our sixteen-ton chariot like George Clooney in A Perfect Storm. I half expected to be whisked up in the air and set down near the Emerald City. And I couldn't believe Mike was determined to set up the outdoor catbox, since I knew the cats were never going out there in this gale. The big blow kept up until late into the night. I thought I'd never get to sleep with all the noise, but somehow I managed.

Sunrise on The Mittens.

Thankfully, the winds blew themselves out in the wee hours and the next morning dawned clear and calm. I had scheduled a valley tour for that day with a local guide; this is how many of the Navajo make a living here. There is a 17-mile loop dirt road that tourists can drive on their own, but the scuttlebutt on the internet was inconsistent about the road's condition, ranging from "No problem, any car can do it" to "Don't even THINK about it without a 4WD!". So I figured we'd start with a guided tour, which would also take us into some backcountry that is only available to the tour guides.


We met our guide Lucille at 8 a.m. in the hotel lobby. I'd paid the extra freight for a private tour in an enclosed vehicle, which turned out to be a big comfy Suburban SUV. Even before we got here I knew I wasn't interested in riding around in an open-air truck; boy, was I right about that! One thing they specialize in here is DUST.

Lucille was very pleasant and informative. While I didn't retain most of the Navajo history she offered, I was more interested in the tribe's current living conditions and local government. Lucille took us to all the requisite touristy stops, including a Navajo weaving demonstration inside a traditional hogan. Whenever we stopped near another tour group, she would inform us that the other guide was her cousin or some other relative, working for another tour company. I recorded this video of her uncle singing a Navajo "traveling song", sung before undertaking a journey in order to assure safe arrival.

Another pastime on the tour is looking for recognizable shapes in the rock formations. Lucille mentioned an elephant, a camel, and even Snoopy. Then Mike got into the act and started just making things up. It was like that game you play as kids looking up at clouds and finding objects in them.

  The Three Sisters.
    Traditional hogan.
  John Ford point. The hub.
 The big hogan.  Moccasin arch.
  Eye of the Sun.
 Ear of the Wind.  Me and Lucille.
 The Mittens.

Lucille dropped us back at the hotel after a lovely three hours. The breeze was just starting up again, and by mid-afternoon, the winds came back with a vengeance and blew constantly for the next 36 hours. We hunkered down and didn't stick our noses outside for a whole day.