Sunday, May 1, 2016

God's Treasure: Monument Valley

We left Wahweap on Saturday, April 30th -- on a third consecutive day of rain.  I can count the number of warm sunny days we had there on one hand. Wind, rain and cold temperatures have been torturous. I am more than ready to move on in hopes of finding sunshine if not warm weather.

Pam, Ernie, Joyce and Charlie pulled out today too -- all headed to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. We will reconvene at Moab to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Maybe we will get to rendezvous with Penny and Bob too, a couple we met in Chula Vista.

Today's destination for Wayne and me is Goulding's Camp Park at Monument Valley.  It's a mere 71 miles west of Page, Arizona, as the crow flies. That converts to 135 highway miles.

While the scenery was delightful, the weather worsened as we traveled and somewhere along the road, hail and snow were added to the already miserable travel conditions. By the time we reached Kayente, Arizona, the ground was slushy white and we had passed two traffic accidents.

Goulding's Camp Park Campground is in a box canyon on a hill. It's a small place -- just 62 sites on red, sandy earth. No grass... no gravel. The afternoon of our arrival, the ground was simply "red mud". Getting into our assigned campsite proved difficult as the campground's interior roads are narrow and lined with young trees. After a few harrowing minutes navigating Big Endie through the maze, Wayne backed her into a vacant space and set about getting site reassignment. Fortunately for us, the rain cooperated, taking a break while we got settled.

We finished setting up with a little daylight to spare so we visited Goulding's museum and the tiny building referred to here as "The John Wayne Cabin". The building was, in it's former life, a potato cellar of the homeowners, the Gouldings.

Getting this stop out of the way, we will have all day tomorrow to tour Monument Valley. With rain forecast for several more days we won't be able to take the campground's red mud for more than the shortest of time.

An abbreviated history of Goulding's

Harry Goulding (a sheep trader from Colorado) and his wife, Leone, nicknamed "Mike" came to Monument Valley in 1920. They bought this property when the Paiute Indian Reservation relocated and the land was put on the market for sale. For several years the Gouldings lived in tents while operating a trading post. The Navajo people traded hand crafted items for food and dry goods.

During the Great Depression of the 1930's the Navajo people suffered. Harry Goulding began an effort to bring movie production into Monument Valley.  He discussed a plan with Navajo friends who were eager to work in the movies for wages. With their last $60, Harry and Mike drove to Hollywood carrying a fist-full of Monument Valley photographs. They were successful in meeting John Ford and they ultimately left Hollywood with an agreement for filming. Within days, John Ford, along with his crew, arrived and began filming "Stagecoach" starring John Wayne.

Monument Valley would quickly become the favorite film location for John Ford's 1930's and 40's western movies.

It's a place Wayne and I have had on our "must see" list for a very long time.  Only the weather stands in our way now.... and the miserable desert rain continued all night and into the next morning as we drove to the Navajo Tribal Park to take a driving tour of Monument Valley. Clouds hung heavy over the cliffs so we toured the Visitor Center, the Navajo museum and then the gift shop while the skies cleared.

Navajo Nation population statistics: 

  • Median age is 24 years  
  • 165,673 persons live on the Nation
  • 60% of homes have no telephone service 
  • Average family size is 4.36 persons 
  • 40% of the families live below the poverty level 
  • 32% of the homes have incomplete plumbing facilities 
  • 37,903 families make up the Navajo Nation
  • Goat population: 143,000  -  Cattle population: 81,000  -  Horse population: 35,000 
  • Grazing livestock owners must obtain a grazing permit by the Bureau of Indian Affairs 

In the gift shop.  John Wayne is big, but he's REAL big 'round these parts, pardner. 

Passing the time in the Visitors Center Gift Shop 'til the clouds part over Monument Valley 

Finally, just before noon, the low hanging clouds began lifting.  Looking down from the visitors center we could see the dirt (or mud today) road that will take us along the 17-mile Valley Drive loop. We are told to watch for small signs to identify each of the great monoliths. With Lexie and Ozzie snuggled warmly in the back seat, we set out on the long awaited journey.

A few stubborn clouds linger atop the bluffs
That's East and West Mitten and Merrick Butte in the background.

Clouds cling to the top of Mitchell Mesa

Valley Drive is a 17-mile loop through Monument Valley.
It's a muddy mess today. Glad we've got Big Whitey with 4-wheel drive. 

Heavy, wet clouds hang on to the high points. 

Finally all the clouds lifted to reveal the most beautiful bright red towering spires and buttes I'd ever seen. The road was muddy and full of potholes... and they got worse as we went along but we didn't care.  Here's some of the best of what we saw...

I managed to capture a famous angle for this East and West Mitten Butte photo with the two large boulders.

Monument names are based on imagination and description. They were given by early settlers and sometimes have a significant meaning to the Navajo people.
  • East and West Mitten Buttes look like hands. 
  • Merrick Butte and Mitchell Mesa are named for two of General Armstrong Custer's officers after they captured 4,000 Navajos and marched them to Fort Sumner, New Mexico in 1864.  

Mitchell Mesa and Three Sisters 
  • The Three Sisters represent a Catholic Nun facing two pupils.
  • John Ford's Point is named for the Hollywood movie director who made John Wayne famous.

Sentinel Mesa, West Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte 

Elephant Butte resembles a gigantic west facing elephant
We stopped at the overlook of John Ford Point...  

That's me standing on John Ford Point.

Camel Butte
Monument Valley was created from erosion, dating back 570 million years (who decides this stuff?). Then some 65 million years ago, the Colorado Plateau began an "uplift" and a long process of earth shifting that resulted in the initial rocks formations that are the base of what is here today. Hummm. Probably too much information.

By this time, you can name them all yourself. 

That's Elephant Butte to the far right. He's looking right at the camera. See? 

Still at John Ford Point, looking another direction to see The Three Sisters.
A close inspection of the spire on the far left shows a standing Catholic Nun -- looking at her two pupils. 

We stayed about an hour at John Ford's Point where we ate our lunch and met a nice couple who took these photos of us. Thus far, we've covered only about 1/3 of the Valley Drive. From here, we pass the large Rain God Mesa (to the left in the picture below) that marks the geographical center of Monument Valley. Behind this huge formation, a natural aquifer streaks the base of the sandstone formation.

Rock Types at Monument Valley are:

  • Mesas - a table type rock, usually stable and wide (first stages of erosion) 
  • Buttes - rock formation that is smaller than a mesa, usually more rounded (second stages of erosion)
  • Spires - the final stages of erosion, spires are narrow and free standing

Totem Pole to the right. 

Behind Rain God Mesa where the natural aquifer provided water for the Navajo people.

Cly Bluff, named for a Navajo Medicine Man

Totem Pole
Valley Drive offered us an overlook at a place called "Artist Point" -- easy to see why it has that name.  Here, we are looking back toward Goulding's as the clouds along with a hearty wind come rolling in again.

The clouds make for dramatic photographic effect, I must say. 
The next picture is shot through what's called "North Window" with a view of the lower valley. On the left is the back side of Elephant Butte. Cly Butte, on the right is named for a beloved Navajo Medicine Man who is buried at the base of the formation.

Looking through the North Window
As the clouds became darker, we hurried through the final quarter of Valley Drive. Fortunately, this was where the loop returned to the main road.  I snapped dozens more pictures...

Rain is beginning to fall again.

This balanced rock is aptly named "The Cube"

"The Thumb" is a free standing spire on Camel Butte 
The skies opened as we drove out of Monument Valley and the rain continued nearly all night. Next morning we awoke to sunny, bright blue skies in time to leave the area.

Leaving Monument Valley, I drove the truck, following Wayne in Endie, so I could stop for a few more pictures of this magnificent place.  Here are a couple of them -- one might be familiar.... 

Below is the one that might be familiar. You remember....

"I just kept on running".... Forrest Gump 
Despite the weather, we loved our day visit of Monument Valley. It's no wonder the actor, John Wayne, called this place "God's Treasure"

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