The Valley will be familiar to all of you as the backdrop to the early western films including the famous John Wayne film STAGECOACH directed by John Ford. If westerns are not your thing, (you should watch that one though), then you might've seen the magnificent rocky outcrops against a desert landscape in various car commercials, or Bon Jovi's music video for Blaze of Glory. (The leather waistcoat and singing on top of a mountain, with aerial photography and CG lightening...oh yeah the 80s!)
As we are such notable celebrities we decided to stay in the valley itself, actually at the original lodge Gouldings, which housed John Wayne, John Ford and other film productions.
Started by Harry and his wife Mike, originally as a trading post for the Navajo Indians of the area. The hotel is set against an amazing mountain of rock.
Today it is staffed entirely by Navajos and I believe the present owners pay a fee to Navajo nation.
Our room was probably as basic as John Wayne's (i imagine back in the 30's!) , and triple the price! However in the middle of the desert there aren't many options. This whole area is Navajo Reservation, and governed by the Navajo Nation.
Actually we booked the last room which was located next to the gas station...hmmm...
We were lucky enough to be taken by a Navajo guide named Rosie, yes it is quite a English name. But Navajo people are not allowed say their own Navajo name, but in Rosie's case she was raised by a white foster family outside of the Navajo people. This was fairly common a few generations ago.
Rosie first took us to a Navajo hut called a Hogan, where we were treated to an arts and crafts demonstration and I got my hair done, Navajo style.
A little history to set the scene:
Back in 1864 the Navajo people, and the Hopi were taken from their homes in the desert and marched to a reservation. Many died on this winter march, which they called The Long Walk. At this tiny reservation they were held for 10 years before the US Govt created the Treaty and granted them the territory back. I guess they realized the desert had no oil.
Once they people got back to their allotted area, the children were taken away and placed with foster families, like our Rosie, they were given white names and taught only English. Similar to the aboriginals these children grew up without their heritage and so today many older Navajo cannot speak it or understand it.
Rosie did tell us that the kids growing up today stay on the reservation and go to the local schools where they teach Navajo and other traditions like weaving, ceremonies, and history.
The Navajo Code Talkers
The generation before hers was the code talkers. I was fascinated to find out about these Navajo men who participated in WWII. Knowing little of modern history myself (I studied ancient!) the men from monument valley were the original code talkers that helped the US to create an breakable code. They used Navajo words and created new words to describe troop movements, weapons etc and it was the only code that the Axis couldn't break, as they didn't even know what language it was.
The temperature averaged around 108F (42 Celsius!) and there are few trees and little shade as you can see from the pics above. It's off limits to tourists unless you have a Navajo guide from this area.
Rosie told us that her grandmother lived nearby, and so this was her backyard essentially!
She took us to see ancient Anasazi dwellings built into then leeward side of high caves. Not much is known about the Anasazi, they were one of the prehistoric Ancient Pueblo peoples that were here before the Navajo around 12th century BCE onwards.
Many of the Navajo ceremonies including the Blessing Way are actually Anasazi in origin.
We saw remains of mud brick walls inside caves, and faded rock paintings on different sites. Some of the rock paintings were of hands, just like the aboriginal hand prints. We were told the handshake is very important to Navajo. When you shake hands you are greeting someone with your:
Thumb - towards gods
forefinger - your mother
middle finger - your father
third finger - paternal grandfather
little finger - maternal grandmother
So when you shook hands you were shaking with your whole family similar to when you painted your hand, it was marking the wall with your whole family.
Climbing the rocks was fantastic and we had a ball, getting to climb up onto the rocks, and explore all the nooks and crannies! It kept going and I didnt want to come back down! (See if you can spot me on the picture below right).
The day was beautiful, clear blues skies and red rocks so Greg was taking as many pics as a Japanese tourist on speed.
We also got to go around the back of Monument Valley which was again closed to the public to see some more rock carvings - they are awesome. Check out the curly goats pic below - great carvings from many years ago!
We were able to watch Stagecoach at Gouldings, and it is a fantastic film with a great plot! I was totally impressed by the stunts and found it was by a famous stunt man Yakima Canutt. He does an amazing stunt of jumping onto the backs of moving horses and then falling between them and under the coach! See the video below.
He and John Wayne also created the first safe screen fighting techniques, and went on to refine stunt gear for films. Check it out from 3"51 is his famous stunt dropping between horses and the coach. Just before that you can see the horses falling from gun fire. Unbelievable.