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Marvelous Monument Valley


by Donald E. Chamberlain

Road Through Monument Valley
Road Through Monument Valley

While negotiating the last curve and a small rise on Highway 163 north of Kayenta, Arizona, the painted vista of the Colorado Plateau came into view!
I had arrived at a photographic site that I had often marveled at in books on nature and landscape photography! The entrance to Monument Valley was just a few miles away. As I neared the entrance, the granite monoliths which typified the valley came into view – large masses of wind-carved rock sitting atop the pastel-colored sand of Monument Valley sculpted by eons of wind, temperature change and cycles of freezing and thawing. My introduction to Monument Valley came from a book by Don Imus called “Two Guys, Four Corners”, The book
had included a number of photographs of the Monument Valley landscape. It had been a dream of mine to see this land for myself since I read that book.


Sand Dune Panorama
Sand Dune Panorama

When I reached the Monument Valley Tribal Park Visitor Center I was informed that there was a sixteen-mile road within the park that was open to personal vehicles. This road would allow access to many of the more common vistas in the park. I was also told that because Navajo families privately owned much of the land in the valley, certain roads in the park were “off-limits” to visitors without the use of a Navajo guide. Anxiously, I paid my entrance fee and began my journey along the access road.
The road was unpaved and very rough in places. While it was necessary to drive slowly, the landscape scenery was so magnificent I had no desire to hurry. I stopped often to photograph the overlooks and formations that I encountered. Every curve and hill traversed produced a scene worthy of the finest postcards. The colors, textures, and diversity of composition were amazing. For the next three hours I slowly traveled the road, stopping often, and reading the guidebook about areas of interest. The morning weather was beautiful with a bright blue sky filled with cream-colored clouds (great for photography).


Red Bluff; Blue Sky
Red Bluff; Blue Sky

As I returned to the Visitor Center I asked about hiring a guide for taking the off-road tour. Few guides and even fewer tourists were there (for the purpose of sharing guide costs). It would to cost me $75.00 to hire a private guide for the afternoon. I decided to have some lunch and think about the cost. Across from the entrance to the park was Goulding’s Center, a tourist center consisting of a motel, a restaurant, and a gift shop. While eating my lunch I noticed a sign at the motel offering tours of the park. When I inquired I was told a van would leave at the motel and the cost was $30.00 per person.
When I later arrived at the van, I discovered that I was the lone tourist on the van. As we were driving toward the park I noticed that the weather was changing. Wind was beginning to whip the sand around the valley.
As we drove through the park my guide responded to questions about tribal government and about life on the reservation. He told me that he lived in a home without electricity or running water (by his own choice; he had previously had a house with both, but had decided to “get back to his roots” by living in this manner).


Tree by Rock Crack
Tree by Rock Crack

We visited a number of sites unavailable on the main road. We visited the home of an elderly Navajo woman who lived in the valley. Inside her home (hogan) she demonstrated the “carding” of wool, answered my questions, and posed for pictures. Later the guide took me to an area where a Navajo man rode his horse out onto a nearby shelf of land. I was fearful that the wind would present a problem for him, but he willingly rode out to the tip of the rocky precipice for pictures. He had to carefully hold on to his hat due to the wind conditions (reflected in the photograph I took). (It is important to note here that these people depend on the kindness of strangers in making themselves available for tourists; please tip them liberally!).


The "Thumb" Formation
The "Thumb" Formation

As we left the rider it began to rain. As the tour continued; the valley floor became muddy and slick. The rain limited photo opportunities. We arrived back at the motel; I thanked and tipped my guide and began my return trip to Chinle. As a returned to Chinle, darkness approached and it began to snow. That morning I had photographed in short sleeves and now snow pelted the windshield. Arizona in April was as unpredictable as April in Illinois.
Monument Valley was every bit as majestic and gorgeous as I had imagined. Every landscape/nature photographer should make this destination a number one priority.