A Monumental Valley

Muffy Clark Gill “North Window” mixed media and watercolor 5 x 8 in

When we first visited the Four Corners area (where the boundaries of New Mexico,Colorado, Arizona, and Utah meet), it was almost thirty years ago. We wanted to retrace our steps this time with the luxury of having our house on our backs instead of staying in commercial lodging.

We had left the Durango, Colorado area after a week of camping in one of our favorite western towns and we drove southwest for several hours with a lunch stop in Cortez, CO within view of Mesa Verde National Park and the Sleeping Ute Mountain. As we headed south the landscape dramatically changed, with the mountains being replaced by long flat vistas of buttes and mesas peppering a treeless dry dessert. Our road took us to the Four Corners Tribal Monument-the supposed actual location where the four states touch, located on the lands of the Navajo Nation. We had visited it once in the past but I wanted to see if anything had changed-the changes we saw were recent due to Covid restrictions the Navajo had placed on their tribal lands—50% occupancy of any gathering spot social distancing and mask wearing full time, even outdoors. With those restrictions in place we parked the RV after paying our $5.00 per person entry fee and joined the long line of people waiting socially distanced to get their pictures taken on the metal boundary marker. It actually took us almost twenty minutes to take our turn!

With this visit completed we drove another hour through the town of Kayenta, Arizona and turned north on US 163. 25 miles up the road on the Arizona/Utah boundary we approached the Monument Valley Tribal Park and our home for the next two nights at Goulding’s RV Park.

Goulding’s Lodge is a historical hotel that dates back to the early 1920’s. Harry Goulding and his wife Mike built a trading post to work with the local Indians and several years later constructed a lodge to entertain the tourist trade that were visiting the area to experience the western lifestyle.  The trading post is preserved today as a museum.

Director John Ford saw the valley with its huge solitary buttes and mesas as a prime spot for movie making after Harry sent him photos to get his interest. Ford’s first film made at Monument Valley starred a young actor named John Wayne. Today you can visit the crude stone cabin that he stayed in on the property. Our campground was about a half mile away and located in a tall red sandstone canyon that loomed high over us. 

On our first night a massive thunderstorm roared through the canyon with its sound of thunder reverberating off the canyon walls and scaring the daylights out of us. By morning the storm was gone, leaving streams and gullies of red mud everywhere. We went for a hike on the hiking trails in the canyon around the campground and walked up to a formation called “Goulding’s Arch”. It was a beautiful hidden gem that you had to know was there to enjoy.

That afternoon I had made reservations for a tour of Monument Valley using Goulding’s tour services. A four wheel drive jitney driven by one of their Navajo employees picked us up at the campground and drove us back to the lodge where we picked up other members of our tour group. We then drove the five miles to the Monument Drive to get our first view of the Mitten Buttes—the Valley’s most famous landmark.

The three hour plus tour explored many of the settings for the John Ford movies before continuing into very private areas settled by several Navajo families. I loved many of the rock formations introduced to us by our guides.

Some of the more interesting ones featured wind and water sculpted holes and shapes.

At the end of our tour it was almost sunset. We returned to the lodge to have a simple supper in the Stagecoach Restaurant before retiring for the evening.

The next morning we packed up and as we departed the campground, we turned left and drove ten miles to the Navajo village of Oljato to visit their old trading post. Built in 1912,  the long rambling wood and stone building had seen a lot of history. We had last seen it on our previous trip to the Valley almost 30 years ago. This time the structure was in poor condition, with one side of the main building being held up by wooden bracing.

It is currently on the 2021 National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Threatened Buildings list. After we left the area I later learned that a coalition of Navajo tribal members and Utah preservationists were working together to try to save snd restore the trading post.

 

We left Monument Valley and headed north up Utah 163 through the town of Mexican Hat and a stop at Goosenecks State Park.

The San Juan River meanders its way twisting and turning through a deep canyon made se the river doubles back on itself —it is quite amazing!

We headed east and crossed over the spectacular ancient sandstone reef formation known as the Comb Ridge and followed the road to Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument. On the side of a canyon wall were hundreds of ancient figures, animals, and designs etched into the desert varnish. Years ago I had created some of my favorite batik paintings from these images.

As we left the park, we headed two miles down  US 191 to the town of Bluff, our base for the next few days.

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