human behavior

From Grand Canyon to Monument Valley

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Travel by humanb on January 3, 2010

The one drawback to a road trip through the Southwest in winter is the limited hours of daylight. We refused to rush our one day at Grand Canyon, so much of the scenery through Navajo country to Monument Valley was pitch-black past the headlights.

Five minutes drive shy of Monument Valley we stopped at a Burger King in the adjacent town. In the parking lot was a bus that read “Hopi Junior High School”. Inside we met an interesting picture to someone raised in black and white America: a Burger King patronized and run by, almost exclusively Native Americans.

There were about twenty Hopi adolescents in the place, and over a dozen Navajo and Hopi adult customers.  This would be inconsequential to anyone raised in the Southwest, or even certain parts of my Northeast, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Arriving at The View Hotel minutes later at night, the hotel lights illuminated little but a stray dog that boldly approached us and loitered around our car door, patiently waiting for a hand out of food. It had been so drilled into me to not feed the native wildlife at Grand Canyon for their own sakes, that I reflexively ignored his gentle pleas. In hindsight, I should have fed him. That was certainly the opinion of a Navajo tour guide the following day.

The interior of The View Hotel was elegant in its simplicity, tranquil and artistically appointed. I loved it. The Navajo women working there were kind, composed and soft-spoken. But there was something in their manner that made me feel as if we lived in different worlds. Perhaps we do.

It wasn’t until we awoke the following morning at sunrise and I looked out the window that I was able to appreciate where we were.

The view from our room above was equal to the view from the dining room.

The hotel was well-designed not only to blend in with its natural environment, but also to enhance the experience of that environment through rows upon rows of picture windows.

The valley can be toured by car via dirt roads. The monuments of the valley consist largely of sandstone buttes with distinct stratifications and unusual shapes created by millions of years of erosion.

Private roads are only accessible with a tour guide, and lead closer to some monuments and to the ten or so private homes in Monument Valley.  A select few Navajo families have the right to live in the valley and do so without running water or electricity. It’s an isolated lifestyle.

One monument features ancient petroglyphs.

To wake up and walk through Monument Valley in winter, when there are only a handful of tourists, is to be transported to a prehistoric time. Here the environment is not something you make an effort to appreciate. It commands your respect. There are no distractions from it. There is nothing else to do in the valley but confront your own smallness, fragility, and transience.

I’m not surprised that a few Navajo sacrifice modern comforts for such ancient connections.

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2 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on January 3, 2010 at 4:08 am

    Your post and pictures about your trip are so real, I fell like I was along with you and saw the same sites first hand.

    Thank you.

  2. humanb said, on January 3, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Thanks. Not all the pictures are mine, however. My husband has a talent for photography.

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