We are up early and on the road after a breakfast of Holiday Inn Express’s usual offerings. It takes us a bit over three hours, but we eventually arrive at Goulding’s Lodge just outside of Monument Valley National Park, just over the border from Arizona into Utah.
As might be expected, the buttes that rise above the ancient basin floor are not limited to the national park area.
Our room is not ready, so we go to their restaurant and have an excellent lunch. After that, we go back to the registration area, get our room keys, unload the car and settle in our room.
At 4:00pm, we catch the bus tour of the park, where we see a lot of the monuments that make this place so famous. On boarding the bus, we meet our tour guide, Carol. She drives us the four miles to the park entrance, and gets us onto the circular tour road that enables us to get excellent views of the monuments.
This is the deluxe tour, meaning that the tour takes us into an area where the regular tour does not go, a homestead with dwellings for a family. Also on this site are three Navajo hogan structures that look like mud-covered igloos.
We are invited to visit one of the hogans to get a but of an education concerning Navajo life(the other two are set up as outhouses). The hogans are circular in shape with mud covering the entire outside surface except for the door and a circular hole in the center of the roof for a smoke stack. Once inside the hogan, we see that it is built of cedar logs, each 4 to 6 inches in diameter. At ground level the logs are set vertically, each about five feet high, formed into a circle about 10 feet in diameter. There is a gap for the door facing east. On top of this base are slightly thinner logs woven horizontally together at seemingly random angles resulting in a curve upward. This curve comes together at the hole in the center of the ceiling through which a chimney pipe runs to a wood burning stove sitting immediately underneath.
The interior is set up to show a variety of practical Navajo products used in their everyday existence in years gone by. Our tour guide Carol uses these items as props to explain aspects of Navajo life in the times when hogans were the homes of choice. Sheepskins for sleeping are laid out on the floor half way around the wall. Tools for the weaving of woolen cloth are on display, including a standing frame, a device for turning the carded wool into threads for use on the frame, and of course the cards themselves. Also on display are skeins of wool of several different colors.
Two baby’s backboards are there, used by the mother to tie the baby in until they are about a year old or when they are beginning to be capable of standing and walking on their own. There are grinding stones for the corn, and a variety of other things visible. The main things the Navajos are known for are their wool weaving and the silver and jade jewelry that they make.
From there, Carol takes us back into the area behind the homestead, and there we visit up close a number of the monuments.
The “monuments” are sandstone buttes created by the wind and rain over the last 50 million years by separating the softer sand from the remaining, harder stuff. The buttes are indeed monumental in size. They are usually banded horizontally in color, standing out as much as 1000 feet vertically from the surrounding plain.
The most unusual features are the holes in the rocks. In places it is possible to see where there will be holes in the future. These take the form of indentations in the side of a butte or butte wall that look like eye sockets when the sun hits them just right. But the holes themselves, showing the sky behind and letting the sunlight shine through, are the most spectacular.
Carol also takes us to see a few petroglyphs carved in the rocks. How ancient these rock drawings are is hard to say, and Carol does not hazard a guess.
On the plains as our tour bus passes by are wandering horses and cattle. Navajos own the grazing rights, and usually use it for cattle.
Lands are fenced, and any private roads (leading to a homestead, for example) have the in-road barriers to discourage cattle from using them to get outside the fences. The horses are not really wanted, as they are not usually owned by the homesteaders.
Carol told us the story of the Navajos being given their land back by the last treaty (in 1863, she said, by General Sherman), but they had to keep animals on it and thus make use of it to keep their ownership up to date.
The owner-Navajos grazed sheep and cattle primarily. However, horses have been brought in to support the horse-tour business done on the land, and they are not so easily controlled.
The result is now the current Navajo owners are starting to round up the stray horses and eliminate those that are not claimed by the tour businesses.
Toward the end of our tour, the wind kicks up, blowing a lot of sand at us. The tour “bus” is an open set of seats set on the bed of a pickup frame, with the tour guide comfortably seated in a normal driver’s cab.
There is little wind protection for the us poor customers except for some plastic drop-down screens which are not dropped down. The windstorm keeps up for the rest of the tour, but for the most part it is over anyway.
We get back to the Lodge and quite happily unload, retreating to our room. We shortly head over to the hotel restaurant to eat dinner. All the employees at the hotel are Navajo, and we noticed as well that they didn’t serve any alcoholic beverages. We clearly are on reservation land.