In 2013, I made a 2-month roadtrip all around the USA. I started in New York City, drove up to Wisconsin, Yellowstone and Glacier, made a little detour through Banff in Canada, took the coastal road across the entire east coast and saw pretty much every state down south: from California to the Florida Keys. It is safe to say this was one of the best trips I have ever made and probably ever will make in my life. Of all these highlights, one stood out by quite a distance: Monument Valley, the grounds belonging to the native American Navajo tribe. Although I did not expect it would beforehand, the area grabbed me and never let go.
Just days after a visit to Las Vegas, Monument Valley is quite a contrast. Endless deserts with all of the sudden orangy-red hills popping up from the surface. In a way it feels like you’re somewhere that isn’t earth. It is nothing like any other desert I have ever seen. When driving through Monument Valley it is easy to see why so many movies (and cartoons: Roadrunner!) are set in or around Monument Valley.
“Although much may be artificial in Monument Valley, it does reflect the original culture accurately,,
Although I could not spot a coyote chasing a roadrunner unfortunately, it is hard not to be impressed by your surroundings. Reaching the visitor centre with the iconic three ‘monuments’ the area might feel a bit touristy. From the visitor centre you can tour the area in 4x4s with a native Navajo that can tell you all about the history of the area and the culture of the Navajos. Of course, these tours are also touristy. However, during our drive to a small settlement (which took about 30 minutes), we did not encounter a single other party. As soon as the visitor centre is out of sight, it feels like you have entered a whole different country.
Together with a travel group I was going to stay in a small Navajo settlement for a night. The ride there was bumpy to say the least, but equally fun and beautiful. Stopping by at some interesting sights our enthousiastic guide told as all about the Navajo beliefs and culture. If you are interested in hearing about cultures that differ from the Western culture, this is definitely one for you.
The settlement which would be our home for the next 24 hours was small and basic. It consisted of about four little clay houses and one pit toilet just 25 yards from our little hut. Although it was clear that this settlement had been erected for the sole purpose of tourism, it did feel authentic. In the evening we participated in a traditional Navajo ceremony (which is probably not as common anymore in the actual community nowadays) and ate tradition (and luckily delicious) Navajo cuisine.
“I cannot imagine how the Navajos deal with the red dust blocking your nose,,
Sleeping in a clay hut has its perks and downsides. A good thing is that it’s remarkably warm inside, eventhough it is freezing outside. An absolute downside is the dust. Oh my, the dust. Monument Valley is obviously known for its iconic red sand. Beautiful when driving or walking over it, the absolute devil when you’re laying on top of it trying to sleep. Not a single person in our group did not have a blocked nose after about 5 minutes. I can’t imagine how the Navajos (used to) deal with not being able to breath through their nose the entire night.
After waking up early (I was awake anyway) we headed out to see the sunrise from a nice spot in the Valley. Although I already loved the day and night from the day before, the sunrise was what made me fall in love with Monument Valley. I had seen quite some sunrises from lots of beautiful locations, but for some reason Monument Valley managed to trump them all. Bright orange, yellow and pink mixed with serence silence and a view that came right from an overly-photoshopped Tumblr.
Although it’s a cliche, destinations like Monument Valley make you think about life, goals and the future. It is inspiring both in appearance as well as culture you come in contact with. I am fully aware that much of the Navajo culture seen there has become (slightly) artificial by now. However, visiting the Valley does support the local Navajo causes and does reflect what the original culture is like, whether it is still dominant nowadays or not. You can hardly judge them if they head to their brick home with water and electricity after showing some tourists how their ancestors lived. Is there anything bad in that? I don’t think so. In fact, I only see positive things here.