Monument Valley is a stop most of our tours make between Grand Canyon National Park and the adventure sport capital of America, Moab UT. Its iconic sandstone mesas, buttes and panicles have provided the setting for countless western movies over the past 75 years. The North and South Mittens are possibly the most recognizable rock formations in the whole of the United States. But the greatest treasure here, in my opinion is not the scenic beauty, which is amazing and breathtaking, but rather the people and the culture of the Navajo Tribe, who call Monument Valley home.
During our visits, we typically include a 2.5hour open jeep tour with a Navajo guide who allows us access to the backcountry section of the park, which is not accessible without a guided tour. Our Navajo guides typically tell us stories and history of the people who have lived in this area for over 500 years. They offer us insight to their culture, both of the past, and the present.
Over my 6 years of bringing tours to Monument Valley, I have been fortunate enough to develop friendships with many Navajo guides, learning not only about their culture, but them personally. And for me, it is always nice to catch up with friends I only see in this beautiful park they call home.
For my passengers it is an experience not soon forgotten. John Ford, and the long list of moviemakers to come after him have immortalized not just Monument Valley’s scenery, but also the Native Americans who call it home. They are romanticized and displayed for the entire world to enjoy through films, and art and stories, and I’ve found that many travelers look forward to their trip to Monument Valley more than anywhere else.
Upon arriving at Monument Valley it does not take long to start to hear the everlasting culture of the Navajos. Its usually their language people hear first. Navajos have their own, unique language, which in all my travels, I have never heard anything like. It’s a language spoken with foreign sounds to my English familiar ears. There is no written version of their language, so it is dependent on being spoken in the homes, schools, and all other aspects of their everyday lives for its survival. It was made most famous by the “Wind-talkers” who were used in WWII to transfer sensitive messages between American soldiers in spoken Navajo over the radios. A language used as code, which the Japanese were never able to crack.
Once in the valley, and on our tour, there are multiple stops where buying hand made Navajo jewelry is available. With all the shining silver, and polished turquoise rings, bracelets, necklaces and pins, the opportunities to bring home authentic souvenirs and put money back into the Navajo community are abundant.
A viewing of the traditional Navajo Hogan is another stop on the tour, where we are invited inside to view, take photos of, and learn about this circular hut looking home. It is constructed with cedar logs as interior support, and covered with grasses and mud to repel summer heat, and trap warmth in the winter. They are fascinating homes.
Finally, near the end of the tour the Navajos usually treat us with what commonly becomes a trip highlight. Music and dance. The sounds of the Navajo flute echoing off the mesa walls, sometimes accompanied with a distinct drum, or singing of Navajo love songs is a sound that will penetrate your soul never to be released. It is truly a magical sound, providing a memory, which for many is priceless.
By the end of the tour, which provides so many stunning views and photo opportunities I have found that the most common memories and valued experiences come not from the landscape, but the Navajos themselves. They welcome us onto their land, and open their lives and culture and history to us in ways that photos could never capture.