In part three of Tony Herbert's American Road Trip blog series, he visits Monument Valley, the dramatic backdrop to some of the most famous John Ford westerns…
Onwards to Monument Valley
A drive which takes us through some pretty lonesome scenery. We plan to stock up on a bottle of gin en route, as Monument Valley, situated as it is in Navajo tribal territory, is dry. But we don't meet any signs of civilization until Kayenta, by which time it's too late - we're already on Navajo land.
Even our attempts to track down a cup of coffee fail: the café recommended by the Lonely Planet guide turns out to be very closed. Resorting to Burger King, we eat chicken strips and fries for lunch and watch Hilary Clinton drum up support for a local governor on the TV.
After leaving Kayenta, we move into the open valley. It's punctuated by vast, towering monuments in red sandstone, universally recognisable for serving as the backdrop to all those iconic John Ford westerns. The View Hotel, where we're staying, certainly lives up to it's name: every room has a balcony looking out at five or six of these sandstone towers, known as 'buttes' or 'mittens', depending on their shape. Buttes (pronounced, less offensively, as 'bioots') and mittens are named after two foolhardy Americans who ventured into Indian territory in the 19th century and struck silver. Navajo Indians caught and reprimanded them before allowing them to make off with their findings - on the condition that they never returned. But greed got the better of them, and they came back only to be executed. Lesson: always follow instructions given by Native Indian guides!
We book a guided tour in a jeep with the formidable - and splendidly named - Will Cowboy. Will is from a Native Indian family that has lived in the more northern Mystery Valley for some years. His mother tongue is Navajo, a language that, we later learn, is in steep decline. He tells us of Navajo traditions and legends, and points out the natural sculpture in the monuments: an elephant, a camel, three sisters, even. He's been riding in the area from the age of six, so he knows the monuments well.
There is a major photo opportunity when we came to a horse and a rocky ledge. For the princely sum of $2, the horse's minder, dressed as a cowboy, jumps on it and rides vigorously to the ledge - just as in The Lone Ranger and countless Marlboro' cigarette ads.
Hollywood fell in love with Monument Valley after John Ford chose it as the setting for the early John Wayne movie, Stagecoach, and the whole place is full of Hollywood memorabilia. We stand on the balcony of the View Hotel, admiring the great monuments in front of us from what the sign says was John Wayne's favourite spot.
Read all of guest blogger Tony Herbert's blog series on his tailor made American road trip: