I am writing this blog on a hot evening in the Mid-West, USA, while a steady sunset takes over from a bright clear sky. Having travelled over 1,000 miles through Arizona and Utah this past week I am giddy with desert scenery. Although cactuses, cowboy movies and all things to do with the Colorado River run through my mind when I reflect on my week, it is Monument Valley in particular that stands out among all the memories.
It is massive, majestic and aptly named monumental almost at every turn – or along every stretch of the straight desert road.
The Navajo Indian Reserve of Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (‘Valley of the Rocks’, more commonly known as Monument Valley) is quite simply one of North America’s most outstanding landscapes. Arguably the world’s most photographed, it has represented all that is traditional America for over seventy years. Whether used as a default Windows screen-saver, Hollywood backdrop or a classic USA road trip promotion, it has been difficult not to recognise Monument Valley as ‘the’ all American landscape image.
Every generation has its own blockbuster film featuring Monument Valley: John Ford’s Stagecoach with John Wayne as Ringo Kid (1939); followed by amongst many others The Searchers (1956); Easy Rider (1969); The Eiger Sanction (1975); through to the more recent Forrest Gump and Space Odyssey.
Although I too have seen this classic cluster of Colorado Plateau buttes featured in countless films, I was as stunned as any visitor when I first visited the Navajo Nation Reserve this week.
What the iconic pictures do not give you is an accurate sense of the surrounding dead-pan desert scenery. It is as remote, red and raw as the Australian outback, or Wadi Rum, the Arab Revolt scenery in Jordan. The moment you turn off Highway 163 and arrive at the Monument Valley car park, the prominent 300m (1,000 ft) buttes appear in front of you – seemingly only a frisbee throw away. Your jaw drops before you have even left your vehicle. Not necessarily because of their size (the sheer terracotta rocks are actually smaller than I had imagined), but because of their setting. Searing temperatures (even in October), dry desert plains stretching to the horizon and a 360-degree panorama starting with the valley below and finishing with the Gouldings settlement kissed up against the horizon behind, all combine to amaze you.
We at Nomadic Thoughts have successfully arranged trips for many a client to this area, and continue to encourage clients to include the 17-mile dirt road drive through the most exciting parts of Monument Valley Navajo Nation Reservation in their itineraries. Self-drive visitors can enjoy the road trip by themselves, but I do also recommend that you include a locally guided excursion – not least as, if accompanied by a local Navajo guide, you are allowed to travel off road through the Reservation’s less visited and remoter desert areas.
So how to post a collection of interesting and different images from one of the world’s most photographed locations?
Well… although I am publishing shots that you may well be familiar with, I hope that this collection of photographs (all of which I took this week) gives you a sense of not only how impressive the landscape is, but also how important it is to capture the sense of scale. Travelling along the traditional 17-mile route, as well as off-road with a Navajo guide, the local desert scenery appeared to change at every turn.
Sand dunes, red rock arches, dusty horizons, Indian horse silhouettes, off-road trail roads and the spirit of the Wild West at every shutter click.