Saturday, May 23, 2009

Monument Valley Back Roads

Monument Valley is most frequently visited by using the 17 mile Self Guiding Trail, a dusty and somewhat rough road where visitors use their own vehicles. The guided tours visit the same iconic rock formations, but also get onto rougher roads and find other treasures. Monument Valley Tribal Park is located along the Arizona and Utah border inside the Navajo Nation.

I took the all day tour offered by Goulding's Trading Post. The morning part of the tour visited the Mystery Valley area, finding four Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites and three large arches in addition to the massive De Chelly sandstone rock formations.

After entering Monument Valley along the Self Guiding Trail and viewing the iconic Mittens and John Ford's Point, our group of six turned off the main road to get a closer look at the formations called the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei. The guide led a couple of us to a point where sand dunes and desert vegetation provided a more dramatic photo angle. The Totem Pole is 400 feet tall and is among the formations that get featured in movies and commercials.

There are four large arches visited on the guided tour. The first is a large dome shaped alcove with a pothole opening at the top known as Big Hogan. A Hogan is the traditional circular, usually dome shaped dwelling structure with a hole at the top to let out smoke from the fire.

This arch could also be called Eye of the Eagle. The guide had the group lie back on the smooth rock slope at the back of the alcove and look straight up. The ceiling of the dome was such that the arch appeared as the eye of an eagle head, beak and all.

A short walk from Big Hogan Arch is Moccasin Arch. We hit the light right to get the effect of a foot print shining through the opening.

The tour passes through an area called Sand Springs. In this dry desert area with very little vegetation growing, suddenly there is a wash with some flowing water and a single large Cottonwood tree. Echo Cave Ruins is the next stop. This is a large alcove with some small Ancestral Pueblo Ruins. This area is fenced off and a close inspection is not allowed.

A short walk past the Echo Cave is a small petroglyph panel with two of the elusive Kokopelli flute players, both rotated so they seem to be reclining. These two don't seem to have a headdress or feathers that are so often seen. They are associated with a snake in this case.

The third natural arch along the trail is the Ear of the Wind, a poetic name. It is a sandy walk uphill to get a closer view.

The fourth are is also poetically named the Sun's Eye. Along the cliff wall to the left of the arch is a petroglyph panel featuring some big horn sheep.

Throughout the tour the guide pointed out that several Navajo families continue to live in the Monument Valley area where they are without running water and electricity. The Navajo don't live in villages but choose isolated family camps. Most of these families maintain traditional Hogans for ceremonial reasons.

We visited a family that had three traditional Hogans, the largest set up to display weaving of the fabulous Navajo blankets. Several of the blankets on display featured Yei Bi Chei dancers that we had just viewed in their sandstone form. I asked how old this large Hogan was and the answer was 41 years.

The inside showed the well arranged logs with a cribbed roof with a hole in the domed ceiling for the smoke stack. The exterior is packed with earth for insulation against the cold winters. This above ground style of building contrasts with the Ancestral Pueblo pit houses and Kivas that were constructed into the earth.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mystery Valley Trail in Monument Valley

The Mystery Valley Trail is part of Monument Valley Tribal Park along the Arizona and Utah border inside the Navajo Nation. Mystery is only available to visitors on a guided tour.
 The tour I took was from Goulding’s Trading Post. The route we followed was south from Goulding’s along a dirt road and then entering the park at the southwest corner and following rough sandy roads. From along here there were some distant views of the famous spires, buttes, and mesas over the desert environment.

In mid May the Prickly Pear Cactus was just starting to bloom among the Sage Brush and Mormon Tea. The guide seemed to be more aware than the visitors that a cactus flower foreground with the Monument Valley spires in the distance would be a good picture.

Along the Self Guiding Trail that attracts most visitors to Monument Valley there aren’t any Ancestral Pueblo Ruins sites. Despite the very dry environment here now, there are several small ruins sites in this part of the park. The first one that the tour visited was Square House Ruin, sitting up in a nicely formed bulb of an alcove.
After viewing the ruin from the canyon floor the guide took off up a steep sandstone slope, sticking to the surface like he was a desert big horn sheep. Most of us followed for the elevated view despite the somewhat exposed short trail. To the right of the ruin on the sandstone walls there is a small petroglyph panel showing four or five elongated mountain sheep.

Just around the corner at the same stop there is the Baby Feet Ruins site. There was some confusion among our small group of six when most of us returned to the tour vehicle and the guide was missing. A short search revealed him perched up in the Baby Feet Ruin. This appears to be a small storage site. The guide said that there are some small foot prints near the small structure. Only one of us made the climb up into the site.
There are three large arches along the Mystery Valley Trail. The first one visited was Honey Moon Arch. I thought this one somewhat resembles Broken Arch in Arches National Park.

Nearby Honey Moon Arch is Half Moon Arch. Under the left side there is a large granary storage ruin. There is a spot along the canyon wall that gives a good angle to see the granary.

The third arch on the Mystery Valley Trail is the Lone Pine Arch, named for a small Pinon Pine high on the cliff on the right. This looks like a pothole type of arch. The main sandstone layer forming all the scenery is the De Chelly layer, which may be the same as the Cedar Mesa Sandstone. The valley floor is the Cutler formation and the sandstone is capped with the Shinarump layer that sometimes has been mined for Uranium.
We stopped for lunch in a canyon that was the site of the Many Hands Ruin. This small floor level ruins site is very rich in pictographs, with dozens of mostly white hand prints covering the walls. I thought that this would be a very famous site if it was located in an area with easy public access.

Only a few people per day take the guided tour here so this rich site gets only a few visitors. Besides all the hands there are some large elongated square shouldered humanoid figures, also in white.

At the upper end of this same canyon there is another ruins site called the Many Houses Ruin. This site had several low structures spread along a long curving alcove. Most of our group skipped the short walk to this site, resting and waiting for the grilled hamburger lunch prepared by the guide.

There were picnic tables and a grill in position and a tasty lunch was prepared very quickly. A small box provided by Gouldings included chips, a cookie, and an orange. After lunch we continued on to the back roads of the popular Monument Valley part of the park.