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.

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