Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monument Valley vs. Valley of the Gods

Monument Valley along the Utah and Arizona border and inside the Navajo Nation draws visitors from around the world. The massive carved sandstone buttes with the overlay of Navajo culture help visitors connect to the land like few other places. Not far from Monument Valley, on the north side of the San Juan River is the similar but less noticed Valley of the Gods.

Most visitors visit Monument Valley on the 17 mile Self Guiding Trail. Along the route are 11 numbered scenic stops. The best known of the stops are the two Mittens, among the most iconic rock formations in the west.

The towering formations are described as being eroded De Chelly sandstone, capped with the harder Shinarump formation. The De Chelly is also visible at the spectacular Canyon De Chelly Monument near Chinle in the center of the Navajo Reservation. Among my favorite formations along the trail is the Totem Pole and the Yei bi cheis.

If you approach Monument Valley along Highway 163 west of Bluff, Utah you will pass by the less known and lightly visited Valley of the Gods. This BLM area also has a 17 mile self guiding trail and the many formations have local names. The Valley of the Gods formations are described as being carved from Cedar Mesa Sandstone, but I think this is equivalent to the De Chelly sandstone.

Near the Valley of the Gods is the formation called Lime Ridge, important in Navajo beliefs. A trapezoidal formation that resembles the traditional Hogan dwellings holds the trapped children who were disobedient to the Sun Bearer and are being punished. When the children did not repent, the Hogan was turned to solid rock. It occurs to me that using the landscape to symbolically represent traditional stories is similar to rock art. Modern visitors often seek to find hidden petroglyphs and pictographs, but the entire landscape can be viewed as rock art also.

Besides the Monument Valley Self Guiding Trail, visitors can take guided tours into Mystery Valley and the Back Roads of Monument Valley. On these tours, some of the many Ancestral Pueblo ruins sites and rock art sites can be visited, along with several natural stone arches.

The harsh dry nature of the environment makes it hard to believe that people could live here, but there are several rock alcoves that sheltered small structures. The back roads also pass by the springs that provided water for these agricultural residents.

There aren’t any tours in the Valley of the Gods, The short brochure reminds visitors not to disturb any archeology sites, but there isn’t any information about where they might be. On my own visit I didn’t stray from the road, but there may be a good hike up Lime Canyon here.

The Cedar Mesa area just to the north is rich with ruins sites in the deep canyons and on the canyon rims. There may not be much water available in the Valley of the Gods, but there was a small spring in the vicinity of the Bed and Breakfast near the west end of the road.

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