Monday, February 17, 2014

Moonlight in Monument Valley

There are still a few places in the world, and in the continental US, that one can visit and truly feel as if one is in a place that time forgot.  There are indeed places that are remote enough, that (a) require sufficient work to find it, and (b) require one to be daring enough to leave the pavement and drive on the dirt trail.  If one is bold enough to go a few steps beyond the sign that says "proceed at your own risk", the rewards (visually, emotionally and spiritually) are plentiful.

While on a business trip to northeastern Arizona this past week, we took a side trip to Monument Valley, an area the straddles the Arizona-Utah border.  Wholly encompassed in the Navajo Indian Reservation, this is an area immortalized in many old western movies as well as numerous more contemporary films, and of course the scenery is unmistakenly "western". 

This view first greets the visitor as one comes to the rim of the valley, before driving down into the area that one enters at one's own risk.  As you can see from the road in the foreground, the warning deserves to be heeded and a four-wheel-drive is recommended.
We stayed at Goulding's Lodge, originally founded in the early part of the 20th Century as a trading post for the Navajo Indians.  The trading post is one of the few privately owned parcels within the Navajo Reservation, predating the reservation's expansion into southern Utah.  As we checked in, I noticed a brochure describing a "Full Moon Tour" that night and the next two nights.  I remembered a full moon was upon us.  Could the timing have been more perfect?  Of course I signed up.

The formations, which started out as mesas, transitioning into buttes and eventually into spires through the patient but relentless work of wind and water, were originally formed when the Earth heaved and tilted the former seabed thousands of feet higher.  The rocks show the layers of sediments and conglomerates, each with their own erosive characteristics that over the millennia form the striking formations now before us.

Sun-splashed rocks with endless sagebrush in the foreground
The tour started at 4:30, which gave us just enough time to ride into the Park to witness breathtaking displays of sunlight painting the already-red rocks into beautiful hues that contrasted with the deepening blue of the eastern sky.  While some of the park is accessible to the general public (for the small fee of $5 per person), much is not without a Navajo guide.  David, our driver and guide took us (with another couple from New Mexico) into the more remote areas for vistas not often seen. 

This formation is named Yei-bi-chai, and tallest spire on the right is the Totem.
Yei-bi-chai is Navajo for the leader of a certain dance/ceremony that celebrates their Holy People that dwell among them.  The early Navajo felt it was important to live in harmony with the world around them, both seen and unseen.  To not be in harmony invites all manner of physical, mental and emotional ills...which seems to me to make a lot of sense.  During colder times of the year (when the rattlesnake is hibernating and there is less chance of a lightning strike), this dance or celebration helps to bring about that harmony.  The formations above are named thus for their resemblance to the dancers.  (More information at the link on the bottom of this entry.)

The Totem, as the sun slowly sets and now bathed in moonlight
Our guide brought us to a vantage point with breathtaking vistas...that quite honestly cannot be adequately captured by film or digital images.  Slowly the moon rose to her position of ruling the night, casting an eerie glow over the sage-dotted landscape that seemed to stretch out forever.

Even in the gathering darkness the moon casts an eerie glow, giving an ethereal presence that makes one understand the close spiritual ties one can have with this landscape.
One cannot help but feel reverence for Something or Someone greater than us when one witnesses such grandeur.  I could continue to wax philosophical about this, but like the photographs here, it wouldn't come close to do the scenery justice.

Monument Valley perhaps became more famous as a setting for numerous western movies largely through the efforts of Harry Goulding.  When the Great Depression slowed his trading post business, he heard of a movie in the works and went to Hollywood to champion the beauty of his area.  Director John Ford loved the photos and the first movie filmed on location was "Stagecoach" with a star studded cast that included John Wayne.   

Here are links if you want more information about Goulding's Lodge and Monument Valley: