If you’ve ever seen Westerns where the cowboys and Indians ride across vast plains dotted with flat-topped mountains that seem to have erupted randomly out of the ground, you’ve seen Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is entirely in Navajo tribal land and, except for a 17-mile loop, you can’t access it without being accompanied by a Navajo guide. We eschewed the usual movie-locations tour and opted to go to Teardrop Arch and other sites off the beaten path.
Ken and I took a tour with Will Cowboy, yes that’s his real name, one of the best local guides. Will laughingly told us that he was from a family of movie stars, his father and uncles were the bad-guy Indians in many old Westerns.
Will is a gifted storyteller. He shared many stories and legends with us as he showed us around this stunning landscape at sunset. For example, he told us how his people came to North America across the Bering Straight and migrated south. How research into the language of the Navajo people has detected commonalities with native languages in Alaska, other parts of North America, and even in Asia.
Will told us a legend about how the Navajo people used to ride bears. When they stopped needing them, the bears became aggressive towards the Navajo people. It was only after the bears were set free with the help of the spirits that they stopped harassing them.
He talked to us about the culture of the Navajo people today and how their traditions are thriving thanks to strong values and community ties. He spoke with reverence of his father and the lessons he had taught him. He told us that there is no “I” in the Navajo language, only “us.” Decisions affecting the community are made on a consensus basis.
Aside from learning about the Navajo people, we did some backcountry touring in a big four-wheel drive truck. He drove us high up on the mesa along steep, rough trails and we walked along cliff edges to take in the stunning panoramic views. Through Teardrop Arch, we had a magical view of Monument Valley at sunset. Then he brought us to secret caves with evidence of early habitation.
It was a very special tour that left us with an appreciation of the Navajo culture and great memories of Monument Valley.