Moved by the Immovables

The Immovables are what the Navajo people poetically call the monuments after which we Anglos named Monument Valley.  Whatever you call them, they are too astonishing to absorb from photographs, but that won’t stop me from sharing them, now that I have a decent Internet connection.

We had the good fortune to tour the Valley today with a Navajo guide named Don.  Of course I took to him immediately.  He like me too and insisted that I sit in the front seat of the van with him.  As anyone who has ever had me as a passenger knows, I was available to help him drive.

We were so lucky to have Don as our guide.  He has a long history of teaching and doing some amazing things to protect and preserve the Navajo culture.  He tried to retire and got bored, so he offered to train the Navajos who do the guided tours of the Valley.  He ended up enjoying it so much that he started taking the tours around himself, just five months ago.  Thanks to my Don’s research, I was able to tell him that Trip Advisor says that he himself is the number one attraction of Monument Valley.  He was stunned to hear that he is famous.

As you probably know, the monuments are sandstone monoliths that loom over the valley in such fantastic shapes and sizes that every view enchants.  But when you go up to some of them, the wonders of what time, wind and water have wrought are breathtaking.  Here you can see both the Eye of the Sun, the Ear of the Wind and the Eagle, which will begin to explain the magic.

Don told us amazing stories and was so generous with sharing Navajo culture.  Those of you who are also Tony Hillerman fans will be jealous to hear that we went into a (male and female) hogan with him, and also saw a sweathouse, where he gave a lesson to the two young boys from Germany on our tour.

The ancient handprints near the Eye of the Sun earned us an explanation of how the Navajo people view the hand.  The thumb represents yourself.  The index finger is your mother; the middle finger is your father; the next is your paternal grandfather and the last your maternal grandfather.  When you offer your hand, you are telling the complete story of your lineage, and the clan that each of those people represent, by way of introducing yourself.  It is a very important ritual.

This area was also full of other petroglyphs which have stood the test of time.

Now enjoy such marvels as the Three Sisters, the head of the dragon, the Indian Chief, the Totem Poles, the Mittens and many others.

We are staying at historic Goulding’s Hotel, until very recently the only lodgings in Monument Valley.  When Harry Goulding and his wife established it as a trading post in the 20’s, they became very integrated into the Navajo community. They established a trading post and lived above the shop.  From the pictures, they were very much in love and had a great life just where they wanted to be. Both the store and their apartment are maintained as a museum.

In an attempt to bring jobs to the area during the depths of the Depression, Harry went to Hollywood to convince director John Ford that Monument Valley would make a great movie location.  It was a tough job, but he did it. The rest is history – movie history.

Here is the spot where John Ford used to sit all day and stare at the vista.  And then there’s John Wayne’s preferred perch.


They show a John Wayne movie every night here, so we saw “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” and then walked out of the movie cabin onto the set, which was one weird and wonderful experience.  The cabin that was John Wayne’s quarters in the movie was right outside the door.  And by the way, that was one good movie, and not just because we had just been to every place they filmed.  Only we and the Indians knew when they were actually going around in circles, instead of travelling miles from the fort.  Great fun.

We also went to the Navajo National Monument, which has one of the best preserved pueblos in the Southwest – Betakakin.  Another astonishing site, which fortunately was not pillaged, thanks to the fact that the Navajo people always protected it.

I’ll close the tale of the day with a wonderful story that our guide Don told.  Several years ago, he was asked by the Russian government to go to Siberia to see if he could share the preservation work he was doing, as the native tribes there were in great danger of losing their language and their culture.  Though he is a very modest man, it seems the importance of his work had spread.  (He is now doing the Rosetta Stone Navajo language series!)

That was a huge trip for him.  And when he got there, he looked around at the entire village gathered to meet him, and he realized that they looked just like Navajos.  “Why, there was my aunt Helen and my cousin Joe!”  And then he began to hear the similarities in their language to the Navajo tongue.  One elder said she could almost understand him.  And then he remembered a story his grandfather told him about where his people had come from – that they were once joined with other people “who stayed behind.”

And having then travelled to Alaska, he has proven to his complete satisfaction the theory of the Bering Straits land bridge, and that his people were the ones who left and who eventually found their way to this very different land.  He has been back to Siberia three times – this humble quiet man – and has evidently been very successful in establishing English classes there for the natives.  He is, however, a tad disappointed that one of the first questions the students asked him in English was “how many channels do you get on TV?”

Such is modern life, but what wonderful ways all of us have travelled to get here.

P.S.  Speaking of modern life, thanks to the Japanese for making it and to June for the recommendation of the Uniqlo Heat Tech t-shirt.  It saved my life yesteday.  The winds there were seriously cold!




5 thoughts on “Moved by the Immovables

    1. Not only are the View and Gouldings dry, but the whole Navajo Nation is. They know the evils of firewater!

  1. June says that she too is wearing her Uniqlo vest today–in New York. She also recognises that special glow of being chosen to sit next to the driver.
    Stunning photos of a stunning land.

  2. One word : WOW! The pictures, the story… Wow! You’ve inspired our next family trip when Gildas’s father comes from France. And I am going to track down Don!

    1. You would love this. And you can’t believe how many French people have had the same idea! Of course, some of them may be our Neighbors to the North, but lots of signs in French and French accents. Your father-in-law would feel right at home. And yes, you must get Don. I can’t stop thinking about him and am rereading all the Tony Hillerman books!

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