Four Corners #03 - Monument Valley, Gouldings, and Moive Making

March 09, 2024  •  2 Comments

October 2023 Trip

Four Corners October 2023 - #03 Monument Valley

This Four Corners series of articles is for a one week driving trip we took to the four corners area of the USA in October of 2023.  The main destinations on this trip were Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley with some other stops along the way. 

Entire Trip map
04 Map 1 - Full Trip04 Map 1 - Full Trip

In this article I’ll talk about Monument Valley and some more Navajo History.

Gouldings and Monument Valley
05 Map 4b - Monument Valley Day05 Map 4b - Monument Valley Day

On to Monument Valley

After leaving Chinle and Canyon de Chelly we headed almost due north to our next stop at Monument Valley.  This took us along 2 lane roads through the deserts of the Navajo Nation.  This is mostly flat scrub desert with isolated homesteads scattered around at great distances from each other.

Indian Rt 93 near Rough Rock
06 Rough Rock (Google)06 Rough Rock (Google) (Google Maps, Street view photo)

After a half hour or so, we gradually climbed out of a flat valley and more into red-rock country.  We could hardly tell that we were gaining elevation but the landscape started having Buttes and mesas which definitely indicated a change in elevation. 

NW of Many Farms
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Lone spire in a cataract canyon
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Eventually we went through the town of Kayenta before reaching our destination at Monument Valley.  Kayenta is not much more than a greasy smudge on the map with absolutely nothing going for it.  We were forced to find lodging there on a prior trip in 2011 and found that there were absolutely no redeeming qualities of the town.  The lodging options were dreadful and restaurant selections were even worse.  And, add to that it wasn’t even all that close to Monument Valley.  

The only other option for lodging, both then and, now is Gouldings (just outside the entrance to Monument Valley) and the View Inn (inside Monument Valley Tribal Park).  Unfortunately both Gouldings and the View Inn were fully booked in 2011 so we had to make do with Kayenta and deal with getting ourselves to the park in the pitch dark in order to be on time to meet our guide for a sunrise shoot in the park.  On that trip we swore to never make the mistake of staying in Kayenta again if we ever returned.  Even though Kayenta has since grown quite a bit with more lodging and eating options with new schools and parks, it’s still not the best choice if you are there to see Monument Valley.

From Kayenta you head north on US-163 and once you get near the turn off for Monument Valley, buttes and mesas start appearing all around you.  In essence you are on the top of a mesa where the soft sandstone of a once present higher mesa has eroded away leaving the harder rock “monuments” sticking out of the ground.  And, with Monument Valley as a prime example, the mesa you are on is in turn eroding way exposing a lower level leaving rock formations, or monuments, sticking up.  But this is going on all over the area, not just in the formal Park and you can see these things just driving along the highways.  Or, if you have 4WD for the sandy spots, the area is crisscrossed with dirt roads that are quite drivable if it’s dry.  The three photos below were taken from one of the dirt/sand side roads which was labeled tribal road 6410 in AZ.  In this case it was just a few miles past Gouldings Lodge.

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Possibly ‘Devils Palm”
TR-6431 SW of GouldingsTR-6431 SW of Gouldings

West & East Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte (which are inside Monument Valley)
East Mitten, West Mitten and Merrick ButtesEast Mitten, West Mitten and Merrick Buttes Buildings in front of Merrick Butte (on the right) is the View Inn and visitor center complex

Gouldings & Movie Making

Having had the Kayenta experience, we made a point for this trip to book early.  But, even though we were booking in May for a mid October trip (which is way off peak season to boot) we were still too late to get a room in the View Inn.  It seems that large tour groups book all the View Inn rooms a year or more in advance.  But Gouldings still had vacancies and we booked a nice cabin in a new development with a kitchen (they didn’t have this cabin village back in 2011).  This put us within a mile or two of the entrance to the park.

Gouldings is a sprawling landmark fixture at Monument Valley with an old west theme.  It has a couple of rows of single story motel style rooms on a hillside so that even the rooms in the back row have a clear view of the landscape. They have a restaurant, museum in what was the original Gouldings house, theatre, and trading post.  Down the hill is a large gas station, much needed car wash, convenience store, air strip, laundramat, super market, and a cluster of around 50 standalone cabins on a slope so that they all have a view.  And a little bit up the road is an RV park tucked in a canyon to be out of the wind as well as a small USU (Utah State University) campus.

The story of Gouldings begins in the 1920s with a sheep trader named Harry Goulding and his wife Leone, nicknamed "Mike" for some unknown reason.  When looking for a place to settle down and build up a homestead, they were captivated by the majesty of nearby Monument Valley. As the Paiute reservation had relocated at that time, it left areas open for purchase.  So they seized the chance and bought a hunk of property in 1923.

Starting off in tents, they established a trading post to get things going, bartering with the local native people who traded handcrafted goods like rugs and jewelry for staples like sugar and flour and some manufactured goods. This early interaction laid the foundation for Gouldings' long-standing commitment to supporting the local Native American community.

Recognizing the tourism potential, the Gouldings expanded their operation with permanent buildings.  1928 saw the construction of a permanent wood house, now the Goulding's Trading Post Museum, and eventually, comfortable guest accommodations arose, forming the foundation of today's lodge.

Eagle Mesa from Gouldings Lodge parking lot
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But then the 1930s brought the Great Depression impacting their business.  By mid decade things looked pretty bleak for the Gouldings.  People were not coming to stay at their Inn or buy things in their store.  But Harry was a creative sort and realized that the movie industry had not been all that impacted by the depression and was going strong.  He figured that the scenery of Monument Valley would be a grand place to film westerns which were starting to show up in movie theaters.

Around that time their path crossed that of a fellow named Joseph Muench.  You photography folks should recognize that name.  Joseph was a German who had to flee Germany at the age of 27 in 1927 after hitting Adolf Hitler with a tomato during a speech (even though Hitler was surrounded by SS officers at the time).  After escaping Germany he worked in a Ford Motor Company factory.  Eventually he saved enough to afford a Model-A roadster and headed west landing in Santa Barbara near Los Angeles where he worked as a landscaper.  This was in 1930 and by this time he had become interested in photography and started making photographs.  Apparently he was pretty good at it as he sold his first commercial photograph the following year to Trailway’s Magazine.  He continued working as a professional photographer with the popular Arizona Highways Magazine where they were a regular customer of his work. 

In 1935 Joseph found his way to Monument Valley and stayed at Gouldings Lodge.  He immediately fell in love with the scenery and it became his favorite shooting location.  In short order, he and the Gouldings became fast friends.  So, when Harry came up with the idea to pitch the area to the movie industry, he called upon Joseph to provide photos.  Joseph produced a book of stunning black and white photos of Monument Valley for Harry to take to Hollywood.  With photo book in hand Harry headed off to Hollywood where he wangled a meeting with John Ford and showed him the photo book.

Harry's gambit paid off.  In 1938 John Ford filmed Stagecoach in Monument Valley.  The movie became a success, not only reviving the western genre but also permanently associating Monument Valley with classic Westerns and in the process sparking tourist business for Harry and Mike, saving their little enterprise. 

1939 “StageCoach” movie poster
16 Stagecoach Poster ( Stagecoach Poster ( Poster from

This marked the beginning of Monument Valley's ascent as a cinematic icon, with countless Westerns like "The Searchers" and "Fort Apache" following suit.  Each evening Gouldings offers a free showing of one of these movies in their little theater.  We saw Stagecoach with a very young John Wayne in a lead role with an equally young Andy Devine.  The cinematic beauty of the area still attracts movie makers to this day.  Some more recent movies that used Monument valley include Back to the future III,  Wild Wild West,  Lone Ranger (the Johnny Depp version), and A Million Ways to Die in the Old West.

During the filming of the many John Ford movies here, he treated the Native Americans quite well.  Even when not filming, he came back every 2 years and threw a big barbeque for the local population.  The film crews also treated the locals quite well with plenty of food on set and good working conditions in general.   Out Guide, tells:

One of the earliest films shot here was Stagecoach,  When the native people heard that John Wayne and John Ford were coming here to make a movie, they rode their horses from 50, 60, 70 miles away to be in the movie and be able to chase the cavalry and shoot bows and arrows.

Each of them was paid $20 for the day and that was a lot of money in those days.  You could buy almost anything for $20.  With $20 in your pocket you were a rich man.  And if it went for 2 or 3 days that money could last the whole year. 

And so they came out here with their horses.  But of course none of them could speak English and the film crew could not speak Navajo.  So with hand gestures and a word or two of English, it was just enough to get by.

In one of the movies they were told ‘OK, we want you to come charging out of that canyon on your horses and John Wayne is going to take a shot at you and one of you has to fall off your horse.  So, here they come charging out of the canyon go around the corner and John Wayne takes a shot and all four of them fall off their horse.  It’s still in the movie.  It was such a beautiful shot, they never took it out.

The grandfather of one of tour guides was in that movie.  If you have the movie and turn the volume way up you can hear the others watching the filming laugh like crazy.

That money that comes from filming, goes into an educational fund for Navajo kids who want to go to college.  My son was able to get one.  He went off to get his degree and has returned and now runs a Utah State off campus program here in the reservation. 

In about 3 years they’re going to build a University right here at an old high school.

But the Goulding’s vision wasn't limited to lodging and commerce. Appreciating the Navajo culture and land, they advocated for responsible tourism and respect for the environment.  This legacy continues through guided tours led by Navajo guides, offering deeper insights and access to restricted areas.

From Gouldings Lodge
Eagle Mesa from TR-421 by Gouldings LodgeEagle Mesa from TR-421 by Gouldings Lodge

Today, Gouldings stands as a historical landmark, inextricably linked to Monument Valley's story. It's not just a hospitality complex, but a testament to entrepreneurial spirit, cultural respect, and a deep connection to the land. With every visit, guests step into a place steeped in history, adventure, and the unique beauty of Monument Valley.  --- And it’s a nice place to stay.

Oljata Mesa (behind Gouldings Cabins)
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Seeing Monument Valley

The Navajo name for Monument Valley is “Hózhǫ́ǫ́jí Naʼashjéʼígíí” (at least according to a translate app I found) which means “Trails of the Wind”.  And, indeed, the constant swirling winds in the valley are largely responsible for carving the features of the park. 

Monument Valley is essentially a large box canyon with mesas scattered about which form visually stunning shapes.  But, even though Monument Valley is a tribal park (a Native American equivalent to a US National Park) underneath it all it is part of the Navajo Nation reservation and is Navajo Tribal land. 

Whereas National Parks prioritize the preservation of natural and historical resources for the public, Tribal Parks often have a deeper emphasis on cultural preservation, traditional land uses, and the continuation of tribal knowledge and practices connected to the land.  So, for example, other than park staff, individual families and commercial enterprises like farms, ranches, logging and mining are not permitted in National Parks.  But Navajo families do live in Tribal Parks where they have traditional farms, ranches and can make money providing services and selling crafts to tourists that are attracted to the park.  As an example, at the present time, 14 separate families live inside of Monument Valley Tribal Park.

The entrance to Monument Valley is on US-163 right where it crosses the Arizona-Utah boarder halfway between Kayenta and Mexican Hat.  At the turn off from US-163 to the park entrance is a brand new Navajo Welcome Center.  It looks like it was built within the last year or so.  Thinking this was the Monument Valley visitor center we stopped to get some information and use the restroom.  The museum area had literally nothing in it.  There was a walk up window where you could ask questions but they had no maps or for that matter not much info on the park either.  Maybe they were just ramping up the facility and hadn’t really gotten it going yet.  But the bathrooms were very good.

From here, you get into the park by turning east at a round-a-bout.  Gouldings would be turning west at this round-a-bout.  Three miles down this road is the pay gate where you get a map and then you are at the main parking area for the View Inn, the park Visitor center, large gift shop and a restaurant.  This area is right on the rim looking over the valley.

There are 3 ways to see Monument Valley beyond what can be seen from US-163 to the north of the park (we’ll see this in the next installment).  The first is that you can just go out on the large patio by the gift shop on the rim of the canyon on look over the edge.  This is a great spot for getting a late afternoon shots of East and West Mitten Butte with Merrick butte or a sunrise shot putting those buttes in silhouette. 

 East and West Mitten Butte with Merrick butte at sunset from rim (2011)
West, East and Merrick Buttes, Monument ValleyWest, East and Merrick Buttes, Monument Valley

 East and West Mitten Butte with Merrick butte at sunset from Patio (2023)
West Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte'sWest Mitten, East Mitten and Merrick Butte's

But you didn’t come all this way to stand on a paved patio looking over the rim. 

So, this brings us to method 2 for seeing the park.  If you have a reasonably high clearance vehicle there is a 15 mile self driving scenic drive with numbered stops annotated on the map you got at the pay gate.  OK, let’s get real here.  The first quarter mile is terrible driving.  Our guide said that there is talk of paving some of the drive and hopefully this would be the part they pave.  This is the section that descends from the upper mesa to the valley floor through a series of switch backs.  This is said to be a dirt/gravel road but mostly it was a boulder strewn, pot hole laden affair.  If you take this at more 3 or 4 MPH you’re going too fast if you want to have any suspension left when you’re done.  It’s pretty wide with plenty of room for two way traffic (of which there is usually a lot) and when there is no oncoming traffic you can delude yourself into thinking you can move over and find a smoother part to drive on – there is none.  Make sure your seat belt is tight because you’ll be banging against your doors with each bump and divot.  OK, I paint a pretty bleak picture but a regular car, driven carefully should have no problem.  A rough ride but the car should be capable of doing it unless it’s a low slung ‘sporty’ model which is likely to bottom out quite often.  If you have a trailer with you on your trip, leave it in the parking lot up on top.  I would also not try it in any RV bigger than a camper van.

But once you get to the valley floor things get much better.  It’s still a dirt road but now it is mostly compacted dirt and in some places gravel.  You can actually get up to 20 mph in spots with no problem.  There are 11 marked ‘stops’ which you can follow along with on the map.  Each stop has a large graded parking lot and some have trails if you’re in the mood for hiking.  However, I don’t think we ventured more than a hundred yards from our vehicle at any of them. The first 5 or so miles is two way traffic, but then there is a one way loop that circles Rain God Mesa so be sure to keep track of which part you’re on so you don’t inadvertently go against one way traffic.

Many of the main features are included on this scenic drive.  On our first visit we did this route in our 2WD Volvo station wagon laden with camping gear.  On this trip we did the drive in our 4WD Volvo XC70 which is a cross between a station wagon and a mid size SUV.  We left the rim about 9:00 am and got back to the rim around 11:00 AM. 

Self driving loop map
15 Map 4c - Monument Valley Loop Drive15 Map 4c - Monument Valley Loop Drive (map from

The third method of seeing the park is with a Navajo Guide.  These guided tours usually cover the same 15 mile self driving route but also go off into the back country where many of the more interesting park features are located.  These tours can be canned group tours that are offered at set times and durations throughout the day or you can book a private tour.  The group tours, especially in peak season, are in open vehicles but some can be found in enclosed SUV’s.  Be aware though that the driving is on very dusty and sandy tracks through the desert and much of that dust and sand envelopes those folks in the open vehicles.  So, if you have any notion of taking a camera with you – which of course you will – it’s either going to spend a lot of time in your camera bag or will be covered in dust within a few minutes.  Also note that it can be quite hot or quite cold depending on the time of year and time of day which may become quite uncomfortable in an open vehicle.  The private tours can be booked for a closed SUV. 

There are a dozen or so companies which offer tours including Gouldings Lodge, The View Inn and dozens of other companies and independents.  After a day or two on Google reading web sites and emailing back and forth we opted for a private SUV tour with “Monument Valley Safari” ( ).  Our guide on this private tour was a Navajo elder named Don Mose who not only told us about the scenery but also told us all sorts of stories about the area, its people and personal experiences.  I’ll scatter some of these throughout this article and put a long “Grandpa’s Origin Story” at the end – more or less as an “extra”. 

Here’s what the website says about Don Mose:

A respected elder, educator and ambassador of the Navajo Tribe, Don Mose has made significant contributions in fostering the Navajo culture through his involvement in developing the Rosetta Stone Diné Bizaad course and the Navajo Language Curriculum for the San Juan School District.

He considers Mother Nature the master artist of Monument Valley. The Diné (Navajo People) have an old saying, “Beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty above me, and beauty below me.”  This is called the “Beauty Way,” or Hózhó – a Navajo concept of striving to live in balance and harmony; spiritually, physically and mentally.

Through his knowledge and understanding of Navajo lore and ceremonies, Don shares a deep and important message with his visitors. His passionate storytelling leaves his guests inspired and asking for more.

On our ‘inside the park’ day, we decided to use the morning doing the 15 mile self driving loop, have a picnic lunch back at the valley overlook by the View Inn and then do the private guided tour from around 3:00 pm to sunset followed by dinner in the View Inn Restaurant.  What follows is a combination of what we saw on the 15 mile loop and the private tour.  A map of our entire route is at the top of this article.

It should be noted that you are only allowed beyond the 15 mile scenic drive, into what they call the backcountry, if you are with a Navajo guide.  Once you leave the Loop Drive the roads are just 1 car wide and are in many places quite sandy.  It is not uncommon for tourists who don’t think the rules apply to them to get stuck in the back country even though they are in expensive 4WD SUV’s or pickup trucks. Having 4WD is important but that by itself, without knowing where the soft spots are is not enough. 

East & West Mitten Butte

The first stop on the loop drive is the East and West Mitten Butte view point.  From here you get the same view direction as from the rim but from a lower angle.  According to ChatGPT, the Navajo names for these are  "Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii" (East Mitten Butte) and "Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaií" (West Mitten Butte).  But our guide later in the day told us that the Navajo called them "nłįįʼ yiłbah." Meaning “Hands of the Giant”.  The story goes that John Wayne couldn’t pronounce nłįįʼ yiłbah so the film crew started calling them East and West Mitten Buttes and those names stuck.

From here there are trails to each of the two mittens.  From right by the parking area there are many opportunities for finding foreground elements to enhance your images. 

West and East mitten butte from stop 1 on the loop drive
Monument Valley, AZMonument Valley, AZ

East mitten butte framed in a dead tree
West Mitten Butte with treeWest Mitten Butte with tree

West Mitten Butte with two different foreground elements
22 A7R5-#05731, #05740 diptich22 A7R5-#05731, #05740 diptich

Three Sisters

The Three Sisters (stop 3 on the loop drive) are three 1,000 foot tall spires in a row at the end of Mitchell Mesa.  These naturally eroded figures are said to resemble a Mother Superior, a Sister (nun), and a tiny novice with a veil proceeding toward the bulky cathedral (Mitchell Mesa).

Three Sisters
Three SistersThree Sisters

Indian Gold and Silver Story

When the Spanish were occupying the area it is no secret that the Natives used to raid their wagon trains and settlements.  Mostly they were after horses, rifles and cooking utensils.  But legend has it that in one raid they found a chest full of gold and silver jewelry that probably belonged to the Franciscans, which of course they took.  They had never seen these metals before and didn’t quite know what to think about them or what to do with the stuff.  So, they melted the objects down and made beads out of them and gave them to their women.  Later when the soldiers came to remove the Indians from the land they noticed all these silver and gold necklaces being worn by the Navajo women and they started asking questions about where they got the gold and silver.  The women told their men that some of the low ranking soldiers had been asking about the gold and silver so the men (supposedly) gathered it all up and hid all the jewelry out in a nearby valley.  From that time on, fortune seekers have searched high and low for this treasure but none has ever been found.  But due to this legend, that valley is now known as Mystery Valley since it’s a mystery where they hid the treasure.

Artist Point and North Window viewpoints

These are two stops on the loop drive with similar views across long distances to the North into the lower valley with an array of monuments, buttes, mesas, and spires.  On the map they give you Artists Point is labeled “Navajo Code Talker Outpost” but I did not see anything there pertaining to the Code Talkers.  These two locations are good both early in the day and in late afternoon when you have that golden side light.  On our trip we were at these two viewpoints around noon so did not experience the low angle light.

View from Artists Point
Monument Valley from Artist's PointMonument Valley from Artist's Point

View from North Window Overlook
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Indian Warrior, Snoopy, and The Rooster

Even though many park features have traditional names going back perhaps hundreds of years, over time, tourists have come up with modern names for various rock formations.  They have posted these names online making them become more and more popular for others visiting the area to ask to see.  Here are a few.

Indian Warrior
Indian WarriorIndian Warrior

Snoopy Rock (laying on the top of his dog house)
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The Rooster
The Rooster, Monument ValleyThe Rooster, Monument Valley

Pictographs and Petroglyphs

As we’ve discussed, pictographs are painted on and petroglyphs are carved in and Monument Valley has lots of them.  Just like today, where many people live, there is an urge to draw on walls.  Today we call this graffiti but back in the old days it was more story telling and the leaving of an historical record of who lived here, what animals were around and how they conducted daily life.  In almost every case, where you find a bunch of this rock art they also find evidence that there were houses or a village there as well. 

For years archeologists were puzzled as to how the Native peoples were able to create some of their rock art so high on the canyon walls.  Some thought the land had been higher and had since eroded away.  Others thought they repelled on ropes from above or had very tall ladders (even though wood to make them would have been extremely scarce).  However, today it has become more apparent that there had been houses built up against the canyon walls, some being 3 or even 4 stories high and they just stood on the roof to create the rock art.

In rock art of this area, a hand print symbolizes a clan group that lived there.  Near the hand print are other symbols that show which clan group it was (e.g. Tonal Clan, Turtle Clan, Snake Clan, etc.)  Ripples tend to symbolize canyons or a snake.  Stick figures that sometimes look like aliens are shamans or medicine men.

Petroglyphs, Monument ValleyPetroglyphs, Monument Valley

When the Navajo arrived, the Zuni noticed that they planted their corn in a weird way.  Rather than planning in rows, they planted corn in a big spiral which they found particularly “foreign”.  As such they kept calling these newcomers “the nava” which in their language means “culturally different” and that is where the name “Navajo” comes from – “They that cultivate differently”.  And, you see this in Navajo pictographs all over the place.  A spiral pictograph means “we farmed here”.  It also means “good land for farming” and if there is an animal nearby it means “we also raised that type of animal”.   Two spirals connected with a line or symbol in the middle means that “we stayed here and didn’t migrate away”.  On the other hand a spiral with 1 line next to it that doesn’t connect to anything means that we farmed here but we left the area.

No, this is not a goat on wheels. Two spirals with line and goat between means: We lived and farmed here and raised goats and did not migrate to someplace else.
Petroglyphs, Monument ValleyPetroglyphs, Monument Valley

The Navajo call themselves Dine and use the symbol of 2 diamonds touching each other which I’m sure you’ve seen woven in blankets or painted on pottery.  “di” means Father Sky (the heavens). “ne” means Mother Earth. Human beings are where the two meet (the tips of the 2 triangles that touch).  A Double diamond represents male/female, earth/heaven, harmony, equality, balance.

Diamond patterns in Navajo artwork
39 Navajo Designs39 Navajo Designs (Google search screen shot)

The symbol for family is a hand print.  In a hand print the thumb represents yourself.  The Index finger is your mom (most important and next to you – lineage follows females), middle finger is your father (usually from a different clan group), ring finger is maternal grandmother and pinky is maternal grandfather.  So when they shake hands it is a spiritual greeting with your whole family touching their whole family. In old movies, Indians are shown greeting others by raising their hand in the air (and saying “how”).  Showing the hand in this way is saying “I’m greeting you with my whole family”

If you see 5 marks in stone, it represents a foot print that means “we heading in that direction” – sort of like a forwarding address

Big Hogan

Big Hogan is a large concave erosion in a butte which forms an amphitheater complete with a hole in the top.  Local guides will point out patterns and formations in the rock resembling a large eagle, a bear and a Navajo Man.  But even if you can’t visualize these things the scale of the dome you are in is impressive.  Many of the more talented guides will play a flute or sing a Navajo song here taking advantage of the superb acoustics. 

Big Hogan Arch
Big Hogan Arch #2, Monument ValleyBig Hogan Arch #2, Monument Valley

Sun’s Eye

The Sun’s eye arch is another alcove in the side of a butte with a hole at the top. 

Sun’s Eye Arch
Sun's Eye Arch #2, Monument ValleySun's Eye Arch #2, Monument Valley

More Navajo History

We saw before that the Anasazi came to the area around 600 AD and then between 1275 AD and 1300 AD they vanished.  Well, according to our guide that isn’t exactly true.  From an archeology perspective the record of new buildings being constructed stopped and other evidence of inhabitation also disappeared from the fossil and artifact record.  Then, due to many reasons, when interviews were conducted with Navajo elders by historians and scientists, as there is no hard evidence, they chalked up what the Navajo told them to being “legend” and “myth” and that’s how they wrote about it in the literature.  So, when the Navajo told them that the Anasazi didn’t just vanish, but rather due to extreme drought they migrated to higher ground where water wasn’t as scarce it was described as myth, legend, and fairytale.  But those Anasazi who left became the Hopi, Zuni, Taos, Acoma and other Indian populations.  But not the Navajo who had a different origin story (see addendum at end of this article).  The Anasazi clans that had made Monument Valley their home went East into what is now Mesa Verde.

Ear of the Wind

This is one of the most photographed features in the Monument Valley back country.  The reason is that there’s this dead tree forming a “Y” shape that you can use to frame the hole.  In order to get this shot you have to climb a small hill then scoot your butt a few feet up onto a sloping rock to get the hole perfectly framed in the notch of the tree.   In fact this shot is so popular a photo to take that some enterprising guide carved a big “X” into the rock right where you should put your butt in order to get this shot.  I guess in the peak tourist season having this “X” there speeds the queue of people up quite a bit.

Ear of the Wind from “X” marks the spot
Ear of the Wind #1, Monument ValleyEar of the Wind #1, Monument Valley

Of course that isn’t the only angle you can use to photograph the hole with the tree.  For example, on our 2011 trip, before the appearance of the “X” I framed the shot a bit differently.

Different framing of same scene
Ear of the Wind, Monument ValleyEar of the Wind, Monument Valley

Or, you can walk on over to the arch itself and clamber up the sand dune at its base.

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Boarding School

In the late 1800’s the US government decided that the best way to deal with ‘the Indian problem’ was to turn them into white Americans by forcible indoctrination into American Culture and stripping them of their own culture.  This idea got into full swing in 1887 with the enactment of the ‘Compulsory Indian Education Act’ which funded boarding schools and fostered the removal of children from their families and communities. By the 1920’s there were over 60,000 kids in these far distant schools whose primary goal was cultural assimilation.  It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the program began to be dismantled and the last school was closed in 1972. 

These schools were poorly run prison like affairs where there was little regard for the well being of the kids.  Reports are now being verified of wide spread disease, terrible living conditions, inadequate food, almost non existent healthcare, and physical abuse.  Numbers are still being researched but some researchers estimate that considering all 408 such schools, upwards of 40,000 children died while attending these schools.

One of the stories Don (our guide) told us was about his personal boarding school experience.  Kids from his area were sent to schools in Phoenix, California, Brigham City, and Kansas.  He was sent to the one in Phoenix. He says,

 They were run like a military school.  It was horrible.  Once you got there, they cut your hair and told you it was forbidden to speak your language, perform ceremonies, or talk about home.  Of course you couldn’t talk to other kids since none of them spoke English and you were not allowed to speak your own language.

My sister went off to the Apache country, there was this boarding school there (White River).  Our little sister also went there and never returned.  They say she died of an illness.  And, now they’ve found that lots of them were killed.

Unlike others, when I went to boarding school, I knew just a bit of English.  When they put me in a classroom situation they thought I was retarded or something.  I wasn’t handicapped, I just didn’t understand the words but they thought I was slow mentally so they put me in a special Ed program.

They gave me a big old puzzle to solve and used a stop watch to see how long it would take to put it together.  I just put it together in no time and he just looked at me and thought I had cheated.  So he gave me one a little harder – try that one.  We went through 3 progressively harder and harder puzzles and I did them all in very little time.  He went back to the principal and said, ‘He’s not handicapped.  He’s not mentally deficient.  He just doesn’t understand English”

Both my parents went to Boarding School but they valued what they went through.  Because when they returned they were the only two in the village that spoke any English.  And, so when the new way of life started, they were right there at the pickup of everything because they did the interpreting.  They wrote letters.  They helped run new programs that were coming in like the Post Office, and things like that.  They were the ones that taught me that you can have both worlds.  You can learn from both worlds.  My mom was that way, she valued both worlds.  You always go through hardship but you learn from that. 

My son didn’t have to go to boarding school, he went to schools right here.  With a university coming here soon they have no more excuse but to be educated.

A lot of them that went off to get a degree, got so gung-ho that off they went in every direction.  But, two years later, here they come back to their homeland.  It’s a culture shock living and working in non native areas.  I mean coming from a place like this to the big city is just too much of a change.

Totem Pole & Yei Bichei

These features in the back country have been used in many movies. Here’s another little story from our Guide, Don, 

“One time I had an elderly German woman who wanted to see this area.  I took her to one of the high points where you could see much of this area. And she said, “I’ve been waiting all of my life to come out here.  Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to come out here.  I had all these John Wayne movies.”  She pointed and said “That’s where John Wayne came out and the Indians came from over there”.  She had memorized every bit of this place from all those movies.”

Totem Pole & Yei Bichei
Totem Pole & Yei Bichei #2, Monument ValleyTotem Pole & Yei Bichei #2, Monument Valley

Totem Pole & Yei Bichei #1, Monument ValleyTotem Pole & Yei Bichei #1, Monument Valley

Totem Pole
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As you roam around Monument Valley in early morning or late afternoon light, the low angle sunlight projects shadows of one feature onto another making for interesting visual impressions.

Near “The Thumb”
34 A7R5-#0589134 A7R5-#05891

Near John Ford Point
Shadow on Snoopy RockShadow on Snoopy Rock

Merrick Butte
Shadow on Merrick Butte, Monument ValleyShadow on Merrick Butte, Monument Valley

ADDENDUM:  Grandpa and Navajo Origin Story

Our guide, Don, told us this story about the origins of the Navajo people. It is quite long with no corresponding photos so I put it down here at the end.  It is a good story involving a trip to Russia and some interesting information about connections to other places you may find surprising.  Here it is, in his own words

My grandfather who never went to school, didn’t have a word of English, and never left Indian land says, 'There's no Indian come from here, not even them [meaning the Anasazi or Hopi]'.

But I'm a small boy and I ask, well grandpa where do we come from?  ‘We come from the 'under world. The dark world, the blue world’. 

But I don't understand that, the Dark world?.  ‘Yes, the underworld. We once knew a group of people called ba-dah-de-deh which means they that stayed or we left them behind’ 

But I'm too young to understand the words.  Then grandpa says we also knew another group of people called Al-as-kai.  What does that sound like?  Alaska.

Exactly, Alaska. This word is interpreted in Navajo as 'They that went further'.  That's what Alaska means in our language - 'They that went further.'  So the word Alaska is actually a Navajo word.  In this case referring to the migration across the Bearing land bridge into the northwest part of the continent but rather than staying there 'we went further' - to what is now the Four Corners area of the US.

And grandpa said those people in Alaskai are called Na-din-eh which means another Navajo.  And that's what they call us all the way up in Canada "another group of Navajo".  But Alaska is not even near Four Corners. And, grandpa knew that.  But I don't understand at all I'm too young.

Well I grew up with that and I never argued with grandpa.

Years and years later [after attending boarding school] away from Navajo land I returned back home with education under my belt.  By that time the young people were losing the language and culture.  They wore their hats backwards, had baggy pants and had nothing to do with the language or culture. 

My job was to bring back language and culture.  'You're an educated indian now'.  You better get a school going to teach these kids the Navajo language and culture because you're an educated Indian now.  But, I don't even know how to read or write Navajo, let alone teach anyone. They told me that didn't matter as I knew how to speak Navajo and they put me in place with no qualifications.

So I went to work. But it wasn't long before I was ready to give up on these kids?  Lo and behold here comes a computer program called "Rosetta Stone".   Well, that was a way to learn language by using a computer.  So I said, well that's where the kids are.  I'm gonna see if the Navajo language and culture are in that computer.  That's the way the kids are learning to be sure.  And, it got so popular that one day my boss calls and he said Don. “How would you like take this program to Moscow Russia?

What in the world are the Russian people gonna do with Navajo language and Navajo culture?  Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, there's a group of people in Siberia, way up north who are losing their language. They're losing their culture.  They want to know what native people here are doing to preserve our language and culture here in our country.  Okay, we think you’ve got something going here that they could use. Take it. We'll pay your way. We'll give you college credit.  But you gotta go in December.  To Siberia.

Well, I've barely ever been out of the 4 Corners area let along out of the country in my life but what an opportunity.  So away I went to Moscow.  From Moscow they sent me off to Siberia.  Moscow to Siberia is like a flight from here in Arizona to New York City. That's how far Siberia is.  Yeah, there I was on the other side of the world. 

These people were coming to this small village called Khazim. Here they come and I'm looking at these people and I swear they were called the 'hunty' the 'montage' the 'kite' but are better known as the reindeer people. Here they come and I look at those people. I thought, that one sure looks like Aunt Louise.  Oh, it’s old Uncle Henry over there.  They look like Native [American Indian] people even though they had a very light completion because the sun doesn't shine much in Siberia. 

Well, here they came and I thought how am I going to introduce myself?  I'm standing there and I look at these people and decided I'm going to do this the old ancient way, by my clan group.  That's why our people put their hand prints on the walls, leaving a spiritual greeting to those that pass behind.  So I say "she-re- Don Mose. United States of America" followed by [in Navajo], "I greet you with my family" and held up my hand with palm facing them.

Well, I'll be darned, there was an elderly lady that came up to me and said, “Well I belong to the stone clan and also belong to the bear clan".

The bear clan are the Apache.  Adopted to the Apache are the Navajo. Navajo and Apache are the same people.  We speak the same language.  They speak a quicker tongue, just like Spanish from Spain vs. Mexico. And here they are, on the other side of the world.

I say, well how do you say sky in your language? We say 'a-kous' they say 'a-kous'. I asked how they say something is sweet and they say "su-kun" and we say "su-kun". The words are almost identical.  On the other side of the world we use the same words.  Suddenly my thoughts went back to Four Corners and grandpa, ‘We once knew a group of people, the ones we left behind'.  He does not speak English. He never went to school.  ‘We come from the underworld the dark world’.  He's really saying 'we come from the other side'.  We now know the world is round, not flat, but how did he know that?

Now take a look at this.  This is why native people are misunderstood.  They're trying to tell you the two are the same. Well, here we are in the Four Corners, and there is Siberia. Along the way between the two, I'll be darned, is Alaska.  Over 10,000 years ago, my gosh, you could walk into Alaska from Siberia, right?  This is only 60 miles, right?  You can see from here to there.  Scientists say, they went one direction'. Oh no, we went back and forth and scientists are just now beginning to figure that out.  But old grandpa, he knew it because he said 'the ones that went further'. It was back and forth.

If you and I, all of us went on to Australia. Where have we been?  Down and under.  That's the same theory grandpa is using to say we went that went further.  But I didn't understand that until I was educated and became aware of where Siberia and Alaska and Four Corners were.  That's important, why keeping education is keeping your culture.  If we all know one another's culture, we get along a whole lot better because we're pretty much all the same. 

Oh my goodness. Look at what this world is missing.  We fight over simple things. If we could just understand one another's Culture we probably get along the whole lot better. If I didn't learn from the white people…

Along with most Native American kids I was sent to boarding school.  It was horrible to be at boarding school, but there was a purpose for it.  So that I can have two worlds.

My culture, the anglo side of it, oh my gosh, I make a living out of that now because I have two worlds.  I didn't drop the other one. It made me better to appreciate it, especially standing on the other side of the world when that woman touched me on the shoulder.  Well, I think I understand. It totally changed my whole life.

Well, what happened is when there was this land bridge, there's ocean, water now, and it's how we crossed into Alaskai.  So, I went there. Those people heard that I was coming to Alaska and said, you're people and our people, we have the same name.  Come over here.  We found something you'd be interested in. I went and they took me over to a glacier. Well, yeah, it had been frozen solid but with recent melting they were able to begin to excavate down there.  They found bone tools, they found arrowheads, they found corrals, where a group of people once lived.

But before that, they kept saying there was already a group of people that once lived in the glacier.  But nobody believed them until it started to melt.  I'm standing there while they were excavating. 

I said, well, what happened?  He said, well, how can you live in the ice.  We tried to tell them for years that the Navajo's once lived in the glacier, but nobody believed us.  Grandpa already knew that.

Well, now.  I said, the Navajo lived here?  Yes they said.

So what happened, I asked?  A volcano erupted in White River Alaska!  "Boom" we're talking about 10,000 years ago.  When the ashes finally settled, four to five feet of ash settled and you could not live there anymore. That's what triggered the migration of the native people out of Alaska.

Away we went again, and here we come, we had a destiny.  It's like this pandemic, it's changing our whole world.  Ever since this disease came in, everything, boom, like a volcano, it's changing always.  There's something that has got to be renewed. 

Look at what Grandpa said. “There's going to be one more time in migration”

One day, we moan and groan about people coming into this country.  It's already happening from South America.  Well, I'll be darned, my people are lined up with these people.  We arrived here in 1600.  By that time these people were already gone.  Well, where in the world did they come from?  Grandpa said they didn't come from here.  No. Well, look, down here is South America.  The Aztec, the Maya, lined up with the Four Corners area.  They come from South America.  That's why they already knew how to make pottery. They first got here. they were great astrologers, and they built homes.  Everything the Anasazi have is like the Mayan style.  They come from South America to here.

Now, if you look clear beyond this side of the world, I'll be darned.  There's another group of people that look just like our native people.  They do sand painting.  They have sacred mountain stories, river stories.  They do weaving.  Their land, this is amazing, the latitude lines up with four corners. The Mongolian people.

So what are we looking at?  A connection here and a connection this way in the center.  Ah, that big spiral.  You see it everywhere.  These people had a destiny.  When they say sacred mountain, they're not talking about a pile of dirt.  It's sacred to them because I'll bet you anything that they are lined up with the stars. They were doing things like the Egyptian people.  You see, father sky, mother earth, and human beings are the centerpiece.  So that's why Navajo wear their hair style in a hair bun that's round and ties here.  It's that same diamond shape and if you fold it, it becomes a pyramid Like the Egyptian.

Well, grandpa's gone, the songs are gone.  He sang about it.  But I have knowledge.  I remember some of the songs. [sings a song in Navajo language] that tells story of how I journeyed till I found the sacred mountains.  So when you have that knowledge, you don't quit there.  It's in the smoke, it's in the air but with no written language it becomes a ceremony.

So I decided I'm going to do my DNA, spitting into a tube.  Not because I don't believe in grandpa, but I wanted to learn.  And away it went and I'll be darned.  Two months later it finally shows up.  It shows that I have 11% Asian blood.  Grandpa was right on the button that we come from the underworld - the other side.  He's talking about Asia.  But he can't say it.  He didn't know they had the word for it. 

That's why I think we're misunderstood.  Because he was trying to tell the whole world, this is our identity.  Nobody has a print like your thumb, they already knew about it.  This is so important to your hand.  How you greet people.  How you do things in a circle?  How you unite and stay united together.  It's human being.

If you and I, we put our hand prints in the sand, you won't see color, but you see human beings.  That's what native people have been trying to stress, but it's in the ceremony.  It's right under the nose but they haven't figured it out. 

Today in the Grand Canyon.  They're looking at pictographs like this, as I did.  They're well, well schooled people.  They're saying, hey, this doesn't look at all like the old Anasazi, but it does look like something what we saw in the pyramids in Egypt.  They found pottery which was very much like the Egyptian style down in the Grand Canyon.  They found caves.  Long before they even came up here, they looked in caves and looked at the artifacts.  My goodness.  Egyptian style there too.  The native people already knew about it.  So they came down and excavated these caves, and they said, forget it.  Too ridiculous.  Just close it down and don't let it out.  And today it's closed. 

But Grandpa, you can't keep that away from Grandpa.  He already knew it.  He said, well, yeah, these are what we call 'they who started a way of life'.  And then another group came, 'they who came and left too'.  Then the Anasazi, the small people he called them, then [garbled audio] they're the oldest tribe in the United States today.  We know who these people are.  Is he saying that Egypt people were the first ones here in America in the United States?  That's a whole new ball game. If they let that out they change the whole history of the world.  That's what they're afraid of.



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Or, the whole 2023 Four Corners series I posted here (as they are created)

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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.--Info from Wikipedia, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)



Patrick O.(non-registered)
Gorgeous pictures as always! Enjoyed the Alaska connection story too.
Bruce McGurk(non-registered)
lovely photos, and so much information about one of our First Nations people! You were very wise to hook up with Don, he sounds like an icon. His Granpa's stories are amazing, and the idea Siberians and the Dine are related and have the same origin is stunning. We lost so much when we mistreated the native peoples and assumed they were primitive. Typical European arrogance.....sigh. Thanks for the long travelogue!
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