The hotel in Page was really nice. A pleasure to swim in the Mediterranean atmosphere of their pool and have breakfast on their patio overlooking the Red Canyon. It created a certain expectation of leisure.
The third day we left early for Monument Valley. I had an idea of what to expect and I was enthusiastic about that trip. I didn’t know at the time that this was going to be the day I saw them.
Monument Valley is not far from Page, so we got there pretty fast. We went through the toll barrier and entered the Navajo Natural Park. Several kilometers further, two Navajo guides took us in their cars for a two-hours Monument Valley tour, on desert roads. Another day of Navajo massage on the rough roads of the Valley.
The guide told us the recent history of the area and how it was that it became famous and thus turned into a flourishing tourist business. What were the names of the mountains, or monuments as they are called in the area, and how had they got those names. The landscape was fabulous. Beauty beyond words. The fact that we had some idea of how it looks from all the movies, from all the Westerns from the ‘50s and 60’s to the more recent thrillers, like Mission Impossible (remember the scene with Tom Cruise hanging on two fingers from a cliff and receiving the first mission in a message that after auto-destructed? That was filmed there, on a very famous monument. Well, personally, I don’t find that scene defining in the characterization of the Mission Impossible protagonist. Ethan proves farther down the road a bit different than that portrait painted for us of him as a loner and rock climbing enthusiast. Not even that, but that scene serves the protagonist only in Mission Impossible 4 or 5, I don’t remember which one was shot in Dubai. Anyway… ) made it an even better experience.
It was only later in the day, after taking pictures of the Cowboy Boot monument that I felt their presence. I could see them too, but apparently, I was the only one. Vali only felt some things, not the whole experience. I asked our guide about the Valley’s history before the arrival of the white people, but… The guide only looked me with a strange look and avoided me for the rest of the tour.
They were only wavering shapes of hot air, ruining my pictures. “Clean the lens!” Vali kept telling me annoyed by the blurry pictures I was taking. I tried to make her see, but she just shivered every time one of them passed by. They were ragged, emaciated figures in tatters, rising from the hot red dirt, watching us trespassing on their grounds. Dark clouds amassed from the south and began drawing them higher into the air, twirling them and turning them into strong dusty currents, filling our mouths with grit.
“Close the window after you,” I told Vali and she looked at me funny. She’d just taken a picture of the North Window, an opening between the Elephant Butte and Cly Butte, two iconic monuments. She took another picture, then made a small gesture, like closing a window and smiled at me, nodding. “The only rule here is to close all doors and window after you passed through them. Never leave a door opened.”
When we left Monument Valley they were already gathered in a vast army of blurry warriors twisting and twirling, gaining mass and traction. I looked behind at the intricate shapes of the monuments in the desert and noticed that all the guides had already driven their cars and tourists out of the valley. The Navajo people could see them, as I could. Now I was sure of it. They could sense their presence and cleared the area before anything revealing could happen.
The guide drove us to a hogan, a Navajo house, where a grandma weaved a beautiful wool carpet. She explained to us what it was that she was doing and then selected Vali to demonstrate how to bind hair in Navajo warrior style. When we left her hogan, she whispered to me: “You did well today.” I stayed behind and talked to her for a few more minutes.
Nobody knows if we are the ghosts in their lands or the other way around. And I didn’t stay around to find out.
We had lunch in the Navajo restaurant inside the Valley, where we tried one of their specialties. A sort of taco, made with their fried bread, filled with grilled beef and beans, and topped with their special sauce. For dessert we tried their ice cream, which was more like a sorbet. Three scoops of delicious fruit sorbet, so good in the heat of the desert.
Monument Valley proved to be an even better experience than Sedona. The landscape is haunting, out of this earth, and filled with history and drama. The monuments are absolutely beautiful, placed like art pieces in nature’s colossal museum. The desert has a special feeling and aspect in those parts. We visited the spot where the director John Ford used to sit and imagine his movies. The places where they’d filmed iconic scenes with John Wayne. But most of all, for me the Navajo people were a special presence in the Valley. Clearly at home, yet behaving like visitors who knew how to keep the peace with the spirit world.
The third day topped the first one, not because we’ve seen more, but because we’ve seen something completely different and spectacular. Monument Valley has won a special place in our hearts.