I am in awe of sublime monuments. When I stand in Lone Pine, Ca and look up at the granite scarp of Mt. Whitney, my soul rises. When I listen to Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, I imagine standing in a cathedral and hearing chant fill the space with devotion, bouncing around the the stone walls. So when I had the opportunity by Road Scholar to visit the awesome sandstone monuments of Monument Valley, I was grateful and thrilled.
I started the night before, in my how-things-work mode, reviewing my earth notes. Monument Valley is a place of a recent creation by earthly processes, now venerated as Monuments by earth’s recent creatures, humans. Layer upon layer of earth flowed in, sediment from dunes, oceans, rivers, and floods from all directions near and far, each on top of its predecessor, and were turned to stone bearing the southwest colors. Collisions between plates introduced domes, buckling the surface. The whole Colorado Plateau floated up as it was heated by deeper earth forces. The layers were then sliced by water, in washes, streams, and rivers fed by storms, chewing away soft under layers and leaving behind the buttes with their hard cap layers. Monument Valley started as a plain of leftovers and became a land of stunning buttes, mesas, and spires, around 40 million years ago (my best guess).
Much, much later humans arrived, archaic hunter-gatherers, Ancestral Puebloans, Navajo, and now tourists. Names have changed according to the humans doing the venerating and their purpose in naming. Puebloans built villages and used the monuments as canvases for petroglyphs. Navajo regard Monument Valley as an enormous hogan facing east, with Gray Whiskers and Sentinel pinnacles as it door posts. They regard the famous Mittens as hands of a deity. Elsewhere along the Monument Valley Loop Road is Rain God Mesa, where medicine men pray and give thanks for rain, and the Totem Pole standing next to Yei bi chei, “Talking God”, key figures in ceremonies.
After the Navajo had Monument Valley added to their reservation, tourists discovered its magnificence. Harry and Mike Goulding bought a small piece of land and started Goulding’s Trading Post. They were not satisfied being isolated, so they gathered photos and headed to Hollywood to meet John Ford, to convince him to make a movie in Monument Valley. It worked. Out came Ford and his leading man, John Wayne, to film Stagecoach. Others followed. The Harvey Girls, The Searchers, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Windtalkers, The Lone Ranger, and Forest Gump, and more, have visited. So the petroglyphs and Monuments to deities have been joined by John Ford Point, John Wayne’s Boot, Elephant Butte, Stagecoach, King on His Throne, Camel Butte, and many others. Our guides were proud to say that they had been extras in The Lone Ranger.
The awe evoked by Monument Valley has changed over time and transcends, thankfully, tiny boxes. I am grateful to have had the chance to look up at these Monuments and think about their march through time.
All Images ©Vic Smith Photo