Sunday 25 January 2015

Monument Valley

I've worked out the problem with travel blogging. We've only been at it for a few weeks, plus we're desperately behind on our posts so I've only really done a week's worth of travel and I'm already running out of superlatives to describe the things that I've seen. Plus, the internet generation throws around too many of the things anyway - not everything can LITERALLY be the MOST AMAZING thing you've ever seen. It just can't. Not even if the dictionary now thinks that literally can mean the opposite of literally (but don't get me started). The alternative is to be lukewarm about everything and say it was 'nice' and nobody wants to read that. I have total new found respect for really good travel writers. Maybe you should go and read something by one of them....

Okay, so you're still here. Thanks for staying. This post is about one of my favourite places that we've seen thus far. So rather than try and explain how amazing it is, I'll let Will's pictures do the describing. I have a few pictures but apparently I was too busy walking around dragging my jaw along the ground to take many. Thank goodness I bring my photographer along, because some of his are just stunning.

However, that doesn't mean I'm finished writing because I feel the need to tell the story of Monument Valley that we learnt while we were there, or at least, how Monument Valley became well known. I knew before we got there that lots of old John Wayne Westerns were filmed around there. While we were there we found out how that happened.

We stayed at a hotel called Goulding's Lodge, which used to be a the local trading post.  The Gouldings, Harry and Leone (otherwise known as 'Mike' because Harry couldn't spell Leone in his love letters) are central to this story. Monument Valley, like Antelope Canyon, is on Navajo land. So our Navaho guide, Jones, was taking us around telling us the names of the various formations. I asked who named them, he said, Harry and Mike Goulding. In my head, I'm getting on my politically correct, post-colonial soap box - 'typical, we still use the white names for the monuments, blah, blah, blah' - which might be a valid viewpoint, I'm not sure since I don't know if the Navajo have different names for them, but as I discovered, the Gouldings were actually pretty cool, they really cared about Monument Valley and the local people, so I'm less worried about it now.

Jackie at John Ford Point
Way back in the 20s, Harry and Mike bought a piece of land in Monument Valley to start a trading post. Harry had fallen in love with the area when wandering the west, writing misspelled love letters, after serving in the First World War. They traded with the Navajo for their wool and such and just generally made friends with the locals. Then there was a drought. That made things tough. Then there was the depression and that pretty much did it for the wool trade. So Harry and Mike packed up some photographs of the area and used the last of their money to drive to Hollywood, because they'd heard this director was looking for a place to make a film. Harry rocked up to John Ford's office with the photographs and his sleeping roll and, much to the horror of John Ford's assistant, pretty much camped out until he got to show John Ford the pictures. John Ford likes what he sees, says 'Can you feed and sleep 100 cast and crew in 10 days time?' Harry Goulding says, 'Sure' (although I'm pretty sure he was thinking something else). The rest is apparently history. The local Navajo were hired as extras, giving them some income if not a particularly complex portrayal of their culture on screen, plus of course the income from feeding and 'housing' (well, John Wayne slept in a tent so I imagine they all did) a raft of people making a movie. And then another movie, and another and so on because John Ford eventually filmed seven Westerns in Monument Valley and he wasn't the only one. It's still used as a film setting regularly. Anyway, I thought that was a cool story. Well done Gouldings.

P.S. If you're loving the photos - and of course you are - and you haven't found the 'Gallery' feature yet, you can get a better view of the photos by clicking on a photo and then you can scroll through the photos in any post. Enjoy!

Thousand year old petroglyphs left by the Anasazi
Spinning and weaving in a traditional Navajo hogan
The totem poles (also seen in the panorama below).
Our guide laughed when I asked whether the Navajo ever made totem poles. 'No, up north I think. Maybe in Canada.'
The left Mitten - you can see both Mittens in the top panorama
Sunrise from Goulding's Lodge
Sunrise from Goulding's Lodge
Road out of Monument Valley if you are up early enough....

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