After a day of rest and making arrangements for the rest of the trip, I picked up my rental car at Budget and headed north to Monument Valley. The plan was to visit the site in the afternoon and then head to my AirBnB nearby.
The Navajo Nation
By the way, there is surprisingly little accommodation near the park. There are a few big hotels such as the famous Gouldings but very, very few guesthouses, inns or B&Bs. I was determined to put money in the hands of the Navajos and so chose an AirBnB.
I knew that the Navajo Nation was dry and thought I would pick up a flask before entering but there were no stores whatsoever on the barren two-land stretch of road between Flagstaff and the entrance to the reservation.
And where was the entrance anyway? I must have missed the sign because I abruptly found myself in the reservation, picking up granola bars and pumpkin seeds at a Trading Post. It was around then when I noticed that I couldn’t seem to lock the back trunk.
I drove on to Tuba City which, like most Navajo towns, is not a place where people actually live but a place to grab fast food, shop for groceries or do laundry at a vast laundromat. It was then that I became extremely aggravated by the unlockable trunk and called Budget. After allegedly “consulting the manual” they said that the latch must be broken and they would send me a new car. But where? I gave them the address of the B&B.
I put the luggage in the back seat, locked the car and sat down for lunch which turned out to be the first of several “Navajo tacos”. Puffy fried bread, a local specialty, was topped with refried beans, salad, cheese, salsa and mayonnaise. At least it was filling.
After lunch I headed up to the park passing Kayenta which is where I thought my B&B was. As the afternoon wore on, the sky clouded over and it began to drizzle. I drove to the park anyway, realizing that the visit would have to wait till tomorrow. Even under overcast skies, my first view from the Visitor Center, made me gasp.
Now it was time to check into the B&B and wait for the car. But where? I realized, to my alarm, that the the GPS was not detailed enough to locate it and the cell signal was too weak to hunt for information on the internet.
Tip: Expect weak to non-existent cell service on the Navajo reservation
I had the address though and headed back to Kayenta thinking I would ask someone for help. No one knew where it was. I tried calling and texting the owner but apparently her cell signal was spotty as well. This is life on the reservation. After a half-hour or so, she finally responded with directions which turned out to be halfway back to the park. I didn’t mind the drive as the road to the park was punctuated with the striking red clay towers.
It was nightfall by the time I finally got settled in her home which, like every Navajo structure I saw was basically a pre-fab, like a mobile home. It was large and comfortable though so I didn’t mind a bit. The new car finally chugged up in early evening. It turned out that in order for the trunk to lock you have to walk away from the car with the key. Why I hate renting cars on holiday.
After the car business was sorted out, I settled into bed with a copy of The Navajo Times, the extremely informative local paper.
The information was sad though. First, there were the plans to develop the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon by putting an elevator to the bottom of the canyon (what?) where there would be a luxury hotel development. The Navajos were to get a percentage of the revenue but hadn’t decided whether to sign on as it involves sacred ground. Then, another article bemoaned the fact that a new school principal held an open house for the parents but practically no one showed up. The article noted that many students were being raised by their grandparents. Not a good sign.
The article that really typified the powerlessness of the Navajo in their own “country” was the one about Kit Carson, the man that subjugated the Navajo by driving them from their land to Canyon de Chelly where many starved and then out to Fort Sumner on “the long walk” which was essentially a death march. They froze, starved and were shot before eventually being resettled back in Arizona. So, the article was about the efforts of the local population to rename “Kit Carson Street”.
Kit Carson Street? How about Eichmann Boulevard on the Lower East Side? Almost 200 years later and the subjugated Navajo have to live with the name of the man who destroyed them?
The article enumerated all the many bureaucratic problems with changing a street name: has to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, conform with other names, approved by the Post Office. Blah, blah, blah.
I found this infuriating.
I awoke to a glorious sunrise which I could even appreciate from my bedroom window.
The sky was clear and blue, perfect for a visit.
The site stretches as far as the eye can see in any direction over a flat reddish landscape dotted with these looming, majestic rock towers. The effect is weepingly beautiful.
I couldn’t tear myself away from contemplating these natural sculptures from every angle and in different lights.
I was glad I hadn’t signed up for a tour and it wasn’t terribly crowded as this eerie panorama is steeped in spirituality. The Navajo believe that spirits reside in the rocks which is why they were never carved or hollowed out for dwellings.
The largest rest stop was at “John Ford Point” which the legendary director made his headquarters while he filmed his famous westerns. Here’s a setting that was used in many of them:
The recommended 1 1/2 hour drive turned into 3 as I revisited stops to see the changing light. Finally I came to the end of the portion that can be visited without a special permit and looped slowly back, still in a state of wonder and awe at the indescribable beauty.