ON your first visit to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, you may experience d'ej`a vu. You have probably seen those rugged red rocks jutting up from the stark desert floor as the backrop in countless westerns: ``Fort Apache,'' ``My Darling Clementine,'' ``Stagecoach,'' and other hardy perennials on the late late show. Even if you do not indulge in vintage westerns you will still probably recognize Monument Valley as the setting for commercials selling anything from motor vehicles to kibbled dog food. In fact, these commercials bring in over $2 million each year for the Navajo tribe that inhabits this area.
So often featured on that screen which is larger than life, this valley has a most felicitous Navajo name: Land of Room Enough and Time Enough.
Revered by the Indians as one of the Seven Wonders of the Navajo World, Monument Valley is located on the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners area where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado meet. The park extends over 30,000 square miles and can be reached via US 163 from Kayenta, Ariz., and Mexican Hat, Utah. There are camping and picnic sites in the park and overnight lodging in Monument Valley, Kayenta, and Mexican Hat.
Basically, there are two ways to see this magnificent valley: a 17-mile self-guided driving tour or a guided tour.
The do-it-yourself drive through the park takes about two hours and includes many famous landmarks: The Mittens, The Three Sisters, John Ford's Point, and Artist Point. The names bestowed on many other rock groupings are most appropriate: Owl Rock, Camel Butte, The Mushrooms, and Castle Rock. Travelers interested in things geological will be able to classify varied rock types (Shinarump, De Chelley Sandstone, and Organ Rock Shale) or catalog numerous rock formations (peaks, buttes, plateaus, spires, mesas, and arches).
Merrick Butte and Mitchell Mesa are points of historic as well as visual interest. Merrick and Mitchell were adventurers with Kit Carson in the 1860s when he was rounding up the Navajos to relocate them to New Mexico. The two men admired the silver jewelry worn by the Indians and went to Monument Valley in search of a silver mine. According to legend, they did find the mine but were killed before they could leave the valley. The rocks bear their names and, like tombstones, mark where they allegedly died.
Indian jewelry still delights the tourist, and at the Visitor Center there are many pieces on sale, as well as Navajo rugs, craft items, and books. Weather permitting, the center is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and it is here you can buy admission to the park ($1) and secure the map for the self-guided tour.
If you choose a guided tour, there are two options -- the half-day (about $18) or the full-day (about $35). Both leave from the Visitor Center, Gouldings Trading Post in Monument Valley, Mexican Hat, or Kayenta. These tours take you into interesting areas of the valley.
Indians have long inhabited this valley. First were the Anasazi or Ancient Ones with their crops of squash and corn. The ruins of their dwellings and storage bins are scattered throughout the area. Anonymous ancient artists decorated the rock walls with bighorn sheep, giant-handed men, snakes, and whimsical flute players lying on their backs.
The Navajos came into the valley in the 1860s under Chief Hoskinnini, who led Kit Carson on a wild goose chase through the nooks and crannies. Hoskinnini and his followers hid in the valley, living a Spartan life but at least living in their homeland, while many of the brethren were forced to make the ``Long Walk'' to New Mexico. In 1868 a treaty was signed, and the Navajos joyously returned to their native lands.
Today there are several Navajo families living in Monument Valley, and your tour will stop at one of their homes, or hogans. Hogans are traditional round structures made of logs and covered with stones and mud. There is a smokehole on the top for the cooking fire. The doorway is quite low, presumably to afford the person inside an advantage over an intruder, who would be forced to stoop as he entered.
Inside the hogan there might be a stove, some chairs, and beds. Sometimes the residents sleep on the floor with their feet pointing toward the fire in the center.
Cooking equipment is kept on the right side, and tradition decrees that when a woman enters the hogan she should go to the right side.
On your tour of the hogan you may have an opportunity to observe a Navajo woman weaving a rug. The Navajo obtained sheep from the early Spanish settlers and then entrusted weaving of the wool to the women of their nation. The women were most skillful, and by the mid 1700s their blankets were much in demand. Blankets and rugs are still hand woven today, each one different but none quite perfect, for a perfectly woven blanket would mean that the weaver would weave no more.
The biggest attraction in Monument Valley is the massive rocks. It is those rocks that enable you to slow down and listen, that fill you with wonder, that give you time enough and room enough to savor the majesty of the universe.