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The American West

The cowboy with the red shirt like in the movie (photo taken from the intrnet)

During my childhood, some western movies, like Stagecoach and The Searchers, starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford, showed me for the first time Monument Valley. Just like it happen to me, I guess to a lot of people around the world, this landscape defined the American West.

The images of this endless and desolated landscape, where isolated red mesas and buttes, rise into the desert sky, surrounded by sandy desert, fascinated me and I wished that one day I could see it with my own eyes.

Many years later, while reading a magazine, I found out the exact location and the name of this unique place. On that day, Monument Valley became part of my bucket list.

Fast forward to a mounth ago, the cinematic mythscape of my childhood materialized as I drove into Monument Valley admiring the landscape. The natural colours of this land are as bright and deep as those in all the images I had seen. The so called valley is a vast plateau, a wide flat landscape, interrupted by the crumbling formations rising a few hundred meters above ground, the last fragments of the sandstone layers that once covered this entire region. The cinematic mythscape is as unique as it is unforgettable.

Monument Valley has the majestic ambience of a deserted citadel surrounded by scant vegetation and monoliths. When looking closely, each monolith stands alone, separated from the others, yet they also exist as a group and together they are the remnants of what was once a single plateau.

The Mittens

Monument Valley is the master piece of time. Geologists say that the rocks here are about 160,000,000 years old. First they were deposited as sands in a vast lowland basin, buried, solidified, and then slowly lifted to form a great plateau which in turn was slowly dissected, worn away, grain by grain, to create the features we see now. One hundred and sixty million years, a vast spam of time that I cannot begin to conceive. Layer upon layer, granite, clay and swamp land were exposed into a mighty display of natural geology.

The Mystery Valley is one of the locations that can only be visited with a Navajo guide. Mystery Valley or as I like to remember, the Valley of Silence, is located west of the Weterhill Mesa, and its an amazing place. Flanked one of the sides by a great wall of red stone, rising 100 m or so above ground and extending for a few kilometers. The scenery has a special ambience and it is composed of red sand, petrified dunes, sand dunes and scant vegetation.

The saucers (a.k.a by the Navajos cow piles)

To the Navajos this land is sacred. A sign, placed before a window, advises visitors "You are looking into a sacred landscape", and asks them to respect sacred sites within the park. Visitors can only visit on their own part of Monument valley, a 17 mile dirt road loop. To leave the loop road and follow other trails you must hire a Navajo guide. Some of these trails will lead to private homes and traditional hogans, without electricity or running water, that house a handful of Navajo families that date back here for generations. Many of them make their living from tourists, but most do not want a paved road inside the park because then too many outsiders would come.

I stayed one night in Monument Valley and as usual I got up before sunrise. Tulle, my Navajo guide, drove me to the heart of Monument Valley for some photographs at first light.

Totten Pole and the Yei Be Chei dancers

As I stood there, contemplating another dawn, I could only feel the cold air and the sense of sage that impregnated the air. Around me, the desert realm seat still and silent. Slowly the sky became illuminated, the Totten Pole and the Yei Be Chei dancers jumped from pre-dawn obscurity into silhouette, and as the sun rouse, the mesas blazed in orange. My wish had come through; I was living my childhood dream, around me the most far-fetched landscape, just as I had seen it in the western movies.

Totten Pole and the Yei Be Chei dancers

The ear of the wind arch

Sand ripples

The ear of the wind arch

John Ford Point

Monument valley is a land imbibed with myth, where every rock is alive and tells a story, where behind the veil of western movies and curious tourists, people still live the way they always have, shunning progress for tradition and the deep roots of the land itself.

For how long this area of inspiring rocky terraces and breath taking monoliths, sandy springs and elegant rock formations, will be able to survive? For how long will the Navajo nation maintain their traditions? How long the wind and rain, the scorching sun and freezing cold nights, will take to reduce these spectacular natural monuments to sand?

If you ever venture to this part of the world, I highly recommend visiting Monument Valley.

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