MONUMENT VALLEY (Sample of Text)


The common expression Yah-ah-Tey, and pronounced nearly the way it’s written, is an expressive utterance spoken by the Diné––who are more popularly known as the Navajo. Usual translations include, "Hello," "Okay," or "Farewell with luck always." The spelling can also be different. For instance, Yá'át‘ééh), which imbues the Navajo language. Still, Yah-ah-Tey is more common, at least for non-Navajos, and the friendly-sounding word even carries the meaning one imagines: "Howdy" or "Welcome." 

So, to the reader––Yah-ah-Tey (WELCOME) to one of the Southwest's most lionized geological settings! Here is indeed the Big Valley adorned with alluring, ginormous monoliths that engage the viewer with a Technicolor panorama almost archetypal; certainly phenomenal. 

Behind this text’s motivation is a literary tour for readers broken down into twelve segments. These I refer to as Sandstone Sketches. There are twelve segments, and each provides a different facet and take on Monument Valley. This tribal estate is also part of a greater physiographic region, the Colorado Plateau Province, which is also known as the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. Therefore, having an understanding of the part also entails a comprehensive of the whole.

My first visit to Monument Valley was in 1970. At the time, I was living in Denver, and all things being relative, the Colorado Plateau’s numerous scenic icons were practically out my back door. Since that time I have returned many times, and each visit ended up with a diary. Eventually, those personal notes turned into many sketches, of which I recently cobbled together an even dozen. Some of the excursions were personal, others were interpretative guided tours I was hired to supervise. Even after some forty years trekking and teaching throughout the Colorado Plateau Province, seeing iconic environs, like Monument Valley, seems like it’s the first time. As Heraclitus once said, “It is not possible to step into the same river twice,” which essentially refers to the fact everything moves and nothing is at rest. However, for me, the import of the saying comes down to a finer point, every time I visit and scan Monument Valley’s stunning features it is as though I am seeing this erosional masterpiece for the first time!

For those who have never visited Monument Valley’s, and stood on the veranda scrutinizing the soaring monuments jutting from the desert floor, even for those who already have, the sketches I’ve chosen for this treatise will at least engender a vicarious experience, and I hope not just a virtual tour experience. If nothing else, the prose and imagery should paint pictures that come alive in the reader’s mind. For me, adjectives are dessert for a complete banquet of description. Given such a superlative setting in all respects, ordinary and concise compliments may be adequate, even appropriately descriptive, yet fall far short of the mark when portraying such a singular geologic display. But that’s just me and how I feel and write about Monument Valley’s two interchanging personas––the objective and subjective.

With this effusive introduction in mind, I am reminded of that first visit mentioned at the outset whose details I want to relate for the sake of a personal anecdote and assertion. Specifically, my impassioned reaction seeing Monument Valley for the first time. Although I had intended to visit the Grand Canyon on that venture to the Southwest, homing in on Kayenta, Arizona, the geologic backdrop, although engaging since leaving Cortez, Colorado, was even more striking. Pulling off to the side of the road to get a better view, I scanned the north side of the road with binoculars and followed the trending Comb Ridge monocline, roughly aligned north-south. A map on my lap confirmed as much. I had no idea what so-called hogbacks were, but this lengthy step-like fold of some 100 miles certainly was eye-catching. So was the eastern and southern flanks of the Monument Upwarp that was bounded by the steeply-dipping ridge. 

When I got to Kayenta, I decided to fill the tank, grab a quick bite to eat, then be on my way. However, there was another conspicuous landmark that snared my attention, also on the north side of the road. Consulting a geology textbook I borrowed from a friend and identifying the feature on the map as El Capitan Peak. And I learned a new geologic term: diatreme. At nearly 1,500-feet high, that volcanic plug (a more common designate) might as well have been a lighthouse of frozen lava; it was that compelling. Another book I had with me, which expounded on the natural and human history of the Southwest, informed me what the Navajos called that dark, brooding landmark some seven miles away: aghaałą́ ́––Agathla Peak. From their perspective, that afterthought structure of pyrotechnics millions of years ago had a different meaning: “much wool.” Thus, the accumulated and seeming fur of antelope and deer on the Gothic-like facade. Considering sheep are iconic ruminant to Navajo, I figured that massive structure also had something to do with wool shorn from those bleating mammals. And somewhere not too far beyond that captivating landmark was Monument Valley.

About to resume my planned excursion to the Grand Canyon via the Navajo Road (US 160), I had a change of mind and gave in to an abrupt whim: I turned the other way and headed north, on US 163. As it turned out, the twenty-two-mile detour was worth the time, which I had planned only a couple or few hours visiting Monument Valley. Afterward, I would head south, then west to the South Rim. It was indeed one of those best-laid plans experiences, but, in this case, a capricious change of plans that worked to my advantage. 

Cutting to the chase, I ended up spending the rest of the day and night at Monument Valley. From the notes I wrote that day, which I kept in a journal (and still have), the impromptu words that came to me were meant only to capture spasmodic thoughts given whatever passed through my mind. For instance, this summation after the circular road tour into the valley. . .

Vivid landmark features that seem more animistic than compacted and congealed geologic formations; such a geometry of geography with a mind-bending topography of landscape; geophysical aspects of this quadrant of the Colorado Plateau is indeed Nature’s inveigling ways, her structural machination, and here presented as an embellished dreamscape: ergo, is it really real or imaginary? No photographs can suffice for the reality of the panoramic view of this terribly large estate of sandstone and desert floor spread out into what appears to be an expansive dished valley of orangish sand decorated with an amazing array of reddish and brownish sentinels, as though to reach up and touch the belly of a big blue sky that later turned into a beatific crimson color. Talk about an orgasmic sunset! Then came the cosmos dropping low over the valley. I have never seen such a black view of space with brilliant, scintillating lights––like twinkling eyes that poked through the heavens just to have a look at Monument Valley. I am blown away with the view

P. S. That night I had a dream a shaman, by the name of Begay, took me on a walk and introduced me to all the monuments on display. It was also one of those ‘eureka’ insights confirming those sentinels of sandstone truly were animate, but only pretending to be ornamental shapes and forms of varying size for the valley’s floor plan. And just think––I didn’t need an induced psychotropic mind-bending drug to come up with such reasoning!

The following day I resumed my road trip to the Grand Canyon. Strangely, the visceral imprint of Monument Valley stayed with me or else a part of me stayed behind. True, the Grand Canyon was like a swift kick to my senses, and that was also the first time I set eyes on such features. But each environs offered something completely different. Thus, there is no way to compare or contrast one scene to another. I guess the only difference between the two geologic masterpieces was the fact I could drive into Monument Valley’s interior, and get out and do some hiking while in the Grand Canyon I had to walk some 10 miles to the Colorado River, then back. (I had never known feet could get so blistered and leg muscles are worn out to the point of wanting to crawl out of that abyss!) It took about a week for me to feel somewhat physically normal, that is after I returned to Denver. But that excursion only whets my appetite for more jaunts to the Southwest. In time, I would get to experience all of the Colorado Plateau’s celebrated national parks, monuments, state parks and archeological ruins. I would also have many repeat visits to Monument Valley, sometimes for a day, and sometimes two or three. I also think Monument Valley is aptly named, which could also be turned around and expressed as a Valley of Monuments.

Before ending this introduction, I want to leave you with a celebrated prayer recited by the Navajos, whose authorship tends to be obscure (in some circles, obscure). It’s called The Navajo Prayer*** and one of its verses reads as follows:

May it be beautiful before me.
May it be beautiful behind me.

May it be beautiful above me.

May it be beautiful below me.

May I walk in beauty.

Here in Monument Valley is indeed found beauty. May you also find beauty by literary proxy in these sketches. And I hope you enjoy the touring simile imbued in each.

Albuquerque, NM

Note: The complete words to the "Song of Dawn Boy" are:

In the house made of dawn.
In the story made of dawn.

On the trail of dawn.

O, Talking God!

His feet, my feet, restore
His limbs, my body, restore.
His mind, my mind, restore.
His voice, my voice, restore.
His plumes, my plumes, restore.
With beauty before him, with beauty before me.
With beauty behind him, with beauty behind me.
With beauty above him, with beauty above me.
With beauty below him, with beauty below me.
With beauty around him, with beauty around me.
With pollen beautiful in his voice, with pollen beautiful
in my voice.
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.
In the house of evening light.
From the story made of evening light.
On the trail of evening light.