Another fine day…beginning with a jeep tour to “Mystery Valley”, so named because it contains many ruins of the Anasazi people, and it’s a mystery what became of them. These are the same people we saw evidence of a few days ago in Canyon de Chelly. The valley is also somewhat mysterious because it is not well known or easily accessible to the public.
Our guide, Fernando, was a quiet man in his mid 30’s, who met us at 9:30 in a yellow jeep. He was full of information, the grandson and great-grandson of Navajo Shamans who has lived here all his life, helping his grandmother with her sheep and horses, and working for a tour company since he was fourteen. He now does all their bookkeeping and computer work. He managed to communicate both information and a sense of respect and wonder for the people who have lived here—both his people, and those who disappeared before them.
Mystery Valley is just a few minutes by bumpy dirt road beyond the huge structures of Monument Valley, but the landscape is very different. Where the huge columns and pillars of Monument Valley are formed from the hard rock that remains after eons of erosion around them, Mystery Valley is filled with softer-looking, still-eroding structures. Fernando summed it up: if you rub your hand on the structures in Monument Valley, your skin comes off; if you rub your hand on the structures in Mystery Valley, they leave dust on your palm.
Among the arches and skylights here are ruins of dwellings similar to those in Canyon de Chelly, dating from between 700 and 1300 AD. We could get closer here, though not actually in any of them. They all seem too small for people to inhabit, though apparently the Anasazi were quite small.
Also petroglyphs and pictographs. Interestingly, many of hands. According to Fernando, in Navajo religion, hands can communicate with the dead. Since many hand-pictographs appear around a large curved structure left by the Anasazi, it’s assumed that they had the same belief.
After lunch, we bundled up – it never went above freezing there was a brisk wind most of the day – and went looking for the 3.2 mile hiking trail down into the valley and around one of the most famous monuments, the West Mitten. We walked at least an extra mile in search of the trail, then steeply down and around, closer than we could get when we drove. This trail is the only walking access to the valley, and we saw only four other people on the entire walk. An amazing feeling to be alone, surrounded by an endless plain interrupted by these gigantic monuments.
Monument Valley is the location for many western movies, and playing the Indian bad guys was employment for many of the native people here. Strange. We watched a John Wayne movie last night, and I thought as I watched how difficult it must have been to participate in an activity that perpetuated a distorted image of their own culture. But it was work–as Fernando pointed out when I asked him about it. When you’re having trouble feeding your family, such considerations are a luxury you can’t afford. He went on to tell us about playing cowboys and Indians as a little boy; all of the little Navajo boys wanted to be the cowboys, never the Indians. Thanks, John Wayne.
The place we’re staying in–Goulding’s Resort and Motel–was originally a trading post opened by a Harry Goulding and his wife, Leona “Mike” in the early 1900s. They developed a good relationship with the Navajo population here, and were instrumental in bringing the movie business to the area as an economic benefit. They are long gone, and the current owners obviously have different priorities.
When we checked in, I asked about laundry facilities. (Still waiting!!) I was directed to a laundromat that’s run by this motel, a short drive down the road. One load: $4.75. I said no, thanks, and washed a few more things in the sink. But it’s the only option for the local people–like Fernando–who have to cough up that kind of money to wash their clothes. He told us this resort also has a shower available to locals who don’t have running water. (Some families live in the valley, among the monuments, and have no services.) It used to cost 75 cents for a shower; the price gradually increased to 1.50. Suddenly when the current owners took over, it jumped to 7 dollars. For a shower! Though it’s a perfectly comfortable place, I would pay more NOT to stay here another time.
Tomorrow, backtracking through Tuba City to Flagstaff, where we will try to get someone to look at the car on Monday morning…funny smell, we think emanating from a back wheel. And it needs and oil change. Then…maybe Grand Canyon. Maybe Sedona.