Today’s drive wasn’t so long, so we afforded a late rise – 7:45am. It was longer than the previous two trips, and it was going to be an eventful day, in terms of what we would be doing between the start and finish. We set out, driving through the national park for a time (I believe that Markus, our driver, got lost trying to get out and we ended up in a very tight spot amongst caravan homes), with the Grand Canyon on our left. We were headed North for some time, before heading East.
Before we bid farewell to the Grand Canyon, we had one last chance to stand in awe. About half and hour from where we left is the Desert View Watchtower. You can be easily deceived by its appearance – it looks like it might have been built in the early years of the Republic. Actually it was finished in 1932, and while old, it looks much older. We were given half an hour or so to roam around, use the gift shop, and take some photos, before getting underway once again.
I brought a couple of trinkets, took some more photos (and would have taken many more, such is the way with the Grand Canyon), and then finally turned my back to that wonderful marvel. We were on the road to yet another of nature’s sight’s though, and one just as impressive. Monument Valley, the backdrop to nearly every Western movie that has come out of Hollywood, was somewhere I was keen to get to and our next stop.
Prior investigation made before the trip had dispelled a few myths I had developed about Monument Valley. I had previously thought it to be a condensed area of those rock formations that you see in the traditional photos and films. I had thought that there would be hundreds, and that it would stretch on for miles. I suspect I had developed this idea out of the films. I now realise that it’s through tricky camera angles and lenses that I had been duped. I discovered that the area was huge, but the formations not so common. I was glad to have these myths shattered, because I would have gone to the Valley with a mind disillusioned, and may have been disappointed with the place.
But disappointed I was not. I arrived with a clean slate of mind, and was able to experience Monument Valley for what it was. It falls in the area known as the Navajo Nation – a country within the United States. Before we hit the area in Utah, we were given a brief history lesson. Well after the westward expansion by white America, after the Native Americans were pushed from the lands they had occupied prior to colonisation, the last major Indian tribe (the Navajo) was granted large portion of land that covered the Southeast of Utah, the Northwest of New Mexico, and the Northeast of Arizona. They were allowed a tribal government in 1923, the same year it was federally recognised. They elect their own president, Senate, and House, and function as any country would. They, generally, have their own laws, and while parts of the nation’s running falls under th jurisdiction of the U.S. federal government, much of it does not.
Another tribe, the Diné, have an ongoing feud with the Navajo in that they claim ownership over some of the land given to the Navajo. There was some bloody exchanges made in the past years, and neither side likes one another still to this day.
As you drive closer to the Valley, you begin to see run-down shanty houses that look like they can hardly sustain life. Yet, with one of these, I counted 15 cars parked around it. We were told that, in the 80s (I think), government policy as a way to say sorry to the Native Americans for all the bad treatment they had received was to give them a free car once a year. If the car ever broke down, or even got something as basic as a flat tire, because these people are so poor, it was easier to just wait the rest of the year out and get a new free car. I don’t know how long the policy went on for, but there were quite a few cars out there.
We finally got to the visitor’s centre, where we would change from our bus to a bus (the group was split over three buses) from the 80s that had no side-windows (and you were sitting at a high where you could easily fall out), a cracked front window, seats that were tread-bare, no A/C (and the temperature was 40C in the middle of the valley) – not that it would make a difference with the missing windows – and a door that only half worked. I suspect some people would complain – I took it as part of the experience.
Our tour guide was a Navajo woman and her son. She looked to be in her later 40s, while her son (who many of us, embarrassingly (among ourselves, because no one verbally made the mistake) took as the woman’s daughter) looked to be no more than 10 or 11. She was dressed like she had walked out of a city, while the son was dressed in jeans, a long-sleeve white shirt with patterns sewn into it, a bandanna, had skin boots on, various Indian jewelry, and long hair tied into something that looked ‘traditional’. I suspect it was for show, because we didn’t see anyone else who lives in the valley (yes, there are people who like in the valley) dressed like him. It, again, added to the experience.
We set out in our dangerous transport, and, immediately, the luxury of paved road gave way to the type or road that Mr. Rabbit and I had intentionally avoided in our trip to Menindee. It was the type of road that is just a worn out path, hardened by rain and sun, and rough as guts. People were bouncing out of seats at one point. It was an adventure for sure.
The tour included, by the schedule, an hour and a half round trip of the valley. Ours went for over 2 hours because we were enjoying it so much, and were obviously a good group to handle. The tour guide would point out rocks and shapes in the buttes and mesas, and make jokes that were occasionally funny, though the ones at the expense (and some might call them racist) of the Diné, and even African Americans, went over our foreign-culture heads for the most part.
We stopped at a large cave that I have an amazing picture of (which I will eventually upload), where the tour guide said a Native American prayer for us. This was followed by her son, who played a traditional drum and sang a song. The cave was shaped in such a way that you could rest back on the sloped wall, and look up through a hole in the roof, up at the clear and bright sky. As the words echoed around up, pausing only for the silence which prevailed through the rest of the valley, you couldn’t help but feel as if there was something special, something magic, about the experience. It felt as if there was something around you that was some peaceful and calming. Just laying there, I realised that I had suddenly grown tired, and when the singing stopped, I wondered if the two would object to continuing on for another 5 minutes or so.
We took in all the sights, and got the same famous photos that you’ve seen on the silver screen, before returning to our bus and (after handing out the obligatory, but well-earned, tips) bid goodbye to the tour guide and her son. Monument Valley, it turned out, had delivered quite an experience for me, when I had gone there expecting little. I was very pleased, and happy that, for the past few days, I had been able to take extreme pleasure from ‘scenery’. On other holidays, I had lamented the fact that I had to endure vast sprawls of tracks that did nothing. I had never been much for views and scenery. But now, I think in a step towards maturity, I was able to get kicks from just looking.
Back on the road, we drove for half an hour or so, before pulling over to take photos at the same spot where, in the film Forrest Gump, Forrest stopped running his trek around America. We took more photos, with the great backdrop of Monument Valley in the far distance (though, with the size of it and its formations, it looked a lot closer), before moving on.
The ride was, mainly, uneventful. A chance to catch up/get ahead on sleep, catch up on journals, listen to music, or just watch the world go by. I sat beside a woman from England, in her late 20s (though you wouldn’t have guessed). I tried to talk about one of the two things part of the English society that I know well – politics and cricket. Both, it turned out, were as boring and heck for her. So, for the most part of the trip, it was snippets of small talk about the trip thus far and our lives back home.
Our final destination for the day would be Cortez. Another Spanish-settled town (as much of this area in the United States is). There was a long drive to where we were headed, and we passed the time with silly movies (I believe that Talladega Nights and Old School were the films, followed by episodes of Family Guy – two movies I didn’t really like, and a show I loathe) playing for all. I distracted myself with my MP3 player for long enough to get to Cortez.
This long drive was broken up by a couple of lunch/rest stops. Again, we stopped at WalMart. After just the second visit, I was in love with the place. They have everything – clothes to food, DVDs to books, drinks to guns. I couldn’t not go to the gun section each and every time I set foot in WalMart. It was such a foreign experience – and only available in America for the most part. I’d never seen a working gun not attached to a policeman’s hip in my life – not in Australia, not anywhere in Europe, not anywhere. And here I was, staring down the barrel of a rifle that was affordable enough that, given the right credentials, I could have walked out with then and there.
WalMart really won me over with its prices. The United States, for the most part, is extremely cheap with goods and services. Of course, tourist centres aren’t, but get out of there and you’ll find that it’s dirt cheap for things. As these posts continue, I’ll be giving some more prices. For this one, I brought over 8L of Gatorade for $US10. That was 8 bottle, and would sustain me for a long, long time. Here in Australia, 600mL costs $3.30 at my golf course (and that’s the status quo price). I brought over a kilo of baby carrots for $3.
I did so because meal in the U.S. do not come with vegetables, and side ‘salads’ consist of a couple pieces of lettuce, some carrot sprinkled over, a bit of sliced onion, and ranch dressing. Rarely ever did I find tomato, never cucumber, never celery, never beetroot. That was the extent of the vegetables in the U.S. – a tiny side salad. To boost my veggie intake, I brought those carrots.
When we rolled into Cortez, clouds were looming above and were poised to spoil our next few days according to weather reports. Due to my purchase of USA Today two days ago, I had checked out the 7 day forecast and saw that rain was predicted for the area. It caused a bit of concern, because the day after I brought it was the helicopter flight, and that would have ruined, maybe even grounded, the flights, and the day after the trip to Cortez were some other outdoor activities that depended on fine weather.
We unloaded at our hotel, and I had my third different roommate for the trip thus far. It seemed like there had been a mix up at the Grand Canyon, and now was the effort to resolve it. I ended up with a new person – Father. His real name was David, and he owned a farm outside of Tamworth, with roughly 1200 heads of cattle. I had had a good conversation with him during the introduction sessions on the bus before Vegas, and wasn’t displeased.
Now why did I call him Father? Because everyone else was. And why was everyone else? Well, it’s another Vegas story. Father and a couple other people were walking down the strip. Among this group was the youngest (19) member of our group. He passed a woman handing out flyers, and she shoved one into his hand. It happened to be that Father was walking beside this guy, and the woman quickly said “Oh, and take one for your father.” The name stuck there and then. Father was 30, obviously too old to be this guy’s father, but it was funny, it was amusing, and, like Moustache, it was sticking.
Dinner for the night was at a restaurant adjacent to our hotel. It was Mexican, and the meals were huge and tasty. I had a salad taco deluxe – and it was deluxe! It was about the size of a human head. I was still abstaining from alcohol – but for a reason this night. We had been told there would be free international calls from our room. I didn’t want to slur my way through a conversation with whoever I could get a hold of. I finished my meal, excused myself from the table early, and headed back to my room to make those calls.
Turns out that there are only two outgoing lines in the hotel, and that it was a fight to get on them. So, after trying enough times unsuccessfully, I abandoned attempts to contact home and switched on the T.V. for an enthralling night of C-SPAN. I snacked on some baby carrots, downed some Gatorade, and eventually was tired enough, after Father had come in early too, to go to sleep.