Monument Valley sunrise / Flagstaff
Mother Nature gave us a rainbow and took away a sunrise. We woke up today to rain in Monument Valley, which meant we were going to do our sunrise tour with little chance of catching the morning light.
At 6:05 am, an hour before sunrise, we met our tour guide Larry in the parking lot next to our hotel. We were the only people he took out, and we spent the next couple of hours going deep into Monument Valley and experiencing all the different formations this sacred Navajo place has to offer. We saw many sand dunes, too – so much Navajo stone had powdered to dust by erosion. The rain provided us the opportunity to experience a formation called Big Hogan. It was a giant arch with a hole at the top. Water was dripping from the hole and from various other crevices in the rock, which we couldn’t even see – that’s how small they were. Larry, who is a native Navajo born on the reservation, sang a traditional Native American song for us while we were listening to the water drip. It was quite the meditative experience in the middle of the valley.
We learned a lot about the Navajo from Larry and from the Monument Valley visitor center right next to our hotel. The tribal park was created in 1958. The Navajo met under a tree and voted on it. Some residents of the valley didn’t want it established, but others saw it as a way to control the intrusion by outsiders and to create income for the entire population. There are about 165,000 Navajo on the reservation. “Navajo” is actually not the name of their tribe; it’s a what the Spanish thought the Navajo were saying when they first encountered the Spanish and were trying to introduce themselves. The tribe name is actually Dine (pronounced Deeneh). Larry shared some of their mythology, which serves to explain the 4 seasons, the 4 directions and other phenomena. He also shared other Dine words that are now state names – Alaska came from the word for “people who went too far North” and “Dakota” came from the word for riverbeds (lots of them up there). I forget what Utah came from, but that’s a Native word as well. For me, it has been fascinating to meet Native Americans and to learn more about their culture firsthand. Not having grown up in the United States, all I really know about them is what I’ve read in Karl May novels (are Americans even familiar with this German writer?) and movies like Dances with Wolves. Sad, I know.
We were back at our hotel around 9 am. We had breakfast and did some shopping, then headed South towards Flagstaff, a 2-hour drive. The rain stopped somewhere along the way, and we enjoyed white puffy clouds and darker storm clouds in the distance. We got on our by now familiar Highway 89, and on the way to Flagstaff, we stopped by two sites – the Wupatki National Monument and the Sunset Crater National Monument. Wupatki featured a pueblo inhabited by Native Americans between 1100 and 1250 AD, then abandoned for reason unknown.
The Sunset Crater about 20 miles down the road was an quite the surprise for us. Neither one of us knew that Northern Arizona had volcanoes. Apparently, scientists are not sure why that is either, as Arizona does not lie on a plate boundary like most volcanic zones do. We saw a great amount of lava, and the only thing that made this lava field different from Hawaii Volcanoes national park was the pine trees.
Once in Flagstaff, we stopped for a yummy noodle brunch in downtown Flagstaff. There, we had the most unexpected encounter – not long after us, a couple walked in that we recognized from the Zion Half Marathon expo and bib pick up. It was one of the couples that sat next to us at the spaghetti dinner that day. How weird was that? What are the chances they’d walk in the same place at the same time 3 days and 200 miles after we’d first met them? We had an interesting conversation with the guy, who ran the half and camped at the start line the night before. I had actually said to Olivia after the spaghetti dinner that I’d love to find out how camping in all that mud worked out for him – and I got to ask! He said they’d let him set up his tent on the tennis court (the start line was at a resort up in the mountain, I guess they had one), so he was in pretty good shape. 🙂
Olivia was ready to relax, so we checked in to the hotel while I went to visit Walnut Canyon National Monument, only 9 miles away. It was another example of Native American dwellings, this time caves carved out deep in the canyons. I arrived too close to closing time to go on the trail down the canyon (which I may have skipped anyway), but I did get to walk along the rim of the canyon and snap some decent photos with my super-zoom camera. I could tell the weather was starting to turn though – the wind picked up and a few rain drops were giving me a warning.
That warning came to fruition about an hour after I got to the hotel. While I have been sitting here by the window writing this blog, the wind picked up a lot, then it started raining, then snowing (blizzard-like snowing, wind blowing snow all over the place and all), and now it’s the calm after the storm and I can even see a sliver of blue sky and remnants of the sunset, which happened 20 minutes ago. Here’s the play-by- play.