Sunday, October 17, 2010

beneath the valley of the gods

When we were looking for a place to stay near Monument Valley, the closest town seemed to be Gouldings. But once we got there we realized that Goulding's was less of a town and more a mini-resort, an extension of an old trading post complete with an ancient storage shed that was used as John Wayne's cabin in "The Searchers." The tiny town also boasts an area high school and an airfield.

We ate lunch at their dining hall and were ravenous by the time we arrived. Deb got a Navajo Taco and I got the chili (with green chilies) and both orders came with delicious fry bread; very flaky, oily, and crisp. The enormous taco was built like a tostada and covered the whole plate. The green chili was plentiful and quite spicy. It burned with a lingering hotness that spread down the throat and required some fry bread to extinguish. We ate very little only because we hadn't eaten in so long and took the rest to go.

We headed north toward the Valley of the Gods.
(That's really fun to say. Go ahead, try it.)

We got onto Highway 261 just north of Goosenecks State Park and took the road toward the Valley of the Gods. But the sun was low in the sky and there was a massive mesa, just a mighty wall of earth, that the sun was slowly slipping behind. If we kept going we could move to higher ground and keep the day alive. The Valley of the Gods was very pretty. But with a name like that, it raises your expectations a bit high. Or perhaps it is more impressive if you see it before you experience Monument Valley. We got back on the narrowing northbound highway which soon began warning us about the road ahead.

The ominous road signs came fast and furious: No Trailers Allowed, 10% Grade, Narrow Roadway, Unpaved Sections. We were all alone on the road and sheathed in shade. Behind us, the valley glowed orange in the fading, evening light. As the pavement disappeared from beneath us, the road suddenly became very steep and we started up. I could almost hear the clicking of the rollercoaster as we climbed the roadway. The floor of the valley began to drop. Each time we'd round another hairpin corner, the valley below had sunk another 100 feet. We quickly got a sense of how high up we were and realized that the nearby edge of the gravel road was also the edge of the sheer cliff's drop. The road was all switchbacks and no guardrails, so we crept slowly upwards, hugging the inside whenever possible while trying to absorb the dizzying view.

At the top (an elevation of over 6,400 feet) we parked the car and looked out over the valley, finally able to take it all in without fear of rolling over the side. We'd been at the bottom only minutes before and it was dark. Now the sun shone brightly and we cast our long shadows over the cliff. As we drove away, I noticed the wreckage of an unlucky truck that had gone over the edge and lay mangled on a rocky ledge below. There must have been no way to retrieve the truck's shell and so it remains there as a reminder to respect the roadway.

We drove north as the sky blackened until we joined up with a bigger highway then headed back south. Along the way we stopped on the side of the road one last time to look up at the giants of Monument Valley. With the light of the moon behind them, the butte's mighty silhouettes stood out starkly against the pale night. We stood there in the darkness on the side of the highway and basked in their otherworldly beauty. How could the people who lived in this valley 200 years ago have worshipped anything else?

Deb had made us a reservation at a place we'd passed the night while heading east. So although we knew at this point that we had a place to stay, we had no idea how much we'd soon miss the comforts of our Hyundai Elantra.

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