Saturday, October 16, 2010
big monuments & tiny snakes
We woke up tired and achy from sleeping in the car and headed to The View hotel to buy breakfast. It was a breakfast buffet that had been sitting out for hours (it was also $13). So we had some terrible coffee instead and I kept my eyes pointed at the ground as much as I could. I didn't want my memories of a place as spectacular as Monument Valley to be seen through the panoramic window of a massive gift shop. We exited slowly, got into the Hyundai, and drove down into Monument Valley. Being in the Valley is even more impressive than overlooking it and your perspective changes from the grandeur of the overall scope of the area to the reality of being surrounded by such towering, impossible rock formations.
The road into the Valley is dusty, steep, uneven, and unforgiving. But we were in a rental, and I'd gotten the insurance, so you drive deliberately and be thankful it's not raining. Part of me really wanted to get a convertible for our southwest roadtrip. The more practical part of me concluded that we'd get char-broiled by the desert sun and covered in dust the color of Burnt Sienna. Plus, all those people driving through the desert in a convertible (in movies that romanticize driving through the desert in a convertible) usually have the mob, the cops, or both in hot pursuit.
Monument Valley is a place where it is difficult to keep your camera in it's case for more than 30 seconds. Every 50 feet I was stopping the car and hopping out to take another photo of the massive mesas—the orange and red rocks against the cobalt blue sky. Every time you move the shadows change and the camera comes out again. There's almost a desperation on your part to try and get what you're seeing into the camera, to capture it for posterity.
The previous night we could only make out the faintest black shadow of the mesas against the dark, starry night. You could sense their presence, but couldn't make them out in detail. Now they were everywhere, surrounding you and dotting the horizon in every direction. Every John Ford western you ever saw, every memory of a Roadrunner cartoon suddenly flooded with personal context. Much like standing on the edge of Grand Canyon overwhelms the senses, the experience of being in Monument Valley short circuits something and your brain must rush to catch up with the sensory overload taking place.
We pull over so I can take some more pictures and we see a couple staring at something in the brush by the side of the road. There is a baby snake coiled near some brush and a thin German man with a camera is bent over at the waist, staring intently at it; his feet a safe distance away, his face inching closer. "Do you zhink it is a rattlesnake?" he asks, "I don't hear anyzhing." The snake is very small, tightly coiled, and in the shadows, but it could be a rattler so I keep my distance and advise caution. Even a small rattler has venom, right? I decide I need a photo, but the digital buzzing startles the snake and it slithers under the bush, it's tiny rattle shaking as it goes. I decide it's wiser to stay on the road, then proceed to take several dozen more photos. I drive 100 feet, then hop out to take a few more.
Deb and I decide to take the remainder of our cash (which was about $66) and see how long of a horseback ride we could get. What we didn't yet realize that it's not the length of the ride that's important; it's the angle.