Monument Valley

My Canyon Country Escapade (Part II): Monument Valley, Movie Backdrops and Lake Powell


Continued from: My Canyon Country Adventure (Part I): Grand Canyon and Sedona.

We left Grand Canyon early the next day en route to Monument Valley. This was the main attraction for me. I grew up watching Hollywood movies. I still remember dialogs and scenes from these epics; John Wayne galloping across the three iconic buttes in Stagecoach, Clint Eastwood climbing the Totem Pole in Eiger Sanction and the title song “Old Turkey Buzzard” in MacKenna’s Gold, as the buzzard effortlessly zooms over the valley floor “waiting for something down below to die”. These scenes and many more were filmed in Monument Valley. And I could not wait to see the place where these still vividly remembered movies were shot.

In Monument Valley.
In Monument Valley.

The scenery and temperature gradually changed as we descended from the the south rim of the Grand Canyon to the desert floor. The green pines gave way to scrub desert. It was getting hotter, noticeably so. We were entering sovereign territory of the Navajo, a native American people of the south western United States.

A picture of  spires and buttes in Monument Valley
A picture of spires and buttes in Monument Valley

We stopped at a large hotel whose color and architecture blended nicely with the surrounding cliffs and mesas. Inside was the famous Stagecoach restaurant. We were all very hungry and sat down to tables already laden with warm Navajo fried bread and honey. We munched this tasty treat as we waited for our lunch. We ate quickly and headed out to waiting four wheel drives.

Road leading to Monument Valley.
Road leading to Monument Valley. The mesas, buttes and spires are visible in the distance.

Monument Valley is inside Navajo territory with its own leaders, laws and police. Our tour group was distributed in several vehicles each with its own Navajo driver and guide. The vehicles had been standing in the sun for a long time and the seats felt uncomfortably hot against bare skin. I wish I had worn trousers instead of thin shorts. After a few preliminary instructions from our guide, we were on our way. The sides were open so we got a good view, a hot breeze and clouds of dust.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley, Utah and Arizona. Backdrop for Stagecoach.

We headed first for the Stagecoach spot. These three iconic sandstone buttes were used as backdrop by John Ford in the Western movie Stagecoach starring John Wayne. This spot is so popular and well known that it is the signature picture of Monument Valley, used in most advertisements. I watched the buttes in the desert vastness and scenes from the movie flooded my mind. I got busy with the camera. We went to some other spots and marveled at the formations. Each had a name. Our guide explained the relevance of the names. For example, The Three Sisters made sense. But some did not, at least, to me.

The Three Sisters

On the drive back, our guide pointed out a group of spires in the distance. One was named The Totem Pole that Clint Eastwood climbed as a practice run for his final assault on the Eiger in the movie Eiger Sanction. I am a fan of Eastwood, so took note.

Totem Pole, the spire standing by itself. Clint Eastwood climbed this in the movie Eiger Sanction.
Totem Pole, the lone spire in the distance. Clint Eastwood climbed this in the movie Eiger Sanction.

The cool air conditioning of the bus was a very welcome relief after the unrelenting, hot sun. I drank some water and cooled down. We headed for Lake Powell Resort, our next destination.

House boats on Lake Powell.
House boats on Lake Powell. View from our hotel.

Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon when Glen Canyon Dam was constructed. It is now a major vacation spot and several house boats dot its surface. Unfortunately, global warming and the unprecedented drought has taken its toll. The water level was at historic lows. I sat with a drink by the pool and watched the setting sun light up the hills and storm clouds on the horizon. We could smell rain in the distance. After dinner and a good glass of wine I went to sleep.

A glorious sunset from Lake Powell Resort.
A glorious sunset from Lake Powell Resort.


Next: Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

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