Gallup, New Mexico

Two mitten-shaped buttes in the snowfall; the snowfall obscures the usually magnificent view, but gives the valley a ghostly look.
The Mittens in the snow
A slowish day. This morning I visited Monument Valley, a tribal park. The weather was bad again this morning, foggy and snowy. The guides would only start a tour with two visitors, and it took a while to scare up a second person. Finally, after and hour or so of waiting, a British couple and their baby decided to join me. Our driver, Joe, despite his insistence that I stick around, was a little uncertain about the road conditions. He abandoned his tour van for his own four-wheel drive truck. He tipped forward the passenger seat and gestured for the British family to get in back. They peered in, and seeing it was not equipped with seat belts, asked to return to the tour van.

Before we got too far down the road, Joe got out to look over the conditions, and we watched some trucks tow out a couple of similar vans. Hmm. Anyway, we went into the valley.

The snow gives the red sandstone desertscape a different look than the familiar movie scenes.
John Ford Point
You’ve seen Monument Valley a zillion times on television and in the movies. John Ford used to film there all the time, and the nearby trading post preserves John Wayne’s favorite room. In fact, there is an overlook called Ford’s point. Lots of truck commercials are filmed there, too.

But this morning the visibility was pretty bad, and the snow was the first substantial fall after a six year drought. I was looking at the valley in a different way than I had expected: not entirely what I hoped for, but still a rare occurence. I don’t have the photos back yet, but I suspect the monuments will look like sandstone ghosts in the haze.

Joe tried to hustle me in the morning, but turned out to be a pretty good guide. I asked him a lot about Navajo life, the economy, the culture, the architecture of the hogans, the history, etc. I wondered if he would use any of those asanine Hollywood-style Indianisms like, “The coyote is my friend and the wind speaks to me.” He didn’t– he was pretty frank and sincere– but he explained how he used to go to different churches when he was looking for things to do and people to meet (he especially liked roller-skating). “But this is my church,” he said gesturing to landscape around us.

Can’t go wrong with Monument Valley as your church, I thought.

We only travelled about ninety minutes. The Brits were anxious to get back to Moab. It was a short, but stunning little jaunt, and I still had half a day. So, off to Navajo National Monument to look at ruins for the second half.

Green junipers and pinon pines along a snow-covered trail.
Sandal Trail in the snow
This place was pretty high up and it was still snowing. The ruins were accessible only with a guide and the guide had set off around the time the Brits and I were watching Joe clean out his rusty old truck. The ranger said a volunteer guide would be available again on Thursday (next time this happens to you write your damned congressman and tell them to fund these places properly- ed.). With a few hours of daylight to kill, I drove through the bulk of the Navajo reservation and through the Hopi reservation within it (finding the museum there closed), and so went all the way to Gallup for the night.

By the way, there is a Navajo rush hour, if you can believe it; from about five to six o’clock in the evening there are a lot of people on the two-lane highways. They must travel very far to work.

Opinion of Gallup: This is the ugliest city I have ever seen. “Historic Route 66” runs along the dismal downtown. It has lots of neon and tourist-Western schmaltz and seedy motels. The people here can’t drive for shit (one lady, with about ten feet of space on her starboard side, was having trouble negotiating around my car on her port). I thought there’d be something to do here at night. There isn’t, but I found a crunchy-looking cafe for dinner. The live band (some guy) played a couple of guitar tunes, then disappeared. Can’t complain, the Lonely Planet book warned me.