The eroded remains of the ancestral Rocky Mountains — the monolithic buttes and mesas that form Monument Valley, have come to define our notions of the Wild West by providing powerful backdrops to cowboys like John Wayne. Yet, nothing prepares you for the sight of those rocky giants materialising out of the flat desert land. We drove into the area just before sunset time and from about 15 miles away, the twin buttes, known as the ‘Mittens’ emerged in front of us, lit up in pinks and purples. We couldn’t help but stop on the highway to take in the sight.
We drive up further north to Mexican Hat, a tiny village sitting astride the banks of the San Juan River. As the sun dips further, we head to the charming Mexican Hat Lodge for some cowboy-style dinner. Here, fresh steak and even veggie burgers are cooked on an open fire, on their famous swinging grill, served with refreshing beer and if you’re lucky, even some live music.
The following morning, we head out first to one of the weird leftovers of the erosion process — the Hat Rock, after which the village of Mexican Hat is named. Shaped much like a sombrero — a Mexican hat — the curios rock sits precariously above a 60-foot high structure, and you can even chose one of the two rock climbing routes to ascend it.
We drive back south to Monument Valley watching the majestic buttes and mesas unfold before us in clear daylight. This area is also a tribal park where the Navajo people still live, and so there are restrictions on where one can go. A 17-mile dirt road circuits the most well known monuments: the Mittens, Totem Pole, and the Yei Bi Chai. The first downhill slope at the beginning of the drive seems extremely treacherous. However, once you get down to the desert, it’s easy, flat land from there. There are 11 viewing points along this route, which takes at least two hours to complete.
Untouched by time
This ancient land has been here for aeons, and the tribal park status ensures it remains unchanged for future generations. And yet, the ever-changing hues make it new every moment. It is here in the Monument Valley that you get a sense of the eternal and the ephemeral all at once.