Latest posts by Susan Foster (see all)
- Canyon de Chelly: How Not to See a Native American Reservation - September 28, 2012
- A Sacred Journey through Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, Arizona - July 30, 2012
- Andrew McCarthy and the Transformative Power of Travel - June 7, 2012
As I was planning a trip to Arizona last winter, I happened to mention to a friend that I was going to visit Monument Valley on the Navajo Nation reservation. I didn’t know why, but I felt drawn to Navajo country, even though it was many hours by car from Phoenix, where we were staying.
My friend, who is a psychic, startled me by telling me that when I arrived at Monument Valley, I should touch a wooden monument or sign and a Navajo guide would be waiting for me, a spirit guide, that is, the spirit of a Navajo woman who is no longer on the earth plane.
I admit I was somewhat skeptical, and the whole thing sounded a bit weird to me. I was apprehensive about the prospect of having a disembodied spirit guide me through Monument Valley, but I was also intrigued with the idea and decided to do as my friend suggested and see what happened.
Monument Valley lies on the Arizona-Utah state line in the Four Corners area. It was named “Valley of the Rocks” by an early tribe of hunter-gatherers who said it was a place of supernatural powers. In actuality it is a plateau, not a valley, with sandstone buttes and mesas where magnificent purplish red monoliths and towering spires rise dramatically from the rust-colored desert floor.
Monument Valley is one of the most photographed areas in the US. It became famous in the 1930’s as the place where John Ford filmed Stagecoach, which starred John Wayne, who rode on horseback through the iconic scenery. Even though it is a harsh desert landscape, it has remained the home of the Navajo people, who have survived and preserved their way of life despite centuries of raids, attacks, and massacres by Spaniards, white Americans, and other Indian tribes.
On the entrance booth there was a sign saying “Only high clearance vehicles are allowed on the valley road.” Because we were driving a low riding rental car, my husband wanted to turn around. I tried to convince him to stay, telling him that the guide book said rental cars are OK on the road. He refused my entreaty, pointing to the sign and insisting he didn’t want to get stuck in there.
I had not told my husband (in fact I had not told anyone) of the psychic’s message to me about the Navajo spirit waiting to guide me through the Park. It seemed like something very personal and magical, and I felt that sharing it would somehow dilute the magic of the experience. It also seemed like something no one else would understand, perhaps not even my husband.
But I knew that something important awaited me, and now it seemed like it was getting thwarted. I was extremely disappointed to think that we had driven six hours to get there, only promptly to leave, thus foregoing an experience I had been anticipating for several weeks. Not willing to let go of it just yet, I convinced my husband to park the car and take a look around.
As we walked from the parking lot, I noticed that the edges of the sidewalks were amply lined with a brownish red powder, which I presumed was dust. I leaned down and touched it, surprised to find that it was actually exceedingly fine sand, blown by the desert wind; it hugged corners and crevices everywhere.
We reached a vantage point where we could overlook the 17-mile loop trail through Monument Valley. There were cars of all types making the drive, none of which were high clearance. I sensed an opportunity to convince my husband.
We drove toward the start of the loop trail, but I was confused because I still had not found the sign I was instructed to touch, where my guide would be waiting. There had been a large sign earlier, marking the entrance to Monument Valley, but it was behind a fence, and I couldn’t get to it. Just before the loop trail, I saw a primitively hewed wooden sign with an arrow pointing toward the trail. I hoped that it was the right sign, because there were none others left. I asked my husband to stop the car, knowing he would not understand what I was doing.
I was aware that my behavior seemed odd, but I got out of the car and touched the sign. He did not ask any questions, and I did not offer any explanation. We eased onto the road hesitantly. It was a dirt road that obviously had not been maintained. The washboard road had deep ruts in some places, but it was manageable.
I honestly don’t know if I was met by a Navajo guide when I touched that sign. I didn’t feel anything strange or different happen to me when I touched it. However, as we drove along the trail, I felt myself becoming highly receptive to the imposing stones, some as high as 1500 feet, which looked as if the earth had thrust them up in order to reach heaven in those places. As I became attuned to the powerful spiritual presence of those stones, it was as if I could hear them speaking, not aloud, but communicating a message on a spiritual level. The stones spoke in a sacred way, saying:
We are a gift of the Creator to the Navajo people. We are spiritual warriors for the Navajo. We are the sentinels of our people, watching over them. We are the guardians who have protected the Navajo. Our people are like us: ancient, strong, and proud.
The stones, in revealing to me their spiritual essence as sentinels and guardians of the Navajo, helped me to understand how the Navajo have survived, despite centuries of onslaughts which have threatened to destroy them and their culture.
I’m not sure why the stones spoke to me, a non-Navajo person, as they did. Perhaps a Navajo guide was there as an intermediary, to pass along the secrets of the stones or to enable me to receive their message directly. If I, as a white person, was meant to receive that message, then I felt I had a special obligation to share it with the larger world.
I tell this story so that others can understand the beauty, strength, and spiritual power that is at the heart of the Navajo culture.
As we drove away from Monument Valley at sunset, ribbons of pink and purple decorated the distant mesas, while the desert glowed a brilliant crimson.
As if that weren’t enough to create rapture, the clouds opened and the divine light of the Creator poured down on us, affirming that our trip to Navajo country had indeed been a blessing.
Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world, but here the earth was the floor of the sky. –Willa Cather on Monument Valley