One of the things I love about my little RV is that I can usually get away with the cheapest campsite — because I don’t need water, sewer or TV hook-ups. Indeed, I seldom stay places that offer those amenities. But being out just a couple of tenners for lodging lets me splash out where I really want to spend — on experiences. I’m a big proponent of guided touring and outfitting companies who get you to the furthest trailheads, deliver the most spectacular sights, and, more importantly, get you back safely. In Monument Valley, I went directly to the eight hour tour, guided by a Navajo, without whom most of the Navajo Tribal Park is off limits to palefaces. The tour brought us well beyond the loop road that most tourists take and into Mystery Valley, as well, which is the site of many Anasazi ruins. It was another bone-jarring ride in a four wheel drive vehicle over goat paths and boulders, scrambling up arches and down ravines, and seeing the amazing Monument Valley formations up close and personal. As an added bonus, I joined a great small group on the tour. This is always my worry on joining hiking and outfitting groups: what if I’m stuck with people who make eight hours into a living Hell? I’m happy to say, in several years of doing this, I’ve never yet hit a bad group. I think, in general, the type of person who thinks being jolted down the back country tracks, scrambling through blowing dirt and sand, all in pursuit of the perfect picture of an awesome natural formation is pretty much going to be someone who is determined to have a great time no matter what the day brings.

Although I’ve been on several Monument Valley tours over the past decades, I’d never been to one that included Mystery Valley. This area of the park includes a sizable concentration of Anasazi ruins and petroglyphs. Because the Navajo have great respect for these ancient cliff dwellers, they don’t build their homes near the sites. In fact, our guide told us there is a ceremony guides go through to prepare them to enter these areas. Whether the ceremony is for cleansing or for respect was unclear, although apparently juju doesn’t attach to White people walking through the area. However, our guide, a man of few but well-chosen words, maintained a respectful distance from most Anasazi sites while pointing out to us where we should scramble up for a better view.

Or again, he could have been wise enough to find a sheltered spot from the wind and sun and let the crazy White people do all the hiking and climbing.

Monument Valley’s fierce winds had carved out dozens of caves that formed the perfect place for the ancients to build their kivas and cliff dwellings.

This structure was actually not a house, but a granary or food storage area. It was built into the north side of a cliff and, even at noon when we scrambled up to it, it was nearly as cool as a wine cellar.

I lost track of the number of petroglyphs we saw.

Including this type which I had never seen before.

These handprints painted with pigment were eery. And about as small as my very small hands, indicating how small the Anasazi were.

Indeed, we left no arch unclimbed upon.

Then there were the more iconic views such as one of the famous “Mittens”.

The Navajo know how to cater to photographers. This gentleman makes himself a wonderful prop at John Ford Point. Please tip your horseman!

More pictures of my Monument Valley adventure here.

Traveler’s notes: I stayed in Goulding’s campground, which was lovely, but which I would reconsider as Goulding’s hotel and other facilities have expanded in a sprawling, ugly and resource-wasteful way. (As was noted in a few displays in the Navajo Tribal Park Museum.) The Navajo have had their revenge by building the beautiful and architecturally appropriate View Hotel which now blocks Gouldings from all the great views. I did get my tour through Goulding’s, but I believe all the tours require a Native guide, so you are spending your dollars the right way no matter which you choose. Just to be sure I’d spread my money the right way, I splashed out at the View Hotel’s gift shop which has ten times the selection of Goulding’s with none of the Chinese made kitsch.

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