Tag Archives: native

Valley of the Gods – the Other Monument Valley

This is the 4th in the series on the American Southwest.  There are links to the others at the bottom… or click on the others in the left side bar.

There are no buses or safari trucks hauling tourists to this remote spot.  In fact, if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, you might not make it here yourself.  The road is gravel and sand and if you are coming in from the west, it crosses no less than 20 dry washes.  You descend steeply, cross the stream bed, and then climb just as quickly out the other side.  If it’s raining, forget about it.  Crossing streams here can get you stuck for hours or days – if you aren’t washed away entirely.

What this lack of accessibility adds up to is a lot of solitude…  in the middle of a magnificent valley filled with rugged silent beauty.  It is often described as a slightly less spectacular version of Monument Valley which is within sight, a few miles to the southwest.  To me, it looks as though the two are just part of one larger geological area, with the San Jaun River gorge cutting across the middle.

The road wanders among huge buttes and cliffs and crossed arroyos.
The road wanders among huge buttes and cliffs and crosses many arroyos.

The camping is free here, and that is one thing that attracted me to the spot; I saw it as an affordable overnight alternative to the expensive campgrounds and dude ranches that service Monument Valley.  Of course, boon docking is for those who are self-sufficient.  There are no restrooms or water pumps here; you are entirely on your own.

Camper heads into Valley of the Gods

I had checked off a mental inventory of my provisions before turning off the highway just north of Mexican Hat, having already filled the fuel tank and eating a hearty fast food meal at Kayenta, Arizona earlier in the day.

This spot will certainly be ranked in my top ten of my favorite campsite of all time.
This spot will certainly be ranked in the top ten of my favorite campsites of all time.

The campsite I chose was at the valley’s northernmost point at the foot of a giant butte and across from its twin.  There were cliffs both east and west of me and a view to the southwest that stretched almost to infinity where I could see the hazy buttes of Monument Valley in the distance.

I parked the camper at the foot of a massive monolith.
I parked the camper at the foot of a massive tower.
Looking west and southwest from my campsite.
Looking west from my campsite. There’s the road I came in on.
Looking east from my campsite.
Looking east from my campsite.

There is no restriction on hiking and exploring here, so I scrambled around for a while with the camera, just enjoying the sights.

The expansive view toward the southwest from my campsite.
The expansive view toward the southwest from my campsite.

Of course, boon docking means there are no improvements to the campsites; there are no RV pads or leveled platforms.  I soon realized that my site was sloping a bit and decided to make my own improvements – by backing the truck onto some slabs of rock for the night.  Perfect.

Leveling the site

After the sun went down, I became slowly aware of another spectacular scene:  the Milky Way was brilliant in the dark sky above me.  After all, the nearest town was 20 miles away and the nearest city was more than 100 miles south.  Out came the camera and tripod for a few time exposures of the starry sky.

I made a fake campfire of battery-operated mini-tealights and sat as still as I could for 25 seconds to get this shot.
I made a fake campfire of battery-operated mini-tealights and sat as still as I could for 25 seconds to get this shot.  Campfires are not permitted at this location.

Though there had been a few tourists driving by in rented SUV’s during the day, the place became extremely quiet after dark, almost too quiet.  There was not another soul nearby… or was there?
A light wind was causing a moaning in the highest crags of the stone tower near me. It seemed a little bit spooky, and I started wondering how this desolate place first got its name.  Did the natives name it?  Had they been conjuring spirits out here in the past?  Were there still manifestations that were floating about in the dark?

Were the Ancient Ones standing nearby watching me?
As the darkness deepened, were the Ancient Ones standing nearby watching me?

Climbing into the comfort of my camper loft, my weariness caught up with my consciousness and put me under a blanket of sleep.  There were no nightmares.  Just peace and quiet.

I loved Valley of the Gods and if I ever return, I hope to stay longer.

It’s a lot of fun if you like traipsing about in the desert among the most fascinating of rock formations.  Or if you just like quiet solitude.  Beautiful.

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Read Part 1:  Bryce Canyon is Hoodoo Central

Read Part 2:  Capitol Reef – I Think We’re Alone Now

Read Part 3:  Two (fake) Cowboys Meet in Monument Valley

Venturing Outside the Walls

Milepost 2-6-16                      -We are at a vacation rental in the tropics.

Here’s a tip about travel that first-timers may not discover on their own:  The real adventure is often where the real people are.  I am talking about the backstory that is on the backstreets of your travel destination.  I am talking about the true cultural realities that exist outside the walls of the gated resort where you are staying.

Many travelers see a carefully scripted performance when they go on vacation at the all-inclusive resort.  Even the cruise lines that claim to visit exotic islands, as it turns out, may have bought the island and designed an elaborate facade that is only a fake reproduction of the real culture that they are trying to depict.  But it’s not real.

If you like it that way, fine.  If you want to stay within the enclave, you should be comfortable and safe.  Hopefully, you will be able to relax and have a good time, maybe even make some new friends.  For you, it may be exactly the right thing.  But you might be able to ratchet your adventure factor to the next level with a venture outside the walls.

Culturally, the real fun begins when you leave the reservation.  When you leave Front Street and venture to Second or Third Street… or even farther to where the street turns into a pathway.

When the waiter comes to your table at the resort, do you ever ask yourself, “Who is this person?  Where does he live?  Does she have a family?  What’s her name?”  Better yet, don’t just ask yourself…  ask the waiter.

When I was in the Maldive Islands, my scuba diving buddies asked these questions of our guide, a young man named Ibrahim.  After 2 weeks of friendly interaction with him, we were surprised when he invited us to come to his home and meet his wife — they were expecting their first child.  This sort of encounter is unheard of in the Maldives where the government requires strict oversight of tourists; it just never happens.  But for us, it happened.  The day before Ibrahim escorted us to the airport, he started crying, and threw himself at us with hugs and weeping as we parted company.  I couldn’t believe it.  This was unreal.  No.  This was real.

This sort of rich adventure can be really hard to find when you are on a 10-day cruise where your movements are scheduled and your encounters carefully scripted.   It is hard to escape the confines and get to the raw realities of the real culture.

One of the blessings of the traveling life that Kaye and I are now enjoying is the extravagance of being able to stay as long as we want wherever we want.  We love to find out where the natives live, and we have been invited into their homes lots of times.  Nobody tells us where to be or at what time.  We decide for ourselves.

This winter, we are staying 10 weeks in a little town on the beach in the Dominican Republic.  We have learned enough Spanish to be able to venture onto the side roads and back alleys to see how these people really live.

In fact, by planning ahead, we were able to visit an indigenous family in the interior of the country just yesterday.  We have been sponsoring a kid through an international humanitarian organization that provides underprivileged children with a quality education and health care.  Yorgelis is now 15 years old and we got to meet him.  We hired a car and driver who was able to find his way through the maze of backroads and the small towns (on the cell phone with the host several times for directions) to find these guys in an obscure neighborhood far (4 hours one way)  from the tourist resorts.

We were able to visit our sponsored child's family in their home.
We were able to visit our sponsored child’s family in their home.

What an amazing experience!  Their family is actually part of a community of artists and have a pottery factory in their backyard.  Did you ever wonder who makes the vases and bowls and cups that you find in the gift shops at the resorts where you stay?  We found them.

We got to tour the school where our kid has been educated for the last 9 years, and then his family put on a demonstration for us in the pottery shop.  We could not have asked for a more beautiful experience with an authentic indigenous family.  Precious.

Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.
Here I am with Yorgelis and his dad and granddads.

We now have some pottery to add to our international collection at home.  And here’s the thing:  We know the people who made it.

That is the stuff of real adventure.

Here are a few more photos from our visit to the interior yesterday:

This guy threw a beautiful vase in about 5 minutes.
This guy threw a beautiful vase on the potter’s wheel in about 5 minutes.
Yorgelis' dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis’ dad carved flowers onto the vase in a minute.
Yorgelis' family gave us gifts of pottery.  At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
Yorgelis’ family gave us gifts of pottery. At the rear is his teacher, and on the right is our host and guide from the organization.
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln
One of the workers was stoking the fire under the kiln

Pottery

We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting avocados.
We found a nice fruit market on the way home, and our driver provided some tips on selecting fresh avocados.

I hope you are able to get outside the walls on your next adventure!

Have fun!