Industry and pollution have left very few places on this Earth where the view of the night sky is still as clear as glass. If you take a trip somewhere that you can see it as it really is, without a barrier of smog or city lights, you won’t want to tear your eyes away. It is truly a sight beyond description.
Most likely, at some point in your life, you will have already caught a glimpse of Monument Valley. It’s hard to avoid a picture of one of the most photographed places in the world, that’s also the backdrop to hundreds of blockbuster movies. However in truth, the stunning photos pale in comparison to actually standing bare foot on the soft red soil looking up at the towering buttes and spires. There is much more to Monument Valley than the movie set stigma, and there is even more to it than the natural, breath-taking scenery. When visiting Monument Valley you have two choices; take the tourist road around the park independently (but you can’t camp overnight and there is a good chance your car may take a beating), or be taken around the park by a Navajo guide and stay overnight.
To this day, the Navajo, one of the largest Native American tribes, still uphold their pastoral way of life and their cultural traditions within Monument Valley. They are a peaceful, welcoming tribe whose culture has been threatened in the past, but despite this they embrace and encourage visitors from around the world to come and learn about their culture, share in their traditions and admire the astonishing beauty of their homeland. Seeing Monument Valley through the eyes of those who hold it most dear makes it an even more magical and unforgettable experience, not to mention the other benefits like the access they grant you to areas usually restricted to tourists!
The day begins with a bumpy ride in an open top jeep around the monuments, all the while you are learning about where all of their names come from and what relevance and meaning they hold to the Navajo. When you see how mysteriously and inexplicably some of the monuments resemble the shapes they are named after, such as ‘King on his chair’ and ‘Big chief’, you are left perplexed at how something so natural could co-incidentally form something so intricate and of such significance. There is a sense, an atmosphere, of something bigger, magical and other-worldly. Despite what your beliefs might be, being in their stead really does open your mind and make you wonder. As the sun begins to set you will stop at the foot of a monument for your dinner; a traditional dish cooked by the Navajo. You eat together then gather around the crackling campfire as the night sky creeps overhead. In the dusk and firelight, the festivities begin; dancing, singing and more learning about the importance these rituals have to the Navajo. When the stars finally blaze against a blanket of darkness above, they will tell the ancient Navajo tales of First Man and First Woman, of how the Coyote arranged the stars, the powers of the juniper trees and more. Their stories of creation offer an enriching perspective that you may not have heard before which is fascinating as well as entertaining.
When you return to your camp there are two options (although you will have pre-booked your choice); sleep beneath the stars or curl up in a traditional Navajo Hogan, a dome shaped home made from juniper logs and red desert earth. They are also sacred representations of the universe where ceremonies are held and groups sit exchanging songs and stories around the wood burning stove. The smoke hole serves as an open window through which to keep an eye on the sky until you fall asleep.
At night Monument Valley really sparkles. Most of the time, we are completely unaware of how many stars there are surrounding us, because of smoke and light pollution. However, in Monument Valley there is no such thing. It is such an astounding sight that the memory of it stays with you forever. Words really can’t describe the feeling of looking up and seeing not a few hundred stars, but hundreds of thousands. You need only glimpse to see shooting stars by the bunch. It is so clear that the shining clustery trail of the Milky Way is as prominent as the moon itself. It’s a sight that really put things in perspective.
You may not be guaranteed the most comfortable night’s sleep by any means, but come the morning you will realise why sleeping over is more than worth a little back ache. You will be woken up at about 4.30/5.00am and taken east towards the monuments named Totem Pole and Dancers. From a distance you watch as the sun rises up directly behind them, turning them to silhouettes. When it finally peeks over the top, the sun has never looked more radiant or beautiful.
Staying in a Hogan or out beneath the stars in Monument Valley really is such a grounding, humbling and unforgettable experience. To go only a night without the luxuries that we deem ‘essential’, in a place so astounding as this, makes you appreciate the earth at its most natural and see your own life from a new and refreshing perspective. It is enlightening, when you’re somewhere so historical, to learn in detail about what you’re looking at and to be able to appreciate its history and importance to the native people. If you’re looking for an adventure you’ll never forget and an experience completely out of the ordinary, then stay at Monument Valley and you will not be disappointed.