Saturday, May 15, 2010

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

What can we say about our experience at Monument Valley? We arrived to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park after a relatively short drive from Navajo National Monument and a stop at a local flea market in the reservation town of Kayenta.

Approaching Monument Valley, one is immediately struck by the magnificence of the rock formations that dominate the landscape. Like most tourists, we paid our entrance fee to the park, wandered the Visitors Center, admired the view, and scoped out the guided jeep tours on offer from a dizzying array of tour companies. Being protected and sacred Navajo land, outsiders can drive into a portion of the park if they have vehicles that can maneuver the rutted roads, but only local guides can take you into the areas forbidden to outsiders, and these magnificent portions of the park are beyond breathtaking in scope and beauty.

We negotiated with several tour operators but lacked a feeling of comfort with what was being offered, twice walking away to ruminate on whether the cost was an expense that we were willing to incur. Wandering through the parking lot to return to our rig and leave the park, we ran into a couple from South Carolina who were themselves negotiating the price for a two-and-a-half hour jeep tour. Through a series of conversations with representatives from two different companies, we and the other couple agreed to split the cost of a two-and-a-half-hour tour with a guide who would lead us on a journey that would include the cultural and spiritual aspects of the Navajo and their sacred land. This promise of a deeper experience beyond a simple bumpy ride with a cursory geological explanation made going on this trip a no-brainer, especially since Tina was invited to come along!

As synchronicity and serendipity would have it, our guide Brian Tom was a thirty-something Navajo man of deep spiritual wisdom who guided his jeep over rutted roads with the same aplomb and skill with which he could espouse the creation myths and sacred stories of his people. Not only were we taken to spots of breathtaking beauty and power, Brian drummed and sang ancient songs for us in order to share more deeply the spiritual significance of the formations, petroglyphs and stone sentinels that we were beholding before our upturned and awestruck faces.

Coupled with creation stories, myths, and Navajo tales of humor and humanity, Brian shared openly and honestly with us about the deep corruption within the Navajo Nation’s government and local tribal councils. He also confirmed the prevalence of alcoholism, unemployment, diabetes and heart disease, and the in-fighting and turf wars that continue to plague the wider community.

Many Navajo care deeply for their people, serve in the Armed Forces, and work hard to improve the quality of life for all, but an underlying frustration with the governing bodies who control the purse-strings of the nation is apparent, especially as the Navajo president is currently under investigation for economic malfeasance. We are also acutely aware of how the United States government has itself misled, disenfranchised and otherwise neglected and abused the Native peoples of this land since the inception of our country several centuries ago, even as Navajo and other tribes continue to contribute greatly to the economy, armed forces and rich culture of our nation as a whole. 

We have long understood that life for Native Americans is difficult at best, even as sovereign people living within the United States yet not entirely of it. Underneath it all, there is a love for the land and the mythological forces that shaped it and delivered the Navajo from what they call The First World to this world, which is known as The Fourth World.

Not having always been comfortable with Native Americans and understanding how to bridge the cultural divide between us, this experience opened my eyes and heart especially, since Mary had previously spent time with the Piscataway Tribe in Maryland and Virginia, attending sacred ceremonies and celebrations as an honored guest.

At several points during our tour, Brian had us sit and listen as he sang and drummed sacred songs from the Navajo tradition, and we were moved to tears from both the beauty of his voice and his earnest and deeply held traditional beliefs. Brian’s words of wisdom about life, love and community spoke volumes to our hearts, and the gentleness and beauty of the Navajo way of life greatly moved me. As he explained, there are truly no curses or harsh words in the Navajo language as there are in English, and since homes are understood to have ears of their own, no harsh language or raised voices are permitted in traditional Navajo homes where only gentle and respectful communication is welcome.

After our tour, Mary offered Brian a traditional gift of tobacco in addition to a monetary gratuity. Tobacco is sacred to Native Americans and is used in prayer as offerings to the gods and forces of nature that rule the traditional way of life. Moved by her offering, Brian took a bracelet of “Ghost Beads” from his own wrist and offered it to us in return. These beads are used as a means of comfort from nightmares and bad thoughts, and Mary tied this sacred object around my wrist as Brian looked on, and I am wearing them as a symbol of letting go, of welcoming love and ease into my life, and of remembering to be grateful for the many gifts that permeate my existence.

Visiting Monument Valley could have been just another opportunity for beautiful photographs and the enjoyment of an area of intense natural beauty. Rather, it was an experience of spiritual significance and cross-cultural sharing that will long be remembered as a watershed moment for me personally, and for us as a couple.

Our deepest thanks to Brian for the gift of his time, knowledge and spiritual insight, and our humble thanks to the timeless Monument Valley and the many spirits who inhabit and animate this very special piece of the earth. 


PS: More photos of this magnificent area to come......

1 comment:

  1. Wow, stunning photographs Keith and Mary. And an amazing story of your time with Brian. Utah is still my favorite state for natural beauty in all of its wonders.