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In Mystery Valley, you’ll see Honeymoon, Stout and Delicate arches, among others. You’ll have the opportunity to get out of the vehicle and climb up to a few of the arches. We were enthralled by the House of Many Hands, a small ruin with walls covered in hundreds if not thousands of Anasazi handprints. Midway through the tour, we stopped for lunch. Larry barbecued hamburgers toward the back of a shaded canyon, and we dined on burgers, fruit, cookies and cowboy coffee at picnic tables. (Vegetarian items are available upon request.)
After lunch, it was on to Monument Valley. Ever the entertainer, Larry sang a traditional Navajo song along the drive as we spied wild horses and hogans, traditional Navajo dwellings. Once in Monument Valley, we stopped at panoramic John Ford’s Point, which was said to be one of filmmaker John Ford’s favorite camera positions in the valley, especially when it came to wide-angle shots of cavalry charges and Indian attacks. (Ford made seven movies in Monument Valley between 1938 and 1963.) At the vista point, a young Navajo man and his 20-plus-year-old horse will pose for iconic shots for a fee. We also stopped at the Sun Eye, an eye-shaped opening in the ceiling of a red rock amphitheater, and the Ear-of-the-Wind formation. The tour traverses most of the park’s 17-mile loop road, which is accessible to anyone with the right vehicle, but it also encompasses many areas that are off limits without a guide. There are countless opportunities to photograph the mesas and buttes in the valley, but you might want to bring wind protection for your camera. The sand and open vehicle can be death on photography equipment.
Goulding’s Tours, located at Goulding’s Lodge, 1000 Main Street in Monument Valley. All-day tour rates (including tax): $90.06 for adults and $70.05 for children 7 and younger (shorter tours are also available; see website for details). 435-727-3231; www.gouldings.com.
Monument Valley Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours
When the sun sets in Monument Valley, bathing the buttes in a warm, orange glow, there doesn’t seem to be much left to do except grab a bite to eat, borrow a John Wayne flick from the hotel lobby and then settle in for the night. Not so if you book the Dreamcatcher Package through Monument Valley Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours, owned by Harold Simpson who started the company 14 years ago. The program begins with a 2.5-hour sunset tour of the valley. Our guide, Carlos Mose, was an incredible photographer who knew exactly where to take us for the best shots. We wound up at the sand dune in front of the Totem Pole and Yei Bei Che formations, photographing the ripples in the sand.
After the tour, we parked at the base of a towering monolith where we were treated to a feast of Navajo tacos: grilled steak, beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions piled high atop of frybread. After dinner, Harold (who was born and raised in Monument Valley) and his guides took turns telling stories and playing the flute while a dancer in traditional dress performed in front of a roaring fire. Smoke from the fire curled up toward a black night sky that was studded with millions of stars. For the finale, each man in the group chose a woman he didn’t know for a group round dance. The darkness and the fact that we were surrounded by strangers allowed us to leave our inhibitions behind and abandon ourselves to a cultural experience like none other.
Monument Valley Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours. Call for tour prices. 1-877-686-2848; www.trailhandlertours.com.
MORE SEDONA ROAD TRIPS: Lake Powell, Havasu Canyon, photographing Arizona, 3 slot canyons, 10 places to go to beat the Arizona heat, Acoma Pueblo, Grand Canyon, The Wave, Oak Creek Canyon, Crown King, Jerome, Sunset Crater Volcano, Wupatki National Monument, Arizona animal parks, Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, Navajo National Monument, Mormon Lake, Canyon de Chelly