Left the quaint little town of Williams and our charming Grand Canyon railway Hotel at 08.00 for our 10 hour coach trip to Durango in Colorado. The journey began heading towards Flagstaff. This part of Arizona is logging country and this is evidenced by the thick pine forests on either side of the highway. We are at 7,276 feet above sea level and the mountains are capped with snow. The weather however continues to be glorious, blue skies and sunshine and quite warm during the day but the temperature dropping rapidly at night due to the high altitude and less moisture in the air. We are in Navajo country and one hour into our journey we enter what is known as The Painted Desert. Our coach driver tells us that millions of years ago this area used to flood and, as the layers of sediment were revealed as it dried up, they were of different colours that looked as if they had been painted on – pale green, yellow ochre, red ochre, slate grey, dove grey, vermillion and purple.
To get some idea of the vastness of this area, one influential family in the region, the Babbits, claimed 600,000 acres to establish a cattle ranch in the 1880s. The Babbits are still here today and still influential. 1.5 hours into our journey, we are in Little Colorado Valley and we see our first example of red desert land. This whole area is a Navajo Indian reservation and along the highway we can see stalls set out where, in high season, the Indians sell their handmade goods to tourists. Our driver informs us that the Navajo Indians are generally very honest and their artifacts are all handmade and have religious significance to them.
We stop for coffee at the Cameron Trading Post and put our clocks forward one hour as we had crossed a time-line. George buys a Stetson hat – he just had to have one, even though I cannot imagine where he will wear it outside of this region! Inside the trading post is a gift shop and gallery selling the most wonderful Navajo carpets and other handmade goods, wish I had $45,000 to buy the one I saw hanging on the wall.
Continuing on our journey the colours of this northern part of The Painted Desert become more distinct and the scenery is of flat plains with strange shaped mounds dotted haphazardly around. We pass through Tuba City which is Hopi Indian lands and the second largest community of the Navajo reservation. Most of the houses are single storey wooden bungalows and trailers and look rather like a shanty town or army camp. The Navajo reservation is the same size of the State of West Virginia and the Hopi tribe’s reservation sits in the middle of the Navajo reservation. Navajo Indians came 1000s of years ago from Russia and settled in North Arizona – as did the Apache tribe and therefore are considered blood relatives of the Navajos. Our driver tells us that each homestead consists of a family of three to four generations and across the reservation you can still see Navajo families living in the traditional way in traditional wood and mud houses. We passed a couple of adobe Kopi houses which are small, low, round buildings with doors facing east to pray to the rising sun.
3.5 hours after leaving Williams we entered Monument Valley’s southern edge and although the plains are green we begin to see strange rock formations like massive stalagmites growing out of the plains.
Monument Valley straddles the Utah-Arizona state line. The red sandstone buttes and seemingly endless expanse of red sand is not only the typical Wild West image, but it is also one of the most legendary sights in the whole of the USA. It is here that the 1939 film Stagecoach made John Wayne a star and also where he made the film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. These and other films have made the valley more famous and are associated with the Western-tough-guy image. A series of 1950s Marlboro Man adverts were based on this persona using Monument Valley as a backdrop. The whole region has the feel of a romanticized bygone age. Cowboys still spend lonely months herding cattle across miles of untouched hills, and Native Americans still perform rituals passed down through the generations.
Lunchtime was spent just the other side of the border into Utah at Golding’s Trading Post where we could see John Wayne’s cabin that was used in the film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. The Trading Post was begun in 1924 by Frank Golding and his wife ‘Mike’ and their house and store has been turned into a fascinating museum. Both their home and the store is furnished exactly as it was when they lived here and it was interesting to see that the store is identical to those depicted in countless Wild West films. After lunch we drove closer to the main rock structures of Monument Valley to take pictures of Monument rock, Mexican Hat and Goosenecks Valley – a deep gorge where the Colorado River divides into three before re-amalgamating again further down the valley.
Our final rest stop was at Cow Canyon Trading Post where we were able to take pictures of the Twin Rocks (Navajo Twins). Leaving the valley we entered into Colorado and the scenery becomes flatter and greener. Oil has been discovered here and along the highway we saw a few small nodding mules pumping gas and oil out of the ground.
We arrived at Durango, Colorado at around 18.30. With the change in time it was dark so no real opportunity to see the town properly but, again, it seemed a pretty little traditional Wild West town that now caters for tourists with plenty of interesting buildings and good restaurants. However, the Doubletree Hilton Hotel was stupendous – our best yet and the perfect end to a fantastic journey of 10 hours that sped by !!