National Geographic : 1945 Oct
Flaming Cliffs of Monument Valley BY LT. JACK BREED, USNR ON A MAP of the United States find the only spot where four States meet Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. There, just west of "four corners," sprawls mile-high Monument Valley, spectacu lar desert land of red stone skyscrapers. I first heard of Monument Valley while traveling through the Southwest in 1935. Fan tastic stories about its huge buttes, astride the Arizona-Utah border, inspired me to see them. With a companion to help with the "push ing," we drove up US 89 from Flagstaff to Tuba City, both in Arizona, and thence by the Rainbow Trail through the heart of the Navajo country to Monument Valley. Since that first trip we have made eight more. Our goal was the trading post operated by Harry and "Mike" Goulding, often called the "King and Queen of Monument Valley." They have been the Valley's sole year-round white residents for two decades. Skyscraper City of Red Sandstone One crystal-clear July day in 1922, Gould ing, a young sheepherder, was riding the range in the "four-corners country," searching for stray sheep. The land was new to him. Suddenly, at Comb Ridge, the view to the west took his breath away (Plate II). Far across the hot plains spread a skyscraper city. Flaming Woolworth Towers and Flatiron Buildings-huge buttes of red sandstone rose from the desert. Some mighty blocks even had gigantic "windows"-natural bridges (Plate VIII). This was fabulous Monument Valley. Later, Goulding returned with his wife and set up permanent "diggings" in the Valley. At first they lived in a simple sheepherder's tent. But soon they won the friendship of the Navajo, and their sheepherding became a trading business. A two-story stone trading post was built for them by the Indians. Now this sandstone house, perched on a natural step near Old Baldy Mesa, serves as head quarters for many visitors. The post has the conveniences of a city home-electric lights, refrigerator, gas stove, bathroom with tub and shower, fine Navajo rugs on the polished floors, even a piano. Downstairs is a combination pawnshop and general store. Every item a Navajo could wish, mostly from a mail-order-house cata logue, is on display. The Goulding place is 100 miles from the nearest railroad. There are no towns in the Valley, no telephones, no street lamps, no hard-surfaced roads. To get mail we had to drive 27 miles to the village of Kayenta, Arizona. To shop Saturday nights we motored 175 miles to Flagstaff. Across the Gouldings' "front yard" marches a parade of monuments rising a thousand feet above the plain. They look only a stone's throw away, yet they are over eight miles distant. The clear, dry air at mile-high alti tude makes distances deceiving. Valley Has an Airport Goulding has constructed a hard-packed air field snuggled beneath two lofty mesas. Three thousand-foot runways crisscross the desert. Citizens in Albuquerque, New Mexico, or Cor tez, Colorado, fly visitors to the Valley airport. The Valley is a geologist's paradise. Orig inally it was level with the tops of its tall monuments, roughly a thousand feet higher than the floor today. A huge body of water covered the area. In succeeding ages extensive uplifts occurred and the sea drained off into the stream beds which now are the Colorado and San Juan Rivers. Gradually the rivers cut the land away, carrying off enormous quantities of the softer sands and shales. Isolated mesas and buttes of more resistant material were left standing above the plain. Canyon walls were undercut and giant caves formed. Sometimes thick chunks of the roofs fell in, leaving jagged holes. Running water and wind-blasted sand grains gradually smoothed out the edges, forming natural bridges.* With only about eight inches of rain each year now, Monument Valley is not eroding very fast. Even in a thousand years, little change in its profile will be noticeable. The first white people to view Monument Valley are not known. Spanish friars from Coronado's expedition in the middle 1500's may have passed close by, but probably they did not cross the nearly waterless Valley. About 300 years later, in 1864, some of Kit Carson's men pursued the Navajo in Canyon del Muerto,t 70 miles southeast of the Valley. Explorers and scientists penetrated the re gion, to study its prehistoric Indian cultures or to prospect for precious minerals. But not until the early 1900's, when John Wetherill * See "Great Rainbow Natural Bridge of Southern Utah," by Joseph E. Pogue, in the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1911. t See "Exploring in the Canyon of Death," by Earl H. Morris, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, September, 1925.