Monument Valley - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

June 25, 2014

Monument Valley

Dave and Belinda: kindness personified
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WE'D HAVE loved to have ridden to Monument Valley. Just as I'd have loved to see the Grand Canyon. But only so many things will fit in a single journey and many must remain dreams and hopes.

It was the kindness of Dave and Belinda that made Monument Valley possible. I think they thought it would have been better to see ancient pueblo remains, which are more intellectual and less obviously snapshot tourism. But that is to under-estimate the culture gap that a European feels in America. As the wife of an American airman told me of living in Britain: "You feel you're in parallel universe: you think everything's going to be the same but it's entirely different."

And so it was with Monument Valley and the pueblos. Of the first, I knew something; of the second, I knew nothing. It astonished Dave and Belinda that, until Adventure Cycling devised a route of the same name, I had never heard of Lewis and Clarke. Why should I have done? As Dave said as he turned to Belinda: "They don't study US history in Europe."

And so, to Belinda's dismay I think, we went for the obvious and they drove us to Monument Valley and I gawped through the windows, engrossed but detached after a month on a bike, and then we came to the first sentinel buttes, pronounced butes.

We were now, as we had been for a while, on an Indian reservation. The rules are different, at least from in Europe. America is perpetually electing people, whether it's the dog-catcher or a president. There are appeals everywhere to vote, for an individual or for vague concepts such as more or less government, or just for propositions, which have numbers but, because local people know what they're about and nobody else needs know, no explanation.

Anyway, we took a right-hand turn at a T-junction and there beside the road was a stand from which smiling Indian women were handing out doughnuts. And, just a little beyond them, a red, white and blue sign that said something to the effect of "Now you've enjoyed your doughnut, vote for...". In all the European countries I know, that would put you up before the beak for corrupting an election.

Well, you don't need to know much about Monument Valley. You've seen enough pictures already. What they won't have given you is a sense of scale. Just as I was impressed how small the White House was, so it came to me that Monument Valley is more than the jagged stands of warm, brown rock that you see on most postcards.

The local people are said to call it Tse-Bii-Ndzisgali or "the valley within the rock. That's what the tourist brochures say. The panels inside the little museum suggest differently, explaining that only a minority - although a sizable one - speak Najavo. The panels also point out, without drama, that Utah thought so little of its original population that it didn't accord them the vote until 1953.

I find it hard to assess how authentic Indian culture is close to anywhere as commercial as Monument Valley. Films show gentle-faced people speaking of the mysticism of their lives, of the presence and respect for their predecessors and their beautiful relationship with the earth and the seasons. And then you see the satellite dishes on the roof of the houses and you realise this desire to live as the ancients lived doesn't preclude watching baseball and quiz shows and drinking coffee and using washing machines. It is my distance from it all, I'm sure - that culture gap of which I was speaking earlier - but for me the two are a contradiction.

Or am I just an ignorant European?

Monument Valley, one of so many pictures
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Indian territory, Indian faces
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