After three days in the wilderness of the southwestern states, I was starting to miss buildings. It got to the point where I had almost forgot what a Walmart looked like. The only scenery I had seen for seventy-two hours was desert, rock formations and practically abandoned roads. It was so unlike me to spend so much time with nature. The only bit of nature I really saw back at home was that episode of Friends where Phoebe and Rachel go running through Central Park. Kidding. But not really..
It made a refreshing change though.
Our next stop was Monument Valley, a National Park which borders Arizona and Utah. Like the Grand Canyon, it was basically all desert. The only thing you could see was a golden-y red sand for miles and miles. It was so picturesque though. In all honesty, I had seen photos of Monument Valley before the trip but I always thought it was somewhere in Africa or Asia, not in the middle of the United States. Whenever I thought of the U.S. before the roadtrip, I just presumed it was all like New York and Florida – the only states I had been to prior to that summer. I was so wrong.
We arrived at the Visitor’s Centre and was greeted by a genuine Navajo native. We loaded up our overnight things onto the back of his jeep and then left civilisation completely behind. He took us over for a safari style ride around the monuments. The only way I can describe the monuments in terms of what I know is Stonehenge, but bigger, not man-made and sand. So nothing like Stonehenge really..
The native told us all about the different monuments. For example, the Mittens which were named the ‘Mittens’ because they.. yeah, you guessed it.. look like a pair of mittens.
It was amazing to just see all the rocks which had been there pretty much for eternity. There was no sign of humans at all. It was genuinely like we were the only people in the whole wide world.
After the tour, we pulled up by one of the monuments and ended up having races up and down sand dunes. It was super fun until the wind picked up and I ended up getting a face full of sand – not ideal when you wear contact lenses. After my minor medical emergency of getting new contact lenses, we went to explore the natives’ community. It was absolutely bizarre for me to see people living in mud huts – such an eye opener that there is more to the world than the western civilisation we know and live in. One of the natives’ grandmothers invited us into her home and it was lovely to sit and talk with her, watching her as she weaved a rug. She told us about life as a Navajo and what it was like to call Monument Valley ‘home’. It was amazing how welcoming they were to us when we were strangers to them – basically aliens to them.
The native who was guiding us around ended up telling us about the myths and legends of the Navajo community. The main story I remember was about skinwalkers and shapeshifters. I’m not even going to try to explain as I would never be able to recall it as good as he told us but I’ve found a really insightful link which goes into depth about them more. We shook it off at the time as the last thing we wanted to do was get ourselves scared before the night had even drawn in.
The Navajo family invited us to stay for dinner. BURRITOS! Probably the nicest burritos I have ever had in my life. After dinner, we made a campfire and waited for the sun to set. Because of the monument we were behind, we couldn’t see the actual sun set but the sky was still gorgeous to watch as the colours transitioned into darkness. We spent a couple of hours around the campfire, listening to the native’s stories and the native even invited his granddaughter to show us their native tribal dance. She even tried teaching us it at one point but, let’s put it this way, none of us would be auditioning for Strictly Come Dancing anytime soon..
It got to about 11pm and we finally decided to set up for the night. Well, it wasn’t exactly the night. Only a matter of hours as the native was going to come back at 4am to collect us to go and watch sunrise on the other side of the national park. We all brought our sleeping bags and lined them up side by side in the middle of the desert. It was definitely one of them “am I really doing this?” moments. I bagsied sleeping in between two of the guys on our trip as, not gonna lie, I was absolutely bricking it over the whole sleeping under the stars in the middle of nowhere, with nobody around for miles. I thought at least this way, they’d get eaten by the skinwalkers and shapeshifters first, giving me chance to run (or walk at a fast pace after indulging all night on the burritos). We stayed up talking under the moonlight for a couple more hours, then at 1am decided to at least attempt to sleep. I remember lying in my sleeping bag with it all the way up over my eyes, absolutely petrified to look outside. It was silent. Not relaxing silent. More like deadly silent. It was still really hot, even though there was no sun, so I was melting inside my sleeping bag but I still refused to pull the sleeping bag down. It didn’t matter what I did, I couldn’t drift off. My body seemed to have gone into ‘flight or fight’ mode. I was just anticipating something to happen. Luckily I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. We must have been in silence for about half an hour until someone asked if anyone else was awake – we all were awake.
We all gave up on the idea of sleep and decided to stay up until we were collected. We knew the next day (or later that day, given that it was around 2am) was only a short day of driving so we could rest at our next destination. One of the girls said that she had seen a shadowed man walking by the base of the monument we were camping beside so we, obviously, had convinced ourselves that it was a skinwalker who was gonna come and murder us all one by one in the most painful way. I ended up realising I had been laying on my RayBan sunglasses so they were completely squashed. Someone else ended up falling asleep and began to snore which sounded more like a hurricane was approaching – it was that loud. Someone else kept freaking myself out over bugs that would buzz around and land on us. Everyone was disappointed because the clouds kept coming over and hiding the stars from us. It was a very eventful night to say the least.
I did experience my first moonrise/moonset. I didn’t even realise the moon did that. I guess it is pretty logical though when you think about it. But that’s how you know you’ve been up all night when you actually watch the moon move across the sky.
We would kill time by spotting airplanes as they flew above us in the night sky, guessing where they had come from and where they were going (..does anyone else have an urge to sing ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ now or is that just me?).
In the end, I think we all collapsed with exhaustion because the next thing I remember was being awoken at 4am by the headlights of the native’s jeep shining on us. We all bundled into the back of the jeep and made our way over the sand dunes to the spot where the native suggested for watching sunrise. It was the first time in my life that I had worn sunglasses (wonky sunglasses thanks to my fat ass) at 4am – obviously it wasn’t sunny but it was my attempt to try and keep the sand out my eyes as I was already on my emergency spare pair of contact lenses #visuallyimpairedgirlproblems.
Sunrise was incredible. The sun came up and it was blood orange. I’ve never seen the sun that colour. It was honestly like someone had whacked the actual sun out of the sky and replaced it with a ripe tomato. Photos, again, do not do it justice.
By this point, it was absolutely freezing and I was completely unprepared (shock horror). When I was planning what I was going to take, I didn’t plan properly so my luggage consisted of mostly playsuits, shorts and dresses – not active wear for the hikes and hoodies for the cold nights. The temperature didn’t bother us too much though as the scenery certainly made up for it.
Once the sun was firmly in the sky, shining down on us and attempting to take the chill off, we made our way around to the native community again. Breakfast was already laid out when we got there and we were all in heaven. I just remember having the nicest banana bread with orange juice – weird combination but don’t knock it until you try it.
We were meeting our roadtrip guide back at the Visitor’s Centre at 7am and that soon rolled around. It was so hard to say bye to the natives as they had been so lovely and accommodating for the night. They really opened up my eyes to different cultures, even though I wouldn’t exactly say I was closed minded to cultures beforehand.
The first thing we all did when we got to the Visitor’s Centre was rush to the bathrooms. There was a “toilet” shack by the area we set our sleeping bags down but nobody used it. I mean, it was okay for the guys as guys can pretty much pee anywhere but not for us ladies. No thank you.
On the way out of the Monument Valley region, we drove down the infamous road on Forrest Gump where he stops running.. yeah, you know the one. What a view! I mean, you don’t exactly get views like that back in England – imagine the M62 being like that hahahaha!
Looking back, it was definitely one of the most amazing experiences of the whole trip. The whole reason for the summer was to explore new places and learn more about the world and its people. My night in Monument Valley certainly did that and it is something I will remember for the rest of my life.