Dan Simmons

In October of 2009 we met a charming lady named Blondie Bacal.  Blondie had just come from two weeks riding in Monument Valley Arizona where she had hosted two separate rides during those two weeks; she has put these rides together and contracted with local Navajos as guides and for permit acquisition for several years.  She doesn’t advertise or make any money on these rides, it is just passed by word of mouth and she does it for the love of riding and meeting horse folks from all over the country.  I’m a native Arizonan and Letha, my wife, has lived here since she was young and this was something we had always wanted to do.  We eagerly signed up for the 2010 ride.

On my birthday, September 19th, 2010, we arrived at the rendezvous point at the trading post market parking lot on the Navajo reservation outside the entrance to the Valley which is just inside the Utah border with Arizona.  Monument Valley itself is in Arizona and part of the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, and is the largest tribal nation in the United States.  We waited for our entire party to arrive and then processed all our paperwork with the tribal ranger who conducted a thorough inspection of everything to include Coggins, health certifications, vehicle registrations and insurance, driver’s licenses, and horses.  We also got a stern lecture about the reservation being “dry’, meaning no alcoholic beverages allowed.  One group who hadn’t taken previous warnings about this seriously were caught by the ranger and she made them dump a case of beer out on the ground, and could have booted them altogether, but she didn’t.  Despite this rigorous beginning, the Navajo people we encountered throughout our week in the Valley were extremely friendly and hospitable as long as you respected them and their tribal laws.

Our caravan was then escorted into the Valley down what was initially a steep and winding dirt road with sharp switchbacks and rather bumpy, but we all made it okay even those with large living quarters trailers like us.  There is a driving loop that general tourists can drive on with permits at certain times of the day, but we were led deeper into the Valley where you cannot go without Navajo escorts.  The scenery became immediately stunning and only got better throughout the week.  Many of you have probably seen parts of the Valley in old westerns featuring John Wayne and others such as The Searchers.  It is like the Grand Canyon in that it is so vast and spectacular, that no picture can accurately portray it and do it justice; it is just too three dimensional to portray in a two dimensional picture.

The road down into the Valley.
The entrance to our box canyon camp site.

Our camp was a beautiful box canyon with a narrow entrance and high red sandstone walls all around us.  Water was provided daily for the horses and there were some corrals along the canyon walls for those that wanted them.  There was a M.A.S.H. style shower unit as Letha called it (as in military field showers) for those with more Spartan accommodations, and multiple porta-johns around the camp.  We had everything from very nice living quarter’s trailers to tent cots in the camp.  Three evening meals were provided by the Navajos and two additional evening meals were done pot luck style by half the party the two remaining nights.  We had a campfire in the center of the camp around which we communed each night and told horse stories and the Navajo’s came several nights and told us stories of their ancestors and personal lives, sang us Navajo songs, and even taught us a Navajo dance one night.  The socializing was a high point of the whole week; we made many new friends.

Our camp looking east out the canyon mouth.
Our LQ and horses in porta-corrals in camp.

The riding began Monday morning after everyone did their own breakfast.  Everything that week happened on “Navajo time”, which means you didn’t need to synchronize watches and we went when everyone was ready.  Blondie caters her rides to experienced and capable riders; the rides can be challenging at times and while everyone is considerate and helpful for each other, no hand-holding of novice riders is desired.  We were not allowed to ride out of camp without our Navajo guide at any time, but the only rule on the trail was to remain in sight of the guides and nose to tail single file was not required.  We often ranged out to the sides and ahead of the main group and never felt constricted and not able to enjoy ourselves.

Blondie Bacal, our leader, at the North Window
Effie Yazzie, our guide; and Rick on his mustang.

The scenery was just incredible!  I often felt so small compared to the magnificent formations we were riding amongst.  I had envisioned flat barren sand with rocky formations jutting out here and there.  There was color everywhere, especially reds, and much more green and vegetation than I expected.  We rode deep into the Valley where no roads go and you can only get there by horseback or on foot.  Some days had particular themes like arches or Anazazi ruins.  It just kept getting better hour by hour and day by day when you thought it couldn’t be more beautiful than what you had already seen.  We did rides as short as three hours and as long as seven, but there were many pauses while our guides pointed out petro glyphs, ruins, or other highlights; they also told us many stories and jokes along the way and we were frequently laughing our way down the trail.

Our group in the middle of big country.
Spirit and I with the Totem Pole in the background.
Ride to the ruins.
Lunch in the ruins canyon.

Whenever we were in the area of the driving loop where the tourist buses and cars were, our group created quite a stir.  There were many European tourists and especially French among them and they’d all pile out and start snapping away with their cameras at all the “cowboys” and their beautiful horses.  We’d stop and talk with them, pose for pictures, and they especially enjoyed petting the horses.  Even on Saturday when we were leaving and several of us stopped at a MacDonald’s in Kayenta, the closest town about 30 miles away, a bunch of them piled out of their buses and took pictures of our living quarters trailers and horses peering out of the open windows while we stopped.  I had experienced such behavior by Japanese and other Asian tourists before, but never by such large numbers of Europeans.

Letha inside the ruin’s doorway.
Letha exiting an Anazazi ruin.
Ear of the Wind Arch.
Group on the trail.

They say Monument Valley is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World; once you’ve been there, and especially been privileged to ride there; you’ll know why.