left mitten, monument valley

Camping out with the Navajo in Monument Valley

Do you remember that scene from Forrest Gump where Forrest has been running for over three years and then he decides he’s “pretty tired” and done with it all?

This scene is filmed at the entrance to Monument Valley, a Navajo-owned land that’s technically not even a part of the United States. The Navajo nation even runs its own judicial system, governed by a native council. The landscape is incredible: rock pinnacles, mesas and buttes, and bright red sand-scapes. The Mitten buttes and Merrick Butte are two of the most popular landmarks, seen from the visitor centre. But if you wanna get into the real heart of Monument Valley, you must hire a Navajo guide.

Navajo Hogan

My Trek America group and I had the honour of staying overnight in a hogan – a traditional mud hut with nine sides to represent each month of pregnancy. A stove in the centre pumps out heat, with the chimney being open to Father Sky and the floor being open to Mother Earth. They hogans are surprisingly roomy.

Traditional navajo Hogan

But first: our Navajo guides took us further into the valley, where we were given a brief history lesson and shown some 800-year-old petroglyphs. We sat in a stone “hogan” – like a half-carved cave, listening to the guides beat their drums and sing their traditional songs.

We were then treated to traditional Navajo tacos: deep-fried dough, cheese, tomatoes, salsa, and a chunk of perfectly cooked steak. If you’re brave, add some honey for an extra kick.

Navajo Steak

It started drizzling rain shortly after, but our guides had more in store for us. A big campfire was lit, and a warrior emerged with his traditional gear: 100-year-old eagle feathers, a chest piece made of bones, jingling ornaments, and a giant headdress. Another Navajo member beat his drum while the warrior danced around the campfire.

Most of we travellers had been annoyed and frustrated with the rain up until that point, but it didn’t even matter in the moment. I closed my eyes to absorb the music and the chanting echoing off the valley walls, nothing but sweet crackling campfire and a steady drumbeat in the night.

And the hogan? Warm, comfy, dry, and one of the better sleeps I had on the entire trip. It’s hard to say what experience I loved the most – Monument Valley, or Angel’s Landing.

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