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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Monument Valley

June 15th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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From the time when I was a little boy growing up in​ ​California on the edge of the Colorado Desert I ​dreamed of experiencing the true West. I finally got there.​

​To me the heart of the West has always been the rugged desert landscape of southern Utah and northern Arizona​, particularly Monument Valley. Made famous from many Western movies, Monument Valley straddles the Arizona-Utah border. The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park includes a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 1,000 ft above the valley floor.

I got there on a photo tour led by Russ Burden, my favorite professional photographer and tour leader. This was my third tour with him because he is such an outstanding teacher, skillful photographer, and nice fellow. Russ keeps his tour groups small so he can readily share his contagious enthusiasm and knowledge. Besides Russ and me, the tour included only three people, Chris and Gary from the Denver area and Kylie from Australia.

When we got to Monument Valley after a 500 mile drive from Denver in Russ’s van, the sky was heavily overcast. Russ’s mantra is that “it’s all about the light,” but after settling into our motel rooms in Mexican Hat, Utah, we went out in search of photographs anyway. We waited. And waited. Finally, just before the sun was due to set, it broke through the clouds, lighting some of the monuments in front of us for no more than 5 minutes. That was enough.

​Our First View of Brigham’s Tomb, the Stagecoach, the Bear and the Rabbit, the Castle, and the Big Chief

Our First View of Brigham’s Tomb, the Stagecoach, the Bear and the Rabbit, the Castle, and the Big Chief

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Early one morning a few days later an urban cowboy who hails from Queens, New York, arrived on the scene with his lariat and cowboy hat. His name, he said, was Russ Burden. He attempted to lasso one of the most famous silhouettes in the Southwest, West Mitten Butte, which actually rises about 1,000 feet above the valley floor.

​Russ Tries to Lasso the West Mitten Butte

Russ Tries to Lasso the West Mitten Butte

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Later that morning we went to a place called the North Window, which frames the valley between diagonal canyon walls. It shows a three-dimensional view of Brigham’s Tomb, the Stagecoach, the Bear and the Rabbit, the Castle, and the East Mitten.

The View of the Valley from the North Window

The View of the Valley from the North Window

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Down in the valley, I found the skeleton of this tree separating two of the monuments.

​A Tree Lived in the Valley

A Tree Lived in the Valley

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​A Mare and Her Foal Live in the Valley

A Mare and Her Foal Live in the Valley

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​Petroglyphs of Animals that Once Lived in the Valley

Petroglyphs of Animals that Once Lived in the Valley

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Some of the earliest and best Westerns were set in Monument Valley, including John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (1939), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), and the greatest of all, “The Searchers” (1956). The scene from the 1994 film “Forrest Gump” took place here 13 miles south of the Arizona-Utah border on U.S. Route 163 where Tom Hanks, who played Forrest Gump, stopped running.

​Kylie is the New Forrest Gump

Kylie is the New Forrest Gump

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The best way to see the valley and its stunning scenery is to take a tour with a Navajo guide. Our guide, Ray Begay, was able to take us places we weren’t allowed to see otherwise. He also knows the area well and was most helpful. Ray works for Phillips Photography Tours, but his brother, Tony, works for a competitor. We happened to meet up with Tony at one point.

​Tony Begay (left) and His Brother Ray are Top Navajo Guides

Tony Begay (left) and His Brother Ray are Top Navajo Guides

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Ray took us to Horseshoe Canyon, just over the state line in Utah. There we focused on Teardrop Arch, a dramatic frame for Brigham’s Tomb, the King on the Throne, the Stagecoach, the Bear and the Rabbit, and the Castle.

Peaking Through Pottery Arch at Monument Valley

Peaking Through Pottery Arch at Monument Valley

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One cold morning Ray led us to Yei Bi Chei (The Dancers) and the Totem Pole.

​Ye Bi Chei and the Totem Pole in Early Morning Light

Ye Bi Chei and the Totem Pole in Early Morning Light

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I had to get up at 3:50 a.m., take a long drive, hike in the sand, and get chilled to the bone to make this shot. But for a photographer it was worth the effort. It was all about the light.

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Posted in: Photography

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gretchen // Jun 16, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Great photos! When is your calendar coming out?

  • 2 David Mendosa // Jun 16, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Dear Gretchen,

    Right after my next two books!

    Namaste,

    David

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