I’ve never given much thought to American history beyond what I’ve been taught, which is why I was surprised to see dinosaur footprints on the Navajo Reservation. Obviously there was life before the Navajo on the land, but it was one of the things I'd least expected to see on this trip. Our Navajo guide showed us around, making references to popular culture, reminding me that although we have a romantic idea of native people, they are modern too. Our guide told us about how people would just come along and take the fossils from the land, and he seemed fairly relaxed and casual towards this. This shocked me, as it seemed that they were just used to people coming along and taking away what rightfully belonged to them, which seemed wrong on every level to me.
(Some of the dinosaur footprints we saw on the Navajo reservation, which were preserved for millions of years, only to run the risk of being chiselled out and stolen today.)
Being on the Navajo Reservation didn’t feel much different to being on the road anywhere else. There were the tell-tale signs that we were in a different territory, such as the dominance of native people, the Navajo tax on items in shops, and the Navajo flag waving proudly in the wind along the sides of the roads.
(The Navajo Nation seal which could often be seen around the Navajo Nation.)
One of the ‘selling-points’ of this trip was a chance to see Monument Valley, and I have to admit I was hugely disappointed. Although it is an iconic symbol of the American West, I fear I’ve seen so much mountainous landscape on my travels that this failed to make any sort of impression on me at all. Because there was no tour or museum, I feel like I didn’t learn anything, and ultimately when we drove away, I was just as clueless about Monument Valley as when I’d arrived. Why is it such a symbolic place? What does it mean to the Navajo who live there?
(This picture is actually from the following day, but due to bad weather on our first visit to Monument Valley, most of my pictures were rendered useless. In contrast to my point, viewing Monument Valley the following day from a different angle was actually more impressive. Perhaps the weather helped, or maybe it's just that this is the iconic image I'm used to seeing in films such as Forrest Gump.)
I was surprised to see that people actually live at Monument Valley, and that there is a town across the road from it, full of all the things you’d expect a town to have. This is the side to Monument Valley they leave off the postcards, the part you only see if you bother to cross the road and have a look around. Immediately I can see a striking resemblance between here and the Pyramids of Egypt, where people are actually living among them, but in pictures you only ever see the landmark. In both instances, if the camera was to turn around, you would see the reality of the area, and how it is much more than a tourist attract, it is a part of the town.
(A view of Monument Valley from the small town where locals live, showing some buildings and signs of life around the iconic area.)
San Jaun Inn creates a different kind of isolation to the one I’d experienced at Marble Canyon. There’s a much bigger divide in culture here, with the local restaurant offering a Navajo section of the menu. One of the staples on the menu is fried bread, a food which is part of the diet and culture of many Navajo people. I can’t help but wonder why the Navajo would eat this, as it was introduced into their diets during the Long Walk and imprisonment. It’s like Jewish people eating the foods given to them in concentration camps. The cruel irony of this haunts me a little, as it’s just another horrible reminder of the reality of these people, and how they’ve come to be pushed onto reservations after all the hardships they’ve already endured in American history.