The perfect trip: Southwest USA
Keep driving and the road begins to straighten up and out, until there on the horizon stands the trio of monoliths – the East and West Mittens, Merrick Butte – that are the showstopping introduction to one of the USA’s definitive landscapes. Monument Valley plays a crucial role in America’s founding myth as a pioneer nation, topographical shorthand for the peculiar bravado, bloodlust and wide-brimmed hats that conquered this immense land. Thanks to any number of Western movies, and even Forrest Gump, every director knows that a shot of the sun alighting upon these towering brutes will get the heart of any redblooded patriot beating faster.
The irony of this is, of course, that Monument Valley is at the centre of the Navajo Nation, the largest indigenous reservation in the USA. The history here isn’t exactly “God Bless America” pretty. In 1864, the US government forced the Navajo from their reservation at gunpoint, an event known as the Long Walk. They were eventually allowed to return to their land four years later.
Monument Valley is a place of sacred significance to the Navajo, but inevitably tourism is the main source of income. It’s almost impossible to walk along a trail without tripping over a Navajo offering horseback rides, turquoise-studded jewellery or jeep tours. But the best way to experience the Navajo lifestyle is by an overnight stay in a hogan, the mound-like earth huts that are their traditional home.
Visitors stay in a “female” hogan, held up by nine wooden pillars, representing the nine months of pregnancy, with a stove in the centre emitting smoke through a circular hole in the roof. Lead guide Carlos Mose (who also doubles as a drummer in a metal band – “We sing about Native issues, broken treaties, things like that,” he tells me) explains the revitalising effects of a night in a hogan: “Each morning, it’s like being reborn out of your mother’s belly – a fresh start, a new beginning.”
The meanings of different parts of the hogan are echoed in Monument Valley itself. Carlos points out the Rain God and Thunderbird Mesas, two table mountains facing the east that mimic the doorway. “And there are the Grandfather Gods, the rocks who receive our offerings,” he explains. “The lifeway – how to distinguish right and wrong – is symbolised in the hogan and Monument Valley. We are the stewards of this land, but the land is our protector and guide too.”
When morning comes, Carlos’s words have a ring of truth. Exiting a hogan really does feel like rising from the earth itself – just for a while, it’s possible to become an integral part of this primal land too.
Where to eat
Visit either the restaurant at The View or Goulding's Lodge. The latter is a good option: the steak and eggs certainly hit the spot (from £8).
Where to stay: The View Hotel
Opened in 2008, The View Hotel is the only hotel in Monument Valley. It blends in beautifully with the landscape, and the spectacle of the buttes as viewed from its rooms is incredible (from £100).
To book overnight hogan stays, see trailhandlertours.com (from £100).
Grand Canyon: Best for escape
From Monument Valley, drive 3 1/2 hours on US-60 and AZ-64
Archimedes Natkie is not only the bearer of the best name on his side of the Atlantic, he is also a man who has perfected the art of isolation. For the past two years, 25-year-old Archimedes has lived in a place so submerged, the rain evaporates before it can reach the ground – the bottom of the Grand Canyon. “Living down here is a bit like being in a monastery,” he says. “There’s so much space and time to think. You can get away from every distraction. I do struggle to remember how to drive when I go back up though!”