It was a short drive from Goulding's RV Park to the Visitors' Center at Monument Valley. We arrived early on an overcast morning, thinking that the number of people visiting the park that day would be low, given the late September date.
However, we would later learn that contrary to this expectation this was a busy time for seniors and international visitors. (The photo below was taken at noon after we completed our tour and shows about half of the tour buses and cars in the parking lot.)
We opted to drive the 17-mile Valley Drive rather than sign up for a tour vehicle covering this same route. As we left the parking lot, we passed this example of a sun-baked, mud-covered home called a Hogan.
The impressive formations of the West Mitten Butte (left in photo) and the East Mitten Butte provided an enticing welcome as we prepared to leave the parking lot.
After about 100 yards, we understood why the brochure advised allowing 2-3 hours to complete the Valley Drive. The dirt route looked deceptively easy from this view from the Center; the reality, however, involved a navigating the road while making multiple decisions about which rut was shallowest in distances of two revolutions of the tires.
As the story goes, "Harry Goulding ran a trading post in the 1930s. He had heard that John Ford was planning a big-budget Western.
"So he traveled to Hollywood, armed with over 100 photographs, and threatened to camp out on Ford's doorstep until the director saw him.
"Ford saw him and was sold on the location, particularly when he realized that its remoteness would free him from studio interference.
"Stagecoach was the first of many collaborations between John Ford and John Wayne. When the film was being cast, John Ford lobbied hard for John Wayne, but producer Walter Wanger kept saying no.
"It was only after constant persistence on Ford's part that Wanger finally gave in. Wanger's reservations were based on Wayne's string of B-movies, in which he came across as being a less than competent actor, and the box office failure of Raoul Walsh's The Big Trail in 1930, Wayne's first serious starring role.
"Local Navajo Indians played the Apaches, with one exception; Geronimo was played by an Apache. The film's production was a huge economic boost to the local impoverished population, giving jobs to hundreds of locals as extras and handymen. Hosteen Tso, a local shaman, promised John Ford the exact kind of cloud formations he wanted. They duly appeared" (academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/film-and-lit/ford-trivia).
As we bounced along the Drive, we were more concerned with the topography and the clouds and, consequently, did not match the names of formations with the formations themselves. However, we did identify this formation as Three Sisters, a Catholic nun facing her two pupils.
The main advantage to traveling in our own vehicle was the opportunity it provided to stop anywhere along the route to take photographs.
Although a bit out of sequence, we will take a break for lunch and then return to the midway point of our travels on Valley Drive.