Monument Valley, Four Corners: A desert scene worth capturing |

Monument Valley, Four Corners: A desert scene worth capturing

Paul Conrad photo

The desert. The light of the early morning sun peeks over the distant hills, silhouetting the jutting buttes of The Mittens against an ever brightening sky. As the sun slowly rises, it seeps from between the fingers of these ancient formations to warm our tent and shine its primordial rays over the valley.As we gather ourselves and brew some coffee, my girlfriend Susan and I wonder why we didn’t get up before sunrise to capture such a beautiful scene. Some beauty is left to be captured only by our memories, however. “A picture for the soul,” she often says. And I agree.The Four Corners area has always been a destination of mine. In particular, The Mittens of Monument Valley. Watching old westerns when I was a kid, I made a mental note to see those geologic formations so prominent in many of the movies. The Mittens stood out because of their uniqueness.

The evening before, we spent several hours up the road from our campsite photographing the landscape. Overlooking the prominent feature of the region, the buttes of the East and West Mittens, it became apparent the best way to photograph them is to bring out the stars. So we set up a tripod and shot star trails over the Mittens. Beautiful.

Farther north, on an isolated stretch of U.S. 163 past Mexican Hat, is a turnoff with a simple sign for Valley of the Gods. On this remote 17-mile stretch of dirt road is a variety of land forms with names such as Lady in the Bathtub, Rudolph and Santa Claus, and Castle Butte. It’s a quiet area surrounded by pinnacles and buttes. A valley where one can find peace and tranquility, and plenty of camping. (Bring plenty of water and use “leave no trace” principles.)But dusty trails and vertical cliffs are not all the area has to offer. The visitors center at The Mittens also has a wonderful museum about a small, but not forgotten, Navajo legacy. The museum is dedicated to the Navajo veterans, particularly those from World War II called Code Talkers who used the unwritten language of their forefathers to advance Allied troops through the Pacific campaigns. Along the roads one may find a stand where Navajo sell their wares. Trinkets, blankets, rugs and sand paintings to bring home to remind you of your ventures.Camping is limited in the area, as many of the lands do belong to the Navajo. At the Mittens, there is a designated campground overlooking the whole of Monument Valley. Personal photography is allowed, but any photography for commercial purposes must go through the Navajo Film and Media Commission.It’s a land of beauty, adventure and mystery. Well worth the trip.

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