From the day that John Wayne set foot there, Monument Valley was doomed to become busy. A jeep track was fated to be built around the iconic buttes. Tourists would drive around the valley floor, their cars tailed by veils of dust. The scene would become commonplace, something one pays $10 to 'experience' by driving around, windows rolled up to keep the inside of the car clean.
We arrived on a stormy day and paid our entry fee. Travel alerts warned of thunderstorms and flash floods. A stiff breeze stirred dust and drove clouds across the sky. Heavy raindrops fell, at last suppressing the flying dust. At our backs, miles upwind, a grey deluge raced towards us. There was time to grab a few photos then make for the gift shop to peruse John Wayne and Native American kitsch.
A day later I found a landscape with some atmosphere, the same hills from another angle, but brighter and quieter. The view was mine alone. Perhaps I am being pedantic, wanting a personal experience? Weren't these hills meant to be viewed en-mass as in the cinema? Aren't they common cultural property? After all that has passed, why shouldn't the Navajo Nation exploit the white man's imagery?
It comes down to my relationship with landscape. I came here to find beauty and tranquility, not a film set. I've seen few of the famous films shot here. No, I'd rather imagine me travelling across this arid land, experiencing the space and changing colours. I'd like to find meaning here. Except that, as I mentioned in my previous post, I'm better equipped to manage fact than abstraction. Artistically speaking, Monument Valley lends itself more to abstract expression, swathes of colour and sky. In a crowd or alone, this is a difficult place for me to assimilate and express. More readily I can render this land colourful or brooding, or tell a tale of exploration or exploitation. I can record the white man's picturesque.