MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – Naming the Navajo Nation’s new hotel at Monument Valley Tribal Park was easy.
The View Hotel looks out on one of the most spectacular vistas in the Southwest, the red-rock monoliths rising from the desert floor of Monument Valley. The hotel is the only lodging inside the valley, which straddles the Utah-Arizona border on reservation lands. Each balcony frames three of the most famous formations, the two Mittens and Merrick Butte.
The enchanting landscape is one of the most photographed in America, and not just by tourists. Visitors to the valley some 60 years ago could have watched John Wayne chase Indians for the filming of John Ford’s epic Westerns.
Fifteen years ago, you could have seen Forrest Gump stop running.
Before the View’s opening in December, the only lodging near the valley was established by the late Harry Goulding, who earned the trust of the Navajos and set up a trading post in 1928. In the 1930s, Goulding sold director Ford on the idea of Monument Valley as the perfect backdrop for his Westerns, and he put up the stars during filming.
The trading post is now a museum, with a display paying homage to Wayne, and a motel, restaurant and gift shop have been added to the site. Goulding’s Lodge has rooms with balconies that look out onto Monument Valley, but it’s just outside the entrance to the tribal park.
The Ortega family, Navajos with a longtime reputation as entrepreneurs, built the View Hotel and pay a guest tax to the tribe. The hotel is an effort by the Navajo to bring jobs and visitors to their land. The Hopi, whose reservation is surrounded by the Navajo Nation, also are increasing tours of their villages and building their own hotel in Tuba City.
Harold Simpson, 42, is a Navajo who was born and reared in Monument Valley and now owns a company that gives tours of the tribal lands, including areas that are off-limits without a guide.
He welcomed the opening of the View as a boost to his business.
“We get about 300,000 visitors a year. The Grand Canyon gets into the millions, but that’s too much, too overcrowded,” he said. “They built the hotel on the perfect spot. Environmentally, they’ve tried to do the right thing with it. Visitors didn’t have a lot of choices out here. Most people would drive in for the day and move on.”
Moenkopi, one of 12 Hopi villages, is near Tuba City on U.S. Highway 160, the doorway to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley. The Moenkopi Legacy Inn, a three-story hotel to be built in the pueblo style, is scheduled to open Sept. 1 and will offer 100 rooms, as well as storytelling, art demonstrations and dancing by tribal members.
Daniel Honahni, a businessman and tribal leader leading the project, said the hotel and a travel center already built will bring jobs to the Hopi and keep them on the reservation.
The hotel will also provide tourists with information on the annual dances held at other Hopi villages, including the historic rock structures atop the mesas. In the mid-1600s, the Hopi revolted against Spanish influence, burning down the missions and chasing off the padres. The Hopi fled to the tops of the mesas, fearing a retaliation that never came.
Today, the older villages such as Walpi, on First Mesa, are living relics of the past. With no running water or electricity, Walpi looks much like it did in 1900, when photographer Edward S. Curtis arrived to capture what he considered a vanishing race. Walpi has been open to tourists for many years; for $15, a guide leads you through the stone houses and plazas. Now, other villages are offering similar access.
Dorothy Denet, who is helping to develop the walking tours at the village of Sipaulovi, said visitors can come during the dances and see ceremonies that have changed little in the last three centuries.
“Other tribes look to the Hopi because we still have our language, we still have our traditions,” she said. “Yes, our children play with video games, but we retain our ways, while a lot of other tribes have lost them.”
Most of the residents of Walpi have relocated to lower villages but retain their houses on the mesas for stays during the dances.
For $5 a person, you can enter Monument Valley Tribal Park and drive the 17-mile loop through the red-rock monoliths on your own. Or you can pay $60 a person and let Harold Simpson and his brother, Richard, negotiate a van over the washboard roads and into the areas restricted without a Navajo guide.
“The majority of our clients are Japanese,” Simpson said. “Europeans and Asians keep the Southwest alive.”
When you go
The View Hotel has a restaurant serving Native American dishes and a gift shop with authentic rugs, pottery and jewelry. Alcohol isn’t allowed on tribal land. The Wildcat Trail, a four-mile loop around the Left Mitten, is one of the only trails visitors can walk without a Navajo guide. Rooms from $95. 1-435-727- 5556; www.monumentvalley view.com
Seeing the area
Monument Valley Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours has a variety of tours, ranging from a 90-minute visit to an overnight stay in a hogan with dinner. 1-877-686-2848; www.trailhandlertours.com
• Navajo tourism: 1-928-810-8504
• Monument Valley Tribal Park, 1-928-871-6647; www.navajonationparks.org
• Hopi dances, 1-928-737-5426
• Hopi tourism and new hotel, www.experiencehopi.com
• Goulding’s Lodge, 1-435-727-3231; www.gouldings.com