The land forgets. Time forgets. And this is the natural way of things, I think, driving through the crimson valley. Or is it? Perhaps nothing is consigned to oblivion except from human memory, human perception.
The erased things are more noticeable at Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii. The eroded sandstone calls attention to itself by its absence from the towering buttes. The bleached skull of a lizard points out the presence of death in the wilderness. The hogan of the Diné reminds me that a vanquished people live here. The stratified topography evokes memories of lost stories, misplaced names, extinct societies, broken bodies.
This terrain makes it so easy to forget with its vast sweeps of sky, its unending rusted plains. Too readily I pretend to be the privileged explorer discovering untamed mesas and alien pillars untouched by time. Erasing the past I play at conquering the illusory empty harshness of a nonexistent American West.
Life goes on. What’s old will be new again. History is set on an infinite loop. All this is true, but it’s also a convenient excuse. I can choose not to remember what is still present. I can deny knowledge recovered over and over again. I can couch the narrative in conjunctive amnesia. I come out of it defeated, though, buried under the rubbish I’ve concocted.
Where weather has stolen the principal layers it has left deep scars — minerals exposed change the color from tawny to lavender, cracks widen into chutes, fins thin; it is the same with human actions. Past conduct complicates future solutions, ignoring them doesn’t ameliorate.
Perhaps it is because these rocks are one-hundred-and-sixty million years old. Perhaps it is the seemingly eternal ribbon roads cutting through expansive desert on their way to meet an infinite horizon. Perhaps it is the solitary monoliths which appear to broodily guard this space. I can’t put my finger on it, but something at Monument Valley provokes great melancholy, a feeling of isolation, a wandering of the soul. To me it also breeds a sense of sanctity too precious to be spoken aloud.
Of course the imperviousness of the environment is a lie which can be dispelled by the sight of discarded mines, signs for new age retreats, fast food wrappers fluttering from gulches. Any way you slice it, truth is we change the form of the land. We reshape it with our perspective, our ignorance, our desire. We mow it, plow it, scrape parts of it onto other sections, gouge it, polish it, build on it….
Such feats feel impossible in this dream world whose otherness emphasizes our inability to comprehend nature. It’s a deception. This earth also carries upon it our violence; the wounds of identity, the trauma of ownership exist here too. Only my unwillingness to acknowledge it hinders me from seeing.
It’s difficult at first for me to comprehend that Monument Valley is a continuous sea of rock. The famous turrets that rise up, like mythical beings, are in fact part of the plateau. They are deeply rooted, imbedded — as I am, as we all are — to our planet. I think it a mistake that they’ve been labeled: the Three Sisters, the Mitten Buttes, the Totem Pole. Such categorization constricts us from understanding the interconnectivity of existence, the multiplicity of matter. I’m reminded by these mega-formations of sedimentary-conglomerate-sand-rock not to confine the generosity on spectacle at Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii.
I’m glad this place disquiets me. I hope I never forget it. I hope it continues to haunt me long after I drive away. I hope it whispers to me in coming years of its undefinable fluidity. I hope it confounds me to the very end.
Monument Valley may look like an impregnable landscape, but it is a delicate habitat and a cultural preserve. Plants, such as the purple sage, the juniper, and the yucca as well as animals like coyotes, red-tailed hawk, and mountain lions depend on the balanced environment. In addition, this is home to Navajo Nation who consider the geology and wildlife here as sacred and essential. Please travel throughout the plateau responsibly and tread carefully.
What does landscape mean to you? From what perspectives do you see it? Ever been in a landscape which you thought was from another planet? Let me know about it in the comments below!