On Film: Monument Valley / by Travis Cobb

A few years back, my buddy and I decided to take a road trip form Dallas to the Grand Canyon. I’m not normally one for schedules and itineraries — especially when I’m on vacation — but given that we’d laid out numerous places we wanted to visit and that he had a flight to catch that Sunday, we had to plan our trip accordingly. I nailed it, had it down perfectly, he was cool with it and we were golden.

He flew down from Seattle and when I picked him up from the airport, the first thing out of his mouth was “I can’t drive a stick”. So, the schedule went to shit and we just went with it. It also meant that some of the stops we’d planned on had to be cut. The one I was most bummed about was Monument Valley — I vividly remember that long stretch of highway and passing the turn-off for Monument Valley wondering what it actually looked like 3 miles farther up the road we’d just driven past.

I’m a huge fan of Westerns, I grew up on Westerns and some of my all-time favorite films are Westerns. To be able to visit the Mecca of American Westerns has always been a desire of mine. So, when it was announced that my son had a baseball tournament in Phoenix, I knew this was a perfect opportunity to make the long trip.

I left Dallas at 7am for Santa Fe — apart from some crazy fog and white-knuckle rain, it was uneventful. For the record, the drive from Dallas to anywhere in a 6-hour+ radius is the most boring drive in the world. The next morning in Santa Fe, I awoke to about 5” of snow — not a problem, it wasn’t sticking to the roads. What was the problem was to get from Santa Fe to Monument Valley, you must travel up into the mountains on single lane roads, where it was still snowing and had not been plowed, in my Kia. Afters hours worth of chasing semi trucks just to find tire tracks in the snow to stay on the road, I made it — after years, I made it only to get stuck in the mud.

The locals called it El Cap — Agathla Peak — this massive rock that looks as though it pierced the Earth rises over the horizon on the road from Kayenta. My buddy and I had stopped on the side of the road years ago to photograph it. When it came into view this time, I wanted another frame. As soon as I pulled off the road my car sank up in the red clay. Apparently it had rained the day before, and when it rains there, the dusty red Martian-like soil turns into this concrete-like quicksand. I was starting to shit myself — it was getting dark, I was in the middle of nowhere with no service, and it was starting to snow. After about a half hour of me frantically trying to dig my ass out of the mud with some rocks and my bare hands, a guy named Franklin but who preferred “Cowboy” pulled me out of the mud.

Monument Valley and the surrounding Navajo Nation reveals something new every time. Below are my favorite frames from that long drive.