In the fall of 2010, my wife, Letha, and I had the opportunity to ride our Morgan Horses in Monument Valley for a week. This turned out to be the most awe-inspiring equine experience we?ve ever had. We returned in the fall of 2011.
Monument Valley?s entrance is in Utah just north of the Arizona border, though the majority of ?it is in Arizona. It's part of the Navajo Nation and is administered as a park by the tribe. It's one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
One can choose from among several individuals who organize these rides and coordinate with the Navajos who host them.
Our ride was put together by Blondie Bacal from Norco, California. We met her on the annual Tucson Saddle Club Tierra Bella ride in 2009, where we first learned about this ride. Our Navajo host and guide was Effie Yazzie.
Entrance into the valley is strictly controlled by Navajo Rangers, who pre-inspect your permits and documentation, including Coggins tests showing that your horses are negative for equine infectious anemia. The Rangers will then visually inspect your horses.
The reservation doesn't allow alcoholic beverages. If any are found, the Rangers will make you dispose of them, and may give you a citation and/or eject you.
On this trip, Letha and I were joined by many of our fellow Morgan owners. Many rode gaited Morgans. In fact, the entire board of the Morgan Single-Footing Horse Association was on our ride.
Letha rode Ayla, her coming 5-year-old mare; I rode Dream Catcher Spirit Song, my 9-year-old mare. Letha and I have been in Morgans for several years. We're now focusing on gaited Morgans.
Most of our Navajo guides also rode gaited horses ? Missouri Fox Trotters.
We arrived at the staging point near the entrance on a Sunday afternoon. After the Rangers inspected our horses and us, Effie Yazzie joined us. The Rangers then escorted us as we drove to our beautiful box canyon campsite around six miles away.
The initial steep descent into the valley, on a dirt switchback road, is a bit challenging, especially in a big living-quarters rig, but it's very doable.
Once in the valley, all ride participants are required to be escorted by a Navajo guide whenever they leave camp, unless they?re driving back to the entrance.
The campsite itself is rather spectacular. We were nestled inside a large box canyon with high red walls.
We brought our own portable corrals, but there are also corrals available along the north wall for a modest price.
The Yazzie family provides water for the horses twice a day. With advance notice, they?ll provide water for camping rigs as well. On our ride, the Yazzies also provided three of our evening meals.
The Yazzies always joined our evening campfire to tell us stories of their life in the valley and its history, sing native songs, and teach us Navajo dances.
One night, we enjoyed Navajo tacos at the Yazzies? family compound, nearby. There, we were honored to meet Susie Yazzie, the family matriarch, who?s about 92 years old. She demonstrated the process of taking wool from their native four-horned sheep and making the beautiful wool rugs for which the Navajos are known.
Over the next five days, we rode every day. Saddle-up times were on Navajo time: nine-ish, nine-thirty-ish, etc. Just before we rode out, our guides would take turns singing a Native American song.
One morning, our guide, Nez, showed his sense of humor when he began singing, ?One little, two little, three little Indians?.? We all cracked up on that one!
The valley is colorful, with red rock formations and a surprising amount of green vegetation. Much of the area we rode through is inaccessible to motor vehicles, keeping it pristine.
Ride length was from three to seven hours, but the rides were all at an easy pace, with frequent stops to take photos and enjoy the spectacular scenery. When we stopped, Effie Yazzie told stories about our surroundings.
The trails ranged from easy to moderate in difficulty. One portion of the seven-hour ride is rated difficult, but there's an easier alternate route.
In terms of terrain, some sections are rocky, but the vast majority of the trails have a sandy base, particularly on grades. There are even some genuine sand dunes.
On our seven-hour ride, we rode to a remote canyon with several fairly intact Anasazi ruins. It was a beautiful hideaway with lots of trees and a gorgeous view.
The variety of scenery we experienced was incredible: huge arches; narrow canyons barely wide enough to ride through; hidden ponds in the shadow of towering walls; rock monoliths; and vast open vistas.
Overall, I was most struck by the immenseness of the valley and its formations, as well as the sense of history.
For more information on rides in Monument Valley, call Effie Yazzie, (928) 209-0303. For more on the Morgan Horse Association, call (802) 985-4944, or visit www.morganhorse.com. For more on the Morgan Single-Footing Horse Association, visit www.gaitedmorgans.org.