Out Of A Movie
I’ve visited plenty of places that are straight out of a movie scene: Cheoah Dam (see Water Fallen from March 2021), and a plowed-under cornfield in Iowa (see Field of Dreams from February 2013), and of course that one scene from North By Northwest (see Rapid City, Rapid Change from November 2011). One of the most famous movie settings, especially if you’re of fan of the western genre, is the rock formations of northeastern Arizona. Off the top of my head I cannot name a single movie filmed with this backdrop, but if you’re curious, you can ask my good friend, Google. The beautiful, eroded layers of colored rock stand watch over the Hopi and Navajo Reservations, and, yes, I’ve seen them. Why else would I be telling you this story?
Now, in fairness, only a handful of roads weave through this isolated part of the Grand Canyon State, so even though I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where in the region I may have been when I drove past distinct mesas, I could find my location to navigate through the area on my way to Glen Canyon Dam. My exact placement on the planet resembles the unknown names as I pass each one; it doesn’t matter in comparison to the size and appearance these dramatic, towering rocks make across the otherwise flat terrain. Consider if these naturally carved creations nestled among a forest or the winding roads of the Appalachian Mountains (see Almost Heaven from July 2012), their sky-scraper structure would be lost in the midst of other surroundings. These earthen towers inspire movie settings because when the sun nears and dips below the horizon at the close of each day, the lengthy silhouettes across the expanse impress not just by their size, age, and formation, but through their moviesque quality of this incredible scenery. You know, it looks like something right out of a movie.
And cut! Once the cameras turn off, take a closer look around the scenery. Mesas may be distinct and noticeable, but of all the images I take away from the region, the monuments are secondary. The high desert isn’t strictly a desert. Snow falls every winter, and the elevation measures higher than five thousand feet above sea level. Compared to the state’s capital, the population is negligible. Shrubbery covers the soil while trees are absent, and cactus, where present, keeps themselves below the shrub line. People scrape out an existence in tranquility and starkness, both of which I find to be breathtakingly beautiful. While not an easy terrain to chisel out a life, I can certainly understand why these tribes call the area home.
As I drive along the two-lane road, the pavement extends only a minimal edge to each side, offering little shoulder, but extending far into the distance. At places, barbed wire fences mark the only sign of human life. Along one of these low corrals I must stop as a woman opens a length of fence that doubles as a gate and allows her small herd of a couple dozen sheep to wander across the asphalt. I sit quietly and watch her daily task. The knowledge of the woolen critters making their way from the west to east doesn’t necessarily indicate their brilliance as much as their routine, but this, like her, represents the simplicity of their lives. How fortunate that I observe this moment, this day, this lifestyle, this existence right in front of me. It’s not a movie, it’s what life in Monument Valley really is.