ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

When I left high school, I completed a degree in Media Studies and I majored in Cinema Studies and Television Production. I think I wanted to be a television producer or something, although it’s all a bit of a blur so I couldn’t be sure. And when I finished, I promptly got a job as an events manager and I haven’t referred back to that degree since. Except for the odd moment of glory at random trivia nights in the category of classical Hollywood cinema. Other than that, nada. Which is not a stab at the fine folks at RMIT – it is a good course. It’s more a stab at my own career decision-making skills which saw me go into an industry that had very little to do with what I actually studied, and saw four years worth of tertiary level education go largely unused.

Until this week, that is. For if I had never undertaken Media Studies at RMIT and never majored in Cinema Studies and more specifically, never taken ‘COMM1032: Authorship and Narrative in cinema’, I may never have become smitten with Monument Valley. One of the first authors we studied in this subject was the legendary Western director, John Ford, and no discussion of John Ford is complete without reference to Monument Valley.

The story goes like this: a pioneer named Harry Goulding settled with his family in Monument Valley in the mid-1920’s. In 1938, he heard a rumour about a production company looking to film a western on location. So he (and wifey) high-tailed it to Hollywood with a few choice photographs of the valley in hand. Whilst he was initially dismissed as a hick, wasting the precious time of movie men, he eventually earned a hearing with John Ford’s location scout, and finally with the man himself. Add John Wayne to the mix and the rest, as they say, is history. (Meanwhile, wifey apparently remained in the car knitting).

The thing is, even without being the iconic setting for numerous Hollywood productions over the years (Stagecoach, The Searchers, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future III, Forrest Gump), on first sight, Monument Valley takes your breath away.

And it’s not like we took the easy road there. We left Albuquerque on Saturday morning and literally braved sun, rain and snow to get there. I did not sign up for snow.

We also got bogged. True to the expression, no good deed ever goes unpunished, Hoff pulled over about an hour short of the Utah border to assist a gentleman that had evidently run out of fuel, and promptly got bogged. Panic stations. We tried in vain to gun it out of there. No luck. We enlisted the support of the fuel-less gentleman to help push us out of there. No luck. Finally, just as I was about to call the roadside assist number for our rental car company (and quite prepared to hear raucous laughter at the other end of the line), a good Samaritan stopped by with his gigantic car (NB: all cars are gigantic here) and pulled us out of the mud with a chain. So off we went, muddier than before, leaving the fuel-less gentleman by the side of the road, no better off for us having stopped to lend a hand. Maybe a little worse off actually, because he spent a good amount of time pushing our car.

But as I mentioned, it was worth it to see Monument Valley. The view from our hotel room alone was worth the trip – it was like waking up in a hotel on Mars. Never have I stayed somewhere more stunning and peaceful.

And as we didn’t fancy taking on the 17 mile Monument Valley off-road drive ourselves (after our failed attempts at going only 1m off road previously), we went on a guided tour of the valley itself and saw some amazing sights, including petroglyphs on a rock that date back to the inhabitants of the land that came before the most recent Navajo inhabitants.

So after delighting in the awesome views, what do we do with a spare day in Monument Valley? Check out the dinosaur tracks outside Tuba City? Visit the Canyon De Chelly National Monument? Nope, we decided to do the mature thing and drive to ‘Four Corners’ so we can put each one of our extremities in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado at the same time. Nice.

Today finds us in Flagstaff, Arizona, after yet another hair-raising, snowy drive (seriously, what gives?). We’re camped here because it is a good base to check out the Grand Canyon tomorrow. And I must admit, I’m pretty tired. It could be from all the driving. Or maybe it’s because today I suggested a leisurely stroll into the historic centre of Flagstaff and our fearless leader and navigator (one R. Hoffman) walked us over 2 miles through the snow in the wrong direction. For all you metric kids out there, a 3km each way walk into town turned out to an almost 9 km round trip. In wind and snow. I was delighted, as you can imagine. Not to worry, we’re warm and dry now, all forgiven, ready to tackle the Grand Canyon tomorrow.

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