Time Marches On in Monument Valley

by Mike Salisbury

"There?" I asked. "After dark?"

Coming down northbound on the backside of the mountains, I could see on the clear horizon the indelible skyline made by the tall towers of Monument Valley.... the road was a straight line from me to them. A really long, straight road.

"That's where we will be - probably just after dark," my friend said.

It was not even 11 am. I thought this little skip into Marlboro Country was going to be like the short hop from my house in Venice to the phony canyons at Disneyland. Now, my anxiety was waking up for work with a smile. I could see my future - lunch, gas stops, snacks, photo ops, dinner...my whole day was in front of my eyes. I could see my life lying there in the heat of the desert before me. I couldn't see my "Close Encounter" though.

I was riding a new Honda VFR to Monument Valley from Phoenix and back. Great bike. Won't ever buy a new distance motorcycle without that setup of the ABS and linked brakes. Saved my life on the crowded freeway east of Scottsdale coming in at rush hour after riding close to eight hours.

Leaving Mesa this morning, my friend who I rode with on his way back to Park City, wanted to have his picture taken "standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona" so we went over the mountains behind Mesa east of Phoenix to Winslow and on and on.

Seven butt wrenching hours of riding later, just before dark, the aftereffects of a Mexican combination plate lunch wearing off - a plate that was only a combination of several kinds of poisonous fats - I was gliding silently on the east side of Monument Valley, coming to the road leading to Goulding's Lodge.

My friend, not impressed with tall rocks seemingly the height of the Chrysler building, sped off leaving me motoring alone, wheels close to the white stripes that were reflecting the sun down the highway to infinity, the empty sand all around me blackening as the sun set.

The sky scraping rock spires become even more red as I got closer to them heading into the setting sun.

And then, out there in the literal middle of nowhere, the sun dropped. Like the abrupt opening of the Lost Ark in "Raiders," vibes, voices, soaring and swirling phosphorescent specters erupted in my face as the valley floor around me went lightless.

Visibly shocked - like the horny Tex Avery cartoon Wolf suddenly aroused by a flirty dame - my heart jumped out of my chest and my eyes bulged into space.

Gripped in a battle against the darkness of the sudden nightfall, my helmet leapt off the top of my head. Screaming, I twisted the throttle until my knuckles hit my wrist. Racing on tires now elliptically shaped by increasing speed over the serpentine road - up and down, in and out of the gullies and washes barely in front of a cloud of desert sand, racing them all to the warm safety of the lodge.

Gulping an emergency glass of wine at the hotel, I tried using my cell phone. It wouldn't make or accept calls. Could it be there was no reception out here in the middle of nowhere? Had we ridden to the end of the Earth?

We stumbled in the half dark of a not full moon, on foot from our rooms to dinner up at the hotel. This was the first time I heard my friend swear. He was bummed about the recently bad aesthetic the hand of commerce had dumped on this iconically unique American landscape.

I guess he had forgotten Dinah Shore singing about the Chevys perched up on the rocks. Sitting up there for real, long before computers could do it. That trick for commerce may have been the beginning of the end.

John Ford only took heroic pictures of the valley - he didn't dress it like a sideshow freak. But right now, I was staring at the black plastic thing in my hand, still lost in the mysteries of my now soulless phone.

After the ride, back in Mesa at a Cingular store, I found that my number had been "suspended" from the system about the day I fought the demons (though my daughter's number on the same account was always working) and the memory of any calls made or received with my phone in Monument Valley had been erased....

It all may have been symptoms of my reactions to a long, and at times sad trip...800 miles in two days and we could not find much of the Southwest of the Santa Fe Railroad posters out there.

The white domes of Navajo Hogans are gone - replaced by many more trailers, some rotting on the red sand. The sheepdogs and log corrals are gone because the sheep are gone - the fry bread stands are gone because the new Burger Kings and KFCs and Subways are hiring and feeding.

What should be good news is that Goulding's Lodge where John Ford and John Wayne made westerns is busy again - so busy, it is going to be torn down and relocated as a new "modern" hotel not rising up under the red bluffs but sprawling out down in the flats.

There are good new things there. On the Hopi reservation is a new medical center. There are new schools on the reservations with billboards announcing national scholastic achievements of the schools. There are new courts and police stations and jails.

And there is one new Hogan at Gouldings. They will move the new replica Hogan down there to the new hotel site along with the Porta Potty all set up recently for the tours.

All just in front of that tower that the Chevy sat on.


Perhaps all the spirits of the valley are sad too. And a little bummed out.

Mike Salisbury: "From Michael Jackson to Rolling Stone to Levi's 501 Jeans, Mike Salisbury has been responsible for the success of many of the most successful pop icons of our time. He has designed corporate logos for Hasbro, Disney, and Polygram, advertising campaigns for Jurassic Park, Aliens, VW and Levi's packages for Mattel Toys and Kirin Beer, and products for Suzuki and Honda. Salisbury has either designed from scratch or redesigned such publications as Rolling Stone, Playboy, West, Westways, Surfer, Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Sassy, the San Francisco Examiner and the Los Angeles Times. Mike has won virtually every award for design on the planet including a Grammy and his work is in the Smithsonian and Library of Congress. His photographs have been published in Rolling Stone, Time, Newsweek, Vogue, Men's Journal, and Forbes, and are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art." - AdWeek

Source: Bikeland.org

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