Durango to Flagstaff

Today was a frustrating day.

We made our way into Navajo country, through the reservation to monument valley. Watching as the the mesa’s unfolded in front of us and then disappeared without the chance to stop and photograph everything started to wind me up more and more. Of course this was only to be expected on a coach journey, and we did make some stops at scenic locations. We stopped at a location called the Goosenecks. From a high vantage point we could see the river loop back along itself in a n ever tightening series of hairpin bends. Truly a spectacular sight. It was also the one time that I have come close to feeling angry on this entire journey. Shall we say disgruntled.

Here we were, standing to view one of the most amazing landscapes in the world. A true natural wonder. How long were we given to appreciate this magnificent vista? A grand total of ten minutes. Half of which were wasted as people shuffled off of the coach.

This kind of location was exactly what I’d dreamed of photographing since I’ve known that I’d be taking this journey. For the only time on this trip, I regretted not having my SLR and a wide-angle lens. Not that it would have made a difference. To try and capture the scale of the river and bends would be impossible without the assistance of a helicopter. Knowing the rush for time, I did not pause and consider the image that I was taking with each shot. Instead I started snapping away like an excited child handed his first camera. This did really matter though. With a subject as impressive as this, you can just point and shoot and have an interesting image.

No sooner had I started shooting then we were called back for a ‘group shot’. The rest of my time drained away as I tried not to look as angry as I was feeling and therefore ruining everyone else’s shots. In the end, I barely had time to get even the basic landscape shots, let alone hunt for interesting angles, as I would have liked. I honestly feel like I could have spent the entire day in this one place, but of course this was not plausible. Besides, we were moving on to Monument Valley and so there would be plenty more to shoot before the day was out.

At this time I’d like to make a heartfelt plea. To any makers of safety glass – please, please, please invent a non-reflective glass for tour busses. I’d love you forever if you did. The coach of course had its destination, and if we stopped at every dramatic landscape we would still be there. At most I would attempt to grab a shot through the window, but reflections made this both a frustrating and difficult exercise. For a snapshot the reflections are not too bad. But for what I wanted to achieve, they were simply maddening.

We next stopped at a spot on the road to Monument Valley that must be the most famous, and certainly the most photographed of the many vistas the location provides. To arrive there is wonderful. Obviously, I’d never been there before, but I felt that I had. The sight of the highway heading straight to the horizon, disappearing into the show of the peaks dead ahead is one that has been ingrained into mind for years. Photographs, movies, and TV shows have featured this view many, many times and now here I was standing on the very spot myself. Five minutes went the cry. Great.

I bounded to my position, determined to get the one shot that reflected the vision that I had always had in my mind. Another photographer and his girlfriend were slightly to my left. Him with tripod set up and SLR mounted. As I lined up my shot I realised one thing – he was stood exactly where I wanted to be. I asked if I could just nip in front of him to take my photo. That I was only there for a couple of minutes and I just wanted to get one shot and I’d get back out of his way. His answer was simple – no. So much for solidarity between photographers. With hindsight, I should have just been as rude back, said ‘tough shit’ and walked in front and took my shot. The guy proved to be an arsehole anyway. I was shooting a panorama and the fucker walked right in front of me. As we Brits say – what a wanker. I didn’t have time to retake the shot. I was already studiously ignoring the calls and watch tapping even before” I began shooting the panorama. Of course, I could have re-taken it. But I have a feeling that I would have been walking the rest of the way to Flagstaff.

The Valley itself was in the Navajo reservation. We were told that we would be stopping at a trading post where we would stop for a couple of hours. We stopped right in the shadow of one of the giant mesas. The only things around were a gift shop and a cafe. This was a real disappointment. After speaking to William, I had really been looking forward to talking with Navajo. But other then staff for the two amenities there was no-one there at all. we had also managed to stop in the one and only place in Monument valley where you could not really see the actual valley. Our location was akin to taking trying to take a photograph of Everest, when standing top of it. The only Navajo I spoke to was the waitress that took my order in the cafe. The shop itself was interesting though. Full of carvings, weavings and jewelry. The woman of the party seemed to have a field day there if the number of shopping bags when we re-boarded the coach was any indication. It was lucky for them as this would prove not to be the only Indian gift shop that we would see that day. Whilst on my search for a magnet (becoming something of an obsession), I rounded a corner to find a huge basket filled to the brim with slingshots that looked rather familiar. Yes, my deer-shot was made in China and it certainly wasn’t unique.

I did succumb to the tourist trap eventually. Buying my first pointless souvenir – a rather expensive one as well. For reasons that I still can’t fathom, I purchased a small wooden flute. Of course I have no idea how to get a tune out of it. But I think its pretty cool.


When we left the trading post the guide gave an ominous warning. “Folks, you may has well get your head down for a few hours, as there is nothing to see around here”. We drove on for an hour and the man was completely right. There was nothing at all. Eventually, the monotony of the bland, unvarying landscape caused me to fall asleep myself. A first for me, as I have never been able to sleep in a car or on a plane before. I awoke just as we were pulling into a town identified as Cameron. I was told that I had indeed missed nothing at all in the two hours or so I was out, by the unfortunates that had stayed awake the entire way.

Cameron, could not be described as attractive. Even by the most one-eyed, biased person imaginable. In fact, to call it a town at all is pushing it. Cameron, consisted of a petrol station, a motel and you’ve guessed it – a gift shop. Even bigger then the last, filled with the exact same items that we had just seen. How long were we in Cameron? 45 minutes. 45 whole bloody minutes in a gift shop identical to the one that we had left but three hours before. At two of the worlds most spectacular views we were given a grand total of 15 minutes. Gift shops were given nearly three hours. I was not a happy bunny, and I know that others felt the same way.

All in all I felt that today was an opportunity missed. Whilst I’m pleased to have witnessed Monument Valley. I, and others, were expecting to meet and converse with the Navajo. I was hoping to learn more about their culture in their own words – to expand upon what I had learnt at the American Indian museum in Washington. instead we spent a long time driving, and a long time in gift shops. As I say an opportunity missed and a frustrating day.

The frustration has carried over to the hotel – the Little America in Flagstaff, Arizona. The hotel is beautiful, the rooms are huge and comfortable. Walking the length of the room, I am fairly certain that the room is the same length as my house. The room looks out onto woodland, and I have a small balcony. It is almost perfect… almost. The trouble came when we decided to look for a place for dinner. We then discovered that the hotel is in Flagstaff in much the same way that Easyjet fly to Barcelona. We are relatively speaking in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully the food at the hotel was good an fairly reasonably priced. But after a 12 hour coach journey, I was a disappointment not to be able to head out into the town.

Tomorrow though looks promising. Yet another dream to be fulfilled as we head to the Grand Canyon.

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