Goulding, Ford and the Navajos: Monument Valley

Spearhead Mesa

Spearhead Mesa

Even the best artist sometimes needs a good public relations agent.  Mother Nature had Harry Goulding.

Born in 1897 on a Colorado sheep ranch, Goulding came to Monument Valley in 1921 after serving in World War I.  He took his 20 year old wife Leone (whom he called Mike) there in 1925.  They lived in a tent.  They then built a two-story structure with a trading post on the first floor and their home on the second.  If you go to Monument Valley, you still can visit the trading post and home.

Paiutes held  a thin strip of Utah land along the Arizona border until they traded it for a more fertile piece elsewhere.  Harry bought 640 acres of that land at the base of a cliff from the State of Utah for $320.  Harry’s land sits across from the entrance to Monument Valley.

The Navajos were forced out of Monument Valley by troops under Kit Carson, but were allowed to return home in 1868.  In 1932, the Navajo Nation in Arizona was expanded to include the “Paiute Strip” surrounding the Gouldings’ property.  The Gouldings spoke Navajo and traded with the Navajos.  They both also ran sheep.  1934 and 1936 droughts, governmental size limits on herds and poor wool prices pushed everyone to their limits.  Even if it was spectacularly beautiful, it was a hard place to live.

DSCN2712When Harry heard United Artists was looking for locations to shoot a Western movie, he got his friend, photographer Josef Mensch, to put together an album of photos made in Monument Valley. Two other films had been shot there, and Harry was determined to bring the valley to the attention of the world.

Mike and Harry drove to Hollywood.  Harry walked into United Artists unannounced.  Although ready to throw him out, the location manager saw Harry’s pictures.  He then called in director John Ford to take a look.

West Mitten Butte

West Mitten Butte

Ford had already made nearly a hundred films and was considered a success.  But he went on to make seven films in monument Valley starting with Stagecoach, thus cementing his fame and position in the industryHis She Wore A Yellow Ribbon won the academy award for cinematography.

Many other movies have been made or partially made in the valley including Back to the Future III, Forest Gump and, more recently The Lone Ranger.  The valley regularly shows up as a backdrop on TV.  The Goulding trading post now includes a museum dedicated to the movies made in the valley.

Waiting for sundown, East Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte

Waiting for sundown near East Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte

Others claimed to have brought Ford to Monument Valley, but Ford’s subsequent closeness to and respect for Goulding indicates the Goulding story is true.

The trading post gradually transitioned into primitive cabins for visitors.  A motel was built in the 1950s.  In 1962 at age 65, Harry and his wife sold or gave Gouldings to Knox College whose president was a World War I buddy. The college in turn sold it to Nathan and Gerald LaFont in 1981.  Goulding died that year; his wife died in 1992.

from the hotel

from the hotel

Monument Valley is to the American West as the Sydney Opera House is to Australia.  It is easily recognized the world over.  But even with all the publicity, it took a long time to fulfill Harry Goulding’s dream.

When we first visited in 1981, the road was paved to the still simple motel.  But the entrance to Monument Valley had just one Navajo collecting a fee by a narrow bumpy dirt road into the valley.  A lone woman worked at a loom on the side.  We drove back through the valley alone.  We still treasure the memory of a picnic between high buttes.  For about a half hour, we rested in total silence until a small plane passed over and broke the mood.

Returning in 2009, we found the Lodge a much fancier affair.  Entrance to the valley was more formal, and Navajos sold souvenirs at every pull-out.

By March 2016, the Lodge had become a major employer with more rooms, dining, cabins, a campground, fuel and supplies.  It is wise to get reservations in advance.

From our room at Gouldings

From our room at Gouldings

The Navajos had heavy equipment repairing and grading the road.  They have built the View Hotel and Museum and have a large store.  We had a nice meal with excellent service in their restaurant.  As it was mid-March, there were not very many people selling souvenirs.  There were, however, other visitors, and our completely quiet spot is now just a memory.

This time, we stayed in Gouldings Lodge.  The view was great — if perhaps not as good as at the View Hotel — and the story of that tough western couple was better than any movie.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  If Gouldings Lodge and the Navajo hotel are beyond your budget, more modest accomodations can be found down the road in Mexican Hat.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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6 Responses to Goulding, Ford and the Navajos: Monument Valley

  1. Pit says:

    Am waiting for “The Duke” to come riding in from the horizon. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Loraine & Keith Beckman says:

    You gave me more insight and history than I already knew. Thanks again as I always enjoy your Travels. Love to you both. LK&W

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A beautiful place. I must return. Thanks. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue Slaght says:

    What a stunning location. Imagining the pioneering spirit of settling there is hard for me to fathom. I like to think of myself as an adventurer but really compared to these folks I am a princess.

    Liked by 1 person

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