Those Who Came Before
Mystery Valley is a relatively unknown destination that features ancient ruins, rock art, arches, box canyons, and breathtaking views of wide open spaces. Located next to Monument Valley, this hidden gem has negligible tourist traffic and provides a convenient "fix" for one of my guilty pleasures... exploring ancient Indian ruins.
I wake up to a stunning sunrise view from the balcony of my room at Goulding's Lodge. At 9:00 am a 4WD vehicle pulls up to the lodge to pick-up today's Mystery Valley "explorers". Mike and his wife Sandy board the vehicle, along with a couple visiting from Windsor England, Philip and Marilyn. We meet Rosie, our Navajo Guide for the day. This group of 6 will be the only human sighting in Mystery Valley today!
Rosie explains that the Navajo have lived in this area for at least 500 years. The "Dineh", or The People were nomads who came from northwestern Canada. The Hopi called them the "Navaju", the people who cultivated fields. "Anasazi" means several things in the Navajo tongue... Ancient Tribe, Ancient Enemies, Enemy Ancestors, Those Who Came Before. Since the Navajo have only an oral tradition, there is no written history. Individual clans have slightly different interpretations, hence the multiple meanings. Rosie elaborates that the Hopi culture retains many similarities to the Anasazi rock art and pottery patterns found in Mystery Valley. She believes that the Anasazi clans either joined or became the Hopi.
Our guide pulls into one of the countless side canyons. She instructs us to climb up the slick rock until a sandstone arch comes into view. We continue along the slick rock and take in the expansive views of Mystery Valley. We spot Rosie further along the slick rock (she's driven the 4WD vehicle ahead of this group of intrepid hikers). Rosie points towards an alcove and we spot Square House Ruins. We examine the area near the ruins finding evidence of ancient corn cobs, pottery shards, and tools. We carefully place our finds on a strategic rock in plain view for the next explorers.
We hop back into our transport as it negotiates some deep sand. Rosie remarks that if a guy was driving we'd be stuck by now! We turn a sharp corner and head down another side canyon. Baby House Ruins comes into view. We're encouraged to climb up the slick rock and investigate inside the ruins. There are remains of a mano and metate is inside the house ruins. We examine the alcove ceiling and pick out black soot from ancient cooking and warming fires. We ask Rosie about the origins of the name "Baby House". She points out the low ceiling in the fairly intact ruins, but also asks us to examine the rock art located on the floor. Baby hands and feet seem to have been pecked out of the rock along with adult features. She believes the rock art contributed to the name.
Rosie points to a canyon to the east and indicates that we will have a BBQ lunch there. She gives us the option of riding with her, or exploring the canyon as it boxes up. Mike and I opt to hike the canyon and join the others for lunch in about 30 minutes. When we return, the BBQ hamburgers are ready to be chomped down! Nearby Stout Arch and Honeymoon Arch provide "eye-candy" as we enjoy our lunch. After lunch Rosie indicates we should climb the slick rock about Honeymoon Arch to see what's inside. Honeymoon House Ruins are tucked up inside the alcove of the arch.
We continue in the 4WD vehicle and pass a procession of arches... Pine Tree Arch, Full Moon Arch, and others. The double-track trail leads up another side canyon. The outline of an Anasazi Ruin comes into view and we pile out of our transport. Rock art is plainly visible, particularly hand prints. Rosie indicates these are the House of Many Hands Ruins. Further examination of the shear rock face also yields warriors, antelope, water symbols, and other rock art.
As we head north through Mystery Valley, we closely pass some familiar landscape formations... Mitchell Butte, Gray Wiskers and Sentinel Mesa. We reach Monument Valley Road and to the east can view the famous East and West Mittens. We arrive at the Monument Valley Visitors Center just as my GPS indicates 1:00 pm.
Mystery Valley Ruins Summary:
1. Square House Ruins (GPS coordinates 36o 53.493"N, 110o 11.418"W)
2. Baby House Ruins (GPS coordinates 36o 53.278"N, 110o 11.134"W)
3. Honeymoon House Ruins (GPS coordinates 36o 53.309"N, 110o 10.487"W)
4. House of Many Hands Ruins (GPS coordinates 36o 54.144"N, 110o 10.169"W)
Note that Mystery Valley is located on Navajo Lands. Hiking, backpacking, biking, camping, horseback riding, off-roading, etc. are only allowed with a registered Navajo Guide. There are numerous, professionally run companies providing registered Navajo Guides at a reasonable cost. Winter is off-season and prices are at their lowest. Visiting tourists are also at their lowest numbers. Goulding's Lodge is a personal favorite and can be reached at 435-727-3231 or www.gouldings.com. Their winter 2006 rate of $225 for 2 nights, 2 people, plus an all day, 8+ hour tour/hike of Mystery Valley and Monument Valley is well worth the price. Apologize for the shameless plug, but one has to experience these famous landmarks at least once in their lifetime. My GPS indicated that we traveled 23.7 miles from Goulding's Lodge to Monument Valley Visitors Center via Mystery Valley with 4.5 miles covered on foot. Enjoy!
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.