Tours and Totem Poles   2 comments

In at least one way, photography in Monument Valley is like photography at the Grand Canyon — there aren’t many original photos to be had.  You simply add yours to the thousands already on the web.  Unlike the Grand Canyon however, at Monument Valley you can’t simply drive or hike wherever you want.  This is Navajo land, and if you only pay the $5.00 entrance fee you are limited to the iconic view from the visitor’s center, and the various views along the loop drive.

To see more of Monument Valley, or to venture into neighboring Mystery Valley, you will need a guide.  Now there is no shortage of willing guides.  Just show up at the visitor’s center and look confused or wave a few twenties in the air.  But if you are a photographer you probably want a guide who understands photography, and you might want avoid the typical plaid-and-polyester group tours too.  Or, like I did, you can book an individual guide for one-on-one service.

There is one guide service in Monument Valley that came highly recommended by other photographers — Keyah Hozhoni Tours — run by Tom Phillips, an amateur photographer himself.  I scheduled with Tom before we ever left home and he set me up with one of his assistants, Roy.  I met Roy around 5 a.m. at the visitor’s center on the day of the tour and deferred to his judgment on where to go for the morning.  Roy took me for a bone-jarring ride in his jeep to photograph Totem Pole — the formation in the photograph above — for sunrise.  I was able to capture images of red sand dunes and a formation called “yei bi chai” at the same location.  Some of these photos will be posted in future blogs.

After covering a good deal of Monument Valley during the morning we took the high-contrast mid-day hours off for lunch and a nap.  Then I brought Melanie, Eric and Hannah with me for the late afternoon / evening hours.  Roy took us to Mystery Valley where we explored ancient petroglyphs, anasazi ruins, and many more sandstone formations.  While I photographed, Roy spent time talking to everyone about the history of the area and the life of the people there.  We even got to walk right up to a thousand year old anasazi stone hut, an extraordinary look at how people lived long before Europeans ever landed on American shores.

The cost of the tour was $220, and I gave Roy a $40 tip.  Expensive?  I don’t think so.  Not when you consider the opportunity to learn the geological and human history from your own personal Navajo guide.  It was even better than the personal photography service, and that was well worth it too!


Posted May 4, 2011 by ~ Bruce in Landscapes, Travel Photography

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2 responses to “Tours and Totem Poles

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  1. Beautiful photo and informative narrative! Thank you.

    Kathleen Roberts
  2. I’ll bet that was the best 260 bucks you ever spent….voluntarily! Hiring a guide…That’s the way to do things…

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