Connections: Monument Valley with Garry Holiday
For this week’s Connections series interview, we delved deeper into one of the most scenically stunning landscapes in the world: Monument Valley. Any passerby can appreciate the instantly recognizable cathedrals of dramatic red rock formations in Monument Valley, but not so many stop to appreciate the heart of the region: a land rich with centuries of Indigenous history and spirituality. We spoke with Garry Holiday– a local member of the Navajo tribe, lifelong resident of Monument Valley, and owner of family-run guide company Navajo Spirit– to learn more about the layers of culture to be discovered in this breathtaking part of the country.
At All Roads North, we believe that a place is nothing without its people. So often, when we ask our clients the most memorable parts of their journey, it’s not the Instagram-worthy landscape or acclaimed hotel that they mention, it’s the encounters they had along the way. That’s why our trips are carefully designed to make those connections, providing you with an authentic and immersive experience. These experiences– whether it be with a local craftsman, musician, chef or marine biologist– are the inspiration for our Connections series, where we talk to friends of All Roads North to get an insider’s look at some of our favorite places across the U.S.
All photos are courtesy of guide and family member Sean Holiday.
Tell us about your Monument Valley story?
My Name is Garry Holiday. I was born and raised in Monument Valley. Monument Valley, although a small place, is rich in history and culture. As a Dine’ (Navajo), I feel fortunate to have been both born and raised in a location that is still connected to native Language culture and a rich family history. My family is originally from Monument Valley. Our family stories are entrenched in the landscape and that gives me a much deeper love and appreciation for the beauty of what I can share with others who visit. If I go away and return, I always feel as though I am in a holy place.
What three words sum up Monument Valley for you?
An Ancient Playground
What is something Monument Valley offers that is like nowhere else?
Monument Valley is rich in so many ways. The rock formations are arguably the most unique and beautiful formations in the world. There is never a day that the landscape looks the same. Nature changes sometimes from minute to minute as a quick storm can bring beautiful waterfalls; the clouds can change the lighting making it so photographic. I love the sunrise and sunsets in Monument Valley. At night, the stars are clear and many times you can see the Milky Way. It is one of the best places to stargaze. There are also more ancient sites in our area than anywhere else in the Nation. The Anasazi left beautiful rock art and structures in the rocks that are incredible. Many of these sites have been left untouched by archeologists. Some of these sites date to 12,000 years ago.
What part of Monument Valley do visitors like most?
Monument Valley is iconic so most people want to come and experience where the films are made. They love the 2.5 to 3.0 hour experience. Although our most popular experience is the All day trip which includes Monument Valley as well as another location that is connected called Mystery Valley. This is where you can see many of the arches and ancient sites.
Where is my favorite part of the park to wander?
That is a hard question. I love music and playing the flute or drums. The best place to do this is in the Natural Amphitheater in Monument Valley, a place called “the big Hogan.” I also like a place in Mystery valley called the pancakes. It is a small hike to where you can sit on the rocks, meditate, and look out at the panorama of Mystery Valley and Mitchel butte. It’s just amazing at sunset! The third and most beautiful place is on Hunts Mesa. It’s a place that only a few visit and I feel lucky to be able to hike the overlook view. Incredible!
What part of Monument Valley’s history do you find most fascinating?
A long time ago the cavalry rounded up the Navajo people to participate in the Long Walk which was a forced removal from our ancestral lands. but what you don’t know is that the People in Monument Valley revolted against the United States Cavalry at this time and were able to defend their home. They hid away from the Cavalry and were among the few that were never captured against them. They were able to use their resources and their surroundings to evade capture and they continued to live as a free people, able to practice our traditions and culture. And even help those that were captured by giving the food and resources they had. To help them subsist and inspire them during hard times. Monument Valley was also a strong hold from other Navajo people who came from other areas of Navajoland for protection. We still celebrate Navajo Independence Day due to this history.
What is a recent Discovery and personal favorite?
Many of our discoveries are found away from our daytime trips to the Park. There are thousands of ancestral dwellings that scatter across the Monument Valley area that are protected by the Navajo Tribe and our local People. It truly feels like finding treasure every time we discover something new. Within the last year two of our guides went on an adventure to a place no one had been to for a very long time that took a full day of hiking. They found a very large ruin, and even more magical, a baby’s cradle board. It was still mostly intact and you can imagine the feeling of history that there was a little baby who was so cared for. This was found in an Anasazi ruin however it was a Navajo cradle board that had been left behind long ago. There are clues to our people connecting with each other and these are the discoveries that make us so passionate about learning of our history and culture even more. We keep everything as it was and don’t touch anything when we find these discoveries but even being in the presence is a sacred experience. We know others are not allowed to these locations so these experiences are ones that we are so honored to have.
Where do you take friends from out of town to eat in the Monument Valley area? What about a casual local’s favorite spot?
Our favorite restaurant is just about 25 minutes from Monument Valley in a little town called Kayenta, AZ. It is called Amigo Cafe and is run and owned by a Navajo family. They are wonderful and you can watch their journey on Restaurant Impossible. We take all our friends and family here while also stopping in at our local Flea Market which happens every Wednesday in Kayenta, AZ. This is where you can find all the authentic Navajo foods that you can hardly find anywhere else. It is a little niche spot that mostly locals know about. We always tell anyone we can to stop in and enjoy the traditional food.
How can visitors be sure to support the Navajo community when visiting Monument Valley?
We always recommend stopping at the local stands and shops in Monument Valley. There are some amazing artists on the Navajo Nation and most of them can be found on the side of the roads selling their crafts. You can learn so much from them but also support them by buying directly from them. I have met elderly grandmothers and grandfathers who make their own juniper necklaces for protection, or the most talented silversmiths, rug weavers, basket weavers or potters who make the most unique and traditional pieces just off the sides of the highways and in Monument Valley Tribal Park as well. We always advise to buy directly from the source.
Pairs Well with These Journeys:
Luxury Winter Road Trip Through the Southwest: Taking a winter road trip through the Southwest is a magical experience with crisp, clear days and a coating of snow giving an entirely new perspective to these dramatic red rock landscapes.
An Odyssey Through Utah’s National Parks: Experience the best of Utah’s national parks on this road trip through the heart of some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.