Breakfast Club
An Affiliate of the Arizona Pilots Assn

The Knife & Fork

Breakfast Club Tours Monument Valley, Stays at Gouldings Lodge

12 Sept 09
by Warren McIlvoy

The Breakfast Club event to Monument Valley was very special as we were able to get an in-depth view of the native Americans that call this magical place, "home". We have been here before, twice for breakfast only and one other time in the late 90's when we did an over-night visit.

The following story is more of a recount of the events and thoughts along the way. Trying to describe this amazing location would be sorely inadequate as the photos that are at the end of the story will do a much better job.

The inbound leg to Monument Valley was the first time that I got to use our new PCAS (portable collision avoidance system). I spotted traffic off to my left that was picked-up on the device which is what it is supposed to do. Another occasion was just south of Kyenta where Bob Jackson caught up to me in his AeroStar. While descending from 15,500', he could not find me but the PCAS had him high and to my right and about 1.5-miles away. I did not see him but when the distance began to increase, it told me that he was now putting some distance between us.

The last time that we were here, the runway still only had about 1,000' of paving at the south end with the balance of the first 3,000' being hard packed dirt. Now, the whole runway has been paved and looked really odd. The story that I had learned some years ago was that Gouldings had been trying to negotiate with the tribe to pave that portion of the runway that was on tribal land. But, alas, red tape and a general malaise on the part of the tribe, made it virtually impossible to get anything done towards paving the runway. But suddenly, the sponsors of the Red Bull air races took interest in using that facility for a racing event and with the promise of big money rolling into the tribal coffers, the runway got paved in no time flat. It is funny how a little bit of "green" can turn a lot of dusty gray into a black runway. Gouldings now pays a yearly "rent" to the tribe of about $30-40,000 a year to lease the land that has the first 3,000' of runway.

Gouldings Lodge had a van stationed at the airstrip to pick-up the arriving Breakfast Club folks and take them to the Lodge office where we could stow our gear until our rooms were ready. The first thing that you will notice about the Gouldings Lodge is that it is constructed on the slope at the base of a 1,500' monolith. As such, everything from the office is all uphill. The Stage Coach Restaurant just happens to be on the third level so before you can indulge in the morning repast, you will get a good workout. Even entering the restaurant involves ascending two flights of stairs. I had my first exposure to Indian Fry Bread. Not bad but I don't believe that I would want a steady diet of it as it is huge in empty calories and then add a little honey to it for additional flavoring.

Our tour vehicle was a 4-wheel drive flat-bed truck with two rows of seats with a center aisle. The back of the truck had a canvas roof over open sides that provided mostly an unobstructed view and plenty of access to the red dust that covers everything. We made a short pit stop at a facility that shared the same property of the new View Hotel that is built right on a small bluff that overlooks scenic Monument Valley to the east. There was still some construction work underway but I believe that the hotel was open for business.

As you would expect of this rustic area, the roads were all dirt and sand that twisted both sideways and, occasionally, up and down at the same time. And, of course, there was the red dust.

We traveled to many of the familiar sites that we did some 10-years or so ago as well as some new places that were totally unfamiliar. We also met Susie Yazzi whos "office" and work place was a traditional Navajo hogan. Susie is said to be somewhere between 96 and 103 years old but at that age, a few years makes little difference. She demonstrated how she carded the raw wool and spun it into yarn that she used to weave the beautiful Navajo rugs that she had on display.

At a few of the viewing stops, there was the mandatory gift shops and I just had to browse a bit to see if there was a little something that my wife might enjoy. At one stop, I found a pretty turquoise necklace at a very reasonable price. It was also said to ward off the evil spirits but had little effect on the ever present red dust.

It did not take long to understand why John Ford found this place a veritable "gold mine" of western scenery for many of his western movies. John Wayne made a number of movies here and his ghost may still haunt some of the formations. It was some time in the 1930's that a trader named Goulding approached Ford and suggested that visit this place to see if it might provided a beautiful backdrop from his western movies. The rest is history.

Upon our return to Gouldings Lodge, we secured our room "key" and retrieved our gear from the office storage and headed to our room. It was sure nice to be situated just across from the indoor swimming pool and on the same level as the lodge office. Upon entering our room, my wife Jeri had to test the bed for comfort while I turned-on the air-conditioner. She opted to extend her testing period while stripped off my touring duds to don my swim suit and try-out the indoor pool. I made a half feeble attempt to rid myself of that red dust that filtered into every orifice of ones body. I can truly understand why many of the native Americans were often called "red men".

The pool was cool and very refreshing although it took some getting used to. After about 15-minutes of soaking and, hopefully, shedding most of the ever present red dust, it was time to go outside and claim one of the reclining lounge chairs to soak-up some rays. Jeri soon found an adjoining chair as well as another couple from our group. After getting a sufficient dose of the sun, it was time to head back to our room and check-out that bed for a short nap.

A quick shower was needed to finish ridding myself of that red coloring from the folds of my ears to the nose hairs that did not appear to be mine (that red color you know). Following a short nap, I decided to do a little exploring of the gift shop that was up the hill (what a surprise) on the next level. Ronnie Baird, the Gouldings General Manager, told me that he would be in that weekend and, since I had not ever met him but had spoken with him on many occasions over the last 10-years, I thought that I might inquire if he was in his office. I asked one of the sales clerks if Ronnie was in and she promptly called his office on her phone. She said Ronnie was in and that I could use the stairs that were in one corner of the gift shop to access the 2nd level.

The building that houses the gift shop (upper level), also houses the management side of the lodging business. From the lower level, the building is three stories with the management side using the second level. I am not sure what is occupying the first or lowest level but I suspect that it might have something to do with housekeeping.

A short walk through darkened offices got me to Ronnie's office where I met an unassuming gentleman that I had spoken with many times but never had the pleasure to meet. We relived some old times and soon got onto the topic of the new runway (discussed earlier). I had mentioned to Ronnie that I don't believe that I had even seen so many private cars on the dusty trails of the Valley. He said that it is not uncommon now-a-days for folks to use rental vehicles to ply the, often primitive road conditions rather than wrecking their own cars. I informed Ronnie how much our group was enjoying the lodgings and was about to leave when he handed me a copy of a souvenir book with many photos and stories about Monument Valley.

The original Gouldings Trading Post still stands today but is now a museum housing many hundreds of photos and relics of the past. Harry Goulding and his wife "Mike" arrived in the valley in 1924 with nothing more than a tent, to establish his trading business with the local Indians. The two story structure with their private living quarters on the second floor, was the first permanent trading post in the area. The Gouldings were always renowned for their integrity, honesty, and genuine concern for the Indian welfare and were instrumental in establishing a modern hospital for the residents, as well as developing a fresh water source for all to use. However, the Gouldings are best remembered for developing Monument Valley as a motion picture film set which provided much needed income and assistance for the Navajos' survival.  It was on one of the walls of the museum that I noticed a photo of a much younger Susie Yazzi. I don't remember the date exactly but I believe that it was from some time in the 60's.

It was during our dinner hour while everyone partaking in conversations about the days experiences during the tour, that I just happened to look up past Austin Erwin who was sitting in front of me, that I noticed one of those Kodak moments. The large monolith formation that is viewable from the lodge, was painted in a deep vibrant red caused by the setting sun. I motioned for all to get a glimpse of a site that you get to enjoy only in magazines. Austin was the only person who happened to have his camera with him so he went out to the stair landing and captured some shots that accompany this story.

Sunday morning was a "get-a-way" breakfast at the Stagecoach Restaurant and after enjoying some morning nourishment, it was back to our rooms to finish packing and moving our gear to the lodge office where the van would take us back to the airport. They have added one very important facility at the airport that was sorely missed in the past, a restroom facility.

When everyone was ready, we pulled all of the aircraft from the gravel parking area, onto the runway and turned slightly to avoid throwing debris on the aircraft behind you. After getting started, we formed a sort of conga line to the paved ramp area for the runups. The lead aircraft lined-up on the runway and off they would go with the next aircraft getting in line behind the departing aircraft.

The Breakfast Club has now visited several of the attractions that are located on Navajo tribal land. It has been my experience that the Navajos are a very friendly people steeped in tradition. Most all of the guides are older generation Navajos that are fluent in the Navajo language as are most of their children. The sad part is that many of the newer generation has either grown-up off the reservations or moved away and much of the language and traditions are being lost to time. I feel that it would be a loss to our Nation as well as our heritage if these people do not strive to maintain these traditions as well as their native language. Visiting both Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly should be on everyones "bucket list".

The Monument Valley Campers

What's Next?

The October Breakfast Club event will see us returning for an encore visit to historic Kingman, Arizona, and airport restaurant. We will also be taking a tour of some of the adjoining facilities around the airport hosted by the local EAA Chapter. In November, we will be heading west to an old favorite, Borrego Springs, California,  but to a new location there. The Borrego Springs Resort will be our target for the morning breakfast. That's all for now but remember, fly safe.

To view photos of this event, click on Monument Valley photos.