Monument Valley is one of the best known landscapes of North America. Through the magic of western movies, it has become the symbol of the wild and empty lands that made up the frontier at the end of the nineteenth century.
Set at the border between Utah and Nevada, not far from the Four Corners area, yhe Monument Valley is not really a valley indeed, but a flat plain, upon which material coming from the nearby Rocky Mountains has sedimented and afterwards was eroded. The "Monuments", rocky mesa and mounds were formed because a harder layer of sediments was set upon a softer one, which would disappear faster ; once the upper layer was gone, the second one would go too. The good-looking red earth comes from the presence of iron oxide.
There are tracks of human presence in the valley from as early as 12000 years ago ; it was then occupied by Ice-Age indian hunters. 6000 year later those hunters became gatherers too, and finally the area was occupied by Anasazi farmers around the beginning of the Christian era. Yet those disappeared 1300 years later, and when the European invaders explored the place, it was occupied by Navajo indians, who had to compete with silver-seeking prospectors to be allowed to stay ; the valley became part of the Navajo reservation in 1884 ; it now constitues the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
There are many tales about John Ford's discovery of the landscapes, and probably none is true. For the movie Stagecoach, which would mark the second birth of western as a serious movie genre, the director moved his crew here, where they lived on location during the shooting of the film. They lived as cowboys would live, under the tents, away from Hollywood. This also allowed Ford to go on his authoritarian/patriarchal ways of management. Nevertheless, this was a boon to the underdeveloped loval Navajo economy ; Indians were employed as part of the crew and as extras, and paid on the Hollywood pay scale.
For this movie and many others, Ford came back to this landscape (He saw the indians as "part of it"), which would become an actor in its own right, and, seeing the movies in which it was cast, a rather good one. For ever symbol of the wild, and of the West
Selective list of movies shot at least partly in Monument valley : Stagecoach - Kit Carson - Billy The Kid - My Darling Clementine - Fort Apache - She Wore A Yellow Ribbon - The Searchers - How The West Was Won - 2001: A Space Odyssey - Easy Rider - Once Upon A Time in the West- My Name is Nobody - Back To The Future II & III - Forrest Gump ... How many actors can claim that kind of a resume?
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That is how Monument Valley is supposed to look like.