A Natural Monument To The Old West

December 16, 1990|By Susan Bayer Ward

You may not have heard of Goulding's Monument Valley Trading Post and Lodge, but if you are a film buff you almost certainly have seen the area around it.

Sheltered below a towering red rock mesa, Goulding's isituated just inside Utah near the Arizona state line on a 640-acre parcel of private land in the northwest corner of the massive 25,000-square-mile Navajo Reservation. Around it sprawls a desertscape awash in brooding, mysterious buttes and mesas that have made the adjacent Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park a magnet for American tourists, as well as a surprisingly large number of Europeans who adore Westerns, John Wayne and the charismatic backdrop that enhanced such classic John Ford films as "Stagecoach," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "My Darling Clementine," "The Searchers" and "Fort Apache."

After a 22-year absence, Mike Goulding returned last summer to Monument Valley. The original trading post, completed by Mike and her husband, Harry, in 1928, has been gutted and refurbished to resemble its heyday in the 1930s when the Navajo came to trade and Ford shot some of his greatest movie epics outside its door.

Today, Goulding's -- the only accommodation within the valleitself -- is comfortably accoutered with attractive Southwestern-style rooms, a large gift shop (with excellent stock of Indian jewelry, Navajo rugs, pottery, sand paintings, kachina dolls, baskets and more) and a recently opened swimming pool. Here, too, one can arrange for Navajo-guided jeep tours into the valley. Happily, though, the old charm and ambience of the trading post days are much in evidence, with that original structure still a beacon for travelers and Indians alike as it perches on a bluff below Big Rock Door Mesa.

Mike Goulding laughed as she waved a hand at the buttes anmesas that form a straggling stone barricade beneath Goulding's rocky eyrie. "They call that 'Harry Goulding's picket fence,' " she said.

Indeed, her husband christened most of the sandstone pinnacles with fanciful names that delineated their singular appearance: Eagle Rock, Setting Hen, Brigham's Tomb, King on his Throne, Stagecoach (below which much of the film was made) and the Bear and Rabbit.

Energetic, weatherbeaten and still handsome at age 85, Mike (nickname given by her husband in their courting days) Goulding again can survey daily the harsh yet beautiful land she left in the mid-1960s. She was just 19 years old in 1923 when her new husband, sheep herder and Indian trader Harry Goulding, brought her to Monument Valley. At first they ran the trading post outside their tent where sheep's wool and Indian rugs were bartered for the most basic commodities.

"Oh, they always had to have flour and sugar and potatoes anapples and onions," she recalled.

Relations between the Gouldings and the initially suspicious anhostile Navajo thrived, though there were good times and bad for both Indians and traders.

Things were at an especially low ebb in the late 1930s after thDepression hit the valley hard. Navajo were starving in their hogans -- there was no market for their sheep or wool -- and few tourists came to view Harry's handsome "front yard" or pour money into empty coffers.

But Harry Goulding had an inventive mind. When he hearHollywood was planning to make a western, he scooped up a stack of striking black-and-white photos of the valley taken by such famous photographers as Josef Muench. Then he stuffed his last $60 into his pocket, and he and Mike drove off to Hollywood.

He reasoned that if films could be shot in Monument Valley, the Indians would profit and the rest of America finally would get a glimpse of the land he loved so much -- and then would come to tour and see the valley's stunning panoramas for themselves.

At United Artists, nobody wanted anything to do with Harry Goulding. So he just opened his bedroll and sat down. He'd wait until somebody was free.

The location director for a new film finally came over to throw out this dusty interloper. But then he happened to take a look at the photos -- which Harry Goulding craftily had tucked under his arm so they would show -- and wanted to see more. The director of the film, John Ford, was immediately called in and within hours the decision had been made: They would shoot their film in Monument Valley. Now, could this trader have housing and provisions set up to accommodate a cast and crew of about 100 technicians in three days?

Sure, Harry Goulding answered, not in the least knowing how this feat could be accomplished.

But he did, with the help of funds wired ahead by the movie studio to Flagstaff, Ariz., which he passed through on the way home.

That film turned out to be the Academy Award-winning #i "Stagecoach" and starred a young actor named John Wayne, who, along with Ford, returned to Monument Valley again and again to film other movie classics. In "Great Hollywood Westerns," recently published by Abrams, Ted Sennett writes:

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