Two days a year in the enchanting landscapes of Monument Valley a mysterious event occurs. The Mittens, designated as the East and the West are two free-standing sandstone buttes , two classic iconic symbols of Monument Valley. In March and September, the West Mitten's shadow will land on the East Mitten in a perfect reversed image. A photographers dream. When all the elements play well together, the sunset, clouds and a little magic, something truly spectacular occurs.
The Monument Valley Tribal Park, which encompasses 92,000 acres of majestic buttes, desert colored spires and rock arches teeter the Utah-Arizona border is where this all comes together. As I headed out to photograph, I wondered what it would be like to live here on this serene and hauntingly beautiful land. The bigger question became the meaning of the shadow.
Monument Valley was relatively unknown until film director John Ford filmed the western classics "Stagecoach" and "The Searchers" here in 1939 and 1956. Even though Zane Grey used the area for his locale descriptions in his book "Wildfire, which published in 1916, the movies iconified this area as the classic Western landscape. Long ago when the land was relatively unknown except to the Navajo, did the shadow have any significance, I wondered. Trying to find the secrets of the shadow were almost as illusive as the shadow itself.
I thought of Charly Moore at Overland Canyon Tours, the guide on my trip to Canyon X. Charly is quite knowledgeable in the local history and native people. He's one of the few non-Navajo allowed to serve as a guide on the reservation. I contacted Charly and he got back to me after meeting with many of the Navajo guides and they had simply come up with nothing.
I contacted University of Utah's History Dept. and they put me in touch with Lorenz Holiday. Holiday is the owner of Moonlight Springs Ranch. Lorenz is also a resident Navajo whose family has farmed and lived in the area for many generations. He often serves as a guide in the area as well. He told me his grand-father had been a medicine man and would check to see if there was more to the mystery. Still, the mystery remained a mystery.
Sometimes at the end of a question, there is no answer. Sometimes a mystery is best left a mystery. On the designated day, I stood there waiting to "see" and photograph. The winds kicked up suddenly, the shadow started to form at the base of the East Mitten. The fading sun casts a warm glaze of rich color on the surrounding buttes and the landscape glowed as the shadow crept slowly. For every inch it crept, I felt a smile do the same on my face. It didn't matter now about a greater story. It's now a story, a time and a memory within me.
Suddenly, as if illuminated by a candle in the wind, it went out. The shadow was gone. Will it show itself again on the next date? That could be the real mystery.
The Mitten Shadow returns every year on March 30th and September 13th.