Monday, October 20, 2008

John Wayne slept here

After leaving Kayenta yesterday morning, I headed north. I was initially planning to tour Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park by myself, but I opted against pitting my rental car against the park's unpaved road. At the last moment, I stopped at Goulding's Lodge, which is in Utah just over the state line, and secured a slot on the afternoon tour.

Goulding's Lodge was established in 1921 by Harry and Leone "Mike" Goulding. It was initially a trading post that enabled the Navajo to exchange crops and goods that they produced for items that they needed and provided lodging to the travelers who sporadically visited the area. It is no longer owned by the family, and it has evolved into an international destination hotel, with an RV park and campground, gas station, and grocery store.

However, in the 1920's and 1930's, the lodge consisted of a modest two-story brick structure, which is now a museum chronicling the Gouldings' lives and work.

The upper floor of the building has been restored so that it looks much as it did when the Gouldings lived there. It's an incredibly homey, comfortable space; I can see why the Gouldings' friends and guests loved being there.

Much of the first floor is devoted to the Gouldings' place in film history. During the Great Depression, the Gouldings sought to aid their Navajo neighbors by luring Hollywood film productions to Monument Valley. They were particularly successful in capturing the attention of John Ford, who became a close friend and who used Monument Valley as the setting for many of his Westerns. Ford and his actors and crew stayed at Goulding's when on location in the area; Ford and the stars stayed in small rooms, and everyone else lived in tents.

John Wayne starred in many of Ford's films, and his presence looms large in the museum. One of the walls in the museum's Movie Room is devoted to Wayne himself, other portions of the exhibit concern individual films in which he starred, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon plays continuously.

Wayne's presence is also manifest in "John Wayne's Cabin," a small building to the rear of the museum that served as the exterior set of Wayne's office in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which was the only film ever shot on the property.

Given that I'm mildly fixated upon The Searchers, which may well be the most unsettling exploration of America's racial and sexual obsessions ever placed on film and which led me to Monument Valley in the first place, I'm really glad I made it to Goulding's.

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