A Rare Run on Navajo Lands
Racing across desert, sand and sky in Arizona’s inaugural Monument Valley 50
Race day in Monument Valley. Photo by Jack Jewell.
As we shivered in the predawn stillness, a Navajo elder blessed the dawn, offering thanks for a new day. A young man blew four sharp hoots on his wooden flute as the elder offered corn pollen to each of the four directions: east, south, west, and, last, north, as the dawn burned yellow over the blackened lip of the horizon.
Then, one by one, each Monument Valley 50 runner released a pinch of corn pollen to honor this day and our vitality, and we sailed down a red sand dune into the desert expanse below.
The Monument Valley 50-Mile and 50K in southern Utah is the brainchild of Matt Gunn of Ultra Adventures, which also puts on the Antelope Canyon 50-Mile/50K in Arizona, the Zion 100-Mile/100K/50K in Utah, the Grand Canyon 100-Mile/50-Mile and Bryce 100-Mile/50-Mile/50K in Utah. On the Colorado Plateau within the Navajo Nation Reservation, Monument Valley is a striking high-desert region sprinkled with red-sandstone buttes and slender spires, including the soaring Mittens and Totem Pole.
We began in silence—each step softened by the rolling hills of packed sand. Stark, etched towers surrounding us shifted from purple to brick red as the sun rose higher.
We were running on Navajo land, trusted with the privilege to explore a world that is usually off-limits to tourists unaccompanied by a Navajo guide. We savored the peace of the first five miles, past Left Mitten, to the aid station.
Photo by Jack Jewell.