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The Beauty of Forever

April 20, 2019

For the whole three weeks in Tempe, I couldn’t decide where to go next. North, or south? Arizona is just such a huge state and everything is so far apart that I was paralyzed with doubt. North seemed to cold and south too hot.

Finally, on the Thursday before I was to leave, my friend Coco posted photos on Facebook showing herself and her sister in Monument Valley, about 3 hours north just over the border into Utah.

“Can I come see you?” I asked. I didn’t want to butt in, but I did. Coco replied. Of course I could.

I headed north on Friday at lunch, wanting to get as far as I could that day, heading up into Flagstaff. Rain began pattering on my windshield, then hail. Then the ground was white. Being from Southern California, I had a good five seconds of thinking “What IS that?” before I realized I was driving in snow for the very first time in my life. In a 23-foot vehicle. Really not something I ever wanted to do. Ever. And yet.

It turns out prayers do work! I survived! With physical therapy, my shoulders may someday unclench.

After an overnight in Tuba City (very disappointed by the lack of actual tubas involved) I arrived in Monument Valley at 9 a.m. on Saturday, pulling up to the grocery just as Coco and her friends arrived in the spot next to me.

“We’ve got to find Effie and she’ll take us down into the valley,” Coco explained. I had no idea what any of this meant.

It turns out that Effie is Effie Yazzie, a Diné (what we used to call Navajo) woman whose family has lived in Monument Valley since people have lived there. Coco and Effie met 25 years ago on a horse camping trip that Effie led. Coco offered to write a book about Effie’s family and has spent years coming to Monument Valley to research it.

Coco and I jumped in Effie’s four-wheel drive truck and headed out into Monument Valley. At the toll booth, Effie chatted in Navajo with the toll-taker.

The road into the valley is rocky and unpaved and makes hairpin turns down with no guardrails or shoulders. We passed a sign to a restricted area. It turns out we were heading to Effie’s home, far out in the valley where only Diné guides can take people.

Effie and Coco talked on and on about family, catching up, telling stories.


Effie’s place.

A traditional Diné home is a hogan, a round structure of wood and earth with a hole in the roof, the door facing east. Effie has a hogan on her property, as well as a more modern-looking small home – though still lacking electricity or running water. She raises sheep and keeps horses and guides horsepacking trips, and dyes, spins and weaves wool.


The welcome sign on the door of the hogan on Effie’s land. “Welcome, friends, come in.”

She has three wild horses she saved from starvation because food in the valley had become so scarce that their bones were poking almost through their skin.

“I pay $260 every 2 weeks for hay to feed those guys,” she said.

Over a lunch of store-bought sandwiches and bananas we had brought, Effie was telling us about experimenting with some plants for purple dyes.

“Oh, I have some outside!” she said. She went out and began to pluck dyed wool from the tree outside her house where she had hung it to dry, showing us the soft purple color produced by some flowers a friend had sent her in a big envelope in the mail.


Naomi and Molly, the indefatigable pug who accompanied us on our journey. Ok, somewhat fatigable – she slept in the truck a lot.

After lunch, Effie gave us a four-wheel drive tour of her yard – the miles of red rock formations in Monument Valley. She showed us where she had played as a child, pointing out petroglyphs hidden in little crevices. She told us about herding sheep, riding horses, camping.

She told us stories of her family, her ancestors, and the Anasazi, who some say were different people and some think were just Diné from a different time

We talked about school.

“I was seven before they caught me,” she said, laughing bitterly.

She was talking about the Bureau of Indian Affairs, who came out to the land to snatch children from their parents and take them to English-speaking boarding schools far away.

“I hid under the bed, but they got me. My parents just had to stand by and watch,” she said. “Imagine that…those were horrible people, doing that.”

At one point, we stopped to see a huge domed rock formation called The Big Hogan. Sitting on a hillside covered with red sand, Effie began to sing a pure, haunting melody in Diné.


Wild horses live in the valley.

“What is that?” I asked. “It sounds like a lullaby.”

“It’s a warrior song,” Effie said. “My brother taught me. But when he sings it, it sounds different.”

Effie knew every inch of the valley – every spot where the sand was deep and she had to gun her truck, every fork in every unpaved path. She even has a spot picked out for her next hogan.

At the end of the day, I couldn’t find words to tell Effie what the day meant to me. It was such a privilege to have her show me her beloved valley and her home and to share her stories and the stories of the Diné people with me.

I told her I would never forget it and bought her a tank of gas and a hamburger, but I can never repay her for showing me her home, another world, a world where I hope her children and grandchildren can live forever.


The Big Hogan


Effie shows us petroglyphs. To the left of her hand is a snake and a little deer. In the top center, some people with spiral heads.


Coco and Effie, lovely friends.






  1. April 20, 2019 20:23

    What a special day! A beautiful place and a beautiful story.

  2. April 21, 2019 04:53

    A rich day of history, beauty and kindness. Thanks for bringing us along.

    • Suebob permalink
      April 21, 2019 06:25

      Thank you for reading!

  3. Elvie permalink
    April 21, 2019 07:02

    We are blessed that you to find such wonderful people to share with us.

    • April 25, 2019 19:38

      I am blessed to have such good friends.

  4. Gretchen Meyer permalink
    April 21, 2019 10:21

    This is beautiful! Thank you!

  5. April 21, 2019 13:51

    What a great experience! Is there an ETA for Coco’s book on Effie? I feel like I need to read it as soon as it’s published.

    • April 25, 2019 19:39

      She’s talking about self-publishing sometime soon.

  6. Anonymous permalink
    April 21, 2019 21:32

    What a great adventure! Thanks for sharing!

  7. April 24, 2019 14:03

    This story is everything.

    • April 25, 2019 19:39

      I would have loved for you to have been there!

  8. May 1, 2019 17:18

    This is incredible! What a wonderful chance to experience the desert from someone who knows it so well. And the pug. What a precious little champion!

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