Through the years I have read many an article about Harry and Leona Goulding, pioneers and the first, besides the Navajo, to really understand the beauty of Monument Valley Utah. They where a hearty team in a time when life could and usually was hard. But in the early 1920’s, when part of the old Paiute Indian Reservation became available, Harry and Mike, a nick name he used for his wife, bought a large parcel of land. Harry was sheep trader which helped him succeed with the local Navajo Indians. The Navajo has been raising sheep in this area since Chief Hush-Kaaney (his name meant “the angry one”) defied Kit Carson, and hid out in this then unknown land with a few family and friends.
The earliest trading post was nothing more than just a tent, but within a few years the Gouldings built themselves a fine stone structure, with the living quarters upstairs. This building still stands today and is now the Gouldings Trading Post museum. They slowly began to learn the Navajo language and were accepted as good people. The Navajo would come to barter for food and other goods, using the jewelry and blankets as trading material. But then the depression came and in a land of few resources, this place was hit very hard…
But Harry had an idea, he had heard that Hollywood was looking for new film locations and knew that Monument Valley would be a perfect fit. So along with Mike, he headed to Los Angeles with determination and grit, and some how he was able to get the attention of famed director John Ford. Once Ford saw the pictures that the Goulding brought along he was sold, and immediately gave Harry and Mike an advance payment. A few days later his film crew along with their star John Wayne began to film the first Monument Valley film, Stagecoach. Since then, this area has become a mecca for the film industry. From John Wayne, through Forrest Gump, and even Back to the Future 3 have been filmed here, along with a myriad of TV shows, music videos, commercials, video games, book covers and cigarette advertising for the Marlboro Man.
As Harry and Mike entertained the film crews, photographers, artists and eventually tourists, a new business began to grow. Soon small one and two room apartments were built for the travelers, Mike began to serve food and hotel business was born. Harry would take people out on tours and soon everyone wanted to come and enjoy the nature beauty. Because of this early success, Harry had the Seventh Day Adventist come in and build a hospital. Now all the people would have decent health care for themselves as well as their children. But Harry also saw a bit of the dark side to this new venture, some of the Indian ruins were being vandalized, other places were being destroyed. I have read that more than one person would notice Harry picking up trash as they went along a tour. “The Indians do not litter the landscape, these cans and bottles were deposited here by motorist who do not share the reverence for the good earth, which is part of the Navajo’s religion.”
Harry and Mike truly cared and loved this land and it’s people, and when they retired Knox College of Illinois took over all operations. In April 1981 Harry passed away in Cottonwood Arizona, he was never the same after he left Utah. That same year the Le Font family became the new owners of what is known today as Gouldings Lodge. The area now has a restaurant, campground, gas station, grocery store, movie theater- always playing a John Wayne movie, gift shop, airport and tours of course. In her later years Leone (Mike) moved back to the valley and passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 1992. According to our guide, their ashes were spread across the valley, and in that way they will always be in the land they loved.
“Harry believed that someday people from all over the world would be visiting Monument Valley to see its wonders. And when they came, he wanted to be there to show it to them.”
Partly because of how Harry and Mike opened up this area to the film industry, which in turned also opened up the area to the world, Monument Valley has become one of the most visited places in the US, and is described as the most photographed place on earth. It is not a national park as most people think, it is a Navajo Tribal park, owned and operated by the Navajo Nation. In 1958 the Navajo Tribal Council set aside 92,000 acres and still manages it today.
If you are looking for a GREAT place to enjoy the beauty that this country has, Monument Valley should be at the top of your list… Or at least in the top 5….
For more stories about the Gouldings, please check out the following links