Making The Modern Old West
The Colorado River Plateau is home to two of the best-known landscapes in
the world: Rainbow Bridge in southern Utah and Monument Valley on the
Utah-Arizona border. Twentieth-century popular culture made these places
icons of the American West, and advertising continues to exploit
their significance today. In Rainbow Bridge to Monument Valley, Thomas J. Harvey artfully tells how Navajos and Anglo-Americans created fabrics of meaning out of this stunning desert landscape, space that western novelist Zane Grey called “the storehouse of unlived years,” where a rugged, more authentic life beckoned. Harvey explores the different ways in which the two societies imbued the landscape with deep cultural significance.
Navajos long ago incorporated Rainbow Bridge into the complex origin story that embodies their religion and worldview. In the early 1900s, archaeologists crossed paths with Grey in the Rainbow Bridge area. Grey, credited with making the modern western novel popular, sought freedom from the contemporary world and reimagined the landscape for his own purposes. In the process,
Harvey shows, Grey erased most of the Navajo inhabitants. This view of the landscape culminated in filmmaker John Ford’s use of Monument Valley as the setting for his epic mid-twentieth-century Westerns. Harvey extends the story into the late twentieth century when environmentalists sought to set aside Rainbow Bridge as a symbolic remnant of nature untainted by modernization.
Tourists continue to flock to Monument Valley and Rainbow Bridge, as they have for a century, but the landscapes are most familiar today because of their appearances in advertising. Monument Valley has been used to sell perfume, beer, and sport utility vehicles. Encompassing the history of the Navajo, archaeology, literature, film, environmentalism, and tourism, Rainbow Bridge to Monument Valley explores how these rock formations, Navajo sacred spaces still, have become embedded in the
modern identity of the American West—and of the nation itself.
John and Louisa Wetherill and their trading posts at Ojato and Kayenta
figure prominently in the book
Tom Harvey is a Montana native who now works as a reporter for the Salt
Lake Tribune. Previously, he was chief foreign correspondent for
the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and spent eight years with United Press International, including stints in Washington, D.C.,
Santiago, Chile, and Bogota, Colombia. His book grew out of a dissertation for his 2004 Ph.D. in American history at the University