Four Corners National Parks
Mexican Hat

The town of Mexican Hat is a funky little dot on a road map of Utah. We always plan our trips in detail and rarely town without reservations. This time we broke our rule, and ended up staying at the Mexican Hat Lodge. I liked the off-beat motel and the off-beat tiny town of Mexican Hat. I've stayed a lot of places that I've forgotten, but I remember Mexican Hat.

Mexican Hat

We originally made reservations at Goulding's Lodge, which is actually on Navajo land overlooking Monument Valley and which is everyone's recommendation. But we cancelled on the gamble that we could find something along the way that had a bit more character. We were lucky.

Coming west through Bluff, we stopped for a coffee break at the Turquoise Store & Restaurant and asked the owner for a motel recommendation ahead. "The Mexican Hat Lodge in Mexican Hat," he said. 

Since Mexican Hat is next to the Valley of the Gods, which we planned to visit, this seemed like a great idea.

The name "Mexican Hat" comes from an oddly shaped, 60 foot wide by 12 foot high rock formation on the northeast edge of town. (October 2000), (Click on image for enlargement)

Mexican Hat Lodge near sundown (October 2000)
(Click on image for enlargement)

The Mexican Hat Lodge

The Lodge began as an Indian bar and dance hall, the Top O Hat, in the 1950's. Current owner Jay Dee Mueller told me she and her husband ran it as a B&B at first. In the 90's, they "upgraded" the upper floor into 10 bedrooms, and upgraded its name to the more substantial sounding "Mexican Hat Lodge."

The Muellers were originally musicians, and she said they still perform on special occasions.
The Mexican Hat Lodge has served as a set in at least one movie -- a bar room shooting, she told me.

Their dining room was not open while we were there so we had a drink at the Hat Rock Cafe and dinner at the San Juan Inn & Trading Post.

A (very small) Town of 88

According to US Census Estimates (2007), the tiny desert village of Mexican Hat had a population of 88 people. This includes 58% Native American, 35% White Non-Hispanic, and 5% from other races; 7% are Hispanic. 

The economy is mostly tourism (4 motels, 3 eateries, 1 gas station, gifts and the like) and government (post office, etc).

Aside: the Census Bureau says that 5.3% of Mexican Hat is water. That is a little hard to understand since there isn't so much as a wading pool in town and you have to ask for water in a diner. It must be that part of the river is in the town.

The edge of town at sunset, October 2000. Mexican Hat is 22 miles from Monument Valley, 50 miles from Blanding, UT. and 230 miles from Albuquerque. (Click on image for enlargement)

Here I am leaving the San Juan Trading Post where I got some post cards while Brian was filling the car. (October 15, 2000). (Click on image for enlargement)

San Juan Trading Post

We had dinner at the San Juan Trading Post, one of three eateries available that night. 

One of the interesting things is that the menu was half standard highway food and half local Navajo dishes. 

Unsurprisingly, the wait staff were local Navajo women.

Historically the trading post was built to trade with the local Navajo. While their promo material says their business is trading, the shop looks like a typical store where they sell convenience items local arts and crafts,


After our morning in the Valley of the Gods, we drove to Gouldings for lunch. We ate at the Stage Coach Dining Room, visited the museum, and toured the grounds.

Gouldings is the preferred recommendation of nearly every tour book. I've never heard anyone say she or he regretted staying there. People write things like, "loved it," "great time," "who cares about price," "The one, the only, the must see. Put this on your top 50 have to do list," "Great View - Limited Dining" and "Magnificent Sunrise."

Unsurprisingly, the staff is almost all local Navajos, friendly, quiet, attentive. The dining room view is more than worth the limited menu and presentation.

Gouldings Lodge, Museum & Trading Post, and Stage Coach Dining Room (October 2000). (Click on image for enlargement)

Desert Sand, Cactus and Butte at Gouldings .The view from Gouldings is of Monument Valley. (Click on image for enlargement)

Gouldings, John Ford and Monument Valley

Gouldings Lodge and Trading Post is a legend in its own time. There is perhaps no other national park (Navajo Tribal Parks are the equivalent) as closely tied to one person and enterprise as is Monument Valley and Harry Goulding/Gouldings. 

In 1939, Harry Goulding (via John Ford and John Wayne) put Monument Valley on the national map, and Monument Valley put Harry Goulding into business. Theirs has been a symbiotic relationship that has enriched both and the country as well.

Visiting Monument Valley today usually means staying at Gouldings, and staying at Gouldings means visiting Monument Valley.

(Click here for a Hollywood retelling of the Harry Goulding - John Ford - Monument Valley saga)

Modern Art

Visiting Goulding's means seeing Monument Valley. Every room has a view of Monument Valley.

And spending more than a few minutes means seeing at least some of its past.

One of the odd, interesting and completely unexpected pieces of memorabilia is a mahogany mast and sail, which are remnants of Harry Goulding's trips to Hollywood just after World War II. 

Glen Canyon didn't exist at the time and there wasn't so much as a pond for a hundred miles. ON a trip to Hollywood, Harry fell in love with boats and bought one, which he brought back to the Valley to dry out and eventually rot away.

Modern Rock Art at Gouldings. Someone with whimsical streak had stood up a piece of a tree and placed small flat stones on top. (October 2000). (Click on image for enlargement)

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