The fascinating Hollywood history of Goulding's Lodge, in Monument Valley

Set amongst the towering sandstone spires of Monument Valley, Goulding’s Lodge has been part of this epic region for almost a century. The founders, Harry and Leone Goulding, originally brought in movie production companies to bolster the local Navajo economy during the Great Depression. Since then, the region has become an icon of the American West. From humble beginnings as a Trading Post, to a legendary lodge that attracts thousands of visitors every year, here is the fascinating history of Goulding’s Lodge.

The history of Harry and Mike Goulding

Harry Goulding at John Ford's Point Monument Valley
Image credit: Goulding’s Lodge

In the early 1920s, sheep trader Harry Goulding was looking for a new line of business and a home. When Harry and his wife Leone, nicknamed ‘Mike’, visited Monument Valley, they quickly fell in love with the region. After the Paiute Indian Reservation living in Monument Valley relocated to another area, the Goulding’s jumped at the chance to buy a large plot of land in the valley.

Harry and Mike set up a Trading Post on their new plot of land, starting out in tents. They traded with the local Navajo people, exchanging food and other items for handicrafts like rugs and jewellery. After several years of living in tents, the Goulding’s built a permanent structure, which now serves as the Goulding’s Trading Post Museum.

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Hollywood comes to Monument Valley

Harry Goulding standing with his car in Monument Valley
Image credit: Goulding’s Lodge

After the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, the Navajo Reservation in Monument Valley suffered a huge loss of income. When Harry heard that a movie production company was looking for locations in the American Southwest to use in their films, he decided to bring movie production to Monument Valley, and recover the much-needed income in the region. So with their last $60, Harry and Mike travelled to Hollywood in California. 

With some luck and determination, Harry met with legendary director John Ford and showed him pictures of Monument Valley. After seeing the photos, Ford chose the region as his next film location and gave the Goulding’s an advanced payment. Within days, Ford and his film crew began shooting the iconic movie ‘Stagecoach’, starring John Wayne.

Goulding’s Lodge becomes a star

‘Stagecoach’ was the first in what was to be a long line of movie crews, artists, photographers and tourists who all flocked to this spectacular location over the years. The Goulding’s continued to expand the Trading Post and Lodge, building rooms and dining facilities for their thousands of guests. They retired to Arizona in 1962.

The LaFont family bought the property in 1981, the same year that Harry passed away after a battle with illness. Mike then returned to her home in Monument Valley to live out the rest of her life and passed away in 1992. Their legacy has continued in the form of Goulding’s Lodge, which hosts visitors from all over the world who come to see Monument Valley, an icon of the American West, thanks to the Gouldings.

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Goulding’s Trading Post Museum

The Goulding’s incredible history lives on at Goulding’s Trading Post Museum, an unmissable part of the lodge which opened in 1989. The museum offers a glimpse into a bygone era, with incredible photographs, mementoes and artefacts from the past, telling the rich history of trading, tourism, movies and the local Navajo in Monument Valley.

All entrance fees to the museum go toward a college scholarship fund for graduating Navajo high school students, to honour the Goulding’s love for Monument Valley and its people.

The original Trading Post

Trading Post Bull Pen

There are several fantastic areas of the Trading Post museum, including the ‘Trading Post Bull Pen’, where all the trading action happened back in the glory days. The small room was where people would bring their items to trade for goods like canned food, kitchen supplies, and material and threads. You can see many original items in the Bull Pen, including the same scales they used almost a century ago. 

Ware Room

There’s also the ‘Ware Room’ which acted as the supply room for things like saddles, bags of raw wool and crates of coffee. Today, this historic room is filled with photos from the early days at the Trading Post and of local Navajos from the early 20th century. You can also see the display cases filled with historic Native American pottery and other crafts. 

Josef Muench Room

The ‘Josef Muench Room’, where you’ll discover a range of photography and artworks from the famous photographer, Josef Muench. Josef and Harry were close friends, and it was Josef’s photos that convinced John Ford to shoot his movies in Monument Valley. You can also see a few personal items of the Gouldings, including their wedding certificate and some of their jewellery. 

Living Quarters

For a more personal look into the Goulding’s life, head to the upstairs ‘Living Quarters’. The area has been restored to closely resemble the Gouldings’ home in the late 1940s and early 1950s. After Mike passed away in 1992, this room was filled with many of their personal belongings and became a wonderful tribute to Harry and Mike. 

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Hollywood history at Goulding’s Lodge

Movie Room

Moving into the ‘Movie Room’, you’ll find posters, movie stills, call sheets and other gems from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The room was originally built as the mess hall for the crew of ‘The Harvey Girls’, directed by George Sidney in 1946. You can still feel the movie magic in the air, with a classic John Ford/John Wayne movie always playing here. There’s also a detailed topographical map of Monument Valley, marking all the different movie locations.

Captain Nathan Brittles Cabin

You can see more movies come to life in the ‘Captain Nathan Brittles Cabin’, also known as ‘John Wayne’s Cabin’. This space was actually Mike’s potato cellar where she stored fruits and vegetables. When John Ford filmed ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon’ here in 1949, this building was used for exterior shots of the living quarters of the Calvary Post’s commanding officer, played by John Wayne. Today you can see a mock-up of the Hollywood set inside the cabin, along with still shots from the film.

There’s also a large gift shop on the property. It’s filled with local Navajo art, pottery, jewellery and more, so you can take home more than just incredible memories from your time at the extraordinary Goulding’s Lodge.

You can stay at Goulding’s Lodge in Monument Valley on our new trip, America’s Amazing Canyon Country.

Banner image: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons

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