A Guide To: Monument Valley, AZ/UT
Monument Valley is a wide and sometimes desolate landscape that expands over the border of the U.S. states of Arizona and Utah. It's marked by enormous rock features; including mesas, cliffs, and buttes and perhaps the most striking and definitive images of the American West.
The most famous landscape of Monument Valley is probably the Mittens, a pair of buttes with thin "thumb" outcrops. These isolated red mesas and buttes have been filmed and photographed countless times over the years for movies, making the area seem quite familiar... even on a first visit. Once you're there, it's soon evident that the natural colors really are as bright and deep as those captured in photos.
HISTORY AND CULTURE
The earliest people to inhabit the area where the Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloans, who settled here as early as 1200 BC. The Navajo culture took root centuries before Spaniards entered the picture, and the Navajo People have been inhabiting the area since the late 1600's. It was designated as part of the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation in 1884 by Chester A. Arthur, and the park was made famous in the 1930's when director John Ford began to set his western films in Monument Valley. Beginning with 1939’s Stagecoach, starring John Wayne, Ford’s many happy returns to Monument Valley, Utah, shaped how much of the outside world views the American West. Monument Valley isn't a national park, or even a national monument but its become an American icon. A visit to this area offers a window into Navajo culture. Explore their history, their way of life, their cuisine and their art.
From the south, you can take Hwy 160 (which runs east to west across the Navajo Reservation). At Kayenta, turn north on Hwy 163 to Monument Valley.
From the north, follow Hwy 191 from Moab, Utah, through Monticello and Blanding to Bluff. Then take Hwy 163 to Monument Valley. The best road map for the region is the widely available AAA “Indian Country” map.
Major airlines serve the Phoenix, Albuquerque, and Denver airports, while smaller airlines offer scheduled flights to Flagstaff, Arizona, and Farmington, New Mexico, just outside of the Navajo Nation. Rental cars are available at all of these airports. Flagstaff and Farmington are each about 150 miles, or three hours drive from Monument Valley.
WHAT TO DO
A 17-mile self-guided Valley Drive will show you around most of the major monuments (The Mittens, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Totem Pole, Yei Bi Chai, Ear of the Wind), and a Navajo-guided tour will lead you into Mystery Valley, Hunts Mesa and other restricted areas. You can also explore the area on horseback, the way people have been exploring it for hundreds of years. Book early for peak season (May 1st - Sept. 30th). There's also a couple of hikes, one of which is self-guided.
At first the $20 entrance fee might seem like a bit much for a view overlooking the buttes, but once you realize it also includes a 17-mile self-guided drive through the iconic valley, it's a steal. You can opt for the longer guided tour that visits places not reachable on the valley drive; however, most visitors travel along the road in their own vehicles. Although the road is unpaved, only large RVs and unusually low clearance cars should not make the journey. Heavy rain may also temporarily make the road impassable for all but 4WD vehicles. I made the drive in my Dodge Challenger, and didn't have any difficulties during the drive. There is much to see along the Valley Drive, even if many of the views are of the same formations, just at different angles, as some of the narrower buttes look quite different from one side compared to the other. This part of Monument Valley is one of the most impressive large-scale landscapes anywhere in the Southwest.
Opening hours are 6am - 8pm (May - Sep) or 8am - 5pm (Oct - Apr).
Self-Guided Hiking Trail
The Wildcat Trail is 3.2 miles around the West Mitten Butte. When walking this trail it may take anywhere from 1.5 - 2 hours.
- Wear appropriate clothing, depending on the season.
- There are no trash bins, so you will have to be responsible for your own trash.
- Make sure to bring plenty of water, because there is no drinking water available on the trail.
WHERE TO STAY
THE VIEW HOTEL
The View Hotel is a Navajo owned business located within the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Tribal park at Monument Valley. It was first opened in December 2008, and they feature carefully designed accommodations that serve the needs of visitors from around the world while still blending in with the environment and not distracting from the beauty of Monument Valley.
For reservations click here.
Deep in the heart of the American Southwest, Goulding's Lodge offers lodging, along with providing unique expeditions allowing the guest to search out the mystery and wonder that is the Navajoland. While staying at Goulding's Lodge, you can book a tour from the local Navajo that grew up in and around the Monument Valley area. During the tours, they will share interesting facts about the valley and its areas of interest. This was home to John Ford and John Wayne during the filming of many classic western films such as Stagecoach and The Searchers.
For reservations click here.
Overall, Monument Valley is much more than gigantic rock formations... it's a sacred site. It's a landscape that has relatively stayed the same for hundreds of years. Monument Valley is the embodiment of not only the great American West, but a personification of the United States.
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About The Author
In 2015, Founder of TMDE Paul Martinez left a career in sales for a life of exploring. In just a matter of months he had visited over 10 countries, 30 cities, 10 states, countless national parks, taken thousands of photographs, and did a ton of soul-searching. His search uncovered a deep passion for exploration; which he now believes to be the essence of the human spirit, and led to the birth of The Modern Day Explorer. You can follow him on his personal journey by visiting his Instagram, and hopefully continue to support TMDE by following us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.