Monument Valley - great American road trip
Updated: Feb 7, 2021
Is Monument Valley on your bucket list......well it should be. For many, it's a life long dream. With sandstone buttes, colossal mesas, and panoramic vistas, Monument Valley has captured the imagination of photographers and film makers for decades. It is well known for being one of the USA’s iconic landscapes.
A visit to Monument Valley will afford you more than a few snapshots and pretty scenery however, as The Valley is located in the Navajo Nation, and as a landscape is inseparable from what it means to be Navajo. If you want a little taste of Navajo history, culture and contemporary life, there's no better place to start than with a visit to Monument Valley and its surrounding settlements. Our Navajo guide had so many stories to tell - we spent a total of 6 hours with Will and learnt so much about the land and Navajo culture - amazing and highly recommended.
Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock
On our way to Monument Valley, we opted for a slight detour (2 hour round trip) to visit The Needles, which forms the southeast corner of Canyonlands. There are many hiking trails, with opportunities for long day hikes and overnight trips. Foot trails and four-wheel-drive roads lead to such features as Tower Ruin, Confluence Overlook, Elephant Hill, the Joint Trail, and Chesler Park.
The Needles is a popular spot for rock climbers. Check out the three climbers at the bottom of the rock.
Forrest Gump Point
This is the northern route through Utah to Monument Valley and was used as the location in the movie "Forrest Gump" where Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) ended his cross-country run.
It's just a 20-minute drive from here to the Visitor Center. This spot draws lots of visitors, so have patience when trying to take your photo without anyone else in your way. It's so funny watching everyone jump out of their car, run haphazardly into the centre of the road to try and get that perfect shot. I suppose this puts me as one of those crazies trying to dodge the traffic.
Accommodation - Premium Cabins - The View Hotel
There are several places to stay around Monument Valley. We opted to stay at The Premium Cabins located below The View hotel. The View Hotel and the cabins book quickly, so ensure you get in early.
The cabins are self contained, nicely furnished, clean, and most of all perfectly located with outstanding views of the butts (pronounced bee-ute).
The view from our balcony.
These beautiful red sandstones push skyward (400 to 1,000 feet) from the vast expanse of desert floor. For those using metric that's 122m to 305m.
This red-sand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border is frequently used as a filming location for Western movies. It is accessed by the looping, 17-mile Valley Drive, which passes some of the most popular sites in Monument Valley. It is a dirt and gravel road that starts and ends at the Monument Valley Visitor Center.
You can self-drive this loop, a 4×4 isn't necessary as cars can drive this road without any real difficulty. It can be quite a bumpy, dusty road however and requires a very low speed limit, but what better way to take your time and enjoy the views. On this drive, you will see the Mitten Buttes, Three Sisters, Yei-bi-chai, North Window, and Totem Pole. Allow yourself approximately two hours to complete the drive.
There is a second loop that veers off of the Valley Drive. This is only accessible by tour. This tour takes you up close to the Totem Pole and past other rock formations and mesas you would miss if you only did the Valley Drive.
We opted to take a private sunrise Navajo Spirit tour of Monument Valley. This was an amazing experience. Even in October temperatures were cold and of course, it’s a very early start to the day, but it was awesome watching the sunrise in Monument Valley. I have included below the photos are the sun rose.
This was such an amazing time to witness the dawning of a new day and our Navajo guide had plenty of stories to tell us as the sun continued to rise. We were even treated to a cultural song and dance.
The beauty of this place is mesmerising......
and eerie, and something not to be missed.
Until the 1930’s, Monument Valley was an obscure, seldom visited location. The only ones really aware of the beauty of this place were the Navajo Indians who lived on the land.
It wasn’t until John Ford featured this landscape in his well-known films (including Stagecoach and Rio Grande) that Monument Valley began to experience some popularity. Try and picture yourself, standing in these very scenes witnessing the sun move higher over the horizon, whilst listening to 'virtual silence'.
Monument Valley has been featured in a large number of popular movies, including Forrest Gump, National Lampoons Vacation, Mission: Impossible II, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the new HBO series Westworld.
Can you see what we saw?
Could you be mistaken for thinking this is an ancient Navajo warrior in this rock formation?
I love reflections and this was one of our last views before finishing our Navajo sunrise tour.
We opted to meet Will again that afternoon to take a private tour to Mystery Valley, which is located on private Navajo land.
Mystery Valley is a place of eloquent beauty in a separate area from Monument Valley. It is certainly off the beaten trek and you get to see soft Navajo Sandstone buttes and mesas.
It is a place Navajo people believe holds a great spiritual power.
You will see natural arches like Skull Arch, Honeymoon Arch and have the opportunity to visit the Ancient petroglyphs and pictographs up close.
You will also see many famous sites such as The Square House Ruins and The House of Many Hands, which are very sacred to the Navajo People. We climbed into what was once a place of residence for the early Navajo people.
You will leave Mystery Valley with a feeling of peace and tranquility.
We had a very early morning departure from Monument Valley, as we were heading to Antelope Canyon.
And what better way to start your day, then with the sunrise over the Butts in front of your accomodation. The deep colours of red were highly visible as the sun was creeping up over the horizon.
There was a stunning early morning mist sitting low across the valley, which combined with the butts and the red rock, created such a stunning view.
Our last view, as we left Monument Valley heading to Arizona.