Monument Valley

Written by on January 4, 2016 in AZ Outdoor Adventures - 1 Comment

Perhaps one of the most recognized and iconic locations in all of the Southwest is Monument Valley. Dozens of movies and entertainment pieces have been filmed in Monument Valley including many Westerns (especially those directed by John Ford), sci fi movies like Back to the Future III, Metallica’s music video I Disappear, and even the Playstation 3 Game Motorstorm uses Monument Valley as its backdrop. The stark contrast between the flat desert and soaring cliffs and buttes is truly stunning. The shocking disparity between the red rock and the blue sky causes the rocky features stand out in sharp relief. The site is awe-inspiring, and yet, due to the vastness of the terrain, endless vistas and almost constant keening of the wind, there is a desolate quality about the area. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel a little sad and lonely and a bit nostalgic when visiting.

There is only one main road through Monument Valley, US 163, which links Kayenta, Arizona, with US 191 in Utah. Approaching Monument Valley from the north on US 163 provides the most famous image of the valley — a long straight empty road that leads across flat desert towards the 1,000 foot high cliffs on the horizon, curving away just in front. In fact, you’ve probably noticed the main photo on the See The Southwest website which is exactly this shot!

Monument Valley is part of the Colorado Plateau, an area of uplifted plateaus and peaks that roughly covers the four corners region of the Southwest. The floor of valley is siltstone created by layers of sand deposited by ancient rivers that once meandered through the region. Eventually that land was uplifted and the natural forces of wind and water have spent the last 50 million years shaping the stone into tall buttes, arches and oddly twisted shapes. The vivid red color of the stone comes from iron oxide deposits that are exposed in the siltstone, while the darker, blue-gray rocks in the valley get their color from manganese oxide.

Monument Valley sits on the Navajo Tribal Park. You can see plenty of the beauty of Monument Valley just by driving on US 163, but admission the park itself is inexpensive (only $5 per person) and well worth it. From the Visitor’s Center at Lookout Point, you have a great view of the three most photographed buttes in Monument Valley — East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. One of the most stunning views in the park is the Totem Pole, which is 450 feet high and only a few yards wide, and can be reached by taking Valley Drive, a 17-mile dirt road through the park accessible by most vehicle except after a severe rain. Haskenneini Restaurant, which specializes in both native Navajo and American cuisines, is open at the Visitor’s Center during the summer months, as is the gift shop.

While the views from the public areas are stunning, the Navajo people know many of the hidden spots that far surpass what you can see from the road or Visitor’s Center, but you must hire a tribal guide to take you to these hidden places. As well as eroded and wind-shaped spires and buttes, Monument Valley hides dozens of ancient cave and cliff dwellings, natural arches and petroglyphs, all generally away from the Valley Drive at more isolated locations and viewable only as part of guided tours.

The best place’s to stay in Monument Valley are the new The VIEW Hotel in Monument Valley or Goulding’s Lodge, which offers stunning views of Monument Valley from almost every room. The Lodge offers plenty of amenities including a pool (heated in the winter), the Stagecoach Dining Room, Goulding’s Museum and Trading Post and the Earth Spirit Show, a nightly presentation on the formation of Monument Valley. This is also one of the foremost locations in the United States to find arts and crafts created by the Navajo people. You can even watch a weaving demonstration to see how the Navajo created their unique textiles. There is also a campground on the Goulding property if you prefer to get a little more basic and back to nature. The nearby town of Kayenta, Arizona, offers additional lodging and dining options.

Monument Valley is central to many of fun things to do and beautiful locations you can visit in Arizona and Southern Utah including the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Sunset Crater, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and the Four Corners Monument to name a few. In addition, Arizona and Southern Utah are rich in heritage sites like Montezuma’s Well and Montezuma’s Castle, Wupatki National Monument, Hovenweep, Mesa Verde, Canyon de Chelly and many more.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
PO Box 360289
Monument Valley, Utah 84536
(435)727-5874/5870 or (435)727-5875

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