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This has to be one of the most famous photo opportunities in the States and the area has starred in many films including the famous running scene in Forrest Gump.
Visiting Monument Valley was one of the planned activities on our itinerary to the States a year or two back. We stayed in a small motel in Mexican Hat and so had the chance to drive through the Navaho Tribal Park on one day and then we got up early on the second day and made our way to the famous road and took some photos in the morning light when no one was around. My daughter and husband also decided to run like Forrest down the middle of the road for a photo too!
On the first day we made our way to the visitor centre and from here you can take a tour with a guide in a 4x4 or pay just the entry permit which is $5 a head and drive yourself. We had a 4x4 so we chose to drive ourselves. They didn't say you would need a x4 but you do as the road is a very poorly maintained and extremely uneven dirt track with huge lumps and holes and can be driven at a speed of about 5-10 miles an hour most of the way. I have looked at a number of sites and they say you can drive around in a normal car. I wouldn't take my car around there and if it is a hire car then I would think twice. If you are planning a visit here then hire a 4x4 or at least something with a high undercarriage.
They say that the road is deliberately kept in poor repair as it serves to increase business for the guides with 4x4 vehicles selling tours at $75 for a two hour trip. Be warned!!
TIMES AND PRICES
Entry Fees - $5.00 children under 9 free
Take note this is NOT a National Park in that National Parks and Golden Eagle Passes are not accepted.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Visitor Center Hours
Peak Season (May 1 - Sept 30) 6:00am - 8:00pm, 7 Days a week
Off Season (Oct 1 - Apr 30) until 8:00am - 5:00pm, 7 Days a week
Thanksgiving Day - 8:00am - noon
New Years Day and Christmas Day - closed
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Scenic Drive Hours
Peak Season (May 1-Sept 30) 6:00am - 8:30pm
Off Season (Oct - Apr) 8:00am - 4:30pm
We arrived a little after lunch and chose to do the drive first. The drive is only 17 miles long but because you have to go so slowly and then you stop for photos and at a couple of places get out for a bit of a walk and to look at stalls or even have a picnic this does take at least two hours. It is a breath taking scenic drive and worth every cent of the $5 entry fee.
As you pay your entry fee you are given a map and on the map the features are named and there are little images of them for you to look at in order to identify them. The names are usually quite descriptive and some are quite obvious, others you need a bit of a creative imagination to see why they were named.
Some names were given by the early settlers of Monument Valley while others have special meaning to the Navajo people. Basically all the features are mesas, buttes and spire rock features created from the wind and sand weathering the different rocks.
The first formations you see on the drive are the East and West Mitten Buttes which are need as they look a bit like hands in mittens. They do look quite like hands and are really easy to pick out.
The next two are not so obvious as they are named after two silver prospectors in the valley. Merrick Butte and Mitchell Mesa are all that remains of the two prospectors,their namesakes who , the story tells, were killed by Ute Indians and their silver stolen.
Next we came to my favourite rock formation, Elephant Butte. It did look just like an enormous elephant.
John Ford's point was named after the film director of many western movies, the one who made John Wayne famous. He used Monument Valley as a backdrop in many of his films including 'Stagecoach'. From here you got a great view of The MV also called The Three Sisters.
I never really did work out the next formation which was meant to be a nun facing two pupils so why it was called the Three sisters I cannot imagine. You needed a lot of imagination to see three sisters but what we also noticed and was pointed out in the guide was that it looked like an M and a V standing for Monument Valley and I was actually more impressed with that than anything to do with the story of a nun telling off two pupils.
Camel Butte, again like the Elephant, this one was quite obvious and recognisable.
Driving on we struggled to find the Hub which in theory looks like the hub of a wagon wheel but is seen by the Najaho as a fireplace in the middle of one of their homes or hogans. This was less than obvious and not that interesting really.
The next feature is the middle of the park according to the map but not the middle of the drive. This is Rain God Mesa where Navajo medicine men pray and give thanks to the Rain God, who stored water for the people. This is because there is a natural aquifer at the base of the rock which always has water. You can make out the darker sort of stripes on one side where the water seeps out.
There are a couple of natural aquifers on the drive and another at the base of Bird Spring. This rock feature is near a large sand dune but once again is not obvious and does not really resemble a bird that we could see.
The Totem Pole, was quite aptly named as it really is a tall spire. When the butte is eroded further then a spire like this is created.
More imagination needed for the Yei Bi Chei named after Navajo spiritual gods and the rock formations are supposed to be dancers coming out from a Navaho home or hogan.
After driving for some time it is nice to get out and stretch you legs and you can do this at Artist's Point. You may well see a number of artists with palettes and easels or sketch books as this is the scenic point that is favoured by artists in the park. We had a walk around and took several dozen photos of all the fabulous scenery before heading onwards around the driving trail.
Spear Mesa named as it looks like a spear head is actually at the mesa so once again not really that obvious.
One of my favourite views was through North Window and you can see down into the lower valley. Elephant butte on on the left and on the right is Cly Butte, Cly which means left in Navaho. This butte is named after a Navajo medicine man as he is buried at the foot of the butte. Through this you can see the Horsemen rock formation if you use your imagination ,squint and semi close your eyes!!
The king on his throne also needs a little imagination but can be identified quite easily once you know what you are looking for.
The Thumb is a separate spire a bit away from Camel Butte. Some say it also looks like a cowboy boot but I was not convinced.
Despite the fact that these features are named with dubious names it was fun trying to identify them while we drove around. The scenery is stunning and names or no names you cannot fail to be impressed with the colours and shapes of the rocks that create this beautiful desert landscape.
It is well worth driving around the guided loop drive as although you can see some of the formations from the main road the US 163, which links Kayenta, AZ with US 191 in Utah, you would miss many others and also miss the excitement of the road and trying to identify the different formations.
We called in to the Visitor Centre after our drive and from there you can stand on a view point over looking the valley for yet more photos. Inside there is a lot of information about the way the rocks have become eroded. A bit of history about the park and the Navajo tribal area, their culture and more. They also have a cafe and drinks machines.
In the park there are two hotels you can choose to stay at Gouldings Lodge and the View Hotel but they are quite expensive. We stayed in Mexican Hat only twenty miles away or you can stay in Kayenta. Neither are big towns and they are still in similar desert terrain. Kayenta has a Hampton by Hilton hotel there but Mexican Hat motel is more basic but perfectly comfortable for a night or two.
If you are in this part of the USA then make the effort to go and drive the trail and then drive along the Highway ans it is simply stunning. It is a beautiful yet harsh landscape with colours that cannot fail to impress. You will need to stay overnight somewhere locally as the distances from other places is quite vast.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
Warning: this is likely to be a long one folks!
On our recent trip to Arizona, Utah and Nevada the first major planned day was a visit to Monument Valley (after a very long detour to Antelope Canyon - watch out for future review!). My husband had been briefly before with his brothers but they hadn't entered the actual Navajo Tribal Park itself, just driven past the edge. He had bought a huge landscape picture whilst there which has hung on our living room wall since we married and has been teasing me with it's majestic beauty ever since. It was a place I'd been desperate to visit for a while and was meant to be one of the (many!) highlights of our trip. So what's all the fuss about?
Where is it and how do you get there?
Monument Valley is right on the border between Arizona and Utah in the United States. It has become a major tourist destination over the last couple of decades, thanks mostly to its appearance in numerous movies over the years. On trips around the national parks of the south west USA it is a popular stop and when visiting you can hear languages and accents from all over the world. People normally stop here, or pass through here, en route from the Grand Canyon to the eastern side of Utah and places such as Canyonlands or Arches National Parks, although our route was slightly different to the norm as we pretty much started here and finished at the Grand Canyon.
There are several smaller airports close by, including one at Page, the nearest town of any size, and one at the Grand Canyon. But the nearest major international airports for foreign visitors are either Phoenix, Arizona or Las Vegas, Nevada, hence why it is usually visited as part of a road trip. We flew into Phoenix and I would estimate that the drive from there would take around 5 hours (without the detour we took) which, in American terms is nothing much at all really, but in England would be a big effort of a drive. Even if you flew into one of the smaller airports you would still need to hire a car and drive for an hour or two to get there, or alternatively book onto one of the many organised coach tours to the valley.
Despite not being what the English would consider to be easily accessible, it is still a major tourist destination and can get very busy. We were there early on a Tuesday morning at the beginning of June and by the time we left (mid-afternoon) the carpark was packed full so I would definitely recommend getting there early.
What is it and what's all the fuss about?
I hardly know where to begin describing Monument Valley really. It is made up of dozens of "buttes" all sticking up into the valley and every way you look is a photo opportunity! Most people will no doubt have seen pictures of it and if you've seen Forrest Gump then you've definitely seen it, whether you were aware of it or not. There is an iconic scene in the film where he is running down a seemingly endless road with several red rock, flat topped mountains jutting up as a back drop..this is Monument Valley. In fact, on the road out of the valley there is a sign on the verge marking the spot where that particular scene was filmed..something we came across only after my husband insisted on stopping about 8 times at various places looking for the exact same scene!
The area is on Navajo tribal reservation land and is pretty much in the middle of the Arizona/Utah desert. Red sand, cactus and open views are pretty much the norm around here until suddenly, as you drive along, these huge towers of red rock appear out of nowhere. It's not a mountain range and they're not all joined together. Created by thousands and thousands of years worth of erosion, they're individual spires of all different shapes and sizes. Some close together, some set miles apart from the others. It really is an impossible place to describe adequately but is absolutely one of the most awe-inspiring places I've ever been. The picture Dooyoo shows gives you an idea of the views but not the vastness of the park..imagine that picture replicated over a few miles of endless desert and you can start to build an image in your head.
Despite the hustle and bustle of what is obviously a thriving tourist business, the place has a serenity and stillness that you wouldn't believe possible with other people around. The tribal park itself is huge though and maybe this contributes to that feeling. Also, many of the visitors seemed to just stay in the visitor centre, take photos from there and then leave without actually getting out into the park and exploring it to experience what is has to offer first hand. It would appear that many people don't stay overnight in the area and just "do Monument Valley" as a stop off on their way to somewhere else. Shame for them but all the better for those of us that did more than that!
Fees and facilities.
You can see some areas of Monument Valley from the road and so many people just stop here, take photos and then pass on by without actually entering the tribal park. These people don't know what they're missing and if you're ever in the area, take my advice; GO IN! The Navajos own all the land in the surrounding area and obviously cottoned on a while ago that they could capitalise on this amazing place that stands on their reservation. The entry fee is a mere $6 per person (an absolute bargain when you consider the entrance fees to some of the other area attractions), payable at a kiosk on the road into the valley.
In the park itself there is the View Hotel, the only hotel in the park boundaries, and a large visitor centre and gift shop. At the visitor centre you can find out all about the history of the area, visit the loos and get information about the scenic drive and hikes it is possible to do. There is also a campsite in the park but to those adventurous enough to camp here be warned, it is VERY basic (ie 4 portaloos are the ONLY facilities available - no running water, no showers, no nearby shop for supplies) and we both commented that we wouldn't like to have tried to find a suitable pitch for a tent with all the rocks on the very uneven ground.
The gift shop is exactly what you would expect a Navajo owned tourist gift shop to be. Full of the usual magnets, mugs, caps and tshirts but with equal amounts of native crafts including pottery, jewellery, rugs and sandstone paintings (one of which now hangs proudly on our wall!). The shop was very busy both as we arrived and as we left and obviously does a roaring trade, although I felt that the prices there definitely made up for the low entrance fee, this is obviously where they make most of their money.
There is also the possibility of going on a jeep tour of the scenic drive if you're not brave enough to drive it yourself, although from what we saw it took a lot more nerve to get into one of those jeeps than it did to drive it - more of that later!
Our experience of the valley.
For us this was always going to be an activity holiday and, as we'll probably not visit the area again, we wanted to do everything that we possibly could whilst on our trip. In Monument Valley this included both the scenic drive and a 3.5 mile self-guided hike.
Because of the heat (information at the visitor centre says that summer highs can reach 90F but it felt much hotter than that and, indeed, our car thermometer recorded 103F as we were leaving) we decided to do the hike first as it was still quite early in the day and so not at its hottest. The hike is called the Wildcat Trail and, beginning at the campground, goes around the base of the West Mitten Butte (which shows how big one of the monuments can be...and this isn't even one of the biggest!) and information recommends you allow 1.5-2 hours to complete it.
The hike itself isn't particularly taxing and most people should be able to complete it without too much fuss, although there is a bit of a climb back up to the campground at the end, but it is an easy to follow trail along sandy paths and dried out creek beds. The only thing that really makes it difficult to complete is the heat and I can't emphasise strongly enough the need to wear a hat and sunscreen and to take plenty of water with you - we got through about 4 litres between two of us in the time it took to complete the walk. The other necessity you must take is a camera! My hubby fancies himself as a bit of an Ansell Adams and we could probably have completed the hike in half the time if he hadn't been stopping, literally every 10 seconds, to take pictures! Cactus, lizards, monuments, vistas, creek beds, you name it, we have a dozen photos of it just from that one hike! I can't really blame him though. The views of the area are abolutely astounding and like nothing you've ever seen before and who wouldn't take a photo of a lizard if one ran right out in front of them?!
For some reason the hike is not a popular excusion whilst at Monument Valley so we only passed a handful of other people when we doing it which meant it was a very peaceful walk and enabled us to really experience the peace and tranquility of the area. Having said that I was very glad to get back to the campground (even if it did mean using a composting portaloo that sits exposed to the blaring sun all day every day, eww!) and then into the air-conditioned car for a while!
After the hike we set straight off on the scenic drive, which also starts from close to the campground. It is an obvious route to follow so there is never any danger of getting lost but it is a very challenging drive! The slope to get down to the bottom of the valley is heart-stopping at times, going over big rocks and into big dips, with some random sandy pits thrown in for good measure. The Navajos seem to think that it is suitable for any normal vehicle and only recommend that you don't go down it if you're in a motorhome longer than 25 feet but I would definitely be wary of going on the drive in anything less than a four wheel drive, unless you happen to have a high clearance car. In fact, my parents had been to the valley a few days before us (we were pretty much following them around Arizona in order to surprise them in Las Vegas!) in a saloon car and gave up on the scenic drive after about 200 feet as my dad was too worried about damaging the car.
Luckily for me my husband is made of stronger stuff than I am, because if it had been up to me I would have turned around too as I was literally gripping onto the dashboard and bracing myself to roll over down into a ditch at any moment. But he had booked a four wheel drive hire car specifically because he wanted to do that drive and was determined to put it through its paces! After we got down to the valley bottom the drive levelled off considerably and was even enough to make me loosen my hold. It was still quite dicey in places, but with concentration and avoidance of the big rocks it was quite do-able. The biggest risk actually came from the jeep tours run by the Navajos. As they're obviously used to the trail and drive it day after day they had no fear and absolutely raced around, expecting all other vehicles to get our of their way and bumping their passengers around all over the place with no seatbelts in sight. Over and over I said how glad I was that we weren't on one of those tours and nothing on earth would make me recommend them to anyone, particularly anyone that suffers from car sickness!
The drive itself, however, was well worth it. As you get further down the whole valley just opens up before you and the views of dozens and dozens of redstone buttes sticking up into the air is just amazing. You can get a (very basic) map from the visitor centre which gives you the names of all the different monuments and the good places to stop and take pictures. The most popular spot is actually called John Ford Point, named after the spaghetti western movie director who filmed many of his works in the area and who led to the valley becoming such a tourist destination.
There are a few facilities available on the scenic drive which are basic but necessary given that it is 17 miles and can take up to 2 hours to complete. There are the obligatory portaloos and a small caravan selling refreshments and Indian Frybread (a sort of cross between a naan bread and a doughnut which they sweeten with sugar and honey but sell as an accompaniment to savoury dishes - I couldn't get to grips with it at all but hubby loved it). There are also numerous stands selling native crafts and places where you can pay $5 dollars to get on a horse, be led to a popular outlook and have your photo taken - a bit of a rip off if you ask me because when I say be led to a popular outlook I mean literally about 20 yards...not particularly good value! You are also requested to tip any "natives" that you take photos of, something the numerous Japanese tourists were taking full advantage of. Now, if the "natives" had been dressed in native clothing I could have understood it more but they weren't. They were dressed in jeans and t-shirts, just like the tourists!
Despite these inevitable tourist traps, the scenic drive is well worth doing, if a bit nerve wracking and the photo opportunities en route are plentiful and incredibly scenic. But you do need a driver with a good level of concentration and I really wouldn't recommend it unless in a four wheel drive. We actually saw someone on the drive in a sports car and couldn't understand a) how they'd got down in the first place and b) how on earth they were going to get back out again!
So is it worth a visit?
ABSOLUTELY! In case you couldn't tell already I absolutely fell in love with Monument Valley and loved every minute we were there (apart from the climbs down and back up again from the valley floor maybe!). The scenery is unique and like nothing you've ever seen before or will ever see again and when you consider that the whole experience only costs you $6 per person it is excellent value for money. Other Navajo attractions we visited really capitalise on their assets and charge much more and were other tribes running it I have no doubt they would charge you an entry fee, a hiking fee and another fee to do the scenic drive. So the fact you can do everything there (apart from the jeep tours which cost extra but which I personally would have to be paid to do!) for around £4 is an absolute bargain.
The people that just sit in their cars on the roadside and take pictures really don't know what they're missing. From there you can only see the edge of the valley and it is much more expanisve than you can possibly imagine from the initial view. I think just passing by it en route to somewhere else is a big mistake and if you're ever in the area I would urge you to stay in the nearby village of Kayenta, where there are several hotels available if you don't want to pay the View Hotels rates, to be able to make much more of your visit to Monument Valley.
Monument Valley was the second stop on our road trip around the National Parks of Arizona and Utah and was probably the one I was most looking forward to. It is absolutely fabulous and definitely worth making the trip to. You see pictures of it everywhere and you have undoubtedly seen it in many a film (remember Tom Cruise abseiling at the beginning of one of the Mission: Impossible films anyone?), but absolutely none of this can prepare you for just how jaw dropping it is in real life.
We considered staying near the valley itself originally but then decided against it. If you are planning a road trip, it will probably be from the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon and Monument Valley is sort of in between the two, but a fair bit out of the way. There is a hotel actually in the valley called The View (www.monumentvalleyview.com), which is supposedly pretty good but the views it offers would definitely make up for any shortcomings it may have. The nearest town is Kayenta, where the hotels are much cheaper. This is where we were going to stay, but after getting some advice from someone who had been, we decided that the town was a little too out of the way to bother staying. So we drove in, spent the afternoon in Monument Valley and drove on to our next stop instead. This turned out to be a pretty good option. The drive from Grand Canyon was about three hours and the drive back out to Page (for Lake Powell) was about an hour. This may seem like a lot of driving for one day, but the views on the way in and out are so spectacular, that the drive seemed a whole lot shorter than it actually was.
On the drive in, we thought we'd arrived a few times before we actually had because there were so many Monument Valley style rock formations on the way. There are some pretty spectacular formations, but it is still pretty impressive when you first glimpse the valley proper.
As you drive in to the park, you stop at the ticket booth and pay an entry fee of $5 per person. The park isn't a federal park, so any annual passes aren't valid here. To be honest, at five dollars per person I think it is very much a bargain. The park is open year round although the times vary between the seasons. From May until October it is open from 6am until 8pm and for the rest of the year from 8am until 5pm.
The first thing you come to is a huge car park, which is right in front of the welcome buildings. The building incorporates a pretty good gift shop, a cafeteria and the hotel I mentioned earlier. I would recommend walking through the gift shop to get to the patio outside where there is a bit of information about the valley laid out on really clear and informative signs. There is also a handy little model of the valley that shows what each of the main 'monuments' are called. The views from here are pretty spectacular. The valley stretches for miles and you could spend literally hours staring at all the monuments. There is also a little area with chairs and tables which was apparently John Wayne's favourite spot to sit whilst on breaks from filming in the area. Just a few seconds here explain why.
You can also drive down into the valley itself. When you enter you are given a map which plots out an easy to drive route. The route is about 17 miles long and they recommend that you allow one and a half to two hours for the trip. We were driving a white hire car, so unfortunately had to opt out of driving the route. It is an unpaved dirt road and when we watched a few people driving down it, there seemed to be quite a few stones flying around. I so wish we could have done it though because it looked a lot of fun and it would have been fantastic to have actually driven through it.
One of the things we noticed about Monument Valley was that it was so quiet and peaceful. Even though there were plenty of tourists there, it wasn't in any way ruined. It somehow instils in you a massive respect for nature that forces you into silence. Even the shops and café are understated. I would recommend a bite to eat in the café, because the food was pretty good and reasonably priced, especially considering the captive audience. I'd recommend the fabulous fresh salad bar, that came as a welcome relief from the burger overload we had in Las Vegas!
I would absolutely recommend visiting Monument Valley. We seriously considered not going because it was a little out of the way of our route, but it was so worth making the detour. We loved it and are so glad we made the effort.
**Background and Location **
Monument Valley (MV) is nowhere near as famous as the Grand Canyon, but in my opinion it is so underrated! MV is in the American South-West in Arizona, but close to the borders of Colarado, New Mexico and Utah. The climate is semi-arid (aka VERY HOT in the summer) and if you google search 'Monument Valley', you are likely to recognise the landscape as it is where most Western Films were set (especially John Wayne stuff). It is famous for it's huge monoliths of rock which are shaped and sculpted by natural erosion and weathering processes.
I didn't realise how close this was to the Grand Canyon, just a 3 hour drive from the South Rim of the Canyon will get you to Monument Valley. 7 hours from Las Vegas airport and a similar time from Phoenix Arizona. Yes, it is out in the sticks but if you are bothering to drive to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix or Vegas you just can't miss this. In my opinion it was better than the Grand Canyon.
--Vegas to Monument Valley--
We arrived in Las Vegas after a short flight from Vancouver at around 9pm, after a delay in customs and waiting over an hour to pick up our pre-paid rental car, we finally left McCarran airport and headed to Henderson, our quick stop-over for the night. Henderson was a good choice just 30 minutes outside of Vegas and nowhere near the godforsaken Boulevard. I had considered driving to Boulder City or even as far as Kingman just so we had a few hours "in the bag" before the long drive the next day, but I was concerned about flight delays and driving in the dark, so decided to plump for Henderson. It proved an excellent choice the next day when the rental car had problems just one mile into our seven hour journey to Monument Valley, we were able to go back and exchange it relatively quickly and be on our way, only an hour and a half after we had planned. We finally exited Henderson at 8am. We stayed in the Hilton Garden Hotel, Henderson which was the cheapest of our month long trip at £46 for the night and far exceeded my expectations, I can highly recommend it and plan to write a review very soon.
--Heat and the road conditions--
We decided to do the longest drive on the first day and the seven hours to monument valley went relatively quickly. We took advice from people on tripadvisor, bought a cheap cool bag, some ice and a tray of water which cost us less than $15 from the amazing Seven Eleven (love that place!) and started our desert adventure. Except, it wasn't really as much of a desert as we had imagined. Sure, it was sandy, we knew it wouldn't be a proper desert as is arid land rather than semi-arid but I'd imagined narrow roads elevated above sandy shoulders, and we didn't get that at all! It is by no means a complaint, in fact, we both found it more reassuring that the roads were busier than we expected (but by no means busy by UK standards) and that the entire 7 hour journey was not the delightful 100 degrees heat that the car had started in in Las Vegas at 8am. Members on trip advisor had told me that the roads weren't desert roads, they told me it got cooler at high elevations, but I couldn't figure that out until we actually got there and saw it for ourselves!
We had also been seriously concerned about places to stop for petrol and restrooms but despite there being no actual dwellings between places, there were plenty of petrol stations with restrooms on the way. Having just been to Canada for two weeks, we expected the dwellings on the map to be small and remote places. I expected Tuba City (1-2 hours from Monument Valley) to be a small town with a few houses, I did not expect to see a McDonalds and Taco Bell, but I did see it and I was surprised at how much settlement there was in these areas.
Flagstaff en route was another surprise and much bigger than expected. Torrential rain and 61 degrees Fareneheit had not been on my list of things to experience in Arizona, but the high elevations (6000-7000ft) made sure we experienced it. Sure, it cleared up soon enough but I had not expected it - especially in July, especially when we had just come from Las Vegas in stifling temperatures of 42 degrees CELCIUS at 7.30am!!!!!
--Driving down the road to monument valley--
After six hours which had gone reasonably quickly, we headed down the final road to Monument Valley and oh wow!!! It was like a scene from the movies, there was my long desert road with amazing monoliths on either side. We filmed the entire drive down into the valley and that was before we had even turned off for the most impressive part of the park. We stayed at The View hotel for one night which was AMAZING, it was like having a giant postcard outside your window. The view of the Mittens and Mesa Butte (names of 2 of the monoliths) were awesome. We had to pay $5 each to get into the park which is run by the Navajo tribe and the park was pretty busy when we got there at 3pm, of course we had lost an hour as we moved into a different time zone when we crossed the border from Nevada (Vegas) to Arizona so it was actually 4pm in Monument Valley time.
We planned to drive the 17 mile loop around the monoliths, but we didn't realise it was unpaved and very bumpy, so decided to give that a miss in our sporty rental car and jumped in a private tour with Homeland Navajo Tours. The ride down to the Mittens (about five minutes) was sooooooooooooooooooooo bumpy, we were jerked around everywhere in the jeep and I felt ridiculously sick. The thought of another 2 hours sitting in that vehicle made me feel awful, so I asked if it was possible to get a refund and asked to walk back to the hotel. The guide was really kind (although I do think they all found me hilarious! - crying English woman who felt sick) and said he would get a driver to pick me up and he insisted on waiting with me despite my insistence that they should proceed with the tour. He gave me a full refund and another guide picked me up in a 4x4. It didn't feel half as bumpy in that and I told him so. When we got back to the hotel, the boss man could see I was upset about missing the tour and offered to take me out in the 4 x 4 and pick up my husband on the way (who was still on the original jeep).
We paid $60 each for the tour, I have no idea if this is good or bad, but for the fact I could go out in the 4 x 4 made it worth every penny. I was a little nervous of the Navajo people as I had heard horror stories about people being ripped off and we had obvious cultural differences, but this experience completely wiped away any misgivings I had previously.
The ride was still bumpy but I didn't feel sick at all and really enjoyed the trip. We were out for 2.5 hours with plenty of time for photographs and OH WOW the monoliths were amazing! The view from "the north window" (named as it is the best view in the park as though you are "looking through a window") was incredible. Being able to drive around the loop felt so special, there were tribal elders living in shacks with no running water or electricity, the thing I couldn't get over was how quiet it was. The peace and serenity and quiet, well, I doubt if I will ever be able to match that ever again in my life.
The view from the hotel (The View hotel - well named!) was stunning, we watched the sunset whilst eating in the restaurant (which by the way is excellent service for good food at a reasonable price, $10-$15 for main meals - we had expected to be fleeced given that there are hardly any places to eat around there). The hotel played a John Wayne film (set in Monument Valley) which people could watch outside, that was very surreal watching the Mittens on the screen and seeing them out for real out of the corner of your eye.
The hotel was expensive (again! If you read any of my other travel reviews you'll see why!), probably £120 a night - it books up super fast we were SO lucky to get a room and had to shift the Grand Canyon itinerary round so that we could make it to Monument Valley. It was a huge, clean, modern room with a balcony overlooking the Mittens, all rooms overlook the Mittens and the hotel itself is moulded into the landscape, you can barely see it when you are in the park as it blends in so very well. The hotel had lots of Navajo items in it. In terms of other accommodation, I believe Gould's (the "local" store - i.e. the only store!) has a camping ground. You won't regret going to stay in The View though. We watched the sunset and sunrise and even watched a sattelite in amongst the stars, truly dreamy.
We bidded farewell to Monument Valley, probably my favourite place in our entire month-long trip and headed to the Grand Canyon South Rim.
I had never heard of Monument Valley (part of the native American lands of the Navajos in the middle of America, somewhere near Utah and Arizona) and having just visited the Gran Caynon did not think I would/could be more impressed by a nature wonder. Secretly I was torn between excitement of going and wondering if the drive could possibly be worth it!
As we approached Monument Valley all my doubts disappeared, I had never seen before or since such a remote, stunning, spectacular or breath-taking place. You may think I'm going over board but this is a truly amazing place. Stepping out of the truck felt like stepping out onto Mars, with burnt terracotta sands and gigantic columns.
We took the tour and at every stop there was 360 degrees panoramic views, structures with names and native American singing! I even enjoyed the tourist squeezing 'traditional' market stop, helped by the fact that set upon a hill it yet again it had one of the most amazing views.
If you have the chance one word: GO!
"The Valley of Rocks"
It's called "The Valley of Rocks" by the Navajo people or the Native Americans. You probably will already recognise Monument Valley, even though you maybe think you don't - as it has been used as the setting for many western films and backdrop for numerous other media related things...
So, a film fan's paradise, but, as much as I love movies, and as much as filming has contributed in making the park as well-known as it is today, there is so much else to see and learn here that I don't really consider Monument Valley primarily to do with the fact that the park has featured in many films.
Where to find it
Monument Valley is located in the south-west USA, in state Utah and also falls on the northern border of Arizona. It has direct access from highway route 163 so it is straightforward but a bit of a drive to reach - this is the only route through Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is actually the name of the region located on the Colorado Plateau, an area filled with red rocked sandstone buttes and mesas and mostly desert - and it is within this plateau area that the four states Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet, called the Four Corners. Navajo Tribal National Park is the name of the park in the Monument Valley area open to the public to visit all year round, including winter when you may also find snow.
It is $5 to enter the park once you get there - which is only around £3.00.
Some bad weather...
Unfortunately, the time we were had at Monument valley was miserable, weather-wise; the sun was completely hidden beneath the clouds. The rocks almost glow when the sun is shining on them but have a dull look when overcast - so we didn't see Monument Valley "glow", but I did visit other national parks such as Bryce Canyon and Arches National park when the sun was actually out! The rocks looked so much better and as a result became a much better visual experience.
Choose your tour
We booked the park tour with the Goulding's Lodge tour buses. It's up to you which type of tour you take as there are different types available, whether it's 3 1/2 hour tour or the full day 8 hour tour - We took the former, and this cost $50 around £30. The tours are run by the local Navajo people who will drive you to places to see in the park. They will also stop the bus (almost like an open mini-bus) at particular interesting rock formations so that you can come out of the bus and take pictures. This tour bus is open on the sides so you can take pictures right the way through the tour.
These different tours can be booked at the visitors centre at the park and tours varies according to the number of people on the vehicle, what type of vehicle you want (e.g. bus or a jeep), and what you want the tour to include such as where you want to be driven to. This can be arranged through them. If you don't fancy going on a guided tour however, you can just drive your vehicle along the dirt loop on a 4x4 - just need to keep in mind that this is private land but you will be reminded of this with "trespassing" signs, telling you not go to restricted areas.
I would however recommend taking one of the guided tours as the locals will give you an explanation of the things you need to know as you go along. They will usually drive you through areas you won't be able to do on your own, since it is reservation land. They will even sing a native song to you on the bus!
The Navajo tour guide pointed out that a lot of the rock formations resemble animals or other familiar images. Some of the rock formations shown are the "East and West Mitten", the "Totem pole" which is one very tall and slim rock formation, "Three Sisters" which are three tall rocks which resemble nuns dressed in habits, and John Ford's points where the John Wayne film "Stagecoach" was shot, and it makes a great photo opportunity as a native on a horseback poses on the rock. I got some great panoramic shots here.
Some Background Info
The Navajo Tribal Park has a lot of history, so it's always nice to know a few details before you get there, only so that the place can be understood better.
Monument valley was actually low land basin millions of years ago - it was filled with water, far from the dry landscape that we see today. As the land and rock material eroded over the years, it deposited the matter forming lots of layer on top of the other and as a result bringing the level of the land higher and higher - this created the flat high-land plateau that it is today. Today, it stands at about 4800 metres above sea level.
Goulding is the name of the man (Harry Goulding) who greatly supported the Navajo people in the 1920's and helped set up a place of trade called the "trading post" for the Navajo people which would help them get though day-to-day needs and necessities. So "Gouldings" became the name of the site on Monument Valley - you will find the Goulding's lodge, tour and the museum at Monument Valley. The Goulding's Museum was originally Goulding's first home at the valley, and now opens for the public to visit.
The Navajo people:
Live primarily in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. These Native Americans or Indian tribe are one of the largest in North America. They mostly speak English today, however they still try to carry on their tradition by speaking the Navajo language. Despite this, they loyally practice their own traditional culture. Although they are US citizens, and live according to US law and regulations, they do have their own government within this reservation - which has its own laws and services.
Visiting Navajo National Park is unquestionably worth the entrance fee to get into the park and definitely a worthwhile experience. However, if you decide to take a tour which is definitely recommended, this is where the expenses will come from so the entrance is just nominal.
But I learnt so much when I was there! The park is fascinating in so many ways, such as: it's cultural history where you will learn about the Navajo people and their way of life; geology through observing the incredible rock formations and the strength of weathering and how this has created them; geographical history such as what the land used to be millions of years ago; what the Goulding's did for the park and the Navajo people and also how Hollywood helped and changed Monument Valley with the help of the Goulding's and how it changed the Navajo people's lives.
It's definitely an experience being there and a place you would want to return to many times as it seems it would never lose its charm and attraction. Plus it's one of those places you can take lots of photos, take home and get your friends and family all inspired aswell, or otherwise envious of your nice holiday!
(Thank you for reading! - Also posted on Ciao)
Monument Valley is located in Northern Arizona, near other famous attractions like The Grand Canyon (which I have also reviewed) and Meteor Crater. It is in the Navajo Nation and they run and own the park; they are the native Indians of this area.
*Cost: unfortunatley you cannot use an Annual Parks Pass to enter the Valley however the cost is only $5 per person. At this point you must ensure you have sufficient fuel to complete the 17 mile long drive through the valley or you can use the buses provided at $65 per person for a 2 hour long tour of the park.
*What to do there: the visitor centre has few locally made gifts for example, arrow heads and rugs. There is an exhibition which shows the involvement of the Navajo Indians during WWII where their language was used as an unbreakable code for radio transmissions, as seen in the film Windtalkers.
I recommend you:
*Visit John Ford's Point where you can stand or even at times of the year can pay $1 to sit on a horse at the point as seen in John Ford's famous film Stagecoach.
*Drive along the 17 mile route taking note of the many stopping points like the mittens, the three sisters and the armchair.
*Take a camera with high mega-pixels for the best photos of your trip.
Thank You For Reading.
This is a very worthwhile place to visit if you checking the scenery in Arizon / Utah, but I can't stop thinking about how much better it would be if the Navajo werent there. Now im not saying the Navajo themselves are bad, it just Native American reserves : they can't take care of them at all. They make messes of these beautiful pieces of land that they worked so hard to get back from the government. The indian reservation from corner to corner of the nation are like this, with rusty cars crashed all over the place and rubbish dumps they make in the scenic areas. If only....... But its still worth coming here. You may or may not know it but you will have seen these wonderful pillars of rock in many a film, book and TV program. They, like a lot of the landscape in this area of the USA is like nothing else in the world and will stick in your mind forever, despite the hearty efforts of age acting on the mind. Just dont buy any Indian crap from the shops, its made in Taiwan. Oh yeah and Tuba City : a gas station and a few shoddy trailers. Try and accomodate yourselves somewhere else!
Monument Valley is in the very north of Arizona; driving from places like Phoenix or Flagstaff, you actually sneak into Utah on the main road before turning off back into Arizona. It is a bit remote (driving from Flagstaff took an age), and there isn't much in the way of habitation once you get there. Nevertheless, if you're in the SouthWest USA, and you can get here from anywhere, do it. Monument Valley appears in a lot of John Ford westerns (most notably 'The Searchers'), and is a group of massive rock formations, deep red rocks standing as if carved by giants. Rather like the Grand Canyon, it's not easy to explain precisely what is so impressive about them , but standing in the middle of a red desert, they dominate the landscape and are unforgettable. Driving around is somewhat precarious, as the track that you have to use to circle around them is unsurfaced, rocky and bumpy. You can go on 4WD trucks, but they determine how fast you travel, and I always prefer to go it alone, so assuming you're in a hire car, grit you teeth and go with it. When we drove there, we ended up stopping off at Tuba City to eat on the way back - there aren't many towns around, so you just need a full tank of gas and a decent map and you will be richly rewarded.
"Monument Valley is located on the southern border of Utah with northern Arizona (around 36°59′N, 110°6′W). The valley lies within the range of the Navajo Nation Reservation, and is accessible from U.S. Highway 163. The Navajo name for the valley is Tsé Bii' Ndzisgaii (Valley of the Rocks). It preserves the Navajo way of life and some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas and spires in the entire Southwest. The area is entirely within the Navajo Indian Reservation near the small Indian town of Goulding, establised in 1923 as a trading post, and now has a comprehensive range of visitor services."