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Monument Valley: Better than the Grand Canyon
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (USA)
Member Name: rosaliecullen
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (USA)
Advantages: Stunning Landscape
Disadvantages: A little bit remote, not quick to get to from major airports
**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.
Summary: Awesome, better than the Grand Canyon.
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