Marking the border between Arizona and Utah, Monument Valley is best known for the towering red stone buttes which stand isolated in the valley’s center. While not a national park (as it lies within the Navajo Nation Reservation, the valley is however a Navajo Tribal Park), the valley nevertheless surpasses the beauty of many national parks. It’s not for nothing that over the years the area has become a prominent film shooting location – many westerns were shot here as well as iconic films such as Thelma and Louise.
In fact, Monument Valley is not a valley at all, but a flat landscape from which the red buttes protrude, evidence of sandstone sediments that once covered the region. While most of the sediment did not withstand the forces of weathering, these magnificent structures managed to survive the wind and water working constantly to grind them down. It is likely that in a few million years these unique formations will disappear and give way to dunes of brittle sand.
You should start your visit at the park’s Visitor Center, accessed from highway 163 (Monument Valley Rd). From the visitor center you can drive down to valley and take the dirt loop road which leads to the valley’s beautiful sites. The road is 17 miles and its quality is reasonable, although it is not suitable for RVs (in recent years maintenance of the road has declined in order to encourage the local off road tour operators). You can also drive around the valley in an off-road vehicle with a local Navajo guide. In this case, ask your guide to take you to the ‘Restricted Areas’ which are inaccessible without a local guide. You can rent a vehicle and guide near the visitor center. It is also recommended to go for a horse ride in the valley. Horses can be rented at several points in the valley and there is no need to book in advance.
See a map of the park’s loop road:
– Entrance fee to the park is 8$ per person
– For opening hours click here
– For tour operators click here
As Monument Valley is located in the Navajo Nation Reservation, access to it is limited, and so is the availability of hiking trails. The only trail that you can hike without a guide is Wildcat Trail that starts near the visitor center. The trail is three miles long and circles West Mitten Butte. Sunset is an especially good time to hike this gorgeous trail, as the dessert colors itself in an orange and red cover. There are of course other trails in the park, but to hike them you will need a local guide.
There are several lodging options in the park:
The View Hotel, which as its name implies offers stunning views of the valley, and also has a campground, Goulding’s Lodge Hotel which too has a campground, and the Monument Valley KOA Campground.
For more up to date information, check out the park’s website.
Interesting facts about Monument Valley:
- Monument Valley lies within the territory of the Navajo Nation Reservation, which is about 27,400 square miles large. About 200,000 Native Americans live in the reservation, living mainly off agriculture and tourism. In contrast to the regions great beauty, local residents suffer many hardships. Poverty, alcoholism and collapse of the traditional tribal system have all caused, and still cause, great damage to the Navajo people, and to Native Americans all through the US in general. Reservations such as the Navajo Nation, where Native Americans are granted partial autonomy in their homelands are part of an effort to compensate these people for the injustices done to them. Many of the natural features of Monument Valley are sacred in the local Navajo religion.
- Monument Valley lies in an area called the Four Corners – the meeting point between the borders of four states: Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. The region is characterized by magnificent rock formations and deep sandstone canyons sculpted by water and wind.
- The summits of Monument Valley’s famous buttes are made of hard sandstone, while the lower parts are comprised mostly of softer clay. As clay is less durable than sandstone, it weathers faster, leading to the steep topography characterizing the unique buttes.
For more destinations in the American Southwest click here.