Vien R. Guenther
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park - Arizona-Utah, U. S. A.
Updated: Jan 8
Monument Valley is the image of the American West, made famous by Hollywood filmmakers during the era of the early western movies. Can you just visualize a wagon train or John Wayne on his horse? The area is part of the Colorado Plateau, in the Navajo Nation reservation. Although the park is a long way from any place, this is definitely worth going out of your way to visit. We visited Monument Valley as part of our Southwest Utah road trip, a loop starting in Colorado to Capitol Reef National Park, Escalante, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Glen Canyon Dam, Monument Valley and Natural Bridges National Monument. It took us several days and was one of the best road trips we did here in the United States.
TO GET HERE
The entrance to the tribal park can only be accessed from Utah. If you are coming from Colorado, it’s about 8 hours and 25 minute-drive via US Highway 285 South and US-160 West, the fastest route. It’s about 460 miles so you either start early or spend the night along the way. Better yet, make it a road trip like we did. But then, if you are in a hurry you can fly there and land at a private airport, but there is no commercial airline service.
If you are coming from other adjacent states such as Salt Lake City, Utah, the fastest route is about 6-hour drive via US-6 East, US-191 South and US-163 West. Coming from Flagstaff, Arizona it is about 3-hour drive while coming from Albuquerque, New Mexico, it is a little over 5-hour drive.
Monument Valley, in Navajo (Diné) Tse’ Bii’ Ndzisgaii, meaning "valley of the rocks", straddles the Arizona-Utah state line, in the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation, one of the largest American Indian tribes, encompasses much of the Four Corners area, including Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly and Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. In 1849, the first United States militia explored this area and Captain John G. Walker found the valley “as desolate and repulsive-looking a country as can be imagined.” But then in the 1930s, John Ford started filming his western movies here and the area became internationally famous.
When visiting the valley, you can drive around the park, once you paid the entrance fee of course, which is $20 person per vehicle (which includes four passengers) and $6 for each additional passenger. Take note though, parts of the monument such as Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa can be accessed only with a tour guide.
From the Lookout Point, you can get a spectacular view of the East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. The tall pinnacles of rock, or buttes, reaching 1,000 feet (300m) are surrounded by miles and miles of red sandy desert - about 92,000 acres - straddling the Utah-Arizona border, 5,564 feet above sea level.
The once vast lowland basin became a plateau resulting from hundreds of millions of years of accumulated sediment deposits. Subsequently, the force of wind and water peeled away the surface layers, revealing alternating layers of soft and hard rock that we see today. The red color is due to the presence of iron oxide.
17-Mile Valley Drive
Don’t just take in the view; you can drive the 17-mile Valley Drive, a dirt road that loops through the park and among the towering cliffs and mesas. The drive is suitable for any vehicle, except after heavy rain. Either that or you can join tours of your choice. For a two-hour trip it will cost you around $75 dollars. There’s also a 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail which starts at the visitor center and loops around the West Mitten Butte.
We could not spend a lot of time there since we had already driven 260 miles that day, and still had to find a motel for the night, but it would be nice to see that place under differing lighting conditions. But late afternoon is not bad, since the sun will be behind you as you view the buttes from the viewpoint.
Don’t forget to visit the Visitor Center’s gift shop. They offer all sorts of beautiful native keepsakes to take home.