Visit the Monument Valley and reach the heart and the soul of the Navajo Nation, on the borderline between Utah and Arizona.
Going through one of the most fascinating and suggestive lands of the South West – above all from a naturalistic and iconic point of view – and find oneself suddenly – as if by magic – into the history and on the natural set of the most famous and loved Western Movies, from the old Hollywood until nowadays, from John Wayne to Thelma & Louise.
“The Monument Valley, so this is where God put the West”
After have traveled even three times to the red land of Navajo over the years, after the many experiences and emotions felt, pushed also by the several requests of information (via email, private messages on the Facebook page and direct on the Instagram Stories) followed my latest journey to the South West USA, I’ve decided to write a post about it.
A more “technical” and extremely detailed article to answer all the questions and give info and tips really useful in order to visit the Monument Valley and so optimize the travelling times at their best (always very short in an on the road in the States).
The Navajo Nation – up today the most populated and extended Native American Reservation in the country – develops over a land included among three states: Utah, Arizona (the widest portion) and New Mexico.
Inside it – more precisely on the borderline between Utah and Arizona – there is one of the most famous naturalistic and geological wonders in the United States: The Monument Valley. The Navajo run directly (and completely, with no interference by the National Park Service USA) the entrance, the guided tours and the facility of hotels, cabins, camping and restaurant of The View.
Find down here some useful info about it:
There is a unique, amazing road to reach the Monument Valley Tribal Park: the Scenic Byway I-163. Both you come from the South, from Kayenta-Arizona, and from the North, from Mexican Hut-Utah.
Whatever way you come, at the Welcome Center & Navajo Indian Market turn on the Indian Route 42 to enter the park, about 6km far from the crossroads.
The Monument valley, like many of the wonderful natural parks of the South West, is part of the Colorado Plateau, a boundless semi-deserted plateau (about 350.000 square meters) – including even 4 states, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico – crossed by the Colorado River and some of its tributaries and literally carved by a series of atmospheric agents over centuries, like water, wind and rain.
The Monument became famous thanks to its rocky needles standing majestically up over a wide and apparently boundless expense of land, sand and rubble. These are formations of reddish stone – in geological term “witness of erosion” – shaped over time by wind and rain. According to their shape they are divided into Butte – higher than wider – and Mesa – if, on the contrary, they are wider than higher.
The Valley, together with the entire Reservation, has been under the jurisdiction of the Natives Navajo since 1868, when a treat stipulated with the Government of the United States put the sad and painful confinement of Bosque Redondo in the New Mexico to an end and gave origin to the Navajo Nation, a vast land included among Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.
The Navajo – which are the most numerous and close-knit community of Natives in the country up today – mainly deal with agriculture, handicraft and tourism.
There are two ways to visit the Monument Valley. Alone, following the path of the Valley Drive (a loop of 30km about) marked on the map you will be given at the entrance after have paid the entrance fee. Or through one of the guided tours organized by the Navajo. In the first case, you will have to drive strictly along the path indicated. Reckon about 2/3 hours if you want to go through the complete loop calmly.
In this case, remember also that the Valley Drive is a dirt road and that the rented car are not covered in any way for the problems occurred on dirt roads. In fact, the major Rent a Car – first of all Alamo Rent a Car I always turn to for safety, cheapness and seriousness – heartily advise against going along them.
My tip – if you decide to do it alone – is to move following strictly the rules and never overpass the 15mph indicated speed.
If you decide to opt for a tour with the Navajo guides, then I heartily recommend to book the deepest one (about 4 hours) – today about $75 – that you can easily book at your arrival and which will allow you to discover – through natural arch and rupestrian inscriptions – the suggestive area of the Thunderbird Mesa, otherwise inaccessible.
You can also opt for a horse-riding excursion, always guided by a Native Navajo.
For the Trekking lovers I report the Widcat Trail: about 5km, average difficulty, leaving from the left of the Valley Drive entrance and which allows to have a loop around the West Mitte Butte. Remember to take with you abundant water, cap and solar protections.
Before leaving the Monument Valley, a stage (almost) obliged is the Goulding’s Trading Post.
It’s the old emporium of The Gouldings (today linked to the lodge with the same name where to stay overnight, see the paragraph down here about where to sleep) which served and helped for years all the movie productions shot in the valley.
Today it is a small and interesting museum dedicated to The Gouldings, to the movies shot here – “Once upon a time in the West”, “Back to the Future – Part III”, “Thelma & Louise” and many other ones – to the mythical John Wayne (remember to have a look at his cabin, where – according to the “legend” – he stayed overnight when he was working in a western movie) and to the Navajo history.
From the lay-by in front of the entrance, you can enjoy an amazing view of the Monument Valley and of the Navajo County.
The museum is located near the Monument Valley Airport: $25 adults’ admission.
The iconic image par excellence of the Monument Valley, the shoot we all remember (or would like to) of our passage by this land: where the Scenic ByWay I-163 goes straight towards the Monument Valley, an incredible optic effect. Actually the road, once passed the hills, turns more times before reaching the crossroads with the Indian Route 42.
One of the questions I am asked more frequently is right this one: how to find the precise point to reach in order to take a such photograph?
Actually, more than a precise point, it’s an area included between the Forrest Gump Point (Gps coordinates: 37.101647, -109.990675) – a place made famous by a sequence of the Forrest Gump Movie – and the straight starting from the slope immediately next.
In this trait every stop it worth it – you reckon according to the view you like most – to stop and take photographs. Only pay attention to the arrival of car from both ways.
If you have time to plan your tour, above all if it is scheduled for the highlight months (July and August I mean) and you want to enjoy a really unique experience in the Valley, I heartily recommend you to reckon attentively and decide carefully where to sleep in the Monument Valley. So, move well in advance and book an overnight stay at The Cabins Premium View of The View Hotel.
The facility of The View – owned and run entirely by the Navajo Natives and including hotel, restaurant, Trading Post and cabins – was wanted and built by Natives in 2009, adjoining the Visitor Center, where once in the past rose the camping for trekkers.
A sober building on red land (whose creation arose a lot of polemics among the environmentalists who were convinced that its presence could ruin the landscape…that’s a matter of opinion…) which allows to accommodate in Navajo style rooms with all comforts, overlooking directly the most famous monoliths of the Valley – the West and East Mitten Butte.
My tip – moving in advance as I suggested above – is to book an overnight stay at the Cabins of The View, in order to enjoy an experience even more authentic and magic in touch with the Valley.
They are wooden cabins, furnished always in Navajo style but extremely cared and refined in details, with all the essential comforts – functional bathroom, shower, small kitchen, small bedroom, heating and air conditioning included. And the real, great added value: bed with a view of the Monument Valley.
About forty cabins located on the left of the gate to the Valley Drive and which literally overlook the valley. It’s really priceless watching the sunset and the dawn from here, often and however together with wild Mustangs.
The Cabins can be booked only on The View official website – here. Remember to choose the Premium View ones – if possible: these are the cabins in the front row granting a view of the Valley with no obstacles.
Price changes according to the season, anyway about $170/200. Parking, Wi-Fi (very fast), a $25 bonus to choose in the Trading Post among the Navajo handicrafts and a 15% off on the restaurant services are included.
One last information for who is interested in camping or caravanning: right near the cabins areas equipped with toilets and parking are scheduled.
If you didn’t find a place in the Cabins or at The View or simply you are looking for a cheaper solution, you can opt for the near, convenient and clean Goulding’s Lodge, located on the Utah side of the Navajo Reservation, near the Monument Valley Airport.
A restaurant, a grocery store (little far there’s also a gas pump), the museum I mentioned above and an amazing view of a good part of the Monument Valley are included.
Always near the Goulding’s Lodge, the Monument Valley Tipi Village offers the possibility both to stay in traditional Navajo tents, Cabins or Mini House, and to camp in the open air. The facility includes an area for breakfast and dinner and Navajo private tours to visit the Monument Valley.
The View Restaurant – with an amazing view of the Monument Valley – can be reached by the Trading Post, the big souvenirs and local handicraft store located upstairs the Visitor Center.
The restaurant is opened for breakfast (a buffet breakfast), lunch and dinner, including a small take-away shop for coffee (Espresso, too), pastries, salads and sandwiches. It also offers a mix of specialties between Navajo cuisine and the American classic one. The very good Navajo taco cannot be missed: it is a sort of fried pizza stuffed with meat, beans and vegetables. Average prices.
Stage Coach Restaurant – the Goulding’s Lodge restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Typical South West cuisine with authentic Navajo dishes – like the Navajo fried bread and the rancheros eggs. Average prices.
Goulding’s Grocery Store – a mini market always in the property of the Goulding’s Lodge where to buy water, vegetables, sandwiches, meat, sweet things and salads.