Face of the Wild West: Monument Valley

Monument Valley looks and feels very common and familiar to most people. Since it frequently appears in TV shows and movies, Monument Valley is very well-known. Its distinct reds rocks and stone formations make a unique impression; Monument Valley is a rare beauty that you should definitely see. Many popular Western of US cinema were shot here. The park, located on the reservation of the Navajo Indians is a very filmable place, looking absolutely impressive in films. By its high presence in the media, this place has defined how we see the “Wild West”.

Monument Valley – Part of the Navajo Reservation in Utah and Arizona

The Monument Valley is a three-hour-drive from the Grand Canyon. It is located northeast, right at the Arizona state border in middle of the Navajo reservation. There is only one hotel in the valley: the View Hotel. Another option to spend the night is in Kajeta, a little village 20 minutes from Monument Valley. Kajenta does not offer much; it’s in the middle of nowhere. Don’t expect more than a place to stay for one night. Monument Valley can be combined with a ride to the Grand Canyon Nationalpark or the Arches Nationalpark in Utah. Both parks are about 3 hours from Monument Valley (Grand Canyon Southwest, Arches North).

We drove from Grand Canyon to Monument Valley after sunset when it was too dark to stay in Grand Canyon and reached Kayenta in the evening. He had a room in Kayenta for one night and went to Monument Valley the following morning to see the sunrise.

Sunrise at Monument Valley – Breakfast in The View Hotel

Early that day, we drove to Monument Valley on highway 163 to see the sunrise. Sunrise is a very special time in Monument Valley: the light emphasizes the red color of the rocks even more. It is a very good time to take beautiful pictures. A viewpoint for this is the place in front of the visitor center (you also find the View Hotel here). This spot offers an extraordinary view to the popular rock formations. The view you have here is the well-known perspective of the valley. Until here, it is easy to drive yourself. A proper, solid street leads to the visitor center. The hotel had a breakfast buffet. We were thinking it’s not worth asking, this place is super-exclusive and breakfast will cost more than 20 Dollars per person. But that was wrong, I’m glad we asked because the breakfast was only 10 Dollars. Having a breakfast here was the right thing to do: sitting at your table and enjoying the view was perfect after that sunrise. I would recommend doing that.

Monument Valley is located on a plateau, quite above sea level. That is why it can be cold in winter. On the pics you see in tiny bit of snow in the valley. Watching the sunrise was really cold, even though we had proper winter clothing. You will probably need a warm jacket here, unless you come in the summer months.

Driving on 27 km Unpaved Road – Monument Valley Road

The only way to continue your route and drive in the Valley is an unpaved road called Monument Valley Road that starts at the visitor center. Lonely Planet says this can be done in a standard passenger car. But I disagree, we tried it, it didn’t work. We did the first bend of the road, drove a bit further down a hill and a little further just straight. All in all, maybe 800 meters. This little part was enough for us to give up: the car bounces, we heard bumps and noises all the time, and potholes were everywhere. The ground was wet, muddy and plashy; you could only drive walking pace. We stopped because there was a huge puddle all the way across the road. We don’t know how much water it had but it definitely looked deep. We decided to not drive any further and not take any risk with our rental car. Maybe it would have been possible to drive cross that puddle, maybe we should have been driving faster while crossing those potholes. That’s difficult to say now. For us, it was too risky to damage our rental car.

The residents of the valley offer Jeep tours. There are different tour options available. All these jeeps drive faster and with much more routine and confidence through these potholes and all the mud. We could not have done it ourselves. Anyways, most likely they try to fill the jeep that means you will have to squeeze and share the car with other guests.

We were there in very low season (you can the snow on the pics). The valley had very few visitors. In and in front of the visitor center, there are many tour options and offers available. The shortest tour was offered for 80 bucks per person. None of us wanted to pay that much. We were a group of four: we would have to pay 80 dollar per person, not per jeep. After long and difficult negotiations, the price became much less. In the end, we paid 25 dollar per person. I doubt this would have worked the same way in the main season. When we were there, there were rarely any other tourists around. I think they decided to drive for little money instead of not driving at all.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
PO Box 360289
Monument Valley, Utah 84536
call (435) 727-5874/ 5879/ 5870
fax (435) 727-5875

Phone: (435) 7275555
Fax: (435) 727 5564

Admission to Park: 20 Dollar per vehicle (up to 4 persons in the car). Park is open daily, depending on the season (winder 8 am – 4.30pm, summer 6 am – 8 pm).

Jeep Tours can be booked at the tourist center and for extra charge.

Three Sisters, Totem Pole, the Thumb and John-Ford-Point

The tour itself was nice. It leads a bit further into the valley; you get to see many rock formations that are not visible from the hotel. I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested in the tour at all, in particular because I was supposed to pay 80 dollars. I have to say, it was worth doing the tour. You get to see the popular rock formations Three Sisters, Totem Pole, the Thumb and the John-Ford-Point. John-Ford-Point is a rock ledge that was used for many shots in John Ford’s movies but also Ford himself enjoyed standing there and watching larger scenes with many extras from there.

On the tour, several ladies sell jewellery, they say it’s authentic Indian jewellery. Necklaces and bracelets are pretty and not expensive (10 – 20 Dollar). You also get to see some Indian homes, even though these homes seem a bit artificial and made for tourists. In fact, all residents don’t live here but in different area that is not open to public.

At the John-Ford-Point you can take pictures with a rented horse at the rock ledge. I didn’t do that, that’s not my kind of thing. Horse lovers can also do an entire tour on a horse. I cannot say if that is good or not. I’m rather skeptical when it comes to using animals for touristic purposes.

When you do the longer guided tour, you see some places in the park that are only accessible with a tour guide. Because we had paid so little, of course they only did the short tour. To us, that was sufficient.

At the very end of that unpaved road, a little Opel Corsa came along. Somehow, these guys made it to the very end of that road. It don’t know how that was possible. The longer you drive along that road, the less standard cars you see. All the regular cars disappear one after another. At some point of the route, only Jeeps still drive along the road except that one Corsa.

Well-known because of it s many TV and film appearances

Monument Valley has appeared in many movies. The first movie the be shot there was Stagecoach with John Wayne, by John Ford. Ford made another nine movies in Monument Valley. Clint Eastwood’s The Eighter Section was also shot here, the Totem Pole appears prominently in this one.

Many famous scenes also play here: Forrest Gump ends his long run here, Tom Cruise climbs in the Mission Impossible II opening sequence, the Transformers Autobots reunite (Transformers: Age of Extinction). Many scenes with Jonny Depp in The Lone Ranger were filmed here. Just recently, HBO’s Westworld used Monument Valley as a filming location.
A very well-known campaign is the Marlboro campaign with the Marlboro cowboy. This was also made here. Many car ads are made here as well.

When you have visited Monument Valley, you recognize it in many films, ads and publications. Everyone has already seen Monument Valley somewhere. It’s the blueprint for all Wild West Impressions. It shows how we imagine the Wild West to be.

Suggestions and Ideas

Visiting the Monument Valley is highly recommendable. It’s the best place to take nice pics. I would not recommend doing a tour in a regular car. I think the road is simply too bad. A rental jeep would have worked. Or rental car (Dodge Grand Caravan) was not right. Maybe it’s possible to drive there yourself if you have offroad experience or are a very good driver. Anyways, we couldn’t.

The 80 Dollar-guided-tour is pricy, 80 would have been too much or us. I’m glad we bargained hard and got a better price, without the tour we would have missed a lot. Although the visitor center has a great view, it’s necessary to move further into the valley and see more rock formations.

The driver was a bit annoyed and not very motivated or friendly. Maybe that was because of the low price. The tour itself was ok, we saw all important rock formations and it took exactly as long as planned.

I would always do Monument Valley if I was in Grand Canyon. It requires an extra 2 days. Driving there, spending time there and continuing your route takes about 2 days (1 night). Half a day is enough for monument valley. If you are very enthusiastic about it, you can also camp there and hike.

Our next stop was Page in Arizona. This is where you find the Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell and Antelope Canyon. Page is about 2 hours (200 km) from Monument Valley.

See also:

Article about the Horseshoe Bend

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