Monument Valley is located in the Navajo Nation, on the Border of Utah and Arizona. It is further than 200 miles from an interstate in any direction. In this part of the country, the roads stretch for miles upon miles like silver ribbons glistening straight and true in the desert sun, fading into monoliths anywhere from 400 to 1,000 feet tall, or melting sideways and out of sight beyond colorful hills and plateaus.
With the help of many Old Westerns that were filmed here over the decades, Monument Valley has become the quintessential vision of the American West. The scene of the wide valley floor with The Mittens and Merrick buttes is in some way familiar to everyone, even people across the world, because it has shown up in so many scenes. Director John Ford and actor John Wayne were particularly fond of Monument Valley.
This Navajo land is some of the most colorful in the entire country. You will find every color of the rainbow here. Bright orange sand dotted with purple and yellow plants and flowers. Sparse, brave green trees reach for the sky. The mountains are layered with deep purples, indigos, and maroons. Depending on the time of day, shadows cast different hues upon the vast landscape. The skies are a brilliant blue, at times smattered with desert storms that leave rainbows stretching the distance and summer monsoon clouds which are responsible for the Valley’s famous sunsets.
Here is the road that takes you directly into the Valley of the Gods:
Over the decades many people have stopped to photograph the road from this very spot.
As you near the Valley of the Gods, you will see these roadside stands where Navajo vendors sell numerous arts and crafts, including their well known blankets which are made by hand using wool from the sheep that they raise.
This stand is empty, probably due to the late season. In the Summer when temperatures are in the 80‘s and the tourist season is high, these will be bustling.
There are very good amenities in the town right outside the Monument. There is a campground, a lodge, a restaurant and a market. We stayed at the campground, which we very much enjoyed. The sites are shaded and sandy, set up against a towering sandstone cliff.
We were there on October 28th, and we were only one of three campers at Goulding’s. One of the reasons being that the Summer is by far the heaviest at Monument Valley, the other reason being that it got down to 30 degrees that night and made for some cold camping. But if you’re adventurous or just a little silly, it’s a great time to go camping because you’ll have peace and quiet of the likes that you’ll never find during the busy season.
As of 2012, the Monument is 7 dollars for each car. You pay this every time you enter the monument, so if you’re planning on a sunset and a sunrise there, be prepared to pay the fee twice.
There is an enormous well-lit parking lot, big enough for a couple hundred cars and a dozen or so tourist buses. Attached to the parking lot is a gift shop, museum, restaurant, and hotel. In front of all this is a big cement and brick platform where you can overlook the valley and get a prime view of The Mittens, the most famous of the Valley’s shapes:
To the left of the path are a pair of pretty sandstone rocks. A lot of people stand up on these to get their picture with The Mittens, or use them as an interesting point for depth of field in their photographs:
There is a 17 mile drive around the Valley floor. This drive can be done in most regular cars, but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it. There are all-terrain vehicle tours that you can join if you don’t want to worry about navigating all the potholes and bumps. It’s a very rough road, one that our rental car took to easily enough but it still wasn’t enjoyable jutting along at 5 mph while worrying about what the gravel might be doing to the car. So we ventured down to the valley floor and just stuck to a couple overlooks. Luckily, that’s all you need for a good sunset anyhow.
Here we stopped and were greeted by one of the many stray dogs that roam these lands. She was very sweet and just wanted a little attention:
The left Mitten from the Valley floor:
After a little exploring, we parked our car off the side of the 17-mile drive road well out of the way, and walked across to an unencumbered view of the floor.
From above as you look down, you will see the stretch of road cut across the valley floor like a sandy scar. And from the road itself you’re looking through plumes of dust and grit and other cars. But we were finally able to park, cross the road and make our way onto a solid rocky ledge that overlooked this unhindered view.
This is were we stayed to watch the sunset:
It was so peaceful sitting and watching the sun and shadows play on some of the most famous monuments in the whole world. The Mittens and other ancient monoliths are what remains from the ancestral Rocky Mountains. What you see still standing up out of the red sandstone is rock that is 160 million years old and has been shaped by erosion over the millennia:
And the last light was on them.
We were blessed with a full moon rising directly above the East Mitten.
We went back up to the platform to watch the day fade completely into night. In the Summertime, the sunsets can be absolutely dazzling. In the Fall the monsoon desert season is over and the clouds and sunsets are a bit more subtle.
Monument Valley is an enchanting place after dark as well. With the exception of the streetlights in the parking lot behind you, the sky is pitch black and you can see many stars.
In this photo you can see that the front left side is lit by the streetlights, but the rest of the valley floor is completely lit up by the light of the full bright moon:
Cars ever so slowly make their way back up from the 17-mile drive down below.
One car moved slowly towards me and its lights created a faux moon, which looked interesting with the real moon hanging above:
Monument Valley is a timeless vision of the American West. It is also sacred Navajo land. Most will stay to watch the sunset but it’s an even more enthralling experience to wait around and watch the stars come out. Things quiet down and you can feel as though you are more a part of what you are looking out upon.