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Monument Valley Overview

Picture a landscape shot from an old western film. Are you seeing red rocks in unique formations, desert sagebrush, and endless blue skies? Chances are, what you’re picturing looks a lot like Monument Valley, a group of sandstone buttes along the Utah/Arizona border. Used in many western films, television shows, and western-themed advertisements, the area presents a quintessential desert landscape that feels familiar to almost anyone.

Monument Valley lies within a Navajo Tribal Park. Because of this, visitors must pay to access the road through the valley; the drive through the park is on a dirt road and usually takes two or three hours to complete. You’ll see the jaw-dropping rock formations that have made the valley famous. These  rock formations, or “monuments,” all have historically or culturally significant names. Perhaps the valley’s most famous rock formations, the “mittens,” are considered by the Navajo to signify spiritual beings watching over the valley (pictured above). In case you don’t have time to do the entire drive, the “mittens” are visible from the parking lot of The View hotel.

Most hiking requires that you are accompanied by a Navajo guide, typically found via an authorized tour operator. The exception is the Wildcat Trail, which begins at The View Hotel and takes you around the left “mitten” rock formation. The trail is not to difficult, but it does get sandy in some places, so make sure to wear solid footwear (and socks that you don’t mind getting dusty!).

Hunts Mesa is another famous rock formation. You must be on an official tour with a Navajo guide to access it. Also, it is particularly magical at sunrise, which requires camping at the site the night before. If you’re up for that, and for the very long (and VERY bumpy) ride to the top, you’ll be rewarded with expansive, gorgeous views of the expansive Monument Valley from above.

Logistics

Monument Valley is easily found along Route 163, which intersects with the US-160 (from the south) and the US-191 (from the north). Remember that you will have to obtain a permit to access the park (available at the guard house when you enter the park). If you are camping, you will need permits; make sure to contact the park office well before your trip. Navajo guided hiking or camping tours should be scheduled with independent tour companies (a few links below in Further Reading).

Most people will only do the “Valley Drive” which is 17 miles long on a relatively well-maintained dirt road (13 miles of it is a one-way loop). If time is short, this will provide a great highlight of Monument Valley within 2-3 hours.

If you are in the area, be sure to check out Canyon de Chelly and if you are up for a real adventure think about conquering the hike to the Anasazi Ruin Keet Seel (permits required). The world-famous Antelope Canyon is also relatively nearby – checkout the Page Slot Canyon Guide for more information.

Gear and Gadgets

The type of gear you’ll want to bring to Monument Valley will depend largely on what kind of activity you’re doing during your visit. A leisurely drive through the park will require nothing (unless you’re like me and need Twizzlers on your road trips!), whereas an overnight camping trip will obviously require much more. Plan accordingly! Feel free to check out the Day Trip Gear Guide for recommendations on hiking gear and preparation. If you are planning on getting some great photographs, check out the Photography Gear & Gadgets Guide

Further Reading

Day Trip Gear Guide

Photography Gear & Gadgets

Leave No Trace Principles

Outdoors & Wilderness First Aid

Sampling of Tour Operators (Alphabetical Order):

Dineh Bekeyah Tours

Majestic MV

MV Safari

Navajo Spirit Tours

Phillips’ Photography Tours

 

About The Author

Jeremy Meek is a native Arizonan with a passion for adventure and discovery of unique experiences. Whether exploring Arizona or setting out on an adventure abroad, Jeremy is constantly scouting truly great adventures and experiences.

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