The Wild, Wild West

We met a couple from Utah in Jacob Lake who told us that Monument Valley was one of their favorite places to visit and that they had been there multiple times.  Since we were going in that direction to Arches NP, we decided to stop and see Monument Valley.  We have to admit that it is indeed a unique place.

Odds are that you have caught a glimpse of Monument Valley if you have seen any of John Wayne’s old western movies.  John Wayne referred to the Valley as “God’s Treasure.”  Director John Ford filmed many of his movies there. This location captures the quintessential vision of the American West.

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Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is not part of the National Park System but rather is operated by the Navajo Tribe on their lands.  The Navajo reservation covers roughly one third of the Colorado Plateau.  Located near the Utah-Arizona border, the Park itself covers about 29,000 square miles.  Monument Valley is known for its red sandstone mesas, buttes, and spires that rise up to 1,000 feet from the Valley floor.  According to the brochure that we received from the Park, these monoliths contain four kinds of sedimentary rock: Organ rock, De Chelly Sandstone, Navajo Sandstone, and Conglomerates. The Organ rock are the small pebbles seen at the base. The monuments themselves are made up of hardened De Chelly Sandstone and the Navajo Sandstone is found in the alcoves, ledges, and arches. On the top there are conglomerates that keep the softer sandstone from eroding.

One of the unique features of Monument Valley is that you can see these rock formations for miles. You can enjoy many of them without entering the Park itself. If you chose to go into the Park, you can drive the 17 mile dirt road around some of the monuments and get a closer look at them.  You can also take a guided tour in open-air vehicles so that you do not have to drive on the dirt road.  The cost is about $60 per person for the guided tour of the 17 mile Valley drive loop.  The Park offers tours to other parts of the Park, too.  David and I decided not to book a tour and we drove through the Valley in our truck.  We arrived in the afternoon and stayed until after sunset taking photos and enjoying the changing view of the monuments.  It was fascinating.

The monuments have interesting names.  Some were given to them by the Navajo people while others were based on the shape of the rock formation.  We saw East and West Mitten.

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There are several mesas that you can see from the Visitor Center: Mitchell Mesa and Rain God Mesa.  The Visitor Center also has a small museum, gift shop, and restaurant.

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Whether you are a John Wayne or an old western movie fan or not, Monument Valley is a worth-while stop to see and to appreciate these red sandstone wonders.

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Additional information:

  1. There is a $20 admission fee per vehicle for up to four people. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park does not accept the National Park passes.
  2. The dirt road was not well-maintained. It had lots of potholes, washed out areas, and washboard surfaces.  In our truck it was so bumpy that we chose not to complete the 17 mile Valley drive loop.
  3. There is a campground at Monument Valley Park but it is expensive and has no hook-ups. It does have a great view. We stayed at Gouldings RV campground, which does have full hook-ups, is close by, and is about the same price. Gouldings has a lodge, restaurant, gas station, museum, etc. The added bonus is that they show a John Wayne movie every night!


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