Whenever anyone thinks of the wild, wild west of the United States past, most likely their first thoughts are of the region where Monument Valley sits. It doesn't matter if you grew up in the United States, or somewhere else in the world, this is likely your first thoughts of what the 'old west' looked like. This is in part due to how much Monument Valley has influenced American western movies. It is a frequent point for filming these styles of movies, and for good reason. The landscapes in Monument Valley are astonishing, and are fitting filming location.
This was a spot I've wanted to go see now for a long time. I was eager to see the many various sandstone buttes that were formed long ago and over a long period of time. They once belonged to the Rocky Mountains, but over time rivers had eroded the area and left nothing but flat plains, sand rich in iron, and a plethora of these beautiful and dramatic sandstone buttes.
Monument Valley can be found along the border of Arizona and Utah. This beautiful landscape falls into the Navajo territory, or is commonly referred to as Navajo Nation. The Navajo tribe owns the largest amount of land in the United States that belongs to a Native American tribe with just over 27,000 square miles of land. It is known as Tse Bii' Ndzisgaii, which in the Navajo language means 'valley of the rocks'. If you know how to pronounce that phrase, props to you. I have no idea how to hell to say it. I feel like Navajo is about on the same playing level of complexity as Icelandic. I'm thoroughly convinced learning the languages in impossible.
Monument Valley is an area of vivid red cliffs, rocks, mountains, mesas, and buttes. On your way to Monument Valley you quickly begin to see surreal landscape unfold before you. It's a pretty barren drive if you are heading from Phoenix as I did. The closer you get, the more amazing the scenery becomes. Eventually, sandstone buttes seem to just be erupting on the horizon all over the place.
It really gives you a feel as if you were entering the old wild west when you approach this area. Aside from the paved roads, modern cars, and stores all over the place, of course.
What to do?
What isn't there to do? There is a ton of things to go see and do in this area. When you get tired of staring at the breathtaking scenery of Monument Valley, there are many great sights to see under an hour away, but we'll discuss those later!
Just in the Monument Valley area, there is enough things to do for at least a couple days in my opinion. If you are short on time, and are trying to find the best way to see Monument Valley, entering the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park would be the wisest choice. Its generally $20.00 to enter the park, and that grants you access to the closest up views of the park. It also grants you access to the 17 mile scenic drive loop and a hiking trail.
The scenic drive offers the best option as far as seeing the park in a short amount of time. I would say expect it to take around 1.5 to 2 hour of driving and stopping to take pictures. The loop gets you up close and personal with this amazing park, and provides some great additional views of the surrounding area. The road gets a bit dusty, so keep your windows shut if you don't want to spend a half hour cleaning dust out from your rental car! It is a pretty well maintained road, most small cars shouldn't have a huge issue with the road, but if you have the option, a 4x4 SUV is always better.
After that drive, if you have time and want to stretch your legs out, there is the Wildcat Hiking Trail, which brings you around the East and West Mitten Buttes . I unfortunately did not get to do this hike, but they say it takes about 1-2 hours to complete. There also is no shaded spots offered on this trail, so lather up on the sunblock!
Aside from the outdoors aspects to this park, there is a visitor center, hotel, campground, and restaurant once you enter the park. For an overnight stay, the best view of the park will be offered at The View Campground. I spent a night at the campground, and really enjoyed the whole experience. I will break down the places in the next section. These are the main things to do within the tribal park itself, and I recommend 1-2 full days to fully explore everything. Not to mention the other places to visit in the nearby area which I will bring up later on.
The Navajo tribe in the area offers tours of more private or restricted regions of the park, but to be honest, I think for what you get already for the park entrance, that is more than enough. If you have extra time and don't mind shelling out sort of an excessive amount of money for a tour, then go ahead!
One other great aspect about this park is watching the sunrises and sunsets here. It already is an area with incredible color, and when you throw in the manipulations caused by sunset and sunrise, the colors of the sandstone formations and sky begin to paint a vivid landscape.