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Re-Discovering Monument Valley

By Admin | May 20, 2024 | North Eastern | 0 Comments

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Native American lands in the southwest United States offer some of the most popular tourist attractions anywhere in the world. Antelope Canyon, located within the Navajo Nation, sees in excess of 2 million visitors a year who come to witness one of the most photographed places on Earth. The Grand Canyon, located partially on Havasupai and Hualapai Tribal lands, is of course considered one of the seven Natural Wonders of the World, experiencing over 5 million tourists a year and growing.

Yet, there is one national monument in the southwest that often gets overlooked. One that should be on anyone’s radar that is looking to experience the awe and wonder of untouched, sacred Native American lands: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

An Iconic Landmark in Movie History

When many Americans hear “Monument Valley” the first thing that comes to mind is another landmark over 600 miles away – Hollywood. Fans of the silver screen may remember John Ford’s famous Westerns, which were often filmed on the Navajo Nation. John Wayne filmed no fewer than five movies in Monument Valley – “Stagecoach” (1939), “Fort Apache” (1948), “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), “Rio Grande” (1950), and “The Searchers” (1956).

And of course, there is one of the most famous scenes in movie history from the acclaimed film Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump unexpectedly decides to end his multiple cross-country marathon at mile marker 13 on U.S. Highway 163 with Monument Valley in the background, now recognized as “Forrest Gump Point.” Tourists come to this point every day to not only soak in movie history, but also the incredible breathtaking views that Monument Valley is now famous for.

Is Monument Valley worth it?

Monument Valley is far more than just its place in Hollywood history. It is simply one of the great natural wonders of the world. Experiencing it is simply something you will never forget.

Encompassing 91,696 acres, Monument Valley is a seemingly endless landscape of awe-inspiring mesas and enormous sandstone buttes – the result of millenia of continuous erosion of sandstone from strong winds and rainstorms. The sandstone is primarily made up of three layers – Organ Rock shale, de Chelly sandstone, and some towers reach heights of as much as 1,000 feet. Sunlight reflects not only off the buttes but throughout the valley below, creating spellbinding imagery at nearly every hour of the day.

In fact, Monument Valley’s creation dates back to the late Paleozoic era over 300 million years ago when it was simply a low basin. Sandstone layers were deposited in the basin over time, slowly carved by natural forces into the world famous buttes known today as one of the most photographed places on Earth.

Today, Monument Valley is a Tribal Park, established in 1958 within the sovereign government of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo – or Diné – refer to Monument Valley as “Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii” which translates (roughly) into ‘The Valley of the Rocks.” The park is sacred land to the Navajo people, who have sworn to protect and preserve it for future generations, while also welcoming tourists from around the world to respectfully experience it.

The best ways to see Monument Valley

There are several ways to experience the vast Monument Valley. Hiking without an authorized tour guide is allowed, however there are several restrictions for safety reasons. Every guest must stay on designated roadways, and there is only one self-guided trail – The Wildcat Trail. This trail is a 4 mile loop – so no easy jaunt – that traverses many of the Tribal park’s most famous buttes, such as Merrick Butte. All hiking trails are at yoiur own risk.

Others may choose from literally dozens of professional guided tours, ranging from hiking to horseback to even 4X4. An increasingly popular option is an off-road adventure tour to Hunts Mesa, a hidden rock formation famous for incredible scenery in every direction – especially at sunrise and sunset. This tour is not for the faint of heart, as it requires travel over very rough terrain to get there.

However, many visitors choose to experience the wonder of Monument Valley Tribal Park without ever getting out of their car.

Monument Valley features a 17-mile loop scenic drive that is one of the Southwest’s most popular attractions. There are over a dozen stops on this drive that are simply breathtaking, but there’s a few things to know before you arrive.

The scenic drive is still a dirt road, so RVs and motorcycles are prohibited. Also, some parts of the drive extend over bumps and sand patches, so drive carefully. During peak season, there can be extended wait times to begin the journey, so be patient and prepare to sit in the sun. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen, and make sure to stay hydrated while in the desert.

We recommend arriving before the sun rises. While the park is not yet open, you will be able to witness the sun rising behind the East and West Mittens, which is a sight you won’t soon forget.

What else is there to do and see around Monument Valley?

Love Monument Valley so much you plan on staying awhile? Many tourists actually do extend their stay, and fortunately for them there is still plenty to see and do around the area.

Mexican Hat, about 30 miles northeast of Monument Valley, is a famous rock formation (and the namesake of the small town it sits in) that is popular with adventure and rock climbing enthusiasts. The formation, as you could probably deduce by the name, looks like an upside down sombrero.

Close to Mexican Hat and further north on Highway 163 northeast you’ll find the Valley of the Gods, a natural wonder many consider similar to Monument Valley. The magnificent buttes, desert landscape and even occasional rock castles are simply extraordinary and a treasure trove for avid photographers. However, unlike Monument Valley, this park is not on Navajo land and is managed by the US government. This simply means there are fewer restrictions against camping, hiking and rock climbing, while prohibitions against vandalism and littering are still strictly enforced.

Coming back south along Highway 163, then west on State Route 261, you will find Goosenecks State Park. This relatively small park gives visitors an incredible, and rare, view of the San Juan River – from the top edge of a 1000 foot canyon. Below tourists witness the river traverse seven miles through a winding meander – known as a gooseneck.

Of course, being on the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley also serves as a gateway to other unique Navajo landmarks and cultural experiences. Antelope Canyon, possibly the most photographed slot canyon in the world, is two hours west. Closer to Monument Valley are Navajo towns such as Kayenta and Dennehotso that offer great local restaurants, amenities and hospitality.

Throughout the Navajo Nation, amazing artisans set up roadside markets to sell their authentic Native American arts and crafts. It is well worth your time to stop along any of these routes to see their work first hand. Whether its clothing, jewelry, pottery, paintings or any other medium, you can be sure that the beautiful works are 100% authentic Navajo art. And of course, every penny of your purchase will go directly to the artist who makes it all possible.

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