If there is one landscape in the world that is considered “classic” for western film, it must be Monument Valley. Located in the north of the Navajo Indian Reservation (Navajoland) in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest, Monument Valley is one of the most remarkable landscapes in the USA, a synonym for the “Wild West”.
According to acronymmonster, Monument Valley extends to parts of northeast Arizona and southeast Utah. Not least from cigarette advertising (Marlboro), the striking landscape points are known to everyone in this country. In fact, it is not a valley, but flat steppe and desert land from which monolithic sandstone formations in the form of table mountains, needles, battlements, castles (butes), plateaus (mesas) and rock arches rise up to 300 m high. Depending on the sunlight, the play of colors changes from light red to purple and a special dark red at sunset. Further information is available on the official website.
About 70 million years ago the land was covered by the foothills of the waters of what is now the Gulf of Mexico. As the land gradually rose and displaced the water, it left a vast plain, the fault fissures and cracks of which were exposed to erosion (wind and rain). The softer sandstone layers were removed over the course of millions of years. Today’s “monuments” are the survivors of the forces of erosion, the harder rock layers. The foundations of the rocks consist of the soft red-brown organ rock shale (slate, about 230 million years old), above which lies the 215 million year old De Chelly sandstone. Its hematite content is higher in Monument Valley than in the rest of the Colorado Plateau and therefore the red color is more intense. The top is the harder Shinarump Formation (about 195 million years old). Since 1960, the area of around 120 square kilometers has been classified as a Navajo Tribal Park but is open to the public. It is not a national park, but is solely the responsibility of the Navajo Indians.
Already before 1,300 BC. the area was inhabited by Anasazi Indians, although there was no life-giving river here either at that time. Around 100 homes and ruins can still be found today. As elsewhere, the Anasazi disappeared around 1,300 for reasons unknown. It is not known since when the Navajo colonized this area. However, several generations have already been raising sheep and growing fruit here.
The westerns filmed here include classics such as the 1938 “Stagecoach (Ringo / Hell’s Journey to Santa Fe)” with John Wayne, “How the West was won”, “Play me the song of death”, “ Fort Apache (Until the Last Man; 1948) ”,“ The Searchers ”(1956),“ The Broken Arrow ”and“ The Black Hawk ”. Monument Valley was also the backdrop for the Walt Disney films “The Desert is Alive”, “Thelma and Louise” and “Back to the Future III”.
There is only one road, US 163, which connects Kayenta in Arizona with US 181 in Utah. Monument Valley is 22 miles north of Kayenta on US 163. The closest major tourist spots are Flagstaff and Page, both in Arizona. Moab, Utah is 150 miles / 241 km, Salt Lake City is 395 miles / 635 km, and Cortez / Colorado is 160 miles / 258 km away. From US 163 you have the most beautiful view of Monument Valley if you drive the road from the north towards Kayenta in the morning. In the course of the road there are numerous – usually not specially marked – stopping opportunities to take photos.
Opening times and prices
The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May to September and daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from October to April. The park is closed for Christmas and New Years. The park is open between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The entrance fee is $ 5, children 9 and under have free entry. The park is not part of the National Park System, so the passes purchased for this are not valid here.
Tours into the park can only be undertaken in the company of an authorized (Navajo) guide. Information on the range and current prices is available at the Visitor Center, but you will usually be approached at the parking lot, in Kayenta and in the Gouldings Trading Post. There are four-wheel drive tours alone in a jeep or with several people on trucks, as well as rides on horses. A 1.5 hour 4×4 tour with several people costs around $ 60 per person.
The park is only accessible for a fee via an unpaved road. The Valley Drive is approximately 17 miles and loops through the area. Note: It makes sense to use a four-wheel drive vehicle, which can be rented at short notice if necessary and also serves for expeditions to nearby other sightseeing options, e.g. Valley of the Gods. Anyone who drives with the “normal” rental car risks losing insurance cover, as the rental contracts only provide for use on regular roads.
Climate and Weather
The area is about 1,600 m above sea level, the climatic conditions are accordingly. The summers are very hot and reach over 30 degrees Celsius, but it gets cool at night. The winters are cold with temperatures down to minus degrees and snow falls. The best travel times are from April to October. The table below gives an overview of the monthly average temperatures:
- January: -4 to 6 degrees
- February: -3 to 8 degrees
- March: 0 to 12 degrees
- April: 4 to 18 degrees
- May: 8 to 23 degrees
- June: 14 to 29 degrees
- July: 17 to 32 degrees
- August: 16 to 31 degrees
- September: 14 to 28 degrees
- October: 5 to 19 degrees
- November: -1 to 10 degrees
- December: -4 to 6 degrees
As part of the Navajo Indian Reservation, Monument Valley is not freely accessible, the regulations of the tribe apply. You have the first spectacular view when you follow US 163 from the north towards Kayenta. The best photo time here is the morning. The first point of contact is the Visitor Center, which can be reached via US 163.
The viewing deck offers a beautiful view of parts of the park. Here you can see the three most photographed monuments: West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte and Merrick Butte. In addition to the obligatory gift shop, there are exhibitions on the Navajos and their history as well as the landscape. There is also a cafeteria here that sells Native American and American meals and drinks. There is no food or gasoline in the park, they are available from the not too far away Gouldings Trading Post.
The park is only accessible for a fee via an unpaved road. The Valley Drive is approximately 17 miles / 27 km and loops through the area. It is a so-called dirt road with numerous potholes, which normal cars with little ground clearance can only drive slowly and with difficulty and which is only suitable for smaller campers. The assumption that the sightseeing road is deliberately kept in this condition in order to make it easier for tourists to decide to join a tour with an authorized guide in an all-wheel drive vehicle does not seem absurd. The first half mile is the worst part and has to be done both there and back. There are no toilets and no drinking water on the route.
Valley Drive begins at the Visitor Center and runs southeast through the park. The rock monuments to be visited have characteristic names that explain their appearance. You can recognize animals, figures and faces formed from rock, such as the well-known “mittens”, the mittens, easily recognized by the protruding “thumbs”, the totem pole, the totem pole, about 100 m high but only a few meters wide stone spire that dominates the landscape like a master of ceremonies. The classic view of the valley is from the North Window. It is not allowed to leave the sightseeing route. It may only be held and photographed, hiking into the area is prohibited.
The remaining parts of the park are only accessible with authorized guides; see above under opening times / admission. Cycling is generally not allowed. The guided tours also take you to the more remote parts of the park. Nevertheless, they are usually very touristy. In addition to the description of the rock formations and a visit to Anasazi ruins and rock drawings, a Hogan (round house of the Navajos made of wood and clay) and a demonstration of carpet weaving are usually approached (the performers receive an additional tip).
Photography for private purposes is permitted, but a permit is required for commercial purposes: Department of Broadcast Services, PO Box 308, Window Rock, AZ 86515. The best time to take photos is early morning and late afternoon. Indians cannot be photographed in principle, the consent of the person to be photographed is absolutely necessary! A tip for the photos is expected in any case. The same applies to taking photos of houses and other Indian property. Note: If you take a guided tour, bear in mind when choosing the vehicle that the extremely fine reddish sand in Monument Valley stirs up a lot and penetrates all cracks. So protect your photographic equipment and remember your Clothes should be easily washable.
Monument Valley is located in the reservation of the Navajo and here there is – in contrast to Arizona – the summer time (Daylight Saving Time) from April to October, otherwise the Mountain Standard Time applies. So in summer the time is one hour ahead of Arizona. So if you come from Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Page, Phoenix or any other place in Arizona or drive there after the visit, you should take the time difference into account in your planning.
Goulding’s Lodge (official website):
The present settlement was founded in 1923 as the Indian trading post Goulding’s Trading Post. Today there is a comprehensive tourist offer here, from overnight stays, the restaurant, the supermarket and the gas station to organized excursions. Overnight stay in a hotel is recommended because of the spectacular view of the sunset in Monument Valley from the terrace of the room. However, Gouldings is located in the Indian reservation and alcohol is strictly prohibited here, which is also observed in the restaurant (there is at most non-alcoholic wine, absolutely not to be recommended). The service is in Indian hands alone. On the positive side, this can be characterized as leisurely, the term “dragging” seems more appropriate. So you should bring time and leisure with you despite the stress of the holiday. In 1923, Harry Goulding and his wife became the first white people to settle in Monument Valley and set up a trading post and hostel. It was Harry Goulding who convinced the Hollywood director John Ford in 1938 to shoot the western “Stagecoach” with John Wayne in Monument Valley, and thus gave the starting signal for the touristic discovery of the area. A small, interesting museum reminds of the time of the film heroes and shows memorabilia from the Goulding family. A donation of $ 2 is expected.
Nearby is Harry and Mike’s Theater, which hosts the 20 minute Earth Spirit Multimedia Show, a representation of the history and geology of the area. The presentations take place several times in the evening (price $ 3, as of 2001).
Mexican Hat (official website):
The Mexican Hat is the symbol of the small town of the same name. A flat stone about 20 m in diameter is already well balanced from the road on a rock needle, but can only be identified as a “stone sombrero” with very good will.
Goosenecks State Park (official website):
Goosenecks State Park is located near Mexican Hat and has no entry fee. The view of the loops of the meandering San Juan River is wonderful and also meets photographic requirements (photos should be taken before the late afternoon if possible). The river covers almost 10 km over a distance of only 3 km as the crow flies. It has buried itself almost 400 m deep and exposed rock layers up to 300 million years old, the Paradox Formation and the Honacker Trail Formation above. Valley of the Gods official website:
From US 163 and UT 261 take the signposted junction to the Valley. The Valley of the Gods is about 50 miles / 80 km north of Monument Valley on US 163. The landscape is similar to Monument Valley, but there are significantly fewer visitors and entry is free. The area is accessed by a 17 mile / 27 km long dirt road, i.e. an unpaved road for which you should have a four-wheel drive vehicle. The runway leads back to US 163.
Four Corners Point (official website):
The only point in the US where four states meet. A large plaque on the floor marks the exact location so that one foot or arm can be in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico or Arizona at the same time. There are numerous Indian stalls. For the European visitor, the American tourists have the greatest entertainment value here, because they do all sorts of things to be photographed in several countries at the same time (lying on their stomach, etc.). Otherwise not a tourist must, rather a take away on the journey.