Previous blog posts: Zion National Park | Horseshoe Bend | Antelope Canyon
Saddle up! Our Desert Road Trip has taken a turn to the good ol' classic west! After leaving Antelope Canyon around noon, we headed out 117 miles towards one of the most famous "western" locations in the world - Monument Valley. Featured in many great classic movies such as John Wayne's cowboy films, Chevy Chase's National Lampoons Vacation, Tom Hanks' Forrest Gump, and Johnny Depp's The Lone Ranger, this majestic place is actually reserved for the Navajo Nation as well. Hi ho Silver, away!
CLICK HERE to order prints of my Monument Valley photos
Our trip to Monument Valley was filled with many great stories and memories. This land is undoubtedly real, non commercialized/developed and held dearly by the Navajo people. Not only do you sense that from just being there, but I learned it while on our tour of the valley with our excellent Navajo guide...which I will get to later. Therefore, this blog post will be longer but I'll break it up into sections. (1) The first thing we wanted to see when we approached Monument Valley was the classic scene in many photographs and movies...but we had to drive past the actual park entrance north on US 163 into Utah to mile marker 13. (2) The next section I'll share with you my dramatic sunset and sunrise shots. (3) Then finally I'll share with you my photos I got while on our Navajo Tour of the valley the next day.
Mile Marker 13
I did a little research before our trip and I found out one of the famous scenes of Monument Valley is actually taken from Utah on US 163 coming into the park in Arizona. If you've ever seen Forrest Gump, you'll remember seeing Tom Hanks running down the road with Monument Valley behind him. The drive along this road is absolutely beautiful as it takes you through the vast valley while you observe all of the stone monuments surrounding you. Once we got to mile marker 13, we pulled off on the sandy pull off to begin taking pictures in the road. Also on this pull off were two young Navajo guys with 3 horses tied up and a cardboard sign next to them saying "Picture on the horse for $5". Needless to say, it was too hard to pass that offer down at this epic location.
Sunset & Sunrise from The View Hotel
Hands down the best place to stay in Monument Valley is actually right in the park. The closest town is Kayenta, AZ which is 30 miles away. But it's certainly worth to spend the money to stay at The View Hotel. This hotel is Navajo run and operated and is beautifully built on the mountain ridge above Monument Valley to blend into the land. The hotel is gorgeous inside with a bunch of Native American themes and touches to the decor. But the best part about the place is each room has a balcony view of the valley down below. Also all along the outside of the hotel is plenty of places to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet stillness of the massive scene.
Being a photographer, I had already done my research and knew of a location where I wanted to get my sunset and sunrise shots. So, we did not stay on our balcony during them but rather went out in front of the hotel along with many other people. As a matter of fact, there are signs along the patio of the hotel showing where Ansel Adams' favorite photo location was and where John Wayne's favorite place to watch the sunset! After we watched the sunset that night, we went back to our room to sit on the balcony and observe the billions of stars. As we did, we noticed that The View Hotel shows an old John Wayne outdoor film almost every night against the side of the hotel. How cool is that? Night was short for us though, as we woke up at 5:30 AM the next morning to go out and watch the sunrise! Let the show begin...
These are all views directly in front of The View Hotel. Notice the dirt road down below. It is highly recommended only by Navajo guided tours and not by your own vehicle. The road is extremely rough and causes many flat tires. You'll see once I get to our tour during the next day...
Sunrise the next morning!
Navajo Guided Tour of the Valley
If you have the opportunity to visit this beautiful place, you absolutely must take a guided tour of the valley before you leave. You haven't truly experienced Monument Valley without doing so. Most people think the 3 stone monuments (aka Mittens) are what's all of Monument Valley because those are the iconic views. But actually the valley has many more monuments to explore and a see! Without having a Navajo guided tour down the horrendous dirt road, we would have never experienced it.
Our guide was a gentle older man named Harry with his safari-like chevy pick-up that about 8 of us sat behind. He grew up in the valley among many other natives around there. As a matter of fact, he told us actually only about 17 families still live primitively in the valley. He was such a great tour guide and shared with us many special stories about the land and him growing up. It was very interesting learning about the Navajo culture and the history of the majestic place. But by far the best part of the tour was when he had our group lay against the rock wall beneath a humongous natural arch while he played his Native American flute and drum. He even sang Amazing Grace in Navajo. All of it gave me chills. I was able to take many GoPro videos of the ride while hanging on to my seat on the back of the bumpy ride and I look forward to sharing them in the trip movie I plan to make.
The first 3 shots were with my GoPro from the back of the truck...
Best come prepared for some hot, dusty, dry roads!
Does this ledge look familiar? It's because it's the same place Johnny Depp stood on his horse during The Lone Ranger! Just google "Johnny Depp Monument Valley" and see for yourself!
"Eye of the Sun" First of 4 natural arch formations we got to see! Just amazing!
"Ear of the Wind" Second of 4 natural arch formations we got to see! This one too was huge!
3rd of 4 natural arches we got to see. This is the one that we got to listen to the Native American flute while laying against the cave wall! See the video below.
Well thanks for reading this far on my Monument Valley post! As I've said in my previous posts about our Desert Road Trip, each day continued to get more and more adventurous as you can see. There are so many interesting places to visit out in this country and Monument Valley is certainly a place I will never forget.
CLICK HERE to view my Monument Valley photo gallery and order prints
Stay tuned as our next stop is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world! The Grand Canyon!