Visiting Monument Valley – Nature’s Masterpiece
Nature is the most prolific artist mankind has ever known—this is no more evident than in Monument Valley, which borders Arizona to the north and Utah to the south.
They say the greatest form of flattery is when ones work is copied, this is indisputable when it comes to Monument Valley, where artists of all kinds have come to capture the unique natural landscape sculpted out of earth for all to enjoy. The artwork of Mother Nature is not created in month, a year, or even a lifetime, but rather it takes thousands of generations to unfold.
Many who visit Monument Valley will likely just drive through the sandstone sculpture-filled display along scenic Hwy 163, thinking that what is in front of them is the extent of the remarkable area. I too fell into this line of thinking the first time I visited. However, after a recent trip to Monument Valley, I discovered there is a whole lot more to see.
With exception to Hwy 163, there is only one other main road—and that is Monument Valley Road, which intersects 163. To the east of 163 is the main attraction and park, which is located on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. There is a $20 admission fee per car, which will take you to the visitors center and observation point where you will bear witness to some of the most iconic views of Monument Valley.
THE VALLEY DRIVE
Your entrance fee also permits you to drive a around a loop to get up-close to many of the monuments. However, this dirt road can be quite rugged and is best done with a 4-wheel drive or high-clearance vehicle. If you do not wish to make the trek in your own car, there are several tour guide options to choose from.
The Valley Drive is 17 miles long, 13 of which is a one-way loop. While 17 miles may not seem very long, a typical trip will take 2-3 hours to complete, taking into account traffic and the various stops you will make for photos. The suggested speed limit is 15 mph to try and keep down the dust, however some places are too rocky and bumpy to go any faster, though other sections are quite smooth which will allow you to pick up the pace a bit.
The road can become busy during summer days, with queues at the major overlooks. Early morning is the preferred time to visit as the light is better for photography and there are far fewer people than later in the day. [Photography Note: From the observation area in the park the light is best later in the day.]
There is much to see along the Valley Drive, even if many of the views are of the same formations, the various angles look quite different from one side to the other. This part of Monument Valley is one of the most impressive large-scale landscapes anywhere in the Southwest, rivaling places like Bryce Canyon and Zion National parks for the variety of scenes to photograph. From massive mesas to tall spires and thin buttes, to the contrasting smooth orange sand, there is an impressive sight everywhere you look.
OTHER SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY
The western side of Hwy 163 is in Utah and is home to Goulding’s, a privately owned swath of land offering a variety of types of lodging and services. Nestled up against a massive butte, Goulding’s Lodge provides a completely different view and perspective of Monument Valley. It was the John Wayne movie “Stagecoach” that came out in the late 1930s that really put Goulding’s and Monument Valley on the proverbial map with tourists. Over the decades the area has hosted many film crews.
- Goulding’s offers several types of lodging, from traditional hotel rooms to larger apartments with full kitchen as well as a campground for tents or RVs.
- The View Hotel – This hotel is within the Park and also offers camping and cabins on the rim.
- May through September: 6am to 8pm
- October through April: 8am to 5pm
THINGS NOT TO MISS
- Horseback Riding (Several outfitters and locations to ride).
- Hiking (Many different excursions to consider).
- Mud Huts (Traditional Navajo housing. A couple to explore at the park).
- Jeep Tour (Several outfitters, durations and locations).
- Sunset views from the visitor’s center/observation area.
- Wildcat Trail for an up-close view of the monuments (4-mile loop trail).
- Dark skies on a new moon.
- Stay at least one night in the area, two is better.
- There is a glamping tent site a couple miles west of the park, while the accommodations are nice, the traffic noise is bad. For tent camping I would recommend Goulding’s, or, continue west past Goulding’s for primitive camping. RV camping would be good at either the Park or Goulding’s.
- Bring your own food. There is a small grocery store at Goulding’s for essential provisionals as well as a restaurant.
- Fill up before you get to the area for cheaper gas.
- Don’t miss the starry nights.
- Lodging: $88 – $185/night depending on accommodation type. $270/night for rim cabins.
- Camping: $20 for a tent site, $45 for a glamping or RV site.
- Fuel costs outside of Monument Valley is around $2.40/gallon. At Goulding’s it is $2.67 as of 12/2017
- Park Entrance fee: $20 per car.
- Jeep tour rates: $75-$95 per person.
- Horseback riding: $70-$135 depending on the duration and tour outfit.
- Hiking tours: $75-$220 per person.
If you’ve ever been to Monument Valley, please leave a comment below and share your experience and/or favorite things to do.