We started our journey in Sedona and drove throughout the northeastern region of Arizona in September of 2011. After navigating our kayaks through the slot canyons of Lake Powell and surviving a hectic photography tour in nearby Antelope Canyon, we continued our drive deep into the Navajo Nation and arrived in Monument Valley. Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal park located on the border of Arizona and Utah, in the Four Corners area of the Southwest’s “Grand Circle.”
As we approached the valley, the landscape was overwhelming. Huge sandstone monuments, eroded by wind and water over time, rose majestically from the desert floor. Towering at heights of 400-1,000 feet, the size and beauty of the monuments was humbling yet, at the same time, very familiar. Much of the valley’s notoriety comes from its use as a backdrop in television episodes, commercials, music, and movies. Its star status began in 1939 when producer John Ford filmed his first of many Hollywood westerns in the valley starring the young actor, John Wayne. Movie goers started coming from across the country to see firsthand this famous example of the American West landscape. Hollywood westerns were just the beginning of a love affair with the valley that continues today.
Next to the Visitor’s Center is the only lodging within the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley, The View Hotel, with balcony views of the valley from every room. My night image with the rising moon was taken from our balcony. This beautiful Navajo owned hotel is filled with art and artifacts and was designed to blend into the surrounding area and not detract from the beauty of the valley. Immerse yourself further into the Indian culture with some Navajo fry-bread at the hotel’s restaurant, Haskenneini.
After paying a fee to the Tribal Nation, you can access the park via a seventeen-mile loop road that runs through the valley. Deviating from this road to hike and explore other sites on your own is forbidden. The Navajo Nation is comprised of private lands, therefore all non-Navajo visitors must abide by and comply with the laws, regulations and policies of the Navajo Nation. You will need to hire one of many Navajo guides that are located at the entrance to take you into the restricted areas. The loop road is a rough and dusty dirt road and I would think twice before subjecting your car to the abuse! The only walking trail inside the park where you can hike without a Navajo Guide is Wildcat Trail. This 4-mile trail begins at The View Hotel and descends 900 feet to the valley floor and then back up to the hotel. Unfortunately, our time was limited and we were unable to hike the trail.
It was recommended that we take a private tour instead of a group tour, so we left our rental in the lot and hired the services of an 18 year old Navajo guide, Shay, and his four-wheel-drive truck. I held my camera tightly as we drove off-road through miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, horses, and windblown sand. Our guide shared stories of the origins of the monument names and filming locations of recent movies and commercials. We flew by monuments including the East and West Mitten Buttes, the Three Sisters, Elephant Butte, and Totem Pole; and openings with names like Eye of the Sun, Ear of the Wind, and the North window. Our tour of the valley included driving as well as short hikes to sites and our guide was very accommodating with my photography requests.
My short visit to Monument Valley only gave me a taste of what the area has to offer. You could spend days chasing the shadows that play across the desert floor and capturing the magnificent colors of the valley that change with every angle of the sun. Monument Valley is truly an area of Southwestern beauty and solitude and a photographic opportunity not to be missed in the Four Corners area.
Photographer Diana Chrisman provided the details and images for the Monument Valley destination.
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