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Are you interested in the natural landscape of the American Southwest? Grab your camera! A scenic drive in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the border of Arizona and Utah places you in the middle of nature’s wonderland of spires, buttes and red rock creations.
To make the most of a scenic drive in Monument Valley, arrive before the sun rises. No, you won’t be able to begin the drive, but you don’t want to miss the chance to photograph the sun rising behind East and West Mittens. And arriving early gives you a chance to try Navajo fry-bread for breakfast at the View Restaurant in the Visitor’s Center before Valley Drive, the 17-mile road through Monument Valley, opens for traffic.
General admission to drive the 17-mile scenic loop road is $20 per car for up to 4 people, ages 9 or younger are free (2014) and includes a free Monument Valley drive map. But if you really want to learn about Navajo history and culture, plus have access to off-limit areas, hire a guide. Admittance hours change according to the season, so check the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park website when planing your trip.
After negotiating the steep (and sometimes rough) first 1/2 mile down Mitchell Mesa into the valley, the Monument Valley road levels out. Although you’ll read advice that a 4-wheel-drive vehicle is necessary, that’s not the case. However, you do not want to be in a low riding vehicle as you could experience a few clearance issues. And don’t rush—this journey is about taking it slow to appreciate (and photograph) the view.
The scenic drive in Monument Valley includes 11 numbered stops. The American Southwest website has an especially good description of each stop included in the loop. Plan on spending at least two to four hours to get the most out of the experience.
Visitors must stay near the road and are not allowed to hike toward any of the formations unless accompanied by a paid guide. Be sure to bring drinking water as there are no facilities in the valley, not even restrooms.
Monument Valley has been the location for many movies and television shows. Boomers will remember our parent’s favorite western —the John Ford movie, Stagecoach, starring John Wayne. Easy Rider and Forrest Gump are two more familiar movies with scenes that were shot in the valley. But did you know that Clint Eastwood was filmed atop one of the spires for The Eiger Sanction?
As your vehicle climbs up the rocky road onto Mitchell mesa, you”ll look back in awe at at the natural wonder that you’ve just witnessed. Do you still have enough energy for a hike? Before leaving Monument Valley, get out of the car for the 3.2-mile journey around West Mitten Butte.
What about hotels in Monument Valley? Kayenta is the closest town (23 miles to the south) with lodging; but I’d rather wake up with a Monument Valley view outside my window. If you agree with me, then plan to stay at The View (the Navajo hotel at Monument Valley) or Gouldings Lodge. Although Gouldings doesn’t have the same killer view, you’ll be surrounded by legends of the historic trading post turned lodge.
When is the best time to visit Monument Valley? Fall and spring provide the most comfortable temperatures, especially September/October and April/May. Avoid the summer months, if you can, as it is hot in the desert.
To escape the tourist crowd, drive 33 miles north on Highway 163 to Valley of the Gods Bed and Breakfast, or even a few miles farther north to Desert Rose Inn in Bluff, Utah. Both accommodations make a great headquarters for visiting other sites in the area such as Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park, Cedar Mesa, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyon de Chelly and more.
As I mentioned earlier, those choosing the Monument Valley self-guided tour must stay on the main road. The next time Alan and I visit the area, we’ll book a Navajo guide for a trip through Mystery Valley and perhaps a night of communing with nature while camping under the stars on Hunts Mesa. Although the scenery is stunning in its own right, the real meaning of a trip to Monument Valley comes when one learns about the culture and history from the Navajo point of view.
Do you have questions about visiting Monument Valley? Please send an email through our contact us page and we’ll do our best to help you.
I have included an Amazon Link to the movies mentioned in this article. However My Itchy Travel Feet does receive a small percentage for purchases made at Amazon.com.