Plan a Classic American Southwestern Getaway to Monument Valley
Here's my travel guide to Monument Valley, Arizona, that was published in last week's paper at Fort Bliss. There's a little bit of historic background that really gets to the heart of why this place is so special and epic. Hope you like it!
Harry Goulding and his wife Leone had been living in Monument Valley since the 1920’s. They were a young, adventurous couple in love with the lonely, dusty valley with Navajo families as their neighbors and friends. After surviving several droughts and a Great Depression, Harry heard of a movie in the works at United Artists in Hollywood and decided to take some pictures of Monument Valley to director John Ford, who was scouting locations for a western movie they were calling “Stagecoach”. Goulding knew Monument Valley would provide the perfect backdrop for the United Artists film, and he was right. “Stagecoach” went on to become an American western classic, propelling actor John Wayne to stardom and director John Ford to the height of his career.
It could be said that “Stagecoach” put Monument Valley on the map, but really it was the other way around. John Ford went on to direct seven films in Monument Valley, and since then dozens of Hollywood movies along with hundreds of commercials have been filmed there.
Goulding believed that someday Monument Valley would attract visitors from around the world and today more than 400,000 people travel to the Utah/Arizona border every year to enjoy firsthand this quintessential western-American experience.
Its full name is the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and it is part of the southwest’s Navajo Nation. Located along Arizona’s northeastern and Utah’s southeastern borders, the park rests among 30,000 acres and is less than a nine hour drive from El Paso, Texas. Within a two hour drive from Monument Valley are two other must-visit cities. West is Page, Arizona, home to the famous Antelope Slot Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Lake Power and north is Moab, Utah, with its two stunning national parks; Arches and Canyonlands. This makes Monument Valley even more alluring with his close proximity to these other destinations.
What draws people to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is its iconic nature and overwhelming landscapes. The famous East and West Mitten Buttes that look like enormous mittens protruding from the earth, the many mesas and rock formations throughout the park are all immediately recognizable as famous locations from Hollywood movies. And seeing these in person with the naked eye is more impressive than seeing it through a camera lens or on the big screen. Therefore this reputation of Monument Valley is what brings visitors time and time again from around the world.
The Navajo require an admission fee of $20 per car with up to four people, which is good for five days. Once inside the entrance, the Visitor Center will orient visitors to all the park has to offer with maps and tour guides. Most people drive a self-tour along the 17 mile Valley Drive which meanders throughout a large portion of the park around the buttes and mesas. Parts of the dirt road can be a little rough with pot holes and ripples so for those not wanting to take a chance damaging their vehicles, an $80 tour with one of the vendors lined up in the main parking is an option. All tours are owned and operated by the Navajo. Most people, however, opt to drive on their own, stopping to take photographs and take in the amazing scenery at their own pace. And free is quite a bit cheaper than the tours.
There are certain times of the year when Valley Drive will be closed, like when there is flooding or snow, and during those rare times, which usually only occur in Winter and early Spring, the only way to enter the valley floor is by tour guide.
When planning a visit to Monument Valley, know that there are two general times of year to plan for: high season and low season. High or peak season generally runs from May 1st – September 30th and is the most crowded and expensive time to visit. Even with lots of people at the park, however, you’ll still get plenty of unobstructed views of the valley and the famous buttes because the area is so vast. Low season runs from October 1st – April 30th. Low season is considered the best time to visit because lodging is not only available, but affordable then.
The difficult part in planning a trip may be booking a hotel during high season. The View is Monument Valley’s only hotel for 24 miles. The View is located in the park right after the entrance and is situated right along the valley’s cliffs. In fact, it is designed to be very subtle and blends in with the cliffs so as not to distract from the natural surrounding beauty. The View was opened in 2008 and has excellent rooms with top notch amenities. Every single room has a valley view with a private balcony, and in the low season a room with two queen beds runs as low as $100 a night. In the high season, however, the same room will sell for $236 per night with top floor rooms selling over $370 per night. There is no difference between first floor and upper floor rooms but the price; they are virtually identical with the same views.
The View also has an authentic Navajo restaurant on the premises with dishes like Navajo Tacos, Mutton Stew and a variety of other dishes along with soups and salads. There is no alcohol allowed on the reservation since the Navajo is a dry nation.
Monument Valley also offers premium cabins overlooking the valley which are a bit pricier and also difficult to book in the high season. For those wanting an earthier experience, Monument Valley does have RV sites and campgrounds for a nominal nightly fee.
Booking for summer months in particular have to be made months in advance. To prove the point, rooms at The View are virtually sold out through August with some availabilities in September. This is another reason why the low season can be a practical choice.
There are four hotels in the town of Kayenta, Arizona, which is 24 miles southwest of Monument Valley. There’s a better chance to book a room at the Hampton Inn, Kayenta Monument Valley Inn, Wetherill Inn or Canyon Inn Motel in Kayenta if The View is booked solid.
The most important thing to keep in mind is not to rush through the Monument Valley experience. The 17 mile Valley Drive allows for being on the ground, walking around and drinking in the peaceful, quiet surroundings. To get deeper into the Navajo Nation, book a backcountry tour or horseback ride around the buttes or hike with a Navajo guide.
There are many places to visit that have been around for a very long time with histories dating back hundreds of years. What makes Monument Valley so special is not just it’s obvious beauty, but it’s backstory. The dusty history of this Navajo land truly makes Monument Valley feel timeless.
For more information about the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, visit http://www.navajonationparks.org/htm/monumentvalley.htm and http://monumentvalleyview.com for lodging and camping.