Everyone always wants to see Grand Canyon but do people actually know about the beauty of Monument Valley that lies around 173 miles in the northeast of the Grand Canyon, between Utah and Arizona?
If you are ever over near the west coast of the United States, and you love epic landscapes, then you should take the time to go and see Monument Valley. You will, for sure, never forget these massive but beautiful pillars of sandstone rock, rising out of the red desert, that have been formed by mother nature.
These rocks are sacred to some peoples and they may seem familiar to film buffs. It is an area that people now think of as the stereotypical American West. Let us take a look.
Where Is Monument Valley?
Monument Valley straddles the border between Utah and Arizona. So it is not within one state. Yes You could do some state line hopping here but less than 2 hours away you can go crazy doing that at what is called ‘The Four Corners’, where 4 states converge, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
Cutting through Monument Valley is US Route 163 (Scenic highway) that goes from one state to another. And as you can see it is known as one of the most scenic drives in America.
The main park entrance is in Utah, but the iconic rock landmarks you may want to see are in Arizona.
Monument Valley is located within the Navajo Nation Reservation, which in itself forms the largest Native American reservation in the US.
The land here as you can see is dry, red and would seem totally barren to prospectors or people heading west back in the day. This in the main helped keep the Navajo people relatively isolated. When there was no money to be made from the land here it was given back to the Navajo Nation as part of their reservation.
The Navajo Nation is semi autonomous in that it has its own government setting their own laws and even has its own President. They still come under US Federal Law but any potential conflicts in law are normally sorted by negotiation.
The Navajo people, as you can imagine, hold these rocky sandstone buttes to be sacred. Their name for Monument valley is Tse Bii’ Ndzisgaii, meaning ‘valley of the rocks’.
Depending on the time of year there is a population of around 200 people of the Navajo people here in Monument Valley itself.
It is hard to look at these rocks, rising out of the ground, and not think of how they may have formed?
Even stood on the valley floor here you will be between 5000 and 6000 feet above sea level.
Millions of years ago this land was a huge, very flat and high plateau. Then over the last 10s of millions of years it was eroded down by wind and water. That lowered the ground level of the plateau but there are stubborn bits that withstood the natural barrage and thus the pillars of rock prevail as you see them now.
It reminded me a lot of see Chimney Rock in Nebraska.
The Westerns And Movies Location
If Monument Valley looks familiar to some then part of what put it on the tourism map was early westerns by John Ford. He saw this untouched and at the time relatively unheard of landscape as his setting for the American West.
The first one was Stagecoach, starring John Wayne. Who upon first seeing Monument Valley is quoted as saying:
So this is where God put the WestJohn Wayne
The other movies that Ford filmed here include: My Darling Clementine, Fort Apache, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers, Sergeant Rutledge, Cheyenne Autumn, Wagon Master and How The West Was Won.
Look at these pics of Monument Valley and think of John Ford and John Wayne movies, it is hard to separate the stereotypical view now isn’t it?
It has also been used as a location in more modern films too. For instance Back To The Future III and The Lone Ranger.
Think of the backdrop to Forest Gump running, bushy bearded leaving his followers behind, that was here.
And sci-fi lovers, think of 2001: A Space odyssey. There is a scene when Dave goes beyond the infinite. It is a surreal, dreamlike picture in blue and white. But look closer and you will see the shapes are the landscape of Monument Valley.
Driving Monument Valley
There is a 17 mile dusty track called the Scenic Drive or valley drive, that you can take to see some of the well known and epic spots of the park.
At the time of writing the entry fee was $20 per vehicle with up to 4 passengers.
The dirt track is not suitable for low riding vehicles or bikes etc.
You can also take a guided tour too if you do not wish to journey yourself and learn as well as see the spectacle.
And why not take a horse ride through monument valley. Follow John Wayne, riding through the land on horseback.