Thursday, January 8, 2015

Monument Valley Tribal Park—The Navajo Nation's Geologic Wonderland

         “Seventy-five years ago we camped here, drove right in and set up our tent.”
We look across the aisle of our touring jeep and have a question for the elderly couple speaking those words:  
         “Has this place changed?”
         “No”, is the answer, “but we sure have.”
Over the course of 75 years the changes here—blowing sand deposits; occasional rock falls—are barely perceptible, while those to human lives are profound.

Monument Valley Icons: Left Mitten, Right Mitten and Merrick Butte.

         We're in Monument Valley, first christened "Valley of the Rocks" by the Navajos who have inhabited this valley for centuries.  To protect this one-of-a-kind landscape, camping is now prohibited and vehicle travel is restricted.  
         The best way to experience Monument Valley is by taking a Navajo-led tour.  As he drives our group through the valley our guide, Gary, points to famous rock formations.  Several resemble animals and have been named, appropriately, Eagle Rock, Elephant Butte and The Setting Hen.  Other mesas and buttes are named for human activity which occurred there, such as Rain God Mesa—a platform where medicine men prayed for rain, and Cly Butte—named for the Navajo chieftan who’s buried there with all his worldly possessions including cattle, sheep, goats, and his horse with its saddle and bridle.

The Three Sisters formation, next to Mitchell Mesa.
Mitchell Mesa and Merrick Butte, (in the photo above), are
named for two of Kit Carson's soldiers who stayed in the area
in the 1860s to mine silver.  They were killed by the Utes and
Paiutes near the rocks which bear their names. 

Gary tosses a tumbleweed in front of Camel Butte
in Monument Valley's backcountry.

          My favorite part of the tour?  A drive into the backcountry to view “Ear of the Wind”—an arch carved by the scouring spring gales, and  “Sun’s Eye”—an opening in the dome of a rocky alcove.  

I'm walking the sand dune to listen for
sighing breezes through Ear of the Wind's portal.

Gary stands in the alcove below Sun's Eye (top photo)
and plays his drum while singing a song taught him
by his grandfather.  The haunting melody and soulful
Navajo lyrics echo off the walls while a raven squawks overhead.

          The two natural areas (above) are free of the commercialization which plagues other scenic vistas such as John Ford Point.  Vendors selling jewelry and trinkets line the point; you’re free to shop if you like, or to wander and gaze at the scenery made famous by the acclaimed Hollywood director.  

And… "It's a wrap!"  People and horses congregate on John Ford Point,
the perfect location for director Ford's famous long shots, which framed his
characters against the vast,harsh and rugged natural terrain of
Monument Valley.

          John Wayne’s first western, “Stagecoach” was filmed in Monument Valley in 1938, one year before our touring companions camped here.  An image forms in my mind of the couple then—vigorous, sun-tanned, supple and lithe.  Now they rise slowly from their seats, steady themselves as they walk down the aisle, need assistance descending the steps behind our vehicle.  Time accentuates our human frailties and steals our vitality, but some things actually do improve with age.   See for yourself by discovering the timeless beauty that is Monument Valley.

Our open-air touring vehicle.
Goulding's Lodge conducts a variety of daily tours of the valley.

Monument Valley straddles the Utah/Arizona border.
This view is the approach from the north on U.S. Rte. 163 in Utah.


  1. Opened blogger and saw your fantastic post, the pictures as if in a dreamscape, reminding one of the movie McEnna's Gold, starring Gregory Peck. The Sun's Eye pictures are incredible, and the fact that the land is now protected inspires confidence. Many thanks, Rita

  2. You have a good eye. The opening sequence in the movie MacKenna's Gold was shot in Monument Valley. Some say that without Monument Valley there would be no such thing as the "Great American Western Movie"!
    The land belongs to the Navajo Nation and, as of now, is guarded from development and overuse. Let's hope it remains that way for centuries to come.
    Thanks for your comments. Happy New Year Soumyendu!

  3. Fascinating, Rita. I've never been to Monument Valley, and I see that I must go there. And I will. Your writing is excellent as well, beginning and ending with the old couple and the contrast of the impact of time on our bodies and on he monument. As always, your photographs are wonderful. Loved this post.

    1. I'm so glad to hear that you plan to visit Monument Valley. I can't believe that I lived in Utah for 15 years and had never been there. When you go, definitely sign up for a trip into the backcountry (only available with a tour guide). It's a magical place.

      Thanks for your comments on this piece Janet. Your evocative writing is something I aspire to!
      Readers, visit Janet's fun and thought-provoking blog at

      Happy New Year and Happy Travels to you in 2015!

  4. I fully realize that I've said this many times when commenting on your posts, but nonetheless I'm continually awestruck by the vistas you experience. They are so 'foreign' to my everyday surroundings here in New England. It's almost like you're posting images from a different planet!

    Anyway, it was nice to read that there are two natural areas at this location that are free of commercialization. That allows you to gain an appreciation of the beauty of this area as it has existed for time immemorial!

    All of your photos are marvelous, and I'm especially fascinated by “Ear of the Wind”, “Sun’s Eye”. But perhaps as odd as it might seem, my favorite photo was the last one which shows the view as you approach on U.S. Rte. 163 in Utah. That scene is breathtaking!


  5. I had to laugh when I read your first paragraph. The first time Tim and I traveled to southern Utah, (shortly after we moved here from PA), we turned to each other and said: "Are we on another planet or something?".

    I, too, loved the view as we approached Monument Valley from the north, just before sunset. This is one instance where having a highway in the picture contrasts nicely with the other-worldy scene in the distance.

    Thanks as always for your kind comments, John!

  6. Hi Rita,

    What a fabulous post and photographs to kick off the new year! I'll echo what others have said: You've given me a new appreciation for traveling "local" (within the United States) and being able to discover a diversity of cultures and landscapes in all their beauty and originality.

    I'm definitely planning to discover parts of the U.S. this year that I've never been to before and thank you for the nudge!


    1. Great to hear from you, Vicki,

      When I started this blog (as you well remember!) my main objective was to describe and highlight the variety of travel options in the U.S. I'm happy to have provided you with a little nudge toward visiting the many worthwhile destinations right here in America. And, Monument Valley is definitely one of those special places.

      Thanks for your kind comments!

  7. Rita - your accounts of travel through America make me want to get on a plane now!!

    Beautiful photos!

    1. Thanks for following and commenting, Datar!