Monument Valley

Hollywood has made hundreds of westerns depicting the life of the American cowboy. And, none made a greater impact in this genre than John Wayne. If you try to recollect the landscape of the old west, you’ll most likely think of Monument Valley. Hundreds of old westerns, and other movies, have been filmed in this valley. It’s a stunning territory with large buttes that dot the red sand valley. I had visited this amazing valley 9 years ago but we only spent a couple of hours here. I always regretted not spending more time here as I grew up watching old westerns and it had such an influence on me during my childhood. This visit, I would atone for that mistake.

I checked out of my Grand Canyon hotel and spent the morning discovering the east rim as I proceeded to Monument Valley. It’s a fairly easy three hour drive to the valley if you don’t make any stops. In no time, I was at the parking lot of the View Hotel and I was again in awe of the view as I overlooked the landscape. I had enough time to take it in before I drove a short distance to the horse coral were I had a reservation to go horseback riding. Monument Valley is in the Navajo Nation Reservation and they observe daylight savings time so they were an hour ahead of Arizona, even though this section of the valley is in Arizona. Monument Valley spans the Arizona and Utah border. I stayed at the town of Kayenta which is 25 minutes south of the valley and definitely in Arizona but it also uses “Navajo” time and it was an hour ahead of the rest of the state. The other two participants for the tour were late and obviously confused by the time, they eventually should up an hour later. Rather than wait, I decided to join the two hour tour and it was a decision I was glad I made.

We got to go further into the valley. As we got going and made our way down the valley, I could see the buttes so famously featured in all those western movies I had seen. Then, we got closer and closer and eventually rested near the base of one of the mittens, butte shaped like a mitten. I couldn’t stop smiling during the ride. This was were John Wayne had ridden as he searched for his niece Debbie in the movie “The Searchers.” It was as if I was with John on his search through the valley. The movie is one of my all time favorites. This was truly a memorable moment, a once in a life time event. After the ride, I spent some more time at the viewpoint to take in what just happened.

What an amazing day, wandering the Grand Canyon’s east rim in the morning and letting my inner cowboy loose in the most iconic western valley in the country.

The next morning, I checked out of my hotel in Kayenta and I made the 25 minute drive back up to Monument Valley. I had booked a three hour tour into the valley. The valley is accessible by a 17 mile loop called Valley Drive. But, I decided not to do it on my own because the 17 mile drive is a rough dirt road with switch backs at the start and it would’ve been to rough for my car which isn’t four wheel drive. The tour with a local Navajo guide also gives you access to more of the valley such as the arches and petroglyphs. I decided to do the tour in an open air truck to get a better view of the landscape.

We visited the arches first to beat the rest of the other tour groups. This was a definite advantage as it got crowded as we past on the way back. The Navajo ancestors made there homes under these arches, protected by some of the elements.

We moved on to two panels of petroglyphs and the Navajo guide provided an interpretation of the art work along with knowledge and history of the valley handed down from his elders.

We made our way back out of Valley Drive but stopped at dirt lot in front of the Three Sisters Viewpoint, three spires. This location also has outdoor Navajo vendors ready and willing to sell you trinkets. But, it’s also the stop for Ford point. It’s named after John Ford who directed “The Searchers” and multiple other movies and made this point famous as he included it in multiple movies he filmed here.

It’s an iconic location and one I had been looking forward to visiting. You can get a photo of yourself at the edge of the point, cliff, that won’t cost you a scent or take one on a horse. In keeping with my wild west, or cowboy, experience, I mounted the beautiful horse and hoped we didn’t go over the edge. Actually, I was positive this horse was so well trained that he wouldn’t go over. The cost to get photos on this horse is $10, it was well worth it for me. The owner of the horse is also well versed in taking photos and he was happy to take my photos since I was a solo traveler. He took some great photos which I would have paid more for as he definitely captured the essence of the old west that I was looking for.

It was now noon and time to exit the valley. I made my way back to Kayenta and had lunch before I continued my way to the next location on this road trip.

Monument Valley was my primary location and I made my itinerary around this visit. This whole experience was like a dream come true and one I will never forget.