Perennially used as a movie set, especially for classic ‘John Wayne’ westerns, Monument Valley provides visitors a quintessential slice of ‘Americana’. Straddling the Utah-Arizona border in the USA’s South-West it sits within the Navajo Indian Reservation, with the nearest town of Goulding a 19 mile drive to the West.
Currently closed due to the Corona-virus pandemic this should be high on your list of places to visit when things begin to re-open. If you like spectacular rock formations, photogenic landscapes and the feeling of being in a Western this is the place for you. It fits well into a 2-week fly drive starting and ending in Las Vegas. Within this you can also incorporate Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches and Grand Canyon National Parks as well as Antelope Canyon and a few other interesting stops such as Mexican Hat and Capitol Reef NP.
We visited in May, which is a perfect time to see all these National Parks. There are loads of outdoor pursuits and other than the higher altitude at Bryce NP the daytime temperature never got lower than 20 degrees celsius. After 3 activity filled days in Moab we drove the 150 miles south to Monument Valley. Despite having another 270 mile drive to Grand Canyon the next day we were happy to stay just the 1 night in the park. The drive in from the North takes you on ‘Forrest Gump Road’ (officially US Highway 163.) Here if you stop at mile marker 13 (there are likely other cars parked up) you can get the classic shot where Tom Hank’s character decided to ‘just stop running’ in the famous film. You can therefore easily tick off one of the classic photo stops before you enter the park itself.
We chose to stay at the only hotel within the Monument Valley Tribal Park, the aptly named View Hotel that also hosts the tourist information, gift shop and start / end of the scenic drive. It is $20 to enter the park, whether you are staying at the hotel or not. From just behind the hotel the trail for the 17-mile Tribal Park Loop starts and ends. This unpaved and bumpy road with a 10-mph speed limit takes you to all the main photo stops such as The Mittens, John Ford’s Point and loads of other photogenic vistas. If you want to explore further into the park you will need to go on an organised tour. You can also take in the Tribal Park Loop on a 4×4 tour which adds a few extra stops you cannot visit in your own car. Other tours visit Lower Monument Valley, Mystery Valley, Hunt’s Mesa or Teardrop Arch. There are also short hiking options within these, but being on a tour everything will have a strict timetable. We arrived late afternoon so did the drive the following morning before driving to the Grand Canyon. If you wanted to explore further into the park on a tour a 2 night stay is better.
At the View Hotel there is a little shop for food supplies and also a restaurant on site serving traditional Navajo food such as Red Chili Posole, Navajo Tacos, Sheep Camp Mutton Stew and John Wayne’s favourite, Arizona Fried Chicken. It was well priced considering the next best option is a 40-mile round trip to Goulding. Breakfast was included in our room rate and had a good selection too. As the park is on Indian Navajo Reservation land ,which is a dry nation, alcohol sales are not allowed. You are however permitted to bring in your own booze (we bought ours Moab State Liquor Store) which you can drink in your room / balcony or outside the hotel watching the sun go down. The big USP of this hotel are of course the views. The majority of rooms face east therefore you get to see the most amazing sunrise from your room balcony (see below). We had to wake up at 5am but didn’t need to get dressed or leave our room so it was no bother and well worth it.
Monument Valley is well worth a 1 or 2 night stop on a longer fly-drive or organised coach tour. It is too far from any major airport to just ‘nip’ and see so plan on a longer trip to incorporating the classic national parks in Utah and Nevada. Happy travelling (eventually!)