If you ask many Americans to describe Utah you will probably here mentions of skiing, the Mormon Church or even the Great Salt Lake. What many don’t know is that Utah is exactly one third (33%) desert. One of the most famous deserts in Utah is known as Monument Valley. When you enter Monument Valley Tribal Park you have a feeling you are in an old western movie filled with red sandstone buttes and rock formations called monoliths, sprawling desert and a few intermittent roads, some of which are unpaved. The towering monoliths are scattered throughout the park and look almost unreal from a distance. Some of the most notable towering monoliths or buttes are named West and East Mitten, Three Sisters, Totem Pole, Elephant, Camel and Cly Butte, Hei, Bi Chi, Big Chair to name a few. Monument Valley is part of the Colorado Plateau and covers 92,000 acres in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, close to the four corners area. Monument Valley sits within the boundaries of the Navajo Indian Reservation so it’s not truly considered a National Park because most of the park is located within the boundaries of the Navajo Indian Reservation. The valley sits at 5200 feet above sea level and the monuments range in size from 400 feet to 1000 feet tall.
Monument Valley which the Navajo call Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, or “Valley of the Rocks”, is well known for these famous buttes and monoliths but still remains fairly unknown to most people because of it’s remote location. On average if gets about 250,000 visitors a year compared to over 6 million people that visit the Grand Canyon every year. The nearest airport is in Phoenix, 320 miles away and you will have to travel by car another 5-6 hours to reach the park. There are very few roads around the valley and most require a guide from the Navajo Nation to travel on so make sure you book your guided tour. There are several tours of the area that range from a 3 hours to an all day tour with an overnight stay. The park was made famous in the 1930’s by a Hollywood director who filmed a western movie, Stagecoach and subsequently nine other westerns that followed.
Monument Valley has a very rich Native American history dating back to the Pueblo Indians almost 2000 years ago and the Navajo Indians the last 800-1000 years. Currently their are 10 Navajo families that live in the valley. They live a very primitive existence with no running water and no electricity. Because of this, all guests visiting the park are asked to leave before sunset as to not disturb them.
If you plan on staying overnight, the View Hotel that is located within the Navajo Reservation is a great choice. The hotel also has private cabins as well as camping for those that really want to a part of the outdoors. In my opinion, if you are going to stay in the hotel, make sure you get a room on the top floor. Each top floor room has a StarView that give a full view of the night sky.
Here are some helpful links to help plan your visit to Monument Valley: