Monument Valley is a spellbinding landscape, instantly recognizable from hundreds of movies, advertisements and calendar scenes.
Vividly colorful high desert is dominated by eroded rock formations and buttes rising 400 to 1,000 feet above the sandy valley floor. Part of the vast Colorado Plateau, Monument Valley spills over into southeastern Utah along the Arizona border on the sprawling Navajo Indian Reservation west of the Four Corners.
Monument Valley is a long day’s drive from Las Vegas, nearly 425 miles away. Follow U.S. Highway 93 to Kingman, Ariz., then head east toward Flagstaff on Interstate 40. Many visitors choose to make the trek over two days, staying overnight in Flagstaff to avoid driving at night on two-lane roads across sections of open range. Nine miles from downtown Flagstaff, exit the freeway onto U.S. Highway 89. Drive north onto the Navajo Reservation. After 62 miles, turn on U.S. Highway 160. Continue 82 miles to Kayenta. Turn north on U.S. Highway 163 and drive about 20 miles to the turnoff into the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the Navajo equivalent of a national park.
Visitors pay a $5-per-person park entrance fee. Children 9 and younger enter free of charge. Federal recreation passes do not apply. Non-Navajo visitors must be accompanied by Navajo guides for most activities in the park, except for the 17-mile scenic drive on a dirt road and one marked, self-guided trail. Guided tours are the best way to see the valley and the only way to see nearby areas with ancient ruins. At present, only primitive camping is allowed in the tribal park. A campground, now under construction, should be open by this winter.
Park facilities are centered at the entrance to Monument Valley on a bluff overlooking several distinctive formations. A visitor center houses exhibits, a gift shop, a restaurant and offices. Visitors can obtain hiking and camping permits at the center and arrange guided tours. Call 435-727-5874. The visitor center is open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Hours during the peak season, from May through September, are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. From October through April, the center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Adjacent to the visitor center, the View Hotel offers the only accommodations inside the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The three-story, 90-room hotel blends with the rock of the bluff, offering a balcony overlooking the valley with each guest room. Navajo owned and managed, the View showcases the work of Navajo artists and craftsmen. For information and reservations, visit monumentvalleyview.com online or call 435-727-5555.
Just six miles from the tribal park, historic Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post is another lodging option for visitors to Monument Valley. It offers a variety of accommodations, including motel rooms, suites and houses. It also has a campground with cabins and sites for tents and RVs. Goulding’s runs guided park tours and includes a grocery store, heated swimming pool, gift shop, restaurant and museum. Make reservations online at gouldings.com or by calling 435-727-3231.
Goulding’s began as a trading post in 1923, developed by Harry Goulding and his wife, “Mike.” The original stone trading post with living quarters is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The remote outpost was important to the Navajos living in Monument Valley.
Hoping to boost the local economy, Goulding went to Hollywood in the 1930s to promote the area as a film location, taking with him photographs taken by his friend, famed artist and photographer Joseph Muench. Goulding succeeded in attracting many filmmakers, including John Ford, who used the area to shoot several of his Westerns with actor John Wayne.
The trading post opened as a free museum in 1989. Part of it is set up with vintage trade goods. Many Navajo artifacts are also displayed. The Gouldings’ living quarters, comfortable and homey, offer a glimpse into earlier decades. Movie buffs will enjoy exhibits tracing the area’s long movie history. Because of such films, Monument Valley’s iconic landscapes epitomize the American West for many people.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.