Deborah Wall: Guided tour the best way to see stunning Monument Valley

Updated April 18, 2017 - 3:59 pm

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, on the Utah-Arizona border, boasts some of the most striking buttes, mesas, arches and panoramic views in the world. You have no doubt seen images of these formations, for they have been prominently featured in hundreds of advertisements and films, but seeing the place firsthand is awe-inspiring. It’s one of those places that everyone should see at least once.

The 91,696-acre park was established in 1958 and is within the 16 million-acre Navajo Reservation. The Dine’, as the Navajo call themselves, have occupied this land for more than 400 years. Ancestral Puebloans preceded them.

If you have time, the best way to see the park is by guided tour, as you will see places that are off-limits to visitors traveling on their own. For instance, on some full-day guided tours you will have the bonus of accessing Mystery Valley, adjacent to the park but rarely seen by non-Navajo people.

But if you are short of time and have a vehicle with high clearance and good off-road tires (and a spare), you can undertake the 17-mile, gravel, self-guided tour route. With map in hand — the map is available at the entrance — you can explore and photograph the park’s most famous sites including the East and West Mitten Buttes, the Totem Pole and many of the best arches in Arizona.

The Totem Pole is one the park’s most iconic formations. It is a thin spire that rises about 500 feet above the valley. It was used in many television commercials including some for IBM and Jeep, and was featured in the film “The Eiger Sanction” starring Clint Eastwood. Other familiar movies that used Monument Valley in some scenes include “How the West Was Won,” “Back to the Future III,” “Thelma and Louise” and “Forrest Gump.”

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is open year-round. With an elevation at the visitor center of about 5,200 feet, the area experiences lower temperatures than Las Vegas. Average daily high s in May are in the 70s, in June the 80s.

Deborah Wall is the author of “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide” and “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States,” published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at deborabus@aol.com.

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