Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West

The mesas, thin buttes, and the tall spires rising above the valley, and the contrasting orange sand, makes Monument Valley the most impressive landscape in the southwest

One of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the American Wild West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has isolated sandstone mesas, buttes, and a sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts crimson mesas, surreal sandstone towers which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet. Made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, the towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is one of those sights that takes your breath away and makes you speechless—what the Western writer Zane Grey once described as “a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptored, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.”

Known as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (or Valley of the Rocks) to the Navajo, they believe it is a gift from their creator and each unique formation has a story.

Entering Monument Valley is to enter a world of mystery, incredible beauty, and age-old tradition.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post.

Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

After arriving Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in mid-afternoon and obtaining information about available options for exploring this wonderland of rocks, we departed the Visitor Center at Lookout Point and started the Valley Drive, a 17-mile self-guided dirt road. The road winds past the valley’s best red rock buttes and spires, with 11 stops for photos.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is considered one of the world’s premier spots for landscape photography. The best stops for photographing the towers are the Mittens and Merrick Butte, Elephant Butte, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Camel Butte, The Hub, the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Sand Springs, Artist’s Point, North Window, and The Thumb. The best times for photography are early mornings and late afternoons when the shadows lengthen and the sun brings out the reds and oranges in the buttes.

Allow at least two to three hours at the posted 10 mph. Expect to eat the valley’ orange dust, because other vehicles will kick up thick clouds of it during the dry weather that you’ll find in this high desert most of the year.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a swirl of red dust we dropped down into the valley rim in our four-wheel-drive dinghy with guide map in hand.

The road is dusty, steep in a couple of places and rather uneven, but does not need a four-wheel-drive—the journey is suitable for the majority of family cars, and small to medium sized RVs, though the surface is perhaps not improved too much in order to increase business for the many Navajo guides and 4WD Jeep rental outfits, which wait expectantly by the visitor center. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though rough in many spots and probably impassable in wet weather, the road was easily travel on this day.

We wound our way past the Mittens, Elephant Butte, the Three Sisters, and to John Ford’s Point—named for the famous director who made movies in Monument Valley, many of them starring John Wayne.

The weather was perfect—sunny and warm—as we continued on past Camel Butte, the Hub, and to the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei. The changing light and shifting shadows created an never-ending stream of views. Continuing on around Raingod Mesa and Artist Point, we timed our drive to return to the

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After photographing the amazing sunset we drove our toad east to our camping site at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, Utah, a round day trip of 119 miles.

Worth Pondering…

So this is where God put the West.

—John Wayne