Updated May 22, 2009Monument Valley Basics
Monument Valley, one of the most spectacular sights in the southwestern United States, is located in northeast Arizona although the entrance is actually in Utah. There is only one main road through Monument Valley, US 163, which links Kayenta, AZ with US 191 in Utah. Map
Park Address: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, P.O. Box 360289, Monument Valley, Utah 84536.
Phone: 435.727.5874/5870 or 435.727.5875
Fees: $5.00 per adult, children are free
There is only one main road through Monument Valley, US 163, which links Kayenta, AZ with US 191 in Utah. Approaching the AZ/UT border from the north gives the most recognizable image of the valley. Monument Valley is about a 6 hour drive from Phoenix and less than 2 hours from Lake Powell.
We drove to Canyon de Chelly the first night, stayed in Thunderbird Lodge and then headed out to Monument Valley the second day. That’s a good way to go for a more comprehensive and restful trip if you are traveling from Phoenix.
Monument Valley and the Navajo Experience
Everyone is familiar with the signature rock formations of Monument Valley but when you spend time there, you will realize that there is so much more to see and experience. Monument Valley is not a State or National Park. It is a Navajo Tribal Park. Navajo families have lived in the valley for generations. Learning about the Navajo people is just as enjoyable as touring the monuments of the valley.
We selected a van tour with Harold Simpson, of Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours. Harold Simpson is a Navajo man, descended from a Monument Valley Family. In fact, his Great-Grandfather is the famous Grey Whiskers, after whom one of the great rock formations in Monument Valley is named. Harold will surprise you. He has flaxen blond hair and light skin. We found out that he is partial Albino. Adding to that, the fact that he has traveled all over the world promoting Monument Valley, makes him a very interesting person.
On all Simpson tours, your Navajo tour guide will share with you his knowledge of the geology of Monument Valley, and the culture, traditions and heritage of his people: the Dineh (Navajo).
What to See and Do
- Stop at the Visitors Center- The Visitor’s Center and plaza overlook the valley. There are restrooms, restaurant and well-stocked gift shop. Go through the various exhibits of the Navajo Nation, Navajo Code Talkers and the area's history.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Visitor Center Hours
Summer (May-Sept) 6:00am - 8:00pm
Spring (Mar - Apr) 7:00am - 7:00pm
Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day – Closed
- Take a Tour - When you approach the parking lot at the Visitors Center you will see all sorts of tour vehicles – jeeps, vans and trucks. You also will see a small wood building where you can sign up for horseback tours. You can (although I wouldn’t recommend it) drive your own car into the valley. Take a tour. You will learn so much for the guide and will have a chance to talk with a Navajo, most likely from the Valley. You will have choices so decide how long you want to stay (there are overnight packages where you stay in a hogan) and what you want to see. Then talk to the tour operators and see what meets your needs. Simpson’s has a website so you can get an idea of what types of tours are offered.
- Soak in the Beauty - If you are a photographer, a great time to go is in July or August during the monsoon season. You will have more clouds in the sky and may even capture a bolt of lightening. Views in the valley are striking during the time of the setting sun or before dawn, as the sun rises behind the buttes, silhouetting them against a dark blue and then pink sky. Sunset from the Visitor’s Center is also a great opportunity to capture Monument Valley at it’s best.
A 17 mile mapped drive will lead you into the middle of the monuments, and you will pass some extremely photogenic spots along the way. I highly recommend taking a tour of the monuments and winding your way through the valley. There are treasures to see at every turn, and some of them are not on the tourist map!
- Visit a Navajo Weaver and Hogan – Since we were on a tour, we were guided to some very interesting places. Imagine our surprise when we were invited to tour hogans and visit two elder women who were demonstrating Navajo rug weaving in the “female” hogan. The opportunity to see a woman, probably over 90 years old seated on a rug on the hogan’s dirt floor weaving a beautiful rug, was a very special memory that we took with us when we left Monument Valley.
- Lunch at Mitchell Mesa- Our tour included lunch in the shadow of looming Mitchell Mesa. We arrived by van and had time to roam the area getting a closer look at the desert vegetation. I snapped a photo of blue-grey juniper berries. The family that cooked for us, had the fire going and brought coolers of fresh food for our picnic. We had Navajo tacos made on fresh fry bread, bar-b-qued steak and soft drinks. The woman made up a fresh batch of soft tortillas and baked them over the open flame. We shared one and it was fantastic. She and the tour guide opted for freshly grilled meat wrapped in one of these warm tacos for their lunch.
After lunch, we were treated to a traditional Navajo dance by one of the local young men who wore a very colorful fringed traditional outfit. He was very good. Our guide drummed and sang as the dancer put on a colorful show.
- Be Prepared for Surprises- John Ford's Point offers an excellent view of the Three Sisters group and, when we were there, a dapper Navajo man in a red shirt astride a well-groomed black horse rode out onto the point. I hear he does this daily, but I haven’t seen mention of him in most of the Monument Valley articles. So let me tell you that seeing him out on the point alone, with the majesty of the valley behind him was a thrill for me. He is used to being photographed and of course I took the opportunity. I read on a sign that for $2.00 you, too, can have your photo on a horse. But I much preferred imagining “Frank” out there in the valley alone on his horse in the days when a tourist visit was a rarity.