Monument Valley, UT/AZ – The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park spans the Utah/Arizona Border near Four Corners and is located off of Utah Highway 163. The park features an unpaved 17 mile loop drive which travels through scenic Monument Valley. The red rock formations range from 100 to 1,000 feet tall. The Navajo call the region the “Tse-Bii-Ndzisgaii”, meaning the valley within the rock. Buses and RV’s are not allowed on the drive, but they do offer tours in open air vehicles. We drove the loop ourselves and identified rock formations from the brochure map.
Monument Valley has been featured in many forms of media since the 1930s. Director John Ford used the location for a number of his best-known films and thus, in the words of critic Keith Phipps, “its five square miles have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West.” The area has been the backdrop for many movies including “Stagecoach” (1939) and “The Searchers” (1956). It has also been featured in the film “Easy Rider” (1969), Robert Zemeckis’ film “Forrest Gump”, Clint Eastwood’s film “The Eiger Sanction” (1975), and recently the popular television show “Doctor Who” in the two episodes “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”.
The area is part of the Colorado Plateau. The elevation of the valley floor ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. The floor is largely siltstone of the Cutler Group, or sand derived from it, deposited by the meandering rivers that carved the valley. The valley’s vivid red color comes from iron oxide exposed in the weathered siltstone. The darker, blue-gray rocks in the valley get their color from manganese oxide. The buttes are clearly stratified, with three principal layers. The lowest layer is the Organ Rock Shale which looks like loose pebbles, the middle is de Chelly Sandstone, and the top layer is the Moenkopi Formation capped by Shinarump Conglomerate.
We opted to hike the one trail that does not require a guide, the Wildcat Trail. Wildcat Trail is a 4.0 mile (from the information center) moderate lollipop hike which leaves from the beginning of the Monument Valley’s Loop Road. This hike is included in the book we used to select hikes in the region, “A Falcon Guide: Hiking the Four Corners” by JD Tanner and Emily Ressler-Tanner. The trail drops quickly down into a wash and rambles in and out of washes and across desert terrain while circumnavigating the West Mitten. The trail provides spectacular close-up views of the Merrick Butte, Sentinel Mesa, and Mitchell Mesa. This trail is in full sun for its entire length, so don’t forget sun protection and plenty of water to drink. During the hotter months, you should plan to hike this trail early morning or late in the day.
The park also offers a lodge, cabins, primitive camping area, restaurant, and gift shop selling authentic Navajo pottery, jewelry, etc, as well as T-shirts, and other souvenirs. The information center displayed Navajo art and had a good display on the Navajo Code Talkers used in World War II. There is a Hogan village, which showcases several styles of homes that were used in the region.
We stayed at Goulding’s RV Park which is located across UT-163 about 4 miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park entrance. Goulding’s offers a lodge, restaurant, gift shop, gas station, and grocery store. While in the region we also visited: Canyon De Chelly National Monument, the Navajo National Monument, Goosenecks State Park, the Natural Bridges National Monument, toured areas of Bears Ears National Monument and the Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch BLM Lands including the Valley of the Gods. The region is rich in scenic beauty and has many ruins from the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly known as Anasazi).