Monument Valley is perhaps the most iconic landscape of the American South West. From the classic westerns of John Ford to modern advertising this place symbolises the grandeur of the South West for many people across the world.
Strictly speaking the valley and its rock formations are situated just across the border in Utah, but the gateway town of Kayenta is in Arizona so I feel it is right to include it on this site. In any case any visit to this area would not be complete without spending some time here.
The valley itself consists of sandstone monoliths that have eroded over eons of time into inspiring formations, many of which have been given descriptive names such as the mittens or three sisters. Situated about 25 miles north of Kayenta the valley is accessed via a signposted road that leads to a visitor centre. The valley is administered by The Navajo Nation and you will have to pay an entry fee at a pay station. National Parks passes are not valid here.
It is possible to view the valley from the overlook at the edge of the car park but it is best experienced by driving around the loop road on valley floor.
You can do this yourself most of the time as the road whilst sandy can be negotiated with caution by regular vehicles, although my prior experience tells me that the trip will be far more relaxing if you have a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle. The loop drive passes a number of sign posted overlooks including the famous John Ford point which will prove familiar to movie fans. At many of the overlooks you will have the opportunity to buy Navajo crafts, including jewelry. I’d allow up to two hours for a leisurely trip around the valley.
If you don’t feel comfortable driving your own vehicle, tours can be arranged at the visitor centre. These leave regularly, on demand. The route taken is for the most part the same as the public road but also includes a restricted section where you will have the opportunity to view rock art.
If you continue driving North on US 163 you will reach a point where it is possible to take an iconic photograph of the highway leading to the valley on the horizon.
A very similar landscape on a smaller scale can be found at the Valley of the Gods, around 1 hour north on US 163 sign posted on the left just past the small town of Mexican Hat. A 17 mile dirt road leads through the valley exiting on US 261. Needless to say exercise caution and make sure you have plenty of fuel both for yourself and your vehicle.
Monument Valley and Kayenta are a long way from anywhere so it makes sense to stay in the area unless you are passing through on your way North to Utah. In recent years options have expanded significantly since the days when the Holiday Inn was the only real option. Any of the major booking services will list the available options in Kayenta. One of the other options to consider is The View Hotel which is situated adjacent to the Monument Valley visitor centre. Details can be found here
If you do decide to stay locally a visit to the valley at the start or end of the day can provide good lighting for photography.
The town of Kayenta itself has grown in recent years and now provides the usual fast food and pizza outlets. Just be aware that things tend to close early here so be cautious about eating after 9pm or so. If travelling from outside the Navajo reservation do not forget that the time is one hour ahead of the rest of Arizona, so plan accordingly.