Be still and the earth will speak to you. ~Native American Navajo Proverb~
What do the movies The Searchers (1956), Easy Rider (1968), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Back to the Future Part II (1990) and Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) have in common? They all had a portion of their locations filmed in Monument Valley. Also, let’s not forget Forrest Gump who is seen running down the road into the park with the valley panorama behind him. There is now a turnout on both sides of the road for people to stop and take pictures of themselves mimicking that very scene!
And this is just a mere handful of the films shot here. Lest you think it is just a “movie” thing, think again – music videos have been recorded here (Metallica), art inspiration for album covers (Led Zeppelin), TV shows filmed (Dr. Who) and even the roadrunner ran away from Wile Coyote in cartoon portrayals of this iconic western scene!
As a little girl our family watched a lot of westerns so images of this place and similar locales were indelibly imprinted on my mind as sights I hoped to see someday. Imagine my delight when in my trip planning for the Moab area I realized we would be a mere 150 miles away from Monument Valley. Thus, I added another stop and 2 more nights in Utah to accommodate a jaunt to this lovely setting.
Monument Valley sits entirely on Navajo land and is operated as a tribal park. A visitor to the park can drive the 17 miles unpaved out and back road or opt to pay an additional fee for a guided tour which takes you to a few sacred sites not included in the 17 miles. We opted to drive it ourselves rather than pay the extra $60/person charge for the tour. We also had Sadie with us and though the tours do accommodate dogs (if your fellow tourists say it is ok) we felt driving it ourselves was the route to go. A nice thing about the tours, however, is that they are done by Navajo guides and so you get their perspective on the history and the spiritual significance of this area to their people.
The park also has a lovely visitors center that includes a gift shop, Navajo museum, restaurant, and patio with views of the valley below. There is a hotel onsite and a campground 5 minutes from the entrance and even for a Wednesday morning in early October the place was hopping!
The drive begins just off the visitor center parking lot and takes you alongside marvelous red sandstone formations with names like East Mitten, Elephant Butte, and Three Sisters. Eroded over time by wind and rain they rise above the desert floor upwards of 1000 feet. As you weave in and out amongst them you can appreciate how the Navajo consider these spires, mesas, and buttes as being alive. Depending on the sun and the play of shadows, the colors go from reds to purples and blues. It is said the best time to visit is at sunrise or sunset to capture the colors but even at mid-morning the views were striking.
In closing, this lived up to all of our expectations and was well worth the added stop on our itinerary. My only advice is that if you visit the park (and I hope you do) and you are not driving a 4WD vehicle that is good for off-roading then pay for the tour! Our poor little Kia Soul took a beating but fortunately came through unscathed so we are ready for our next adventure down the road as we turn east toward home…