Monument Valley - Almost Utah And Worth Crossing the Border
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
I know what you are thinking, why am I featuring Oljato-Monument Valley in a Utah outdoor blog if it's in Arizona? In my defense, Monument Valley is so close to Utah, you can literally see it from Utah, and chances are, at some point on your way into or out of Monument Valley, you're likely to cross into Utah. Plus it's a great side trip if you are exploring Bluff, Mexican Hat, or the 4 corners region of Utah.
Oljato-Monument Valley is not a national or state park, but is actually part of the Navajo Nation and is designated as a Tribal Park, which is the Navajo Nation's equivalent of a national park. The Park is famous for its large sandstone formations that tower above the red desert landscape. Some of its most well known formations include the Elephant Butte, Totem Pole, Mitten Buttes, and the Three Sisters.
This areas was first made famous by movie directors like John Ford who used Monument Valley to represent the landscape of the American West in film. Monument Valley has also appeared in more recent films including Forrest Gump, National Lampoon's Vacation, Back to the Future III and Mission Impossible II. The large sandstone formations in the park are made up of three different layers of sandstone while the valley's red color comes from iron oxide in the siltstone. Darker blue-gray rocks, that are also found in the valley, get their color from manganese oxide.
The park is about 5 square miles and visitors can take a self-tour of the park on a 17 mile loop dirt road. The main loop has 11 stops or view points from which different formations in the valley can be seen. The drive is definitely worth taking, and I would plan on 2-3 hours to complete the loop. Stop and take advantage of the view points to get some pictures and enjoy the majesty of this valley's incredible rock formations.
In normal conditions the dirt road is passable by most any vehicle, but having a little more clearance with an SUV or cross-over makes for a smoother ride. In inclement weather, this road can get muddy and 4WD can be beneficial. Other areas of the park like Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa are only accessible by guided tour, which can be arranged at the park visitor center or at Gouldings Lodge.
There are two hiking trails in the park. I've hiked the Wildcat Trail that starts just south of the visitor center and loops around West Mitten Butte. Total length of the trail is about 3.2 miles and it gives you an up close view of the Mitten Buttes making for some great pictures.
There are two hotels located in the park, the View Hotel and Gouldings Lodge which also has a restaurant. Other accommodations can be found in the town of Kayenta, 23 miles south or in Bluff, Utah 50 miles to the north. You can also camp in the park. The campsites are rather spartan, but the views you wake up to are incredible.
I recommend visiting Monument Valley in the spring or fall, as summer temperatures can get well over 100 degrees and there is very little shade in the valley, especially if you are camping or hiking. Due to the pandemic the park is currently closed, but for updated information around reopening, pricing, camping, accommodations etc. you can find everything you need to know at the official Navajo Nation website at discovernavajo.com.
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