‘So this is where God put the West.’-John Wayne
To say that I loved Monument Valley would be an understatement. While I only spent one day at Monument Valley proper, I visited a total of three times! I was really excited about visiting for many reasons. Forrest Gump is my favorite film and the landscape is what you think of when you think the American West. It’s iconic! While this is a paraphrase, a historian in Ken Burns’ docuseries, The West, said that ‘when Americans tell stories about themselves, they set them in the West…they’re someplace over the horizon. Where something wonderful is about to happen.’ The place over the horizon is envisioned as Monument Valley, a place that defies boundaries literally and figuratively… it crosses the border of Arizona and Utah. So I spent the morning in four places at once and the afternoon in two!
As I made three trips, took hundreds of photographs, I will actually have two posts on my time in this magical place. The second will be sunset on Forrest Gump Hill and my love of the film. But for this, I’m going to share my official stay, night views, and sunrise over the park.
I did a lot of planning for my visit. I had tried to go last summer while in doing the ‘Mighty Five’ but it was closed due to the ongoing pandemic. So this trip, I was excited to make it happen. As you can imagine, Monument Valley is very popular and during peak season, is a long line of cars. I booked my reservation when I planned my trip. It is $20/person in each vehicle. Pre-reserving did not seem to save me much time as I had to wait in line to get my official permit but it did not hurt and they may have more lanes open during the summer, so it most likely will save a lot of time then. The park is on Navajo land, in fact, Navajo live there. Masks were required and enforced.
Technically, you do not need to pay to see Monument Valley. The road runs along side the park and you can get some great views. However, if you want to get up close and personal, you need to pay the fee. I believe this is due to Covid and to limit crowds but you have two hours to travel in the park. You walk in, get your permit (this is separate from the $20 fee confirmation slip but included in that price). You then drive, hand your permit to a park ranger who marks your time and then off you go. I have a Honda CRV AWD and thank god, because the entire road is dirt and rocks. You go down into the valley and then back out again. I saw sudans but would not recommend, I just think you need to be higher off the ground. I also wouldn’t bring a luxury car just due to rocks that could ding your car (this is not to say you wouldn’t care in any car but I would be even more cautious with a high end luxury vehicle). The trip confirmed that although I would love an Audi Q3 as my next car, I should go with my second choice a Toyota 4Runner (it would be great to car camp in as I LOVE road trips and motels/hotels add up, so if Toyota happens to see this and wants to sponsor my adventures…I would love one in white). To each their own but this is my two cents. As far as gas concerns, in the town of Goulding, across the street from the park entrance, there is a gas station so you can fill up if you need too.
There are turnouts for view points and parking areas for you to walk around. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that this is someone’s home…literally. I stopped at John Ford Point and people live there. I bought some delicious fry bread from the woman who does. There are roads that are marked private property and you cannot enter. You are not supposed to walk off the designated areas. There are no hikes unless you get a special permit. Everything is has relatively clear signage, so be respectful. The route is a loop, so you won’t get lost! Before I left Kayenta, Arizona, I picked up some Subway and ate overlooking the valley. One of the best meals of my life!
For accommodations, I stayed at the Goulding Lodge. It was a bit more expensive but other nearest motels were 30-45 minutes away and as my dad has always said, your time also has value. I am also guessing that it being December significantly dropped the price. I surmise it would be north of $250 a night during peak times (nearly double what I paid). When I booked via Expedia, I selected a room with a Valley view. My expectations were limited as lot of times people advertise a ‘view’ and it requires straining to see it. Well, that was not the case here! The view was stunning! It was very cloudy so the sunset was uneventful but cleared up to show off a full moon that night! The park was brightly illuminated. While the park looked cool from my balcony, I put on my Uggs and parka (may or may not have been in my pajamas as it was about 10 pm) and headed across the road. The moon was so bright and huge in the sky. It is a bit nervy being in the middle of the desert, at night, and standing on the side of the road in your pajamas but incredible nonetheless. At least during winter, I did not have to worry as much about creepy crawlies. A couple night images are best viewed by clicking on the photograph and increasing brightness. The clearest are actually from my phone…go figure!
I wish I could have spent more time there, it would have been great to watch the sunrise…you may think to yourself, you stayed there, you should have been able to see it. Well, when I booked my Lower Antelope Canyon Tour, I did it for the wrong date, thus I had to leave about 5 am to get to Page, Arizona in time. I got to experience a stunning sunrise over the desert, it just wasn’t of Monument Valley. But…
Staying in Page, I was only about an hour and a half from Monument Valley, so I got up very early one day and decided to go back to Monument Valley to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was quite overcast so no pretty desert colors but provided very moody skies and I was the only one around!
A note about safety…don’t be an idiot and stand in the middle of the road when cars are coming. The road along the park, the speed limit is 70. The road headed from Kayenta is not the portion made famous in Forrest Gump. I was almost in an accident due to some teenagers standing in the middle of the road. The car in front of me nearly hit them. The area made famous by the movie is another twenty miles or so ahead and the speed limit is 30 with signs about pedestrians. In general, don’t stand in the road if cars are coming, particularly if those cars are going 85.
Monument Valley was spectacular. That wind and earthquakes did all this boggles my mind. To be so close to these giants, you feel very free. Nature is incredible and I am so glad I was able to experience a bit of her magic.