If there was a main destination on our epic 2000+ mile road trip through the American Southwest it was Monument Valley, which is located on the border of Utah and Arizona. Believe it or not my inspiration for this mega adventure came while riding Soarin’ Over The World an attraction inside Disneyland’s California Adventure Park. And why not? Inspiration can come from anywhere: magazines, guide books, blogs, television shows, food, instagram feeds, and yes, even theme park rides.
Soaring over Monument Valley
As I was saying, after “soaring” over Monument Valley on a theme park ride, I just knew I had to see this amazing natural wonder in person. Not only that, this was a part of the United States no one in my family had visited, so it would be something new for all of us.
Along the Way
The drive to Monument Valley from Arches takes around 2.5 hours, and other than a few photo stops along the way, we drove straight through.
It was a happy accident when we decided to stop for a photo in the very place Forrest Gump stopped his cross-country run!
Monument Valley is famous for it’s majestic sandstone buttes, the tallest of which rises over 1000 feet from the valley floor. It’s no wonder that this place has been repeatedly featured in film and media since the 1930s.
Visitors can choose to drive the Park’s 17 mile dirt road in their own vehicle, however the roads are more suited to off road vehicles and much of the Valley is only accessible via guided tour. Along the way you may run into local Navajo people selling handmade goods.
The View Lodge & Visitor Center
Upon entering the Park you’ll find yourself at The View lodge and Visitor Center. Inside you’ll find park information, a museum, restaurant, gift shop, and of course amazing views of the Valley in every direction! Even the elevator has a view. Really! If you plan on taking a guided tour the View Lobby is where you’ll meet your guide.
Tours of Monument Valley
Realizing that navigating a winding bumpy dirt road for 2 – 3 hours wasn’t the best way for me to see the Valley or to keep my sanity I booked our group on a guided tour. We chose the Dineh Bekeyah tour company, which was a great experience.
Our guide, Steven was kind, friendly, and informative. During our four hours together we learned about the Navajo people, their customs, and their relationship to the Valley. We drove into the backcountry, where we were able to venture onto some of the rock formations and climb mountains of sand. We saw pictographs, “dragons”, and wild horses!
There is really no way to explain the sheer size of the monuments, and how I felt being among them. A little little like Land of the Lost, maybe?
If you’re a photographer than Monument Valley is the place for you, in fact there is even a place called Photographer’s Point. IF the weather is in your favor, sunrise and sunset are popular times to take photos, as well as after dark when the dark skies allow the stars to come out in full force.
Unfortunately my plans for an astrophotography tour were foiled when an extreme storm complete with rain, wind, thunder and lightening blew through the area. That’s not to say I didn’t get a few snaps, just not night sky.
I rose before the sun to catch the sunrise. I’m pretty sure a bat flew into my face while I attempted to take some photos in the predawn light. Eeek!
Our accomodations during our visit to Monument Valley were at Gouldings Lodge, which is located just a few minutes drive from the Park entrance. Our little cabin of sorts, which had a great view of the Monuments and conveniently a kitchenette was perfect for our party of five.
The Gouldings story is quite fascinating. Originally sheep farmers, their farm was struggling during the depression of the 1930s. Through a series of events and luck they brought Hollywood, to the Valley (and with the filming of the famous western movie Stagecoach starring John Wayne) the Valley to the world.. The rest, as they say, is history…
Onsite at Gouldings you’ll find the Stagecoach Restaurant, a grocery store, swimming pool, museum, gift shop, and more.
Tips & Advice:
- Monument Valley isn’t a state or national park, but rather a Navajo Tribal Park.
- There is a fee to enter the tribal park.
- Navajo people live and work within the park’s boundaries.
- The backcountry is only accessible via guided tour.
- Hiking opportunities wihtin Monument Valley are limited, and during extreme temperatures the trails may be closed.
- The View Lodge is the only lodging inside the park and it books far in advance.
- We booked our guided tour in advance, but same day tours are possible.
Inspiration is Everywhere
Disneyland inspired Monument Valley, but it’s not the only place I’ve ever visited due to a little help from an unusual source. Our visit to Northern Ireland was born out of a desire to see the Giant’s Causeway, but it was my love of Game of Thrones that led me to the Dark Hedges.
Scotland had been on my list since I read Harlequin Romance novels as a teen (I admit it was guilty pleasure), but it was the novel Outlander that inspired my visit to Culloden Battlefield in the Highlands.
I don’t know about you, but I’d fly to Italy just for the coffee and Spain for a plate of chorizo and manchego… Does it really matter where the inspiration comes from?
What type of vacation do you dream of? Have you ever chosen a destination based on an unusual reason? Are you inspired by pop culture, social media, or low airfares? Maybe you just spin the globe and come what may?
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