Monument Valley was not on our list of “must see” places on our Tour de Lance West 2015. In fact, it wasn’t even on our radar … so much to do and so little time. But because we like to drive somewhere between 200 – 250 miles a day … Monument Valley was 238 miles from Chaco and 200 from Kanab … so destiny intervened.
The sign in Kayenta, Arizona proclaims Monument Valley as “the 8th Wonder of the World”. John Wayne said that “Monument Valley is the place where God put the West” and loved making movies in the area. Who knew?
Apparently the scenery is familiar because many classic western movies were filmed here featuring some of the most picturesque, interesting, fantastic scenery in the USA. But seeing it in person, we were unexpectedly awed by the immensity of this silent land with its huge monolithic formations rising from the desert floor.
And as it happened, we found one of our favorite campgrounds, learned more about Navaho traditions than we ever thought possible – and directly from a Navaho statesman – and also saw some of the most amazing scenery of our trip. John Wayne wasn’t all wrong, and neither was the sign that we both chuckled about when driving through Kayenta.
The campground is Gouldings Campground. If you go to Monument Valley do not miss it. Not because it’s the best ever, but because it’s so convenient, a nice indoor pool AND a really cool short trail to a pretty arch (one of our first) above the campground. After looking at TripAdvisor reviews, we opted not to take one of the Gouldings tours – although they seemed pretty OK and depart right from the office if you don’t have other transportation.
Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park, not technically a National Park since it’s on the Navajo reservation. Here’s a link to the Visitor Center. We opted not to enter the park our first night because we had so little time and didn’t want to pay the $20 entry fee (for the vehicle, or $10 per person). But as we found out, there was no one manning the entry booth after late afternoon, so we could have just driven in and enjoyed the sunset, returning the next day to pay our fees.
The Valley Drive (17 miles of dirt road, including a 13 mile one way loop) was easy enough in our Toyota 4 Runner, and seemed like most of the passenger sedans had no trouble (other than dust). That drive included lots of spectacular formations, and we thought we’d seen it all, but opted for the sunset Navajo tour anyway. Supposedly we’d see more.
We opted for Navaho Spirit Tours (Trip Advisor reviews here) and were more than pleased. Not knowing what to expect, we arrived and climbed in an open back truck. Because they had overflow people that evening, we ended up with Don in a different truck than we had been told earlier. Turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us! If you can get Don as your guide, you will be very very lucky!
Here’s what I wrote in my Trip Advisor review afterwards:
Our sunset tour with Don as our guide not only provided beautiful scenery and a somewhat wild trail ride beyond what we drove through earlier on the general public loop, but a glimpse into Navajo history, culture and traditions. I will never again look at a petroglyphs as individual rock art. Now I know there’s a message there, if only we could “read” it! Thanks Don and Navajo Spirit Tours for more than we expected… Even if the sun hid behind the clouds for sunset.