Ahhh, Monument Valley (MV). An immense land of beautiful, mesmerizing, untouched desert. A mecca for Southwest lovers and road-tripping aficionados. A magical place locked in time. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has earned every bit of its fame and reputation. For seven years I dreamed of visiting this world-renowned geographical wonder and I finally got the chance this year. It’s located at the very top of Arizona, a skip away from the borders of Utah and New Mexico, hidden from any major city. It’s protected by the Navajo, who have thankfully prevented the virus of commercial building from penetrating this ancient land, effectively preserving its beauty and mystical qualities (Sedona, eat your heart out).
Open seven days a week from 8am to 5pm, it’s best to arrive as early as possible, as they limit the traffic to curb overcrowding and traffic jams. This will also help to combat the heat, as MV sits in the high desert on the Colorado Plateau. We visited in mid-July, arriving around 8:45am along with a noticeable amount of other people (not terrible, but we clearly were not the only ones to show up early). Given how many people/cars were there at 9am, I would hate to see it around 11-3pm. Plan wisely.
To get the classic “Monument Valley shot”, you must come in from the north, through Utah, along Highway 163. Once you pass through Mexican Hat, Utah, you will quickly begin to approach that classic shot. Be prepared to stop, not only for your own picture, but for the groups of people who will (very) likely be standing directly in the middle of the highway. Almost every photo of MV from this angle is taken in the middle of the highway. It’s basically a universally accepted concept when you come here and honestly, should be expected. Thankfully, you can clearly see when a car is approaching, and they can see you.
The actual entrance is about another 13 miles/25 minutes onward and located immediately after you cross the Arizona state line (you cross it while on the entrance road). It costs $8 per person to enter (not per car) and the ticket is good for only one day. After paying, you come upon the large Welcome Center perched atop a hill, where you will find bathrooms, a gift shop, and The View Restaurant. It also doubles as a hotel called the View Hotel and Cabins. The entrance to the road through MV is a bit hidden and could use some better signs. My brother and I had to ask some guides to direct us, and we could tell that we weren’t the first and wouldn’t be the last. It’s placed back behind the parking lot to the Welcome Center/hotel, and only once you are right upon the entrance do you see a small sign saying, “Valley Drive”.
Valley Drive is doable in a sedan-style car, but it’s not something I’d recommend. I have a Jeep Liberty and it was very bumpy for us. We did see people in sedans, even a Camaro, but I think that was crazy. Approximately 95% of the drive is dirt, with many parts rocky dirt. The other 5% is made up of one small section of gravel and another, even smaller, section of pavement. Some parts of the dirt road are worse than others, with the worst near the entrance. I strongly recommend using a truck, jeep, SUV, or even a halfsie. Basically, use anything other than a small car.
The road through MV is in-and-out, with a specific end spot. I was under the impression that the road went through, but it does not. There is one main road, with a handful of side roads, some accessible to the public and others being “tour only”. While the downside of not taking a tour is not being allowed access to some roads, we passed several tours, which were all nothing more than an open-top jeep packed with people being roughly jostled around on the rough dirt road with the sun blaring down on them. It didn’t look pleasant, but to each his/her own!
It took us roughly 2 hours to tour MV and that was mainly due to stopping and exiting our vehicle several times to appreciate the beauty and take pictures. There are a multitude of turnoffs throughout the drive, some offering overlook points to the valley, and others next to the named rock formations. Some of these formations include Elephant Butte, the Three Sisters, the Mitten Buttes, Organ Rock, and Camel Butte. Something I wasn’t expecting – the numerous booths of Native American crafts set up along the various stops. I understand seizing the opportunity; however… truthfully, it did somewhat dim the beauty of the valley.
Overall, Monument Valley is one of the few spots that truly lives up to its reputation. It was so magnificent and captivating, it was easy to see why it makes the list of any Southwest “must-see” list. It’s a place where one can really appreciate nature and just how beautiful our world is. While it pains me to say, some places become overhyped, which causes hordes of people to severely damper the beauty and experience (like Zion NP…), but luckily, MV was not that. I’ll never know if we simply got lucky or if going as early as we did played a part, but it was a super enjoyable and pleasant travel experience. Lastly, like many places throughout the Southwest, MV easily fits into many road-trip itineraries, making it the perfect destination!