Monument Valley

The Mittens geological structure

Monument Valley is a large region of the Colorado Plateau and a Navajo Tribal Park, the equivalent to a national park.  The isolated red mesas and sandstone buttes are surrounded by empty, but beautifully colored desert.  This region is so often photographed and used in film and media that it has become synonymous with the southeastern United States.  The largest of the sandstone buttes is reaches 1,000 ft (300m) above the valley floor.  Located on the Arizona-Utah border near the Four Corners area, the valley lies in the Navajo Nation Reservation.

Visitors may pay an access fee ($20 in 2014) and drive a 17mile (27km) road through the park.  The 2-3 hour trip takes a winding journey through parts of Monument Valley not seen from the normal highways.  Some parts of the valley like Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa are only allowed to be visited with the company of a tour guide.  While a good portion of the landscape can be appreciated from the main road, a lot more of the landscape is hidden from view.  The Valley Drive passes 11 of the most scenic places and there are numbered stops at each of them.  The views from the smaller road through the park are often better than those observed on any of the limited hiking paths.

The climate of Monument valley is desert and an average of 54 days a year are above 90 °F (32 °C).  While it is desert, it is unlike any other in the world, and temperatures rarely exceed 100 °F (38 °C).  Evening temperatures are generally mild but can get quite cold in the winter.

Monument Valley Facts

  • There are only 3.2 miles of trails in Monument Valley and the Wildcat Trail starts at the visitor center and loops around West Mitten Butte.
  • Monument Valley and the valley’s Navajo Tribal Park covers an area of approximately 91,700 acres (37,110 hectares).
  • The Najavo name for Monument Valley is ‘Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii’ which means ‘valley of the rocks’.
  • The buttes vary in color from red to blue because of the different oxidizing agents in the soil.

Travel Tips

  • Monument Valley is easily accessible by car, via the US Highway 163.
  • Guided tours are available for free so take advantage of them if you have the time.
  • Don’t walk too far from your car without a guide. It is illegal and you could die.  Both good reasons.
  • Be prepared for the weather to change and bring layers as well as rain gear if you intend to hike.
  • The drive through the park is well worth the price. Add a few extra hours to your trip and take in the scenery.