Located in the northeast corner of Arizona (literally on the line with Utah), Monument Valley is an incredible natural wonder, that is familiar to many as one of the visual icons of the American West. Consisting of a number of vast sandstone monoliths that rise up from the earth in dramatic fashion, this landscape is one of the most photographed landscapes in the USA, so much so that many Hollywood movies have been filmed here – from John Wayne classics like The Searchers and Stagecoach, to Back To The Future Part III, to the iconic moment in Forrest Gump where he suddenly ends his ultra-marathon run.
A fun fact is that each of the gigantic sandstone monoliths (towering at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet) has a different shape and a different name – Three Sisters, Sentinel Mesa, Merrick Butte, Big Indian, Totem Pole, Left and Right Mitten – making each one easily recognizable. Surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand, this is a landscape that is both overwhelming and breathtaking.
Much of the area is protected as Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – which is part of the overall Navajo Nation covering an area of over 27,000 square miles – and Native American guides are available to explain more about the unique culture, history, geology and archaeology of this fascinating area. In fact some of the landmarks are only accessible by guided tours, including some on horseback, which is about as authentically southwestern U.S. as it gets.
Visiting this area should include time to explore the vast area of Navajo Nation, which is essentially private lands, meaning that all non-Navajo travelers and visitors must abide by and comply with the laws, regulations, and policies put in placy by the Navajo Nation Government. Travelers are welcome and those that do visit are rewarded with the chance to explore the history, way of life, cuisine and art of Native Americans who have lived in this area from at least the year 1300 – although art and building structures remain from people who settled in the region more than a thousand years BCE. Today, more than 300,000 of their descendants inhabit the vast area of Navajo Nation, providing a window into a civilization that pre-dates – and at the same time, is such a part of – what is now the United States.
Monument Valley and Navajo Nation should be part of any visit to the American Southwest, and while you can certainly drive there yourself, having them included as part of a guided group tour will provide you with stress-free planning and additional experiences that you wouldn’t get on your own. No matter how you visit, just make sure to plan for lots of photos of a truly memorable destination in every way.