Navajo Nation, Utah & Arizona
Monument Valley had been on my list to visit and photograph for a long time. I had driven by on US 163 a few times, always mid-day on my way home from other adventures, but I finally set aside specific time to stop and get into the park for some golden hours during a four day road trip.
First off, I will say that Monument Valley is beautiful. Located along the Utah-Arizona border in the Navajo Nation, it is the embodiment of the “wild west” and one of the most enduring and definitive images of the American western landscape. The tight cluster of towering sandstone buttes, the tallest rising 1,000 ft above that valley floor, is located in the Navajo Tribal Park, which is the Navajo Nation equivalent to a national park consisting of a lodge, campground, and a 14-mile dirt road loop that gets visitors closer to the major monuments.
Which is why secondly, I actually hated it and think it’s totally overrated. Yep…
Being in the Navajo Tribal Park, the valley is strictly controlled by the Navajo Nation who is completely capitalizing on the popularity of the landscape. For that, good on them. But by doing this, they’ve turned it into more of a Disneyworld-like attraction than a natural park. And yes, all parks have those crowded and popular spaces (e.g. Old Faithful), but there’s also opportunity to escape those places and experience more of the natural environment. With Monument Valley, I didn’t find that opportunity – you need a guide to hike, the campground sucked, the scenic drive is only open during certain hours and there are too many Hyundai Elantra rental cars attempting the rough road creating legit traffic, there were Navajo arts and crafts shacks dotting the landscape, and I watched tour bus after tour bus pull up to the main overlook, offloading selfie-stick bearing visitors for their four minute photo session before loading back up.
Again, it was pretty, but… meh. There’s prettier and wilder places in the southwest.
‘Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii’ – Navajo for ‘Valley of the rocks.’
*Completely random person who paid to pose on a horse for his family…
*I’m sure it doesn’t help that I went to Monument Valley a few days after spending four days here.*