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Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah

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Monument Valley has been featured many times in classic western movies, especially those starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford.  Ford loved the beautiful scenery of Monument Valley and perhaps more than anyone helped put it on the tourist map.  The valley floor is not that large — around a half dozen square miles — but it’s been filmed from so many angles you’ve likely come to think of it as being representative of the entire American West.

You’ll have seen Monument Valley in the movie Stagecoach, this photo including the Three Sisters rock formation….

Stagecoach, 1939, with the Three Sisters formation.

Stagecoach, 1939, with the Three Sisters formation.

And in the classic film, The Searchers…..

The Searchers, 1956

The Searchers, 1956

Henry Fonda’s “My Darling Clementine” (a screening of which my father-in-law told me was the first date he and my mother-in-law ever went on)…..

Henry Fonda in "My Darling Clementine"

Henry Fonda in “My Darling Clementine”

and more recently, The Lone Ranger.….

The Lone Ranger

The Lone Ranger

The movie stars and directors stayed at the only accommodation nearby, Gouldings, which is where you still can stay when you visit.  The place is a fairly simple motel and restaurant, but the food is good and it’s rich in film history….

There’s the lodge and an adjoining campground.  But of greatest interest, on the hotel property is a museum of local and movie history.  You can still visit the cabin where “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” was filmed (which was actually Mrs. Goulding’s potato cellar).  And the views of Monument Valley from Gouldings are absolutely amazing!

Monument Valley is part of the Colorado Plateau, the valley floor about 5,000 – 6,000 ft (1500 – 1800 m) above sea level.  The region is characterized by clusters of sandstone buttes — the “monuments” the valley is named for — many large and eroded into memorable shapes.  The largest of these are up to 1000 ft (300 m) above the valley floor.  Their red color comes from iron oxide within the rock.

Monument Valley panorama, courtesy Moritz Zimmerman and Wikimedia

Monument Valley panorama, courtesy Moritz Zimmerman and Wikimedia

Monument Valley is located on the border between the states of Arizona and Utah, close to the Four Corners region.  It is within the Navajo Nation’s tribal reservation and is a Tribal Park.  You pay an admission to enter the park.  You can drive the 17 mile (27 km) dirt road or take a guided tour to more remote regions of the park, like Hunts Mesa and Mystery Valley.

It’s not a place that’s easy to get to because of its remote location.  You need to make a point of visiting it, but from here you have access to the beautiful parks and landscapes of the Four Corners Region, well worth your time to explore.   It’s easy to spend at least a week touring this region.  The weather is very changeable, so be prepared for extremes of temperature and sudden rainstorms that often blow through, as they did when we visited.

We spent just a day at Monument Valley.  When I get back again sometime, I’d like to add another day to it and would definitely take the tour to the remote part of the reservation.  In the correct light, the valley is simply magical.

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