Just two days in Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park, Utah and Arizona…
Why we came…
To explore the incredible red sandstone buttes and mesas of Monument Valley
Monument Valley is beautiful!
We stayed at the Goulding’s Monument Valley RV Park on the Utah side. Goulding’s is privately owned and actually is like a small town that includes a lodge, cabins, church, theater, laundromat, store, gas station, a museum, small airstrip, and a John Wayne cabin where part of the movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was filmed.
“Harry Goulding and his wife Leone… came to Monument Valley in the early 1920’s… The Goulding’s were able to purchase a substantial plot of land in Monument Valley and quickly set up a Trading Post… The Goulding’s conducted business with the local Navajo people...
When the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s, the Navajo Reservation suffered immensely. Harry heard of a movie production company scouting for locations to film in the Southwest… By luck and perseverance, Harry met the famous director John Ford... in a few days John Ford and his crew began filming “Stagecoach”, starring John Wayne.
Goulding’s Lodge was home to John Ford and John Wayne during the filming of many classic western films such as Stagecoach and The Searchers. The landscape is what famous director John Ford loved about Monument Valley.”
The campground, with a total of sixty sites, is about a half mile up a walled canyon from the rest of the facilities. It was very tidy with ample sized pull through sites. We ended up with a west side back in site. It was not easy to back into but it was quiet. The roads were paved and the pads consisted of gravel and fine red sand and were fairly level. It included a nice heavy picnic table. Small desert trees and shrubs line many sites. We had full hookups and decent wi-fi. In addition, we had a strong cell phone signal in the vicinity of the campground.
Monument Valley was clearly in the Grand Circle. As we pulled into the campground, we saw that we were in the middle of sixteen Cruise America rental motorhomes that are a common site along the popular route. The motorhomes were driven by a tour group likely from Australia. They stayed up late excitedly sharing stories. The next morning, they were gone before the sun rose and off to their next location.
We were comfortable at Gouldings
Kayenta, Arizona, elevation 5,700 feet and population 5,189, is the main supply center in the region. It’s an easy and scenic 25 mile drive south of Monument Valley. It has a number of restaurants, stores, hotels, a hospital, and other services. According to Wikipedia, Kayenta is “ the only municipal style government on the Navajo Nation. It is regarded as a political sub-division of the Navajo Nation. It is managed by a five member elected town board, which hires the township manager.” Over 90% of the local population consists of Natives.
Stop at the Four Corners Monument…
We were amazed, as we drove from Navajo Dam west across northwestern New Mexico, how quickly the scenery changed. Five days ago, we had been in the San Juan Mountains, dominated by the blue green of spruce and the yellow of aspen. Around the San Juan River below Navajo Dam, was the green of the pinion and juniper and yellow of cottonwood. As we drove west all of that was replaced by the dull green of sagebrush and an occasional juniper and the tan of the desert floor. What stood out was the distant towering red Ship Rock. It was a different world.
We had passed near the Four Corners previously but didn’t stop. We had extra time on this day’s move so we detoured 12 miles to see the Four Corners Monument where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona borders form a cross in the desert. It’s the only place in the United States where you can be in four different states at one time.
The Monument is on the Navajo Indian Reservation. There’s a square of trading post stalls built around the monument with red roofs so you can see it from several miles away. They charge five dollars per person to enter and then encourage you to buy native crafted jewelry, rugs, and other trinkets.
The monument itself looks fairly new and is well laid out with benches and railings to help get the perfect picture. Arleen hopped in a line with about a dozen other tourists. When their turn came, they walked out to the center, carefully placed a limb in each state, and posed for a few pictures. It was fun to do and entertaining to watch.
Half of the visitors were foreigners. We always have fun trying to guess which countries are represented. There was also a dramatic increase in the number of rental RVs. It was obvious that we were back in the Grand Circle. “The Grand Circle is a beautiful, vast region located in the Southwestern United States. Encompassing portions of five states – Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada – the Grand Circle contains America’s largest concentration of national parks and monuments, woven together by extraordinary designated scenic byways.”
Approaching the Four Corners Monument
Entering the Four Corners Monument
The only place in the U.S. that you can be in four states at the same time!
Exploring around the campground…
We set off to walk around Goulding’s RV Park and familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. The place had something special, a short walk to a geological formation: Hidden Arch. We followed the directions and easily found the half mile trail. As we walked along, the arch seemed to materialize out the tall 600 foot red walls.
Amazingly, the campground was full, yet we were the only ones on this trail and had the impressive arch to ourselves. Arleen imagined that the arch should be called “The Elephant” because she could see an elephant head and trunk. Perhaps too much peyote for her?!?
Views from the campground. We were shocked at how much and how fast our surroundings had changed!
Hidden Arch was fun to explore and an easy short walk from our campsite
Learning at the Visitor Center…
The next morning we made our way to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The visitor center is just a quick six mile drive from the campground. We paid twenty dollars to get into the park which allowed us entry into the visitor center, hike on the Wildcat Trail, and a self-tour along the seventeen mile Valley Drive.
The visitor center has a huge paved parking area, and facilities that include a trading post, restaurant, patio view, large lodge, and information center. There are a number of tours provided by Navajo vendors that are otherwise not accessible for the minimum entry fee. These range in price from a basic two and half hour tour for $60 per person (no senior discount) to all day tour for $135. They also have special sunrise and full moon tours. We were reminded of Disney Land as the tours were announced over loud speakers and groups of people were herded from one spot to the next. We kept our eye out for Goofy, but thankfully didn’t see him.
First, we moved through the trading post which had exclusive native jewelry, crafts, and rugs. Next, we spent time on the patio view taking in the sight of the monuments in the incredible valley just below us. There is information on movies filmed in the area including several that starred John Wayne. It was easy to picture a group of cowboys moving up the valley.
They also had an impressive exhibit on the Code Talkers. “Code Talkers is strongly associated with bilingual Navajo speakers specially recruited during World War II by the Marines to serve in their standard communications units in the Pacific Theater”. Part of the display had pictures of the young Navajo recruits who were not even aware of what they were being recruited for. The mission was that secret! Surprisingly, they also had a display with the whole code all spelled out. We guessed that the code was not secret anymore.
Finally, we stopped at the information center and signed in for the Wildcat Trail hike. We started hiking right from the visitor center.
View of Monument Valley from the Visitor Center
Just a few of the informative signs at the Visitor Center
There was a really good exhibit about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II / Director John Ford and actor John Wayne made multiple movies in Monument Valley that helped make the area famous
A hogan, traditional Navajo home
We were soon walking through areas of slick rock which felt very familiar even though it had been almost three years since we traversed this type of terrain. Hard slick rock alternated with areas of deep sand that was kicked into our shoes as we slogged through it.
We were amazed at the monuments that towered 1,200 feet above us. We could see Sentential Mesa to the west, West Mitten Butte in front of us, and Merrick Butte and East Mitten Butte to the east.
The trail wound XX miles around West Mitten Butte. We liked the view from the busy overlook at the visitor center, but down on the valley floor, we had left the crowds and the noise behind us. We were able to immerse ourselves in the desert landscape of plants eking their existence to the traces of arroyo that fill when the drenching monsoon rains arrive.
The center had provided us a handout on the desert flora. Along the walk, plants were marked with names. We were able to learn native uses for plants such as the Sagebrush and Juniper and the fragrant Cliffrose. It gave us a lot of respect for these people who crafted a livelihood from a seemingly lifeless desert.
Hike route around the Wildcat Trail
One of the many great views along the route
Pinion and juniper trees have a tough life in the high desert environment
Blooming Rubber Rabbit Brush and West Mitten Butte / A raptor soaring above the butte / Back in the red sand!
Walking in front of Sentinel Mesa
The red sandstone mesas and buttes in Monument Valley are incredible
A hearty lunch…
After wandering the desert for a few hours, we returned to the visitor center thirsty and hungry. We were very happy to find that the restaurant served authentic sheepherder stew and green chili soup with Navajo bread. Both were more like broths than stew, and had very little seasoning, but were delicious. With the addition of the bread and a trip to the salad bar, we left pleasantly full and set out for an afternoon of driving.
Monument Valley drive…
It was mid afternoon and the sun had moved from the east to behind us to the west. With that shift, the light on the monuments changed and so had their apparent moods.
As soon as we dropped from the parking lot to the valley floor, the road changed to a dirt road and was rather rough in spots. Despite the warning advising against cars and the need for high clearance vehicles, we saw a number of small vehicles including several nice rental Mustangs.
The valley floor is strewn with sixteen mesas and buttes. As we wound our way between them, we noticed the scenery continued to change with the lowering of the light and the lengthening of shadows. It added to the drama of the special place.
We made a stop at John Ford’s Point’s Overlook. Just as we arrived, a Navajo guide mounted a horse and rode to the end of the point. There, the horse stood perfectly still as many visitors clicked away for the perfect take away image of Monument Valley.
One of our last stops was at the North Window Overlook. There in the parking area, like all the stops on the route, was a Navajo selling some of his handcrafted jewelry. As we greeted him, he motioned for us to take a barely perceptible trail to the north. As we walked, monument after monument appeared to the north in the late afternoon light. We agreed it was our favorite stop of the drive. In gratitude, Arleen bought a lapis necklace from our friend at the trail head.
Even though, we were only in the valley for a day, we felt it was a full day. We would like to return some day and take one of the guided hikes to learn more history of the valley and its Navajo people.
Monument Valley scenic drive / Guess what this feature is called
Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei / Approaching the North Window Overlook
The view from the North Window Overlook
John Ford’s Point Overlook
We had eight adventure filled days playing at Lake Powell, near Page, Arizona and are currently exploring the beautiful Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. Next we will spend three weeks playing in Zion National Park, Utah. Then, pending weather, we will visit Great Basin National Park, Nevada and then settle down in Heber City, Utah for the winter.
Transportation from the old days