One of the most striking formations in the valley is the 'Totem Pole'
You cannot get really close to it unless you go with a Navajo guide. Bring binoculars.
This picture was taken with a regular lens from as close as you can get without a guide. Some of the guided tours, where they put you in a trailer allow you to get closer.
The self-guided tour through the valley leads through a nonpaved road, approx. 18 miles (26 km). You can't drive faster than 15 mph, but you won't, as the scenery will definitely get on you. Calculate enough time, 2-3 hours should be minimum, as you have a lot of stops to take pictures. Take enough of food and water with you, as there aren't places to get supplies. A little booklet for the self-guided valley drive is available at the Visitor Center.
Don't worry, even if you don't have a 4WD, you can drive on this road.
The drive takes you along John Ford's Point, Elephant and Camel Butte, the Three Sisters, then around Raingod Mesa, from where you can make a turnoff to Totem Pole viewpoint, get back on the road to Artist's Point and North Window and finally returning to the Visitor center.
My car in 1990 was nice and blue - after our valley drive it was a more reddish-blue color.... :-)
The most famous picture or view point is located directly at the Vistor Center. From here you get the best shot on the 3 majestic buttes which we all know from the inumerous movies: West Mitten and East Mitten and Merrick Butte.
Merrick Butte was named after a soldier in Kit Carson's army.
On the picture, you already can see the beginning of the road leading through the valley.
However, as you face east, when standing there, it would be better to make the picture stop on your way back - at sunset time :-)
I recommend to step a bit further down, away from the crowds around at the visitor center, sit down somewhere (usually, there are nice wood logs adding to the scenery) and be on your own with the magical atmosphere, this view gives you and the feelings which it creates in your inside.
The second stop you can make at Three Sisters, just right (west) hand side on the road at Mitchell Mesa. It is said that these 3 spines are referring to nuns (rather than sisters), two elder ones leading the young one to initiation.
Somewhere I have read that Navajos have the joke saying they represent a big "W" for John Wayne
Catch a sunset or sunrise. The hues of red and orange are spectacular here! We saw so many different photographers perch in various areas just waiting to catch the special picture of the beautiful colors.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
P.O. Box 360289
Monument Valley, UT 84536
On the southeastern point of Raingod Mesa, follow the turnoff sign for Totem Pole.
Totem Pole is a spine, reaching 100 m into the sky. However, the name is a bit funny, as Navajo never made any totem poles.
This spot is/was also in favour for commercials, I remember one where they have placed a vehicle on top (with help of a helicopter).
it is not allowed to climb on top of Totem Pole - as it is a sacred formation !
There are many people content to do scenic drives. They could care less about hiking which for me is one of the biggest reasons for visiting such beautiful natural places. It gets me closer to what I came to see in the first place. Many people also enjoy doing tours, be they on foot, hoof, or via some type of transport. For them, Monument Valley offers many options, all of which are pricey by most people's standards. When someone asks for over $100 per person to take them on a walk that is not particularly remote or dangerous I think it's a bit of a rip-off but who am I to judge what a person wants to pay to do something. What I don't like is that you can't do the walks on your own so you are pretty much at the mercy of those running the tours.
Thankfully, there is one hike in the park that is open to the public so you do not need to be accompanied by a Navajo guide. It is the Wildcat Trail and this hike of a little over three miles circles the West Mitten Butte, affording good views of it and the surrounding rock formations. The truth is, the flat terrain and relative big distances between formations at Monument Valley is not ideal for hiking but a few small trails around some of the formations would be a nice addition to the park and could be kept a good distance from Native Americans living within the park's boundaries.
We started the hike around 9:00 AM as we had done the scenic drive for a second time in the early morning light. The sun was already high in the sky so photographic opportunities were a bit limited. That said, it was a nice walk and we had it all to ourselves aside from a couple of stray dogs that acted as sentinels, racing ahead but always dropping back to remain very much with us. Sometimes, they would wait in a shady spot until we caught up but on seeing us, they'd get right up and continue along with us. Though there were some nice views during the walk and surely if done either earlier in the morning or late in the afternoon, some great shots could be had, the main reason to do trail is to get away from the crowds and to enjoy the majestic buttes in a more serene setting.
Returning to the campground from which we started, we were glad we'd already broken down our tent as we were quite ready to leave. The one dog that had started with us from here was now waiting patiently either for a food hand-out or it almost seemed to us, an invitation to join us for the rest of our trip. I'm sure he'd have enjoyed heading to the west coast and frolicking in the waves of the Pacific no matter how cold it would be. But it was likely he was a local's dog and having a dog with you when traveling to the National Parks, especially those noted for bears, is less than ideal.
As we drove off, we looked back at his sad face. We felt a tinge of sadness ourselves. We had got some great photos at Monument Valley but memories are made of more than that. Without any real interaction with the Navajos, it felt somewhat empty. Not empty enough to make me want to spend a couple hundred dollars to do a four hour hike or to go on the four-wheel drive tour, but probably just enough to keep me from coming back again. When you make a place about the money you can get from it, it becomes less special and that is exactly how Monument Valley felt to us. It is a beautiful place but it is not a National Park and in no way is run like one. I prefer the latter and that's where I'll spend my money next time in the abundantly beautiful American Southwest.
This one of the most recognized formation since it is nearest to the valley drive and seen right away by visitor center. It is name is very appropiate for its shape. To see it finally in person is simple breath taking. What a wonderful beautiful valley. You can see this formation even more up close on the Wildcat Trail. West Mitten Butte climbs to 5,597 feet (1,705.97 meters) above sea level.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park Scenic Drive Hours
Summer (May-Sept) 6:00am - 8:30pm
Winter (Oct - Apr) 8:00am - 4:30pm
Camping fees - $10/night plus Entryfees $5/person
General Admission - $5.00
Ages 9 or under - Free
It’s a great way to experience Monument Valley --- get to know the different buttes which are named in the maps. Of course, it would be nicer to have pictures of the buttes themselves so you can just compare it – but some of them look really very similar. For more expert involvement, go get a tour in one of those open safari-like jeeps. There are several operators at www.navajonationparks.org
The admission into the Tribal Park is just $5 per person (free for below 9 yrs old…so twins were FREE!) and in summer is open 6 AM-9PM May to Sept. Oct to April is 8 AM to 5 PM (Winter)…and Thanksgiving Day is only 8AM-12PM. Scenic drive hours stop 30 minutes before closing time.
This place is considered one of the best scenic wonders of the world and the most visited in the Navajo Nation, and it just celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2008 and got its new hotel (The View) in 2009. From this hotel, you can already name some of the famous natural structures called as the “Mittens”. They have been used in John Wayne films and even to the newer blockbusters like Windtalkers. The Mittens include the left thumb, the right thumb and the third monolith Merrick Butte.
When my son is less hyperactive, we could probably go and camp here. As of this time (Summer 2009), prices are just $10 (1-6 persons), $20 (6-13 persons), and each additional person is $2. The campsite at 5,564 feet above sea level offers a great view of the buttes, mesas, canyons and free standing rock formations which have been made famous by Western movies.
The Wildcat Nature Trail is 3.2 miles, and be sure to use caution when you are around rocks and holes since there’s a lot of natural wildlife around.
The Primitive/Wildcat Campground is open 365 days on a first come-firstserve basis. And there are of course, several rules to follow while in the Campground Facility. Most important is respecting the privacy of the Navajo people. Quiet hours in the campground are from 11PM to 8AM.
The view from the Visitor Centre at Lookout Point is perhaps unsurprisingly, but regrettably, all that many people see of Monument Valley. It may be stunning, it may epitomise everyone’s image of the American West, but it is only a small part of the whole. Nevertheless, this is a good place to start your visit. On the left is West Mitten, in the centre East Mitten, and on the right Merrick Butte, the third component of this classic view.
It is easy to see how the two Mittens got their name, but the history behind the choice of Merrick as a name for one of the formations here on Navajo land is more interesting. Merrick was a soldier who fought in Kit Carson's army in the Navajo campaigns of the 1860s and was killed for attempting to mine for silver in this sacred area. Despite having reservations about the rights of the campaign, Carson was ordered by his superiors to defeat the Navajo and clear the land. He refused to slaughter them but did kill their livestock and destroy their crops. Forced by this action to surrender, in the spring of 1864, 8,000 Navajo men, women and children were forced to march or ride in wagons 300 miles to Fort Sumner, New Mexico – the journey Navajos call "The Long Walk." Carson had promised them that none would be killed, yet around 300 died en route and many blamed him. So I can’t help wondering how any Navajo who knows their history feels, having such a prominent landmark named for one of his soldiers.
Cly Butte is named in honor of a Navajo chieftain who is buried there with all of his worldly possesions- cattle, goats, sheep, as well as his horse, saddle and bride. It is the right side frame for North Window. Cly Butte climbs to 5,794 feet (1,766.01 meters) above sea level.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
P.O. Box 360289
Monument Valley, UT 84536
The best time to view the monument is in the early morning and late afternoon when the angle of the sun creates dramatic shadows and reddens up the buttes, however, don't run back to the hotel room after the sun goes down. Wait for the moon to rise (if it is a full moon). It is a great experience to see the moon rising from the wonderful horizon.
Options for exploring Monument Valley are a bit limited unless one wants to pay a considerable amount to hire a Navajo guide or to do an extended four-wheel drive tour that takes you away from the Valley Drive. If that is not the case, you will have to content yourself with doing the 17 mile round trip Valley Drive which will take you to some very scenic viewpoints.
On my first visit in 1995, guides positioned themselves close to the drive's entrance and hawked their tours and warned of the road's inappropriateness for “regular” cars. While the beginning of the road is quite rough and caution must be exercised during it, for the most part, the drive can be undertaken by just any about car on the road. I did it in a very low clearance Honda Civic that first year and this past summer, ourCamry did just fine.
The best time to do the drive is very early in the morning. Not only is the light great for photographs but traffic is very light. Of course, late afternoon up to sunset is great with the warmest colors but expect to see more people. Midday is hot and colors are washed out. It's better to spend that time over at Gouldings Hotel, checking out their great displays of early pioneer life. We did the drive twice, once early morning and once before sunset. Both have their merits and an overnight stay is recommended if you are looking to get good photos.
The Mittens are Monument Valley's trademark and one of the most iconic sights in all the southwest. It's worth coming all this way to see just them and you can do that from the visitor center if that's what you want and with a decent zoom lens, you can get a great close-up or use some of the handy shrubs around in abundance for a nice motive. Of course, there is a pull-out on the Valley Drive but we found the best view was from the make-shift temporary campground. This made things easy as they were what I wanted to get a photo of at sunset. It was handy to be able to jump in the tent right after without having to drive anywhere. I got my most colorful shot just after 8 PM the first week of June though many factors (such as clouds on the horizon) can alter that. Start shooting early and stop shooting when there' no light left. One of the great things about digital photography is no cost shooting, though you will have to sort through them all once you get home!