Photographing Monument Valley: The best road trip

Monument Valley, the most photographed location in the United States is on the top of the list for road trip destinations. It’s well known primarily because of the many television Westerns and the popularity of John Wayne who was filmed there. Passing through the Grand Circle and by close as Canyon de Chelley, we just had to drive to Monument Valley to see it for ourselves and take our own photographs. These amazing famous landscapes seem familiar even if you have never before seen them in person.

We came in on US 160 from Colorado to US 163, the only main road through Monument Valley, which links Kayenta, AZ with US 191 in Utah. After Canyon de Chelly we drove north toward Monument Valley and Kayenta, a small town in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, near the entrance to Monument Valley.

From our tourist literature we called several motels that looked good while we drove, trying to get a room before we arrived but the rooms all seemed to be full. We were starting to worry when we stopped 23 miles south of Monument Valley in Kayenta at the junction of US Highways 160 & 163.

Travel Tip #1: Accommodations in the middle of Monument Valley are limited to Gouldings Lodge and the View Hotel in the Tribal Park both are rather expensive and usually always booked during the season. The Kayenta Monument Valley Inn  was lovely with rooms reasonably prices, so we happily booked a room there.

Although tired and wanting to rest and relax in our comfortable room – we saw an ad for a sunset photography tour that left right away – so of course we had to take it. It promised to be a beautiful sunset, the best lighting for Monument Valley photography and also a night with a full moon. Our young Navajo guide drove us toward the valley before we lost the light.

The stretch approaching the AZ/UT border from the north gives the most famous image of the valley, and maybe the whole Southwest. It is a long straight empty road leading across flat desert towards the sharp red-orange cliffs on the horizon. Coming in from the south we passed a large cone shape peak our guide said was called the navel center of the world by the Native Americans.

The picturesque sandstone buttes of Monument Valley reaching the multi-colored sky are located on the Navajo Indian Reservation at the Utah/Arizona border. Our Navajo guide took us into the Tribal Park. Starting at the Visitor Center within the tribal park, there is a 17-mile loop road with 11 scenic stops.

Travel Tip #2: The road is unpaved, bumpy and very dusty; you’ll want to keep your windows rolled up. I wouldn’t recommend taking large RVs into the park, and I was glad I wasn’t getting all the dust in my car. Allow a couple of hours to do the drive and to stop at all of the landmarks. (See their website for entry fees and holiday closures)

From the Visitor Center, off of US 163, take in the panoramic view of the world-famous Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a sprawling, sandy preserve bathed in rich red hues at sunset. Photographic vistas include crimson mesas and surreal sandstone towers, as tall as 1,000 feet in dramatic, mesmerizing lighting, with the sun illuminating them and casting long shadows on the valley floor.

To see the best results of my photoshoot at Monmuent Valley go to the Photo Gallery.

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About Lindsay Godfree

I was born and raised in Colorado Springs but have also lived in Utah and Arizona. Am inspired everyday by six beautiful daughters. Currently traveling the highways and byways. Writing as the National/International Cross Country Travel Writer for Examiner.com and other blogs, and post my photography in a Photo Gallery and other gift items for sale at lindsaystravel.smugmug.com