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What’s the Big Deal About Monument Valley?

Monument Valley’s iconic landscape has inspired nature lovers and filmmakers alike. 

But most of the Southwest has similar landscapes. Doesn’t it? So what exactly makes this place unique?

Today, we’ll dive deeper into this popular destination and let you know why we think it’s worth a visit.

Let’s check it out!

Motor home camper on vacation in the southwest USA red rock landscape near Monument Valley Arizona
Stunning scenery is just part of what makes a trip to Monument Valley worthwhile

About Monument Valley

Monument Valley is in the heart of the Navajo Nation, along the Utah-Arizona border. It gets its name from the prominent sandstone mesas that stretch up from the flat sands. These monolithic pillars have nicknames, such as East and West Mitten, Totem Pole, and Merrick’s Butte. 

The pillars formed over millions of years as water, ice, and wind wore away the weaker parts of the landscape and left the hard capstones behind. 

This region initially drew tourists once Hollywood started using the area to shoot motion pictures. It offers sparse landscapes and jagged rock formations that are spectacular in person or on film. The vast, arid spaces worked equally well at capturing the feel of the Wild West or alien worlds. 

The area has rich cultural importance to the various indigenous people that used to live there. For centuries, the land was occupied by the Anasazi people, who left abruptly. You can still visit the ruins left behind in Mystery Valley with a Navajo guide. 

Can You Drive Through Monument Valley for Free?

While you can get a quick tour of the area by driving down Highway 163, this’ll barely scratch the surface of the fantastic vistas available. 

To get the best overview, it’s worth taking Valley Drive in Navajo Tribal Park. This 17-mile loop is available to visitors once you’ve paid the entry fee. You’ll find several places to pull over and park to get up close and personal views of the various rock formations.

Vendors set up stalls along the trail, where you can buy handcrafted jewelry and other mementos from indigenous people living in the area. While you’re there, you can take a three-mile hike to Mitten Butte. 

However, the drive and hike are on dirt trails that can face closures due to weather. They also don’t allow motorcycles and ask that you plan to wait as access is on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Puzzle fans: Relive your memories with EuroGraphics Monument Valley 1000-Piece Puzzle.

What Movies Were Filmed in Monument Valley?

John Ford made frequent use of the location in his Westerns. The most notable are Stagecoach, which first helped to popularize the area, and The Searchers, one of the genre’s greatest films. 

John Wayne’s gruff characters and the rugged terrain inspired the imaginations of millions. As a result, many die-hard fans make the trek to honor his legacy.  

But the location is part of many iconic films. Forrest Gump famously stops his cross-country run with Monument Valley’s rock formations on the horizon. Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider features it as part of the character’s road trip. And 2001: A Space Odyssey used trick photography to create an alien landscape using the rugged terrain. 

In addition, action movies like Back to the Future III and Mission: Impossible II have memorable sequences filmed in the area. 

But in the 1930s, the region was virtually unknown. However, that changed when photographer Josef Muench met the Gouldings, a local couple that wanted to encourage film crews to the beautiful location. They knew it could help boost the economy for residents struggling with the Great Depression. 

Muench created an album to highlight the photogenic landscape. Once John Ford saw the pictures, the area became a national treasure after his films’ successes. 

Unique Places to Explore Near Monument Valley

Monument Valley offers incredible sights, but history buffs can find much more to do besides admire the buttes. 

Navajo Code Talkers Exhibit

The Navajo played a crucial role in World War II. At the time, military operations in the Pacific faced significant problems. The Japanese broke every code they used to send intelligence over the radio. 

The Navajo language, however, was virtually unique in structure, with no other surviving languages to make a valuable comparison to. As a result, Indigenous code talkers were recruited into the military to help give the Allies an edge and help them win battles to turn the tide. 

In the 1980s, the son of one of these veterans opened a Burger King in Keyanta, Arizona, and created a display out of his father’s war memorabilia. It honors the efforts of the men who helped win the war. 

Goulding’s Trading Post Museum

The Gouldings helped boost the local economy by bringing filmmakers into their rural town. But first, they built a trading post and befriended the Navajo. They traded goods to sell to tourists and worked to help their Indigenous friends. 

Now the trading post operates as a museum and continues to provide services to the locals. Donations to the museum fund the Monument Valley Scholarship to send local students to college. You can see historic photos of the couple’s time here and many beautiful artifacts, such as pottery and other crafts. 

Pro Tip: Visit the Goulding Museum website to learn more about the area’s history and lodging available on-site.

A nighttime view of Monument Valley in Arizona.
Nighttime in Monument Valley offers spectacular views of the stars

Best Places to Stay Near Monument Valley

Monument Valley offers several places to lay your head. Whether you prefer something rugged or cozy, you’ll find suitable options. Here are three of our favorites.  

Monument Valley KOA

This remote RV park may not be fancy, but it’s a perfect way to enjoy your getaway. It offers easy access to all the local sites and a dog park to give your furry friends time to socialize. In addition, they have full electric and water hookups and plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the stars. 

While you’re here, you can sign up for full or half-day jeep tours with a Navajo guide to get unique insights into the area’s history. 

If you need more camping options, try The Essential Guide to Monument Valley Camping & RVing.

FireTree Bed and Breakfast

This rustic bed and breakfast offers beautiful, private wood hogans built in the traditional Navajo style. You’ll get a complimentary breakfast with your stay and enjoy door-side access to the sights and sounds of the Colorado plateau. 

You can also sign up for free tent camping for a primitive way to enjoy Monument Valley. It’s worth noting that the nearest restaurant is 13 miles away, so come prepared to grill your dinner. 

Goulding’s Lodge

Goulding’s Lodge is right by the museum and offers 63 unique rooms. They also have an RV park and campground if you prefer an unrivaled view of the stars. Motorhome sites include water and electricity hookups. 

Either way, you’ll have full access to all the amenities on-site, with a shuttle service to get you to the restaurant, laundromat, and indoor pool available at the main lodge. You can also get a guided tour of the area during your stay. A local convenience store and gas station will make this a perfect home base for your visit. 

Is a Monument Valley Road Trip Worth It?

Monument Valley’s towering pillars and stark terrain leave us feeling humbled by nature’s beauty. The area’s rich history and beautiful landscape can bring you peace and time away from the modern world. Whether you enjoy the great outdoors or want to live in a piece of your favorite movie, this section of the Navajo Nation is well worth a trip. 

So start planning your adventure today and discover this unique melting pot of history and culture.

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