These sandstone monuments that tower above the flat, arid desert are almost clichés of Southwest travel. Ever since John Ford popularized Monument Valley in his films, it seems everyone has come to regard this area with its unique sandstone buttes as iconic symbols of the frontier West.
Monument Valley is on Navajo reservation land. As such, travel and conduct within the area are subject to Navajo law. While visitors are welcome, it may surprise some to know that Monument Valley continues to be inhabited by Navajo families. This is apparent on any guided tour or on the Valley Drive. After paying an entrance fee, you can take the free-of-charge, self-guided 17-mile Valley Drive. Straying off this road is strictly prohibited.
To see portions off the public access road, you have to take a tour led by one of many Navajo-owned companies. We took the one from the visitors center parking lot. (There are others originating from the town of Kayenta, approximately 30 miles south, and Goulding’s Lodge just outside the park.) As with any guided tour, its value depends largely on the guide. Ours was satisfactory, but he did sing for us a traditional Navajo song inside a rock formation called the Big Hogan (left). It resembles a gigantic traditional Navajo home, called a hogan, with a hole in the “roof” and the “door” facing the east. Meant to amuse tourists I’m sure, whimsical rock formations, like “Snoopy,” “The Mohawk” and “Sleeping Dragon,” were also pointed out.
After the tour ended, we had a lunch of Navajo tacos at the visitors center restaurant. We were seated on the covered veranda which has a wonderful view of the valley.