Monument Valley, Arizona

Straddling the Arizona-Utah Border

          Monument Valley in northeastern Arizona is another must-do side trip from Sedona, Arizona. One of the most photographed and recognizable landmarks in the United States, Monument Valley has been the setting for countless western movies, beginning in 1939 with John Ford’s Stage Coach, starring John Wayne. To reach Monument Valley, head north from Sedona and get on US 89 at Flagstaff. Then take US 160 heading northeast near Tuba City. Be sure to stop at Bashas’ Supermarket in Tuba City to stock up on snacks and to experience a wonderful encounter with the friendly Native Americans working and shopping there. The 200 mile drive from Sedona to Monument Valley takes a little over three hours going through some interesting territory. We made the round trip comfortably in one day and this works fine for those with limited time. Of course, if time is not an issue, it would be even better to make it an overnight trip. The The View Hotel and Goulding’s Lodge are both popular places to stay at Monument Valley and accommodations are also available at Kayenta, about 20 miles south on US 160.

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

          The vast collection of red sandstone buttes in Monument Valley were formed over millions of years by erosion of the Colorado plateau. This stunningly beautiful landscape has been occupied by various Native American groups since the ice age period, somewhere between 12,000 and 6,000 BC. The Anasazi peoples inhabited the area until 1300 when they abruptly disappeared. They were followed by the Navajos, but the exact time they came to the region is unknown. In 1884, President Chester A. Arthur added the region to the Navajo reservation by executive order and it remains part of the Navajo tribal lands to this day. Now known as the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, this incredible landmark is administered by the Navajo tribe. While professional tours are available, you can take a self-guided tour in your own vehicle for a fee of $20, paid at the entrance near the The View Hotel and Visitor Center.

Scenic Drive on Dirt Road in Monument Valley

Scenic Drive on Dirt Road in Monument Valley

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

John Ford Point, Monument Valley

Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post

          Just north over the border into Utah you’ll want to visit Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post. Harry and Leone ‘Mike” Goulding bought 640 acres of land for $320 when it became available after the government swapped the land with the Paiute Indians. Together they established a trading post in 1924 and it was Harry Goulding who introduced producer John Ford to the region in 1938. And the rest, as they say, is history. While the property has changed ownership several times, it is still private land in the midst of an Indian Reservation. You can visit the gift shop and museum, as well as the lodge and restaurant where many Hollywood stars have found accommodations while filming western movies in the valley. Professional tours of Monument Valley are available at Goulding’s and many private tour buses stop there to let their passengers have lunch at the restaurant. Despite the crowds, the restaurant is surprisingly efficient and you should definitely plan to have lunch there as part of your visit. We had a wonderful bowl of beef stew with Navajo Fry Bread that is ‘to die for’! Check out the video below for an easy way to make this delicious Native American staple in your own kitchen.

Goulding's Lodge and Trading Post

Goulding’s Lodge and Trading Post

Navajo Fry Bread and Stew at Goulding's Restaurant

Navajo Fry Bread and Stew at Goulding’s Restaurant

The Monuments

          The seventeen mile drive through Monument Valley begins at the View Hotel. With your $20 entrance fee you will get a map pointing out the most prominent monuments along the scenic loop drive. You will immediately recognize the East and West Mitten Buttes, so named because of their resemblance to hands with separate thumbs reaching for the sky. One of my favorite stops on the route is John Ford Point, also one of the director’s favorite locations. In addition to the spectacular and familiar views from this spot you will find Native Americans selling their crafts at open air tables. Be sure to stop at each of the vendor areas along the route, as you may never find a better opportunity to purchase some of these works of art right from the artists themselves. Since returning from my trip to Monument Valley, it seems that I have been watching Western movies nonstop, looking for the familiar locations I had just visited where so many scenes were filmed. Guess I just can’t get enough of these beautiful red sandstone buttes!

East and West Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley

East and West Mitten Buttes, Monument Valley

Native American Crafts at Monument Valley, Arizona

Native American Crafts at Monument Valley, Arizona

Check Out This Recipe for Navajo Fry Bread

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