The History and Mystery of Monument Valley

Monument Valley
West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte, and Merrick Butte in Monument Valley – Photo: Ken Cheung

Monument Valley is a land of incredible beauty and rich cultural heritage, where towering sandstone monoliths rise from the desert floor, and the night skies are filled with more stars than imaginable. Here’s everything you need to know before planning your trip.

Where is Monument Valley?

Monument Valley lies within the territory of the Navajo Nation, which is a Native American reservation in the Southwestern United States. Specifically, the valley is located on the Utah-Arizona state line, near the Four Corners region of the United States, which includes Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Many Tribes Live in the Region, and the Area Is Steeped in Legend

The first people to live in Monument Valley were the Anasazi. They lived in caves and built large villages. The Navajo, who are related to the Apache, came later. They built hogans out of logs and mud.

Hogans Monument Valley
Hogans in Monument Valley – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou | The Vale Magazine

The Navajo still live in Monument Valley today. They raise sheep and goats, herd cattle, and farm. They also sell crafts like jewelry and weaving at their trading posts and gift shops along the main road through Monument Valley.

The Hopi have lived in a village called Tuba City since the 1700s. Their name means “people of peace” or “people of earth.” The Hopi believe that they once lived underground but climbed up through a hole in the ground (which is now called First Mesa), where they discovered light and became human beings again.

Some of the Most Iconic Movies Were Filmed in Monument Valley

The valley itself is regarded as one of the most photographed landscapes in America and has been the backdrop for many of the most iconic movies of all time, including Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Easy Rider (1969), and Forrest Gump (1994).

Forrest Gump Point – The iconic spot where Forrest ends his cross-country run in the 1994 film ‘Forrest Gump’ – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou | The Vale Magazine
John Ford’s Point – You can get your picture taken on horseback, posing like one of the characters in John Ford’s westerns. Hollywood movie director John Ford used this location for many of his film scenes – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou | The Vale Magazine

What Is There to See in Monument Valley?

The most famous sites in Monument Valley include The Mittens, The Three Sisters, and the Totem Pole.

The Mittens is a rock formation that has a striking resemblance to a pair of mittens. It is one of the most photographed natural features in Monument Valley. The Three Sisters are three buttes that look like three sisters sitting together on the valley floor. They are also known as “The Sisters.” The Totem Pole is another popular site in Monument Valley. It is named after its resemblance to an Indian totem pole and stands out against the red rock background of Monument Valley.

How Were the Famous Rock Formations in Monument Valley Created?

The rock formations in Monument Valley were created over millions of years. The Navajo Sandstone was formed when water, sand, and other rocks eroded from the Colorado Plateau and washed into the valley. As more sand washed into the valley, it piled up on top of itself to create the steep cliffs you see now.

The Navajo Sandstone is made up of about 90% sandstone with a thin layer of siltstone and shale at its base. It can be seen across northern Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming, where it forms many iconic landscapes such as Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park.

What Is There to Do in Monument Valley?

There are many things to do in Monument Valley. One of the most popular activities is horseback riding on one of the park’s trails. The trails range from easy to moderate difficulty levels, so there is something for everyone, including children.

Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou | The Vale Magazine
Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou | The Vale Magazine

Another popular activity is hiking on one of the park’s many trails that lead into some amazing scenery, including views from atop high cliffs overlooking colorful rock formations below.

There are also scenic drives available for those who do not want to walk but still want an up-close view of some fantastic scenery, which takes you past several viewpoints overlooking magnificent landscapes.

Visitors Should Take Note That This Is Sacred Tribal Land

Visitors to the Monument Valley should take note that this is tribal land, and it is considered very sacred to its people. Visitors should be respectful of the Navajo culture and not disturb wildlife or take rocks or plants home with them.

It is also important to note that tribal members have been advised not to talk about their traditions in order for tourists not to interfere with their practices. You can ask your tour guide if they know where you are allowed to go and what you are allowed to photograph, but do not approach locals without permission.

Plan Your Trip Today

If you’re looking for a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, Monument Valley is definitely worth a visit. It’s not only the first-ever tribal park to be run on the national park model but also an important part of Navajo history and culture.

You can drive through the park or even stay overnight at one of the areas lodges. There are several hiking trails available as well. The best part about it? It’s just three hours away from Phoenix!