Monument Valley in Winter
Our first destination, in late February, was the Red Rock Country of Sedona, Arizona. We were treated to perfect spring weather, getting in some hiking, sightseeing and wondering why others had misled us. Sedona is probably one of the most beautiful places in the United States, but it is also in close proximity to other tourist sites such as Jerome, Fort Verde, the Verde Canyon Railroad and Montezuma’s Castle. Our goal, however, was further north to Monument Valley, located in the northeast corner of Arizona. We wondered about our sanity as we passed through Flagstaff, Arizona, at 2100 m (7000 ft) — it felt like a Canadian prairie winter.
Turning our motorhome north on US-89, a little snow was not going to deter us. By the time we reached the Cameron Trading Post, the elevation dropped to 1200 m (4200 ft) and spring returned. The Cameron Trading Post is a must visit. Established in 1916, on the Little Colorado River, this modern First Nations Trading Post is one of the best stocked stores anywhere. The slogan of the store should be “……if we do not have it, you do not need it”.
Back on the highway, we turned onto US-160 towards Tuba, Arizona. You pass through the northern end of the Painted Desert, with its reddish-purple coloured landscape. Just eight km (five mi) from Tuba, we visited the Tuba Dinosaur site, called ‘Moen-avi’ by the Navajo or Dine Indians. Although Moen-avi is classified as a minor Jurassic archaeological discovery, the footprints, rib cage, partial head and dinosaur eggs are over 200 million years old. The local Navajo provide a guided tour for a small fee. It was very cool to walk among the dinosaurs!
After arriving in Kayenta, Arizona, Monument Valley was only about 40 kilometres northeast along US-163. Monument Valley is not a National Park, but a working First Nations reservation called Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Nearly one thousand Navajo live on the reservation and make their living from sheep ranching and tourism.
Our destination was the Village of Goulding, Utah. Originally Goulding was a trading post, opened in 1924 by Leone (he called her Mike) and Harry Goulding. Today the trading post has grown into a little village, with a grocery store, hotel, restaurants, retail stores, theater, church, school, medical center and a landing strip. The Goulding RV Park, situated in the Big Rock Door behind the village, has excellent facilities, including cable, internet, laundry and a store.
If a full service park is not needed, there is dry camping at Mitten View Campgrounds with a million dollar view. Other accommodations include the View Hotel and the Monument Valley Tipi Village. The View Hotel has front row seats to the two giant monoliths called West and East Mittens. According to Navajo mythology, the mittens (gloves) were left on the valley floor, waiting for the Gods to return.
Despite the name, Monument Valley is not a valley, but an outcropping of sedimentary rock, dating back 200 million years. The valley floor is the Colorado Plateau, dotted with 300m (1000 ft) monoliths, buttes, mesas and arches called ‘monuments’. The rock is largely sandstone, coloured in red-oxide and shaped by wind, frost and extreme heat. The blue-gray substance on the rock is manganese oxide while the valley floor is covered in red siltstone. The monuments, subject to natural erosion, have been chiseled into different shapes over time. Many of the monuments look like animals, bearing names like Eagle Rock, Setting Hen, Elephant and Bear
and Rabbit. Other monuments have creative names such as Stagecoach, Saddleback, The King
on His Throne and The Big Indian. The Navajo of course have their own names for the monuments. It was the ancient Anasazi or Pueblo Indians who called Monument Valley, ‘Tse Bii Ndzisgaii’, or the ‘Valley Between the Rocks’. They got it right.
There are several ways to view the park. One is to remain on US-163 from Goulding to Mexican Hat, Utah, a distance of about 37 km (23 miles), but you will miss half of the monuments. The monuments are equally divided by the border of the two states. The second method, for a small fee, is to use your own car and drive to John Ford’s Point, but the 27 km (17 mile) loop road is very bumpy and dusty. There are also some restrictions on where you can drive. The third best method is to take a truck/jeep tour, costing around $70 USD. We selected the Goulding Truck Tour. A Navajo guide provides information on history, geology, mythology and facts about the park and people. Stops at various Hogans (mud and wood ceremonial structures) are built into the tour with Navajo women illustrating traditional weaving of baskets and blankets. Also along the route are numerous artisans and vendors, selling crafts, vintage jewelry and souvenirs. The best part was that we didn’t have to drive.
John Ford’s Point, near the base of the Three Sisters (Nuns), is a major tourist attraction. John Ford was a legendary film director who used John Wayne in five western movies, all filmed in Monument Valley. Some of the classic films were Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Searchers. Check out the small John Wayne Museum and the free John Wayne movie every night. Actor John Wayne best said it, “Monument Valley is the place where God put the West”.
Monument Valley has been the backdrop for many other movies, such as The Eiger Sanction,
How the West Was Won and Back to the Future, Part 3. Probably the most popular movie was
Forrest Gump. In the movie, Forrest stopped running at Mile 13, which is located on US-163, on the way to Mexican Hat, Utah.
After nearly a week it was time to leave. Although we had not seen the entire park, we had also ventured further north to visit the Valley of the Gods and Gooseneck State Park. It was now time to head west and pay another visit to the Grand Canyon. In our opinion, the most beautiful part of Arizona is found in the north and a little snow only adds to the beauty. Give yourself a little push and leave your comfort zone in the south.
View of sunset on King on His Throne, Stagecoach, Bear and Rabbit and Castle Rock.
North Window View, including Cly Butte, East Mitten, CastlenRdock, Bear and Rabbit.