Monument Valley is a place where time stands still, long enough for you to feel the harmony and peace of the last western frontier.
Monument Valley, on the Arizona and Utah border, is a semi-autonomous Navajo nation of 165,000 people. The reservation covers one third of the 130,000 square-mile Colorado Plateau and features endless geological wonders.
The nearest major airport to Monument Valley is Flagstaff, Arizona (about a three-hour drive). While there is lodging just outside the park, I stayed at the only lodge located inside the park called The View Hotel. Every room looks straight out to the iconic monuments which have been featured in so many western Hollywood movies like “Stagecoach” and “The Searchers.” And it’s not as pricey as some of those lodges in national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone.
There is definitely a spiritual peace in the air here in Monument Valley that really makes it a special place. While most of the activities require one of the local Navajo guides, there are a couple hiking trails that are self-guided. The first one I did was a 4-mile loop called “Wildcat Trail” that starts near the visitor’s center, which is attached to the View Hotel. It’s a fairly level route that loops around the West Mitten Butte. I was here in early February, which is the off-season, so I only encountered a couple other people on the trail the entire time. It took me about 90 minutes to complete. The hike injected a good dose of serenity in me almost immediately and I felt very much at peace by the time I finished.
On the other side of the View Hotel is another trail named after a revered park ranger called “Lee Cly Trail.” It’s 2.5-mile loop that stays above the valley floor and connects to a .5-mile extension called the “Mesa Rim Trail” that features views overlooking all the monuments from afar. The Mesa Rim trail is more of a rock scramble up however, so I would call it challenging. The main Lee Cly Trail is easy.
The stunning scenic drive through Monument Valley (which you also don’t need a guide for) that goes all around the monuments is a must do. It is 17 miles and clearly marked with directions. Early morning is the best time to do it as light is better for photography. It takes a couple of hours and it’s free but register at the visitor center first.
Some of the additional activities that you can do at Monument Valley with a hired guide are stargazing, horseback riding, history, and folklore as well as hiking through another adjacent area of Monument Valley called “Mystery Valley” that features more ancient Indian dwellings and rock carvings as well as natural rock arches. You can get contact information for all the local guides at the visitor center and there is also a little kiosk in the parking lot of the View Hotel where a tour company hangs out.
If you have an extra day in the area (You can do Monument Valley completely in 1-2 days), head north on US Highway 163 and get a picture at Forest Gump Point which is where the character in the movie “Forest Gump” stopped his epic run across America after three plus years. It is a fantastic photo of the road descending into the horizon as you’re looking back towards Monument Valley. Not too far from there you can make a quick stop at Gooseneck State Park for a view looking down to the horseshoe like San Juan River that winds its way through canyons. Just a bit further from here you pick up the 17-mile scenic drive at Valley of the Gods. It’s another unpaved road like the scenic drive at Monument Valley but this one does have some rough spots so take it slow and maybe best not to have a vehicle that’s too low to the ground. An SUV or truck would be recommended. The formations are not as spectacular as Monument Valley, but it is very scenic and warrants a drive through if you have time. Allow about two hours.
Lastly, head up one of the most thrilling switchback roads in America, the Moki Dugway https://youtu.be/2q-GmsUPbZ4 and look down from Muley Point on everything you’ve seen and experienced the past couple of days. Big deep breath, soak it all in, and I now pronounce you decompressed.
The Navajos believe and practice balance and harmony for better health. After a few days in Monument Valley, I felt like the spirits of Navajos past spoke to me in my dreams and relieved me of the pressures of modern-day American materialist goals and ambitions. When you embrace balance and harmony as a core tenant of your life, your health (mental and physical) improves in so many unexpected and magical ways.
Jack Witt, MS, CPT
Fitness and Health Coach
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