National parks

Express detour through Monument Valley : a sunset and a wild horse

20 April 2016
Monument Valley road trip

This article is going to have a special taste… First of all, we are going to another American state, Utah, and discovering (quickly you will see) Monument Valley ! Like Antelope Canyon, it is a park located on a Navajo area. But beyond that point, it is also the last stage of our girl road trip… In fact, Karolin was leaving for Germany way before Marijke and me, and the three of us closed up this journey in Monument Valley. Bittersweet memory of this stop then, but it surely does not take anything away from the beauty of the place ! It actually got very popular with the movie shootings that took place there, especially John Ford’s westerns.

» Getting to Monument Valley

Well, we are going to start by laying the foundations, okay ? As I was explaining, it is actually not a national park but a Navajo territory, entirely run by Indians.We went straight to it after visiting Antelope Canyon, which is a bit less than 2 hours away. The entrance is located in Utah, a huge sign (in the middle of nowhere, you cannot miss it) will alert you when you cross the border. You can get info on the opening hours of the Valley Drive at the visitor center. If I recommend this stage, I still encourage you to go there during a less touristic period (not in the middle of the summer, the air is way to hot anyway) and not to expect spending 3 whole days there – an afternoon and a sunset are plenty of enough.

Monument valley road trip

» Discovering Monument Valley

Well, I probably will not stop being surprised by all this, but here we are again, in a to-tal-ly different setting than what we have seen before. In this area, the rocks you have to visit are not under the Earth, but higher than the ground, to build these shapes particular to Monument Valley. Actually, Navajos name this place “Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii” (getting better and better at pronunciation), which means the rock valley. Following soil movement and sediment floating coming from the Rockies, these rocks were built – and then wind and water continued to sculpt them into what they currently look like. Navajos thus named each one of them according to what the shapes inspired them : you will find the Three Sisters, Elephant Butte or even Rain God Mesa for example – there are 17 stones to identify (the list is right over here). Otherwise, the other major characteristic of the place is the orange/ocher color of the rocks and of the dust recovering the whole area. My white Converses particularly liked it. And the shower was not optional. (And truth be said, it is what makes this spot look amazing !)

Regarding the actual visit, to be honest, we have not delivered… We came in in the evening, the park was about to close, and we wanted to enjoy our last evening with the 7 of us. Next morning, we went there at the opening but in the end, we were a bit in a rush (we had to go to Las Vegas to give the van back, send Karolin to the airport and take the bus to LA with Marijke) and felt chill about the price. Thinking about it, maybe we found have done it ! The easiest way is to go through Valley Drive : it is a road crossing the park for about 30 kilometers and along which you will find all the major vista points over the rocks. You can also go by foot on the trails, with a Navajo guide or not (that can take you to places you would not have been able to go to otherwise). We can discover Monument Valley by horse as well (we will go back on that later) or fly over the plateau in a helicopter (from Page).

Monument valley sunset road trip

Given our busy schedule, we opted for an observation from afar ! On the road to Monument Valley, landscapes are really amazing. The road is going as far as the eye can see and we can make out the inselbergs, getting bigger with the kilometers. You will also see the surroundings turning red, making the place look even more atypical. Getting closer, you can surely make some beautiful pictures, despite the gates closing the park. But the most impressive shows are without any doubt sunset and sunrise. It obviously imply having quite a short night, but it looks magical ! The day we arrived , we saw the sun going down over the ocher landscape, the sky turning pink, and then deep blue, the rocks becoming shadows. Next morning, we had to get up early, and had the chance to watch sunrise while packing. The colors are different, but the show is as beautiful – thanks Eirik for immortalizing the moment. Even if this stage does not require a several-day stay, I recommend you spend the night on site to see all that.

Monument valley sunrise road trip

» Fortuitous encounter with the local wildlife

To properly celebrate our last day, something a bit unexpected had to happen… And it is only a few minutes after leaving our camping spot that it happened : we almost had an accident ! Let’s get to the point right away, the story ends up in a good way as the accident was (closely) missed – thank God. We were driving to find places to take pictures before heading to Las Vegas and were caught by surprise at the end of the unique corner in the area (roads being so straight in the US) : a wild horse just crossed the road, a few meters in front of the van. Braking. Stopping our racing car. I cannot even tell who of the horse or us was the most scared, but it ran away and we moved on. After this episode, I have to say that I was not feeling 100% okay behind the wheel. We met again the said horse turning around to go back on the highway, but this time it gently stayed on the side of the road. More frightened than hurt in the end !

Monument valley road trip

PS : You cannot find alcohol on Navajo land. Do not make the (tourist’s) mistake to ask where it is possible to buy some – it is definitely considered inappropriate (tested but not approved). So if you want to refresh from the heat with a cool beer, you have to think about buying it before crossing the border of the Navajo Nation. Technically, it is also forbidden to carry alcohol either, but as long as it is in small quantities and you stay discreet, it should not be a problem.

PPS : As I was writing about it earlier, Monument Valley was the last stage of our road trip on the US West Coast. Well, only of the one with the girls ! Given the fact that we were going back to Europe at different dates, we managed to leave and get back together according the departures in our teams. I am now leaving for a short stay in Los Angeles with Marijke – and we will meet Eirik and Antwan for the end of the trip. #organization

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