Here in central Arizona, every road leads to an incredible adventure. From a day in Tombstone to a camping trip at the Grand Canyon, Arizona has an astounding scope of natural wonder on display. If you’re looking for a weekend trip that’s a little off the beaten path, consider heading out to Monument Valley.
Monument Valley Tribal Park is part of the Navajo Nation and lies at the border of Arizona and Utah. The Navajo name for the area is Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii. The land is truly one of the most striking areas of the country, with huge red sandstone buttes rising out of the land, up to 1000’ high. The iconic look of Monument Valley has been immortalized in movies and television, comics and cartoons. The area has a starring role as the background to celebrities as diverse as Krazy Kat to John Wayne.
Getting to Monument Valley from Phoenix is an easy drive northeast. Coming out of the city take Interstate 17 north, towards Flagstaff. Where the 17 meets the 40 in Flagstaff, you’ll want to get on state highway 89 to continue heading north. Highway 89 goes past the Sunset Volcano Crater and the Wupatki National Monument, which are both worth exploring if you have the time. The Sunset Volcano Crater is a dramatic volcanic cinder cone that reaches to 8000’ above sea level, part of the volcanic range of the San Francisco peaks. Wupatki National Monument preserves ancient Native American pueblo sites.
Travelling on Highway 89, you’ll enter the Navajo Nation. Past the town of Cameron, you’ll take a right onto highway 160 heading northeast. At Kayenta, you’ll be at the last leg of your travel – just turn left onto highway 163 and head towards the border. Monument Valley has a $20 per vehicle fee, which can be paid at the visitor center.
Driving, Hiking, Riding and Camping
Unlike the nearby Grand Canyon National Park, Monument Valley is easy to travel through by car. The sprawling landscape with its surreal land formations like the Mittens Butte make it an inspiring area to see from a vehicle. To get up close and personal with the area can give you a fuller sense of the natural beauty of the area. Monument Valley has a variety of trails open for hikers who obtain a backcountry use permit. There are also guided tours available conducted by vehicle or horse that let you access parts of the Park you cannot go to alone.
One thing that is important to note, Monument Valley isn’t for rock climbers. Strictly enforced rules prohibit rock climbing in the area and numerous sacred sites to the Navajo people exist on the land. Also, it is important to respect residential areas located within the park – trespassing on private residences is forbidden. The Monument Valley Tribal Park website and visitor center can help you plan a trip that engages with the open areas and trails the park offers.
If you have an extra day, consider visiting nearby Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell Tribal Park. Glen Canyon, located in southern Utah, features incredible carved red sandstone landforms and plentiful recreation opportunities. The Glen Canyon area includes the Rainbow Bridge, quite possibly the world’s highest natural bridge, arcing up over the desert. Lake Powell Tribal Park is an area of the Navajo Nation with copious trails and slot canyons. Many trails in Lake Powell weave through unforgettable undulating carved sandstone formations making it a must-see spot for many Arizona hikers.
Get Away from It All
Monument Valley is a great way to take a break from the hassles of city life without the crowds you find at the Grand Canyon. There are several options for staying overnight in the area. Gouldings Lodge and The View Hotel are both located in the park and offer amazing opportunities for nighttime stargazing. The nearby towns of Kayenta and Mexican Hat offer more options for camping or lodging.
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