Buttes and Mesas

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on June 29, 2013

Monument Valley

This was fairly high on our list of places to see on our road trip as we had enjoyed many films with scenes in this valley.

We stayed in a small motel in Mexican Hat and so had the chance to drive through the Navaho Tribal Park on one day and then we got up early on the second day and made our way to the famous road and took some photos in the morning light when no one was around. My daughter and husband also decided to' run like Forrest' down the middle of the road for a photo too!

On the first day we made our way to the visitor centre and from here you can take a tour with a guide in a 4x4 at the rather exorbitant price of $75 for two hours or pay just the entry permit which is $5 a head and drive yourself. We had a 4x4 so we chose to drive ourselves. They didn't say you would need a 4 x4 but you do as the road is a very poorly maintained and extremely uneven dirt track with huge lumps and holes and can be driven at a speed of about 5-10 miles an hour most of the way.

The park is open from 6 am till 8pm in the high season and 8am till 5pm in the off season. It is closed for New year and Christmas and only open from 8am till noon on Thanksgiving Day. The scenic drive is pretty much the same hours as the main visitor centre with a little variation so check if you plan a visit.


We chose to do the drive first. Even though the drive is only 17 miles long because you have to go so slowly and then you stop for photos and at a couple of places get out for a bit of a walk and to look at stalls . It is a breath taking scenic drive and worth every cent of the $5 entry fee.

You are given a map and on the map the features are named and there are little images of them for you to look at in order to identify them. The names are usually quite descriptive and some are quite obvious, others you need a bit of a creative imagination to see why they were named.

The features in the park are mesas, buttes and spire rock features created from the wind and sand weathering the different rocks. 

The first formations you see on the drive are the  East and West Mitten Buttes which are need as they look a bit like hands in mittens. After this the Merrick Butte and Mitchell Mesas  are all that remains of the two prospectors they are named after as they were killed by Ute Indians for their silver.

Next we came to my favourite rock formation, Elephant Butte. It did look just like an enormous elephant. The Camel Butte was also pretty clear and another favourite. Another formation that I consider aptly named is the Totem Pole as it really is a tall spire.

From John Ford's point you got a great view of The MV also called The Three Sisters. This point was named after the film director of many western movies, which made John Wayne famous. He used Monument Valley as a backdrop in many of his films including 'Stagecoach'.

Rain God Mesa is a formation where Navajo medicine men pray and give thanks to the Rain God, who stored water for the people. There is a natural aquifer at the base of the rock which always has water as there is at the base of Bird Spring Mesa.

After driving for some time it is nice to get out and stretch you legs and you can do this at Artist's Point. You may well see a number of artists with palettes and easels or sketch books as this is the scenic point that is favoured by artists in the park. We had a walk around and took several dozen photos of all the fabulous scenery before heading onwards around the driving trail.

The views through North Window allow you to see down into the lower valley. Elephant butte on on the left and on the right is Cly Butte, Cly which means left in Navaho. This butte is named after a Navajo medicine man as he is buried at the foot of the butte.

We then see the king on his throne which needs a little imagination but can be identified quite easily once you know what you are looking for. The Thumb is a separate spire a bit away from Camel Butte. Some say it also looks like a cowboy boot but I was not convinced.

The scenery is absolutely stunning and even if the features are not always easily identifiable it is good entertainment trying to recognise them. The colours and shapes and the whole desert valley is certainly a sight you will not forget in a hurry.

I would certainly recommend driving around the scenic drive because although you can see some of the formations from the main road the US 163, which links Kayenta, AZ with US 191 in Utah, you would miss many others.

It is worth calling in at the Visitor Centre because you can stand on a view point over looking the valley for yet more photos. Inside there are displays, information and photographs as well as a cafe .

If you are in this part of the USA then make the effort to go and drive the trail and then drive along the Highway and it is simply stunning. It is a beautiful yet harsh landscape with colours that cannot fail to impress. You will need to stay overnight somewhere locally as the distances from other places is quite vast.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Indian Route 42 Oljato
Monument Valley, AZ, 84536
(435) 727-5874


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