Marveling at (Accessible) Monument Valley, AZ/UT

Vacations are designed for sleeping in, right? I’m all for that, but last night I intentionally left the curtains wide open so I could wake up at first light. Why on earth would I do something so insane, you ask?? Take a look at the view in the first photo below.

Somehow I lucked out and got a room reservation for two nights at the most in-demand hotel anywhere near Monument Valley. I suspect the demand isn’t only a result of it being the only hotel in the Park and the only one for 23 miles. It’s called The View Hotel, and for a reason–every single room’s sliding doors and balconies face the Valley monuments. Anyway, I sat on my balcony for probably 20 minutes just taking a photo of the view that changed every 2-3 minutes, freezing my behind off (my weather app said 26˚ with a “feels like” of 7˚) the whole time. There were about 20 people chattering and oooh-ing and ahhh-ing on the restaurant terrace while hopping about to stay warm, aiming their cameras and phones at the awe-inspiring scenery. This was a completely apropos start to my day.

I wandered over to the attached restaurant for breakfast, and for the second meal in a row I found myself wondering, Where are all the Americans?? Last night I was in Korea and this morning I was in France. Well, as I was watching a CBS documentary today during lunch about Monument Valley, I learned that of the roughly 480,000 annual visitors to onument Valley, 70 percent of them are from foreign countries. My jaw just dropped when I heard that statistic. There have been like three dozen westerns and a gazillion more movies filmed here; I figured this would be a huge attraction for Americans over foreigners, especially those doing an Arizona-Utah canyon route like myself. But nope; I feel like I’m in Europe again, perking up whenever I hear someone speaking English. Weird.

Anyway, after breakfast I bundled up (the 20 mph winds make it [insert expletive here] cold) and headed to the back of the parking lot to find myself a Navajo guide. Not only was I nervous about braving wet clay roads–I wanted to see every square inch of the park that I could, and you can only do that with a paid guide. I explained my situation to Matthew–I just needed space for my electric scooter in his trunk and help getting into his Chevy Suburban. I wouldn’t be getting out for any reason, but I would want to stop many times to take photos. I also would be asking an annoying amount of questions because I wanted to know everything he could tell me about the Valley’s history, people, plants, animals, weather, geology…you get the picture. He was down with it, so off we went.

Honestly, of all the places I’ve been in the United States and around the world, Monument Valley is easily the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen. You don’t realize how ginormous the spires and buttes and mesas are until you see the birds flying next to them like gnats or the cars driving below them like ants. They’re made of sandstone, which has cleaved away and been worn down by water (hundreds of millions of years ago) and wind, which results in red sand dunes (and clay mud) towards the back of the valley. The Anasazi lived here from about 200-1300AD, so I was able to see a panel of their markings. That was chilling, since no one really knows for sure why the Anasazi pretty much just up and left in 1300AD.

I knew from pictures and movies that Monument Valley was known for its spires and buttes. But I had NO idea what was waiting for me on the other side of the Valley–much of it only accessible with a Navajo guide. We saw natural arches and “windows” in the huge sandstone formations, running water that emerges from springs ATOP the cliffs, sand dunes, and even a small pack of coyotes making a rare appearance in full daylight. There are even a few Navajo families who call the Park home, and we drove by their very modest dwellings a couple of times–some trailers, many modern and traditional hogans, and even sweat lodges. There is no electricity or running water to supply these homes, so they have outhouses and have to haul in fresh water since the natural springs don’t provide enough to supply them.

After three hours of driving (in some cases, wrestling with the road), we headed back. I had a nice lunch, did some shopping in the gift shop, and spent some time on my laptop working on this post and checking in on the world while enjoying the very dynamic view through the hotel lobby windows. At around 4pm, the hour-long daily spectacle known as “sunset” in the valley began, which of course meant it was time for me to bundle up once again and stare slack-jawed at some ancient rock formations.

Fortunately I was able to get some great shots from my hotel room balcony once again because I did NOT want to go outside. I did, and if it wasn’t for the spectacular sunset I was rewarded with, I would have regretted it. The temperature itself wasn’t that bad; maybe low 40s. But the wind was punishing, roughly around 20mph with at least 30mph gusts. Wind chill anyone?? But that didn’t stop a throng of people (mostly speaking languages I didn’t understand) from heading to the terrace for photos.But after about ten minutes, I just couldn’t take the cold and had to go inside. The buttes behind the hotel were already fully in shadow, so I figured the show was over anyway. I started taking the lenses off my iPhone, taking off my jacket, charging my selfie stick, and editing my photos from the day. I exchanged a few messages with my best friend, and sent a few emails. I happened to look up in the direction of the balcony only because a bird flew by and caught my attention. Then I nearly peed my pants when I saw the view and started panicking to get my phone camera ready. Monument Valley wasn’t done with me yet. In about the span of 20 minutes, the view went from the cobalt blue sky and copper oranges you see above to baby blues, pinks, and lavenders. Purely. Amazing

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