Monument Valley

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Monument Valley is part of the Navajo Nation in southeastern Utah.

Wide shot of The Mittens Monument Valley, Utah

Beginning in 1925 with the film The Vanishing American, Monument Valley has been the visual representation of the American West. John Ford made Monument Valley famous as the backdrop for most of his Westerns including Stagecoach, Fort Apache, How the West Was Won, My Darling Clementine, and The Searchers.

Filming Stagecoach, 1939

Filming Stagecoach, 1939

Still from The Searchers, 1956

Still from The Searchers, 1956

Last year, CBS Sunday Morning did a nice segment on John Ford and Monument Valley.


Monument Valley, Utah

I don’t normally give specific travel tips, but this time I must: Do NOT try to traverse the ‘Scenic Drive’ in your own car! Seriously, just don’t do it. There is this helpful little sign about the risks: “WARNING Your driving should be at risk with the road”

Warning sign, Monument Valley, Utah

The strange warning sign as you enter the scenic drive says: “WARNING Your driving should be at risk with the road Admission is required”

I’ve read other reviews of this ‘rugged scenic drive’ through Monument Valley which mention that it’s a bumpy dirt road, but that if you go slow you shouldn’t have a problem. After starting down this road, I would urge you not to take that advice, at least not if you need your car to get you back to wherever you came from.

Monument Valley, Utah

If you look closely you can see white SUV on the dirt road.

The road starts off rather steeply downhill and the Element bottomed out on a couple of unavoidable “bumps”. Then the passable part of the road became so narrow we had to stop to let oncoming traffic pass and at one turn was so pitched I thought the Element would tip over. As we became more nervous, we saw another Element coming back up, so we stopped and asked him how the road was and how far he made it. He said that he kept thinking the road would get better, but it never did. He only had two wheel drive and was having a hard time getting back up, we have four wheel drive but our Element was overweight so we had the same concern. Since we couldn’t turn around right there, we had no choice but to continue down.  We were driving so slowly that walking would’ve been faster.

The Mittens Monument Valley, Utah

At the next pull off we parked and walked down the road a bit. Even the open tour trucks, that normally flew over ruts—bouncing their passengers dangerously around—had a hard time making it up and over the steep spots.

Monument Valley dangerous scenic road

The road looks much less treacherous in photos than in person.

After walking a bit and taking some pictures we went back to the Element and white-knuckled it back up to the parking lot—more or less unscathed. There we saw a car with a broken rear axle, apparently it was intact enough to get off the terrible road but I don’t know how far they made it after that. We met another woman who was in a rental car and said she never would’ve done it with her own car.

So my advice, if you’re venturing to Monument Valley and want to drive the 17-mile road, is to spring for the tour ($85 per person) or to have a really good damage/service policy on your rental car (ideally one that can tow you from the Najavo nation).

We opted to hike the long and sandy Wildcat Trail which had really nice close up views of the Mittens. Monument Valley, Utah

On our way out, we did find the approximate spot on Route 163, about 13 miles north of Monument Valley, where Forrest Gump stopped running.

forrest-gump-monument-valley-feat Highway 163 Monument Valley View

The scale of the sandstone structures in Monument Valley is stunning and if you’re a fan of Westerns, it’s cool to see The West in person.

Highway 163 Monument Valley View

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