We went to Monument Valley today, located in a Navajo Reservation in Arizona (just over the border from Utah). The valley features large sandstone formations and we learned the difference between mesas, buttes, and spires. In a nutshell, a mesa is a large, flat topped sandstone hill or mountain, a butte is an eroded mesa, and a spire is an eroded butte. In Monument Valley, these formations have cultural significance in their Navajo legends and we learned a little about them today.

If you ever watched Forrest Gump, you might remember the part of the movie where Forrest just kept running and running. He ran all over the country, until he finally stopped at Monument Valley. Technically, this stretch of road is in Utah, approaching Monument Valley and people were stopped all over the highway trying to get their picture. Steve and I were guilty of joining them. It was really quite funny seeing so many people trying to recreate this iconic movie moment.

There is a 17 mile loop road that takes you through the park. Because we were on an Indian reservation, our movements were restricted to the road and the pullouts along the way. We had a handout that described each formation, it’s name, and the significance in the Navajo culture.

Two of the most easily recognizable formations, for me, were the “Three Sisters” and the “East and West Mittens”. In the first picture below, Three Sisters is an example of a spire formation. The second picture shows the West and East Mittens Buttes, beside the Merrick Butte. I can’t necessarily tell the names of the rest of the formations at this point but it was very scenic, especially with the spring flowers.

We were chastised by our daughter, Lauren, for not going to Monument Valley at sunset. I asked her to share a couple of her pictures, including her Forest Gump picture. Sunset does look like a great time to visit Monument Valley.

In closing, I would suggest two things:

  1. Take a tour if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle that can take a beating. We did it in a Hyundai Elantra and the unpaved 17 mile loop road was pockmarked with potholes. We breathed a sigh of relief when we made it back.
  2. Go at sunrise or sunset (Lauren feels VERY strongly about this).

I hope you enjoyed this pocket tour of Monument Valley! To round out our day, we stopped at Bluff Fort Historic Site. Check it out!

About Author

Karen is a retired software developer, now exploring our beautiful country with her husband, Steve.

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