Monument Valley

The Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Park (Navajo name: Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaiiis) is one of the most majestic and photographed points in the world. The elevation of Monument Valley is 5,500 feet and has sandstone formations with heights up to 1,000 feet. This beautiful valley covers over 91,000 acres with land in both Arizona and Utah.

If Monument Valley looks familiar to you, perhaps it is because of the many western movies shot there. Sometime in 1938, a tall, lanky cowboy named Harry Goulding walked into United Artists Studios in Los Angeles and asked a receptionist if he could talk to someone about a location for a western movie. Harry ran a small trading post at the northwest rim of Monument Valley. He had many photographs of Monument Valley on him. When an executive arrived, he glimpsed at some of the photographs and stopped short. Before long, Goulding was showing the images to 43-year-old John Ford.

Goulding left Los Angeles with a check for $5,000 and orders to accommodate a crew while it filmed in Monument Valley. Navajos were hired as extras (playing Apaches), and Ford even signed up—for $15 a week—a local medicine man named Hastiin Tso, or “Big Man,” to control the weather. The movie, released in 1939, was Stagecoach and starred a former stuntman named John Wayne. It won two Academy Awards and made Wayne a star. John Ford would go on to shoot six more westerns in Monument Valley: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). Other westerns have been shot in Monument Valley but it all stared with Harry Goulding’s trip to Hollywood.

Most of the Navajo Tribal Park can only be seen from the Valley Drive, a 17 mile dirt road which starts at the visitor center and heads southeast amongst the towering cliffs and mesas.  The best way to see Monument Valley is taking a tour run by the Navajos. This will take you to many areas you are not allowed to go without permission.  Go to this site for more information about this spectacular western landmark.