MONUMENT VALLEY – RED DUST & ICONIC WEST
My journey to MV (Monument Valley) was pretty spontaneous. It was a Thursday night, my previously planned Friday meeting got cancelled, so all of sudden I got a three-day long weekend.
If you are a road trip lover, and have a short vacay in LA, you actually get plenty possibilities for destinations. The Monument Valley was not in my plan, due to the 10 hour long drive (20 hour round trip drive is too long for a 3-day vacay), but there are two things motivated me and eventually made this trip happened:
One is the Monument Valley post card. (I know… ) I had this post card from another travel-holic, and I am really obsessed with the red dust and its enchanting color changing in the golden hours. Every time, I see this post card, I hear the Monument Valley is calling; )
Another motivation is the movie Forrest Gump. I watched that movie when I was like 10?! And if you are a fan of that movie like me, you know the spot where Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run and said “I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now”. That filming spot became today’s “Forrest Gump Point”, which is 16 miles away from the Monument Valley.
How motivating a post card and a filming spot could be? Well, the answer is: By the second morning (Friday), I had already arrived in the Monument Valley!
And No, I didn’t fly there, but drove. Because the closest airport is in Flagstaff, 176 miles away … Plus flying into that airport, you most likely will have to change planes in Phoenix, which doesn’t save any time :/
Monument Valley is not a national park, as it’s a Tribal Park owned by the Navajo Nation. The park is accessed by the looping, 17-mile Valley Drive. It’s a dirt and gravel road that starts and ends at the Monument Valley Visitor Center.
A four-wheel-drive car is preferable to drive thru this loop, however, self-drive with a regular car is OK! I mean, I did go thru some difficulties: bumpy, dusty, low speed limit, but isn’t these making this iconic West journey more spiritual? So why not take your time and enjoy the views along the way?!
For travelers whose time is limited and only can visit the Valley with couple stops, I would highly recomment two spots inside the Valley:
One is the Visitor Center. It’s indeed the most beautiful visitor center I’ve ever seen, as thru its windows you get the whole Valley View.
Only one minute walking from the Visitor Center parking lot, you can reach the spot where the Post Card picture was taken. This spot is probably the most crowded spot in the MV, however if you have time and patience, you certainly can get a picture without the crowd.
The other spot has to be John Ford’s Point.
Thanks to John Ford, who directed seven different Westerns in MV, including Stagecoach in 1939. John Ford loved filming here and called it “the most complete, beautiful, and peaceful place on earth.” Since then, countless movies and TV shows have utilized the valley’s iconic sandstone buttes as backdrops. Nowadays, MV became “the West” in many Americans’ minds, and that brings many visitors to explore the breathtaking beauty.
Besides the two spots inside the Valley, there is another one you just shouldn’t miss – Forrest Gump Point.
As a fan of the movie Forrest Gump, I always thought the movie scene was taken inside the Monument Valley, but it turned out they are different locations. Fortunately, the drive between is minimal, only 16 miles (20 minutes drive), so if you like the movie Forrest Gump, make this drive and get this spot clicked.
Take Indian Route 42 East 3.7 miles to the West and turn right onto US-163N. Drive an additional 8 miles at this point. The exact GPS coordinates are (37.101647, -109.990675) However, I noted that you can also simply just Google Map “Forrest Gump Point” and get the right directions.
For photography, there are many guides online that you can find, here I only want to add one viewpoint from my experience: Taking pictures here in golden hours!
For sure, the MV’s view in daytime is fantastic. With the endless red dust under the heat of the sun, you can easily get amazing shots full of spiritual western vibes.
However, by evening before sunset, the Valley becomes more colorful and enchanting. In golden hours, I was so excited to capture every moment of the Valley view, and every capture the colors are slightly different from the others! Not quite sure the sunset time of the MV all year around, but just so you know, when I visited it three weeks ago (Mid August), the sunset time was 8 pm, and that’s the time I captured my favorite MV views 🙂