Countless photographs, paintings and movies filmed in this area have made the towering sandstone buttes of Monument Valley a universally recognized symbol of the majestic natural beauty of the American West.
Wind and water carved away most of a vast layer of rock that once covered this area of northern Arizona and southern Utah, leaving massive vertical slabs of rock as testaments to the vast power of erosion.
A close look at the buttes reveals three layers of different rock, a record of the area’s geologic history. Shale forms the base, followed by sandstone in the middle and another stratum of shale on top. The landscape owes its rich, red color to the iron oxide in the rock and soil.
Aside from natural beauty, Monument Valley offers a cultural experience as well. The rocks are host to pueblos and rock art created centuries ago by the Anasazi people.
First-time visitors will likely feel as though they have been to this landscape before — a small wonder given its major presence in American media.
John Ford shot many of his Westerns here, even ones not set in Arizona or Utah. Forrest Gump ended his cross-country tour here on U.S. Route 163, and Marlboro used the area in advertisements as the home of their Marlboro Man.
You can get close enough to the buttes for a stunning panorama just by taking U.S. Route 163, the only major road leading to the area. For a small fee, one can travel the smaller dirt roads that lead to the rest of the valley.
One should also keep in mind that the site is on land owned by the Navajo Nation and is therefore under the jurisdiction of that reservation.