Monument Valley is the quintessential Wild West – captured on film countless times, it is an awe-inspiring landscape that is impossible to forget – huge fingers of rock reaching upwards are fascinating from near and afar. It lies within the boundaries of the Navajo reservation, which to us appeared to be almost a separate country within the USA. We drove by at sunset – the setting sun hits the grand rocks and mesas and it was an unforgettable sight. We’d be visiting the valley proper the following day.
There are hotels on site, but we chose to stay about an hour away in the prosaically named town of Mexican Hat, UT. If John Wayne’s ghost had suddenly appeared in the hotel dining room that night I doubt anyone would have been surprised. It was all so out of a wild west movie! Our hotel was on the banks of the San Juan river – it was really pretty amazing to go down to the riverbank, with birds flying about, and we just tried our luck at skipping stones (which doesn’t work well on a flowing river).
Mexican Hat is named after a rock just out of town in the shape of, yes, a Mexican hat. It’s actually looks like one. All in all, a pretty good place to stay.
The next morning, prior to going back to Monument Valley, we drove to see some more mind bending scenery. Not far from Mexican Hat is the turn off to the Moki Dugway. This is an incredibly twisty and windy road that was built for uranium carrying trucks decades ago. It was actually fine with a regular car, but you had to be on your guard. At the top, it was a short drive to Muley Point – a viewpoint offering a vista that seemed to go on for 100 miles at least. There were some campers up there – at night it must feel like one is alone in all the world. It was then down the Dugway, a quick stop at Goosenecks State Reserve to see the twists and turns of the San Juan River, and then it was back into the Navajo Reservation to Monument Valley.
The Valley is very easy to tour with kids – it’s built for car touring, so you can easily drive from one huge rock to the next. There is horse riding available, and you can take a tour with a Navajo guide to get the full inside story. We didn’t do this as we’d splashed out on a guide the day before at the slot canyon, but we almost certainly would have learned a lot more.
We then drove for a few hours across the reservation to Chinle, the Navajo “capital” where we would be staying for the night.
This was an extraordinary day. The sights were astounding. This was truly nature at its best – vast landscapes, winding rivers, canyons and chasms, towers of rock. Navajo country is probably as close as it gets to feeling what the Old West might have been like. Modern USA seemed a universe away.
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