MY DREAM CAME TRUE!
Reviews of bucket-list-worthy things to do all over the world

Exploring Monument Valley!

A view of Monument Valley from the Visitor Center area
 
A friend and I were on a six-day/five-night mid-June whirlwind road trip to see some of the most spectacular national parks in the USA. We'd already spent two nights at the Grand Canyon. Before heading to Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park, we decided to make a side trip to see Monument Valley.
          Monument Valley was on my bucket list because I wanted to visit the buttes I'd seen in countless movies from old westerns, to Forrest Gump, to the Disney/Pixar movie Cars. (The buttes were a bit altered in Cars (to resemble cars), but Monument Valley was certainly an inspiration.)
          We arrived in Monument Valley in the mid afternoon, and we paid the park entry fee. (Since Monument Valley is not a national park, our America the Beautiful - National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass did not cover our admission here.) Then we drove to the Visitor Center, where fellow tourists were busily photographing the distant buttes. My friend and I snapped a few photos, made a quick stop at the restrooms inside, and then hopped back in our car for a self-guided drive on Monument Valley Loop Drive to get an up-close look at the fascinating towers of rock.

A self-guided drive through Monument Valley

         Monument Valley Loop Drive is a 17-mile rocky, rutted, dirt-and-sand road. We were a bit hesitant about driving the road because we had a sedan rather than a four-wheel-drive vehicle, but my friend wanted to give it a try. (Those who do not wish to drive on the road can purchase a guided tour from one of the stalls in the Visitor Center parking lot.)
 
A view from the Visitor Center showing a segment of Monument Valley Loop Drive in the foreground
 
The beginning (and the end) of Monument Valley Loop Drive
 
          We descended the bumpy switchbacks, hoping that we hadn't made a big mistake when we decided to do this drive ourselves. Soon, the buttes towered over us, an awe-inspiring experience. The driving was slow-going because the rocks and pits in the road demanded constant vigilance. There was even a sandy portion where I could feel our wheels start to spin. Fortunately, my friend was able to keep us moving.
 
Driving on Monument Valley Loop Drive
 
We stopped occasionally for photos and to take in the peacefulness of the quiet desert.  
 
Close-up of a butte photographed from Monument Valley Loop Drive
 
A paved portion of Monument Valley Loop Drive
 
          Our drive was enjoyable, but I couldn't help feeling relieved when we finally made it back up those steep, pitted, rocky, dirt switchbacks and reentered the Visitor Center parking lot with our car apparently unscathed. We parked our dusty car and set out on foot to do what I'd been looking forward to most of all here in Monument Valley: a hike on Wildcat Trail.

Hiking in Monument Valley

          Wildcat Trail is a 3.8 mile loop hike that heads to and then around West Mitten Butte. Although the trail is mostly flat, there is a bit of a descent to get down to the valley floor. On our way down, we passed a pair of flushed-faced young women huffing their way back up the sandy switchbacks.
 
Wildcat Trail trailhead
 
           It was a hot summer day, but that was about to change. In the distance, we saw rain clouds rolling in. Gentle winds started to blow through the valley. The air began to cool. We hoped that the clouds would move away, but instead they came closer. We considered turning back, but we were reassured by seeing a woman and her guide, both on horseback, on a nearby valley trail. Other than the two of them, though, we were the only visitors in the valley.
 
 
Stopping for a photo on Wildcat Trail
 
          Then came the raindrops, just a light sprinkle. Actually it was quite pleasant, until we heard the ominous thunder. Although we didn't see any lighting, we decided that, for safety reasons, it was time to turn back but, by that point, turning back would have involved walking toward the storm clouds and hiking roughly the same distance as continuing along the trail, and so we continued, carefully watching the sky, hoping that our luck would hold. Fortunately, it did. The storm clouds moved away, leaving behind air that was cooled more to spring-like temperatures than summer.
 
My favorite view from Wildcat Trail
 
          By the time we'd walked back to our car, the sun was low in the sky. Fellow tourists were lined up along the outer edge of the Visitor Center parking lot to photograph the buttes at sunset, but there was one more Monument Valley view that I wanted to take in before dark. And so, we hopped back in our car, exited the park, and headed north on Highway 163.

A famous look at Monument Valley from the Highway

          As we drove north of Monument Valley on Highway 163, we got another look at many of the buttes we'd seen from within the park. About 12 miles later, we found ourselves at the spot where Forrest Gump ends his epic run; it's where he tells his followers that he's tired and is going to go back home. It was there that my friend and I stopped and watched the distant buttes change from reddish-brown to purple as the sun left the sky.
 
 
The spot where Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) stopped his epic run. 
 
 
Our view of Monument Valley from Highway 163 heading south
 
           Like Forrest, we were tired. Unfortunately, our home for the night wasn't here. Our hotel was about 120 miles away, in Page, Arizona. And so, as day transformed to night, we drove and drove and drove until we finally made it to Page.

I did this in mid June 2018 in Monument Valley, Utah.

Jen (California, USA)
 
You might also enjoy these reviews of the other stops on our whirlwind road trip:

Grand Canyon
Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park