Monument Valley has captured the imaginations of people all over the world since Hollywood first showed us the expansive landscape and soaring monoliths in 1925. Countless photographers have been inspired by the colorful rock formations and the valley’s ever-changing light. Even French singer Johnny Hallyday performs a song titled Monument Valley on his 2007 album Le Coeur D’Un Homme.
Admittedly, Sedona Monthly’s staff is no exception – we’ve been under Monument Valley’s spell since we first visited in 2000. While we were enchanted by the landscape, it didn’t seem like there was much to do other than check out the visitors center, eat some frybread and maybe take a guided tour. But after some research, we recently returned to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park with a packed itinerary (and came home with a kitten, but that’s another story). It turns out the park might offer some of the most memorable experiences to be had on the Navajo Reservation if you’re willing to do a little planning. We went horseback riding, took tours with guides who grew up in the valley, spent an evening under the stars with a Navajo dancer and flutist, hiked at sunrise and wandered through a historical museum. As it turns out, three nights was barely enough time to do all we had planned, even after our hot air balloon tour was canceled due to windy weather.
The tribal park is a picturesque four-hour drive from Sedona (via highways 89, 160 and 163). It straddles both Arizona and Utah. We spent months researching the best ways to see Monument Valley and experience its culture, so use this story as a guide for planning a trip to an extraordinary spot located in Sedona’s backyard. It’s an adventure you won’t soon forget.
Dineh Trail Rides of Monument Valley
Horseback riding in Monument Valley should be on everyone’s bucket list. It was something we dreamed about for years, but not long ago the trail-riding outfits closed up shop when the Navajo tribe stopped allowing horse tours on the valley floor (it’s our understanding that the tour groups were riding too close to residences and private property, thus the moratorium was put in place). Lucky for us, that moratorium was lifted a few years ago, and once again you’re free to gallop across the valley floor like the characters from your favorite John Ford film.
After scouting prices and riding locations, we found Dineh Trail Rides, located on the valley floor at milepost 5 near the Three Sisters formation, to be the most reasonable. The outfit has been in the same location for 10 years. Dineh Trail Rides has 32 horses and offers everything from 30-minute to overnight tours. We wound up on a three-hour ride with our guide, Wilson Chief. Wilson took us on a big loop of the valley floor and to rock formations and petroglyphs you can only visit with a guide. He showed us incredible kokopelli petroglyphs near Honeymoon Cave; a formation known as the Submarine with a rock window that perfectly frames some of the valley’s most popular monoliths; and the mystical Echo Cave. We rode over sand dunes near the Needle and Yei Bei Che formations and around mesas while Wilson told us about the dozen or so families who live on the valley floor without electricity or running water. He talked about his own personal history – the cattle drives he’d been on all across the United States and his explorations of the mesas surrounding Monument Valley. He gave us pointers on riding and trotting with our horses, a rare treat that usually isn’t allowed on the trail rides we’ve experienced. (Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do to keep us from walking bow legged the next morning, but we still had smiles on our faces.)