This is something that should be on every bucket list … a remote area in northern Arizona at the Utah border that holds high reverence on must-see destinations — Monument Valley and it’s Mittens.
A treasure of iconic landmarks located on the Navajo Nation, it was brought to the forefront when John Ford captured on film The Mittens in the 1939 epic movie Stagecoach, one of John Wayne’s legendary movies, among many other subsequent films located there. The towering red sandstone buttes and mesas take your breath away as their sunbaked earthen sculptures contrast with the intense blue Arizona skies.
(Look very closely at the above photo, the shape of a shadowy Mitten can be seen on the very left side of the blue rock formations.)
On our recent visit in early November we drove in from the north from Bluff Utah, through Mexican Hat, crossed from Utah into Arizona and along the way found ourselves smack on Hwy 163 a.k.a. The Forrest Gump Road. You can’t miss it — Monument Valley is a dusky blue in the distance with that long stretch of paved road meeting the vanishing point. (Note: Monument Valley was blue late in the day – it might be orange-red in the morning hours or early afternoon when the sun angles in and illuminates it from the east.)
There are pullouts all along for primo Kodak moments, and dozens of cars stop each hour with people hopping out for photos, and occasionally to act out the famous scene from the film when Forrest is seen running along with a few followers behind him, and stops to say he’s tired and heading home for Alabama. We took this photo, then stepped aside to clear the way for others who moved to the middle of the road to pose, wave, skateboard down the slope, and take family group shots. All the while bystanders knew to be on the lookout to shout “Car!” when vehicles approached, passed by, and then the photo shoots continued. (Note: be very very careful if you do this. It may be out in the middle of nowhere but this is not a slow moving highway.)
Onward to the main event, a 1,000 foot elevated drive off the barren desert floor to the cliffs and buttes cutting unusual organic shapes on the horizon. They changed dramatically as we reached the Monument Pass through the mesas, as the sun was igniting the massive rock formations to their bright, pre-sunset red-orange color.
When we reached the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park to the Mittens and The View Hotel there was an entrance fee that covers a 2-day visit. Ample parking was straight ahead to the visitor’s center and The View Restaurant, but as we climbed out of the car and looked out to the left, The Mittens were right there. They stood like two friendly sculptures waving to everyone from the flat, wide open desert floor.
We were there one hour before sunset – an optimal time for viewing and photos. In fact dozens of photographers were setting up their tripods, getting ready to capture the sunset glow. As the sun dropped lower in the west, the red coloring of The Mittens and surrounding landscape deepened.
Something that may be of interest to residents of Southwestern Colorado in the Mesa Verde area … when you look between The Mittens in the far distance is Sleeping Ute Mountain. His head is to the left, arms crossed over his chest as he sleeps. His location is only 15 minutes west from Mesa Verde and is a beloved landmark of the region.
We took about 50+ photos and may have done The Mitten Pose where silly tourists position themselves in between the two buttes and hold their hands up mimicking mittens. We may have …. um … couldn’t say.
We then stood in silence. Finally. The Mittens. At sunset. People around us were all holding each other and staring out to this natural marvel of rugged beauty.
After a long satisfied sigh, we went into the visitor’s center where there were exhibits, a huge gift shop with displays of souvenirs and artworks by Navajo artists, and The View Restaurant. We didn’t have a chance to stay or dine on this trip (another reason to return), although we did get lucky with this photo we titled “Today’s Special at Monument Valley, Mitten on a Tray.” Amy swears this is the model for her next birthday cake.
We also found THE optimal photography position. Outside on the restaurant balcony was Photographer’s Point with a plaque noting that Ansel Adams and other renowned photographers stood on that spot to capture the quintessential and captivating imagery of the landscape.
When people come to the Southwest, typically the most sought after destination is The Grand Canyon, as it should be as it’s one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Of note, Monument Valley is only a 3-4 hour drive northeast from the Grand Canyon, depending how often you stop for sights along the way. Bucket list, check!
Wishing you Happy Discoveries!
Amy and Mr.D
Other sites and things to do:
If you liked this, you may also like our article on: