This is a place 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. Orange and blue are opposites on the color wheel and this makes everything POP!
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 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 change dramatically as you reach Monument Pass through the mesas, as the sun ignites the massive rock formations to their bright, pre-sunset red-orange color.
At the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park to the Mittens there is an entrance fee covering a 2-day visit. Ample parking is straight ahead to the visitor’s center, The View Restaurant and Hotel. Climb out of your car, look to the left and The Mittens are right there. Like two friendly gigantic sculptures waving to everyone from the wide open landscape.
This image (above) shows the lighting one hour before sunset — an optimal time for viewing and photos. Dozens of photographers appear to set up their tripods, ready to capture the sunset glow. As the sun drops lower in the west, the rich red land deepens.
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, a beloved landmark of the region in pale pastel blue. His head is to the left, arms crossed over his chest as he sleeps.
After 50+ photos we 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.
Standing in silence. Finally. The Mittens. At sunset. People all around gazing out to this natural marvel of rugged beauty.
(Above, at the View Restaurant … today’s special “Mitten on a Tray.”)
After taking in the moment, we recommend checking out the visitor’s center where there are 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).
Tip: there is an optimal photography position outside on the restaurant balcony called Photographer’s Point. You’ll find a plaque noting that Ansel Adams and other renowned photographers stood on that spot to capture this iconic 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. We look forward to re-visiting this “valley of the rocks” again and again.
Bucket list, check!
Wishing you Happy Discoveries!
Amy and Mr.D
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