Starting in 1938 with John Ford’s “Stagecoach,” starring John Wayne, the iconic images of Monument Valley have become the images most people imagine when they think of the “West”. While planning our great Southwestern adventure, I really worked to avoid long days of driving. Looking for a good route between Taos and the Grand Canyon I realized that the valley would be a great stopping point, especially since it also gave us the chance to go by Shiprock and the Four Corners National Monument along the way. Neither of us had previously visited either of these sites.
Shiprock is a very sacred formation at the heart of the Navajo or Diné nation. It rises up from out of the desert and is visible for miles.
We took a short detour north to see the spot where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona all come together. Tourists wait politely to take their pictures while standing in all four states at once. It was very interesting to learn that modern surveying technology has shown that the monument is still in the wrong spot, even though it has been moved before.
Anyway, as we continued to drive into Arizona we got to enjoy high winds and the dust/sandstorm I wrote about a few blogs ago. Our destination was the new hotel that the Navajo nation built inside Monument Valley itself. Only 95 rooms, all of which face East, and all with balconies. Because of the sandstorm, we chose to enjoy our evening watching the sunset from our private viewing post. I set the camera on the tripod and shot every few minutes to watch the light and shadows change dramatically.
There is a 17 mile scenic drive through the valley floor and it comes with warnings that strongly recommend a vehicle with high ground clearance. Some of the most scenic areas can only be accessed when accompanied by a tribal guide. We made arrangements, although it took a little bit of coaxing, to go out before sunrise the next morning.
Our guide, Charlie, picked us up in the hotel lobby at 0430 and we headed off into the backcountry in the dark.
We bounced around as we headed to the inner reaches of the valley and then stopped to see the light begin to creep up on the rocks and the sand. The winds were much calmer than the previous evening, and the view was spectacular. There were a couple of spots where we headed down steep embankments filled with deep ruts that made us very glad he was driving.
John Ford’s Point was just one of the iconic stops along our way. By 0830, as we headed back up the hill to the hotel, the light was already getting flat. Definitely a place to shoot at sunrise and sunset; the two Golden hours of the day.
The valley would definitely be interesting to photograph in winter as well. They get a decent amount of snow and from the photos displayed around the hotel, it really adds more magic to already magnificent scenes. After much needed showers and a hearty breakfast, we checked out and headed for the Grand Canyon.