Inarguably beautiful and uncannily vast, the southeast corner of Utah and northeast corner of Arizona look much the same as they did thousands of years ago.
If you want to experience the epitome of the American Southwest, visit Utah’s Monument Valley. The sunbaked, red sandstone you’ll see appears just as it did 3,000 year ago, sculpted over centuries by wind and water. Within this remote valley, impressive rock monuments rise to 1,000 feet (300 meters) above the desert floor.
To learn more about the valley, stop at Goulding’s Trading Post Museum at Goulding’s Lodge. Learn about the early Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloan people, who flourished in the area around 200 B.C. Explore the Navajo culture that took root long before Spaniards came to the region in 1581.
At sunrise, sunset or even after dark, the still valley is epically satisfying. Get up early and catch the sunrise over the canyon landscape or stay up late and see the stars as you’ve never seen them before. Pull over along the side of the road, turn off your engine and step out, feeling the solitude around you and witnessing the celestial show above.
A graded dirt road travels past the most scenic stops in Arizona’s Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, including The Mittens, Three Sisters, John Ford Point, Totem Pole, Yei Bi Chei and Ear of the Wind. Hire a Navajo guide to take you to the less-visited Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa. Consider a horseback tour, seeing the area as John Wayne’s characters did.
Get close to the landscape by hiking the 3-mile (5-kilometer) Wildcat Trail, a loop through one of Monument Valley’s prettiest areas. As you walk along this path, the park’s only self-guided trail, you’ll feel like you’re in the Wild West, making your way past famous rock buttes, including the Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte.
Find Monument Valley about 150 miles (230 kilometers) south of Moab near the Four Corners of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. A visitor center, open seven days a week, has tour tickets, maps, a restaurant and bathrooms. Near the visitor center, various Navajo vendors sell arts and crafts and native food at roadside stands. Drive the highway through the area for free. There is a fee to enter the visitor center.