Five Unusual Things to Do in Monument Valley
(note: this post was updated in 2022)
Monument Valley, Utah, one of my most favorite places in the US, is often overlooked by travelers doing the great western park loop of our National Parks.
It shouldn’t be. Monument Valley should be your number one stop on any southwest road trip. Run by the Navajo tribe and not a national park, it nonetheless qualifies as a national treasure. Most vacationers drive the Monument Valley loop, grabbing a Navajo taco and possibly stopping by a jewelry stand or two. But the valley is much more than a few good pictures and flavors. Here’s my list of 5 unusual things to do in Monument Valley.
A special note: Covid really demolished the tribe, so please be sensitive to your comments and your mask wearing while on the reservation. If they ask you to wear a mask, please do so.
1. Stay in a tipi. I know it’s hokey, but gosh darnit, it’s fun. We stayed at Monument Valley Tipi Village. The gracious hosts made us comfortable beds, provided dishes for us to use for barbeque, and told us wonderful stories of the history of tourism in the Valley.
2. Attend a powwow. A powwow is a gathering of Native Americans, often several tribes, who get together to celebrate traditional dances and food. We happened to arrive during an annual powwow. After paying our admission at the local high school gym, we got the chance to see fabulous traditional dress, listen to traditional drumming, and watch traditional dances. I feel blessed to have been included in the powwow and only wished my camera had a higher speed shutter!
3. Learn the names of the monuments. There are no signs letting you know the names of these giant red rock formations that decorate the valley floor. You must ask one of the local tribe members to point them out to you or find a good map. Once you learn the names, you’ll give yourself a V-8 knock on the head for how obvious the names are.
4. Eat a Navajo taco. Yup, it’s touristy, but who can’t resist a good piece of fried bread topped with your favorite taco toppings? Make sure you get the Navajo chili, as it’s not a Navajo taco without the Navajo chili. Granted, you don’t have to go into Monument Valley to get a Navajo taco (there are plenty around the Four Corners area), but why not? You’re there on the reservation, go ahead and enjoy one.
5. Take a tour by a tribal guide. After 3 previous visits to Monument Valley, I finally decided to hire a guide to take us on a Navajo-led hike. Since there are few marked trails and many sacred sites, most hiking requires a guide. Our hike left from our tipi and headed straight up a mesa. Along the way, our guide pointed out some of the native plants and explained their usages. After a steep climb, a pull up the side of a cliff, and a catch of my breath, we arrived at some Anasazi ruins that are not open to the public. Not only were the ruins fantastic, but the views and the hike were breath taking. We booked our hike through the tipi village via the tipi host. There are many others throughout the valley. Although a bit expensive, don’t miss this unusual experience.
Monument Valley far exceeds any expectation, as the views trump many of the National Parks nearby like Escalante, Grand Canyon, Zion, Arches, or Capitol Reef. On your way between Zion and the Grand Canyon, take a detour and visit this goldmine of visual rewards. Every time I go, I can’t get enough.