Exploring Monument Valley

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Exploring Monument Valley

When you first arrive at Monument Valley, a part of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona and southeast Utah, you’re first stop is at the wonderfully situated View Hotel. The eastern facing patios and decks provide outstanding views of the main iconic rock formations – the East and West Mittens and Merrick Butte. From there descends a 17-mile scenic dirt loop road that winds its way through the park. Whether you stop at the Hotel or drive the loop some of the best scenery is closest to the Hotel.

Throughout the valley are a variety of formations and sand dunes due to the windy conditions and orange/red desert sand. This variety combined with great light and occasional storms offers photographers a never-ending pallet of conditions in which to capture the area. The more dramatic light occurs around sunrise and sunset, but depending on the skies you may find interesting compositions during the day as well. Visit my gallery at http://kemperimagery.com/collections/monument+valley for some of the opportunities you will find.

To get good access to the Totem Pole, Yei Bi Chei dancers and the rippled dunes around them you’ll need to hire a Navajo guide and be on location before sunrise. The area described is off limits without a guide, and you would not want to drive your vehicle on the rutted roads anyway. Hiring a guide supports the locals and you’ll benefit from their stories and access to sites off the main loop.

I would recommend spending two or three days in the area to allow for different weather conditions. This is high desert so everything from wind, rain, snow and sunshine are possible. There is not much in the way of entertainment in the area, although there are a few interesting museums (attached to the Hotel and at Gouldings Lodge) that delve into the history of the area. At Gouldings they present history of the movies that have used Monument Valley as a backdrop (Back to The Future, Forest Gump, and many Westerns and more). Lodging is somewhat limited, but there are a few options (the View Hotel, Gouldings, and a bed and breakfast or two).

If you are planning on offering any of your photos for sale or license, the Navajo Nation requires that you obtain a permit to do so. While this could cost you $100 or more depending on how long you are there, it eliminates any copyright issues if you did want to offer them on the market. I found that the permits are not issued at the headquarters of Monument Valley and need to be obtained (via email) from the Navajo Nation in Window Rock. This requires you to plan ahead. I suspect that many photographers do not get a permit and are risking being pursued by the Navajo for copyright infringement.