Backcountry into the Monument Valley

monument valley panorama

[Monument Valley Panorama]

One of my highest anticipations of the southwest road trip was this beautiful dreamscape of red buttes and mesas, called “Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park” (I still laugh at myself when I first miss pronounced the name “navaho” as “navajo”, you know what I mean…) Had seen couple glimpse in movies and commercial ads, I had no idea how unique and remote this place is until I stood in front of the quintessential landscape. It has been preserved to keep its original look and I had been deceived to think it was not even civilized. There were still native Americans living in the vast land and communicating with their own language.

We had the luck of staying at the “The View”, the only hotel inside park where all the balconies facing the panoramic view like the one in the above picture. The dramatic light casted different hues on the surreal sandstone towers and valley floor. The colors on the mittens change from bright orange to deep dark red within the last few hours of the day.

Navajo Monument Valley sunset & moonrise

[ Mitten’s Sunset and Moonrise ]

Twin mitten at dusk, Navajo Monument Valley

[ Twin Mitten at dusk ]

Mitten's Moon, Navajo Monument Valley

[ Mitten’s Moon ]

My tripod stood on the balcony  in the freezing cold all night and of course I didn’t sleep much either. At first I was trying to shoot star trails, but the moon was so bright and high that it lit the whole sky, so no chances of getting star trails in the midnight. Then I went to take a nap, somewhere along suddenly I thought about shooting at the darkest time which was dawn when the moon was set and the sun hadn’t yet come up. I got up before dawn and it worked, but my angle was limited on the balcony unless I went into the middle of the valley. Alright, this is the best (and the first) star trails I got. (still worth the effort I guess…)

Star trail in monument valley

 [ Star trail over the Monument Valley ]

After messing around the whole night, it still wasn’t the time to rest. In winter time, the sun rises from the east of the three iconic buttes in the valley, unlike the intense orange color during sunset, winter sunrise was more hushed and soft.

Sunrise in Navajo Monument Valley

[ Monument Valley Sunrise ]

After the sunrise and a nice breakfast at The View, we hopped onto a blue Jeep with our private Navajo guide Gary for an unforgettable backcountry valley tour. Visiting this place during winter season was the best, although it’s cold but there was no one in the valley except us, and not to mention there’s less sand and dust on the dirt road. We book the tour because the Navajos only allow the public to see a 17-mile loop of Monument Valley but there’s a vast area with hidden wonders beyond the loop that can only be accessed by local residents. Even the 17-mile loop requires a four-wheel drive, we didn’t want to turn our white civic red…

Touring backcountry Monument Valley on Jeep

[ Touring Monument Valley on Jeep, “three sisters” in distance ]

As we bumped along the rocky tracks all over the Navajo backcountry, we popped in and out of the Jeep, walked around while listening to Gary’s talk about history and culture, and took tons of pictures. Word couldn’t explain the awe of the wild, untrammeled place. There were certain moments I felt weak and tiny in front of the majestic environment, I felt like nothing matters compares to the nature!

Totem Pole and Hogan, Navajo Monument Valley

[ Our native Navajo guide Gary, in front of Hogan and Totem Pole ]

The Big Hogan, Navajo Monument Valley Backcountry

[ Snow falling through The Big Hogan, backcountry in Monument Valley ]

Dead tree and natural arch, in backcountry of Navajo Monument Valley

[Dead tree and natural arch, backcountry in Monument Valley]

Eye of the Sun, backcountry in Navajo Monument Valley

[Eye of the Sun, backcountry in Monument Valley]

Ancient ruins of Cliff dwellings, backcountry Monument Valley

[ Ancient ruins of cliff dwellings, Secret Valley in Navajo Nation]

Teardrop arch. secret valley, monument valley

[ Teardrop Arch, Secret Valley in Navajo Nation ]

I have selected a few major wonders posted above, the slideshow below has the complete interesting spots we’ve visited. Hope you enjoy!

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  1. Stunning and beautiful!!!

  2. What an AMAZING Place to Explore – Love Your Captures!!! Happy Friday:)

  3. Great shots. Wasn’t it John Huston who used this location for a lot of his westerns? I’m jealous.
    Ta-Ta for now…

  4. I’ve visited Monument Valley in the summer, so it’s interesting to see these winter photos. We had the same guide! Did you visit with his grandmother?

  5. amnesiaclinic

    Incredibly beautiful!! Thank you so much for allowing us to share these glorious photos.

    I think there is a very potent energy at the moment surrounding the Native Peoples and the First Nations. Did you see any Ghost dancing ?

    You have captured the haunting beauty very well.


  6. Wow, thank you for sharing!

  7. Send from Samsung Mobilehoneynhero wrote:

  8. I have lived in the Southwest for almost my entire life and I have never made it to Monument Valley. As of today it is officially on the list of places to go in 2013. Thank you for bringing such a beautiful piece of the world into my weekday office!

  9. absolutely amazing!!!

  10. Very awesome!! Breathtaking!

  11. Really beautiful photography! I’m glad I’ve found you! Thanks for sharing!

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