The location: Monument Valley Tribal Park
Monument Valley contains some of the most photographed and most iconic rock formations in the world. The area has been featured in more than 100 movies and TV shows. Today, it is a tribal park managed by the Navajo Nation. The entrance and visitor center are in Arizona but the park itself stretches over the Arizona-Utah border. Unlike Antelope Canyon, another famous tribal park, you can enter Monument Valley without a tour guide.
The story: Grand Circle finale
We spent more than a month touring the Grand Circle. This area of southern Utah and northern Arizona includes several national parks, such as Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon North Rim, and natural wonders like Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell. Monument Valley was our last major stop and a perfect finale. Our national parks pass didn’t get us into the tribal park for free, but we’re so glad we paid the $20 to drive through the park.
This was more of a drive-park-look type of park, so we didn’t do any real hiking. There are trails you can take out around the buttes and you can apply for a backcountry pass. Most will have a completely satisfying trip just driving to the different view points.
We drove the one-way valley drive loop twice, stopping at different points each time. We would’ve spent even more time in the park but we misunderstood a sign and thought we had to be off the road by 8 p.m. The provided map was not stellar and didn’t line up with the markers along the road. Even though they weren’t the best for photos on this particular day, we loved the views from Artist’s Point—a good reminder that it’s not always about getting the shot but enjoying the moment.
The best photo spot: visitor center
Whether you consider yourself a photographer or not, you can’t visit Monument Valley without taking pictures of The Mittens. The two buttes are so unique and iconic with their spindly “thumbs.” Without a doubt, the best place to get that classic shot is at the visitor center. The raised elevation of the building’s large patio puts you on a great level with The Mittens and Merrick Butte—and everyone knows it. You’ll find the patio crowded with shutterbugs and tourists around sunset, which was close to 9 p.m. in May. The rock formations are striking any time of day, but the red glow of the summer sunset was magical.
The panoramic spot: John Ford Point
Another favorite photo spot was at the very beginning of the scenic drive. From here, you can shoot The Mittens and Merrick Butte from the ground and find all kinds of great angles that complement the light at that time of day. John Ford Point provides stunning panoramic views of The Mittens, Merrick Butte, and Three Sisters. This spot was also pretty crowded on a summer weekend, but our pictures prove that brown is beautiful.
The gear: Canon
These photos of Monument Valley were taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, with either a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L telephoto lens or Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L wide lens, both with a polarizing filter or neutral density filter.
All images are copyright of Josh Schaulis and may not be reproduced or used in any way without written permission.