The desert on the Utah-Arizona border is filled with towering red rock and is one of America’s most iconic drives.

Monument Valley feels like it’s at the crossroads of nowhere. From Flagstaff, Arizona, it takes nearly three hours to get there. From Phoenix, it takes four. And from Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, six. There’s no cellphone reception, at least on my carrier, and services are few and far between.

So it’s surprising, then, that given its remoteness Monument Valley is one of the more iconic vistas in America.


The region in that picture — indeed Monument Valley itself — is part of the Navajo Nation, and during my recent visit I was told that the area is scattered with hogans. As I drove through, there were booths every few miles selling handicrafts.

And between the big sky and the sandstone spires, it feels like a landscape of massive ruins, as if it were the last memory of a city for giants.

The imagery of Monument Valley has proven particularly appealing for filmmakers; it features prominently in the westerns of John Ford, in Back to the Future Part III, and in Mission Impossible II, just to name a few. Today, when tourists like us visit, it’s easy to get caught up stopping every few hundred feet to take pictures and gaze out into the desert.

During my recent trip, I didn’t get to spend much time in Monument Valley. But here’s what I can say: the drive was worth it. Despite being in a rush to travel a very long distance for a story I was working on, the detour to Monument Valley is one I’ll remember for a long time.

It’s a place where the landscape itself is so striking that just to stand at the edge and look in was a pleasure and a privilege. It is as remote, wild, and ancient as anywhere in the U.S. And it’s the kind of place that proves how the very best corners of the world take some effort to actually see.

Related reading:

Here’s what happened when I picked up a hitchhiker in the middle of the desert

Goblin Valley is a stunning alien landscape in an American desert

The Ultimate Southern Utah National Parks Road Trip

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


  1. Thanks for the great post on Monument Valley! I’m planning on visiting this spring. How many days would you suggest spending there to really get a good feel for the area?

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