Chances are, no matter where you live in the world, you have heard of the Grand Canyon. You’ve probably heard of Yellowstone, too. And you may even know about Yosemite.
These three places, with their awe-inspiring landscapes, are perhaps the three most-well-known (and most impressive) national parks in the United States. And they deserve that recognition – they are each unique and beautiful in different ways.
But, believe it or not, there are other places in the U.S. that are just as amazing. They just lack the “National Park” distinction.
One of these places is Monument Valley, located along the Utah/Arizona border in the American Southwest.
Characterized by rust-red soil and sandstone buttes that rise hundreds of feet from the desert floor, Monument Valley epitomizes what most people envision when they think of “the American West.”
This is partly because famous Western filmmaker John Ford was in love with Monument Valley and used it as a backdrop for many films. Whether you realized it or not, you’ve seen Monument Valley in John Wayne films, Clint Eastwood and Tom Cruise flicks, and even in “Forrest Gump.”
So why is this stunning landscape NOT a designated national park?
Well, Monument Valley is located within the Navajo Nation Reservation – outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. federal government (and, therefore, the National Park Service). Luckily, though, Monument Valley’s striking landscape is still accessible due to it being a Navajo Tribal Park. For a $5 entrance fee, you can enjoy the park’s 17-mile “scenic drive” and take in the photogenic landscape, spying formations like the “Two Mittens,” “Three Sisters,” and “Totem Pole.”
Though, to be honest, if you truly want to experience Monument Valley, I would suggest seeing the valley:
With a guide: There are parts of Monument Valley that are not accessible without a licensed Navajo guide. Many of the beautiful sandstone arches in the valley (like “Ear of the Wind,” for example) can only be seen on a guided tour. Not only will you see more with a guide, but you’ll also get to hear a lot of the native stories associated with some of the more famous rock formations.
On horseback: You can also experience Monument Valley on horseback. And, really, what’s more “Western” than that?
From a hot air balloon: Hands-down, the coolest way to see Monument Valley is from the air. The buttes and plateaus take on completely different shapes from above, and floating over this place will give you an entirely unique perspective on it. Many hot air balloon tours will include a guided tour of the valley after your flight, meaning you’ll get to see the best of everything Monument Valley has to offer.
Monument Valley is just one of MANY parts of the United States that could rival any of the popular and well-known national parks that you’ve already heard of. Keep this in mind the next time you’re planning an adventure in the U.S.
Have you been to Monument Valley? Tell us about it in the comments below.