Hey! My name is Claire Codling and in this article I will be talking about my experiences at Monument Valley and sharing a few of my favorite photos, which will hopefully inspire you to take your own unique adventure there!
But first, a little bit about me! I grew up in the UK and studied geography and environmental studies at college. However, I didn’t want the career path that everyone else seemed to be taking. A career advisor told me to go traveling. This was back in the 1990’s. No one else I knew went traveling back then because in many circles it was seen as a waste of time.
I didn’t have a computer or a phone then (I don’t think the mobile had been invented yet). I had nothing but a Lonely Planet guide and a dream to travel the world and see what was out there. So I ended up getting a job as a cleaner at a children’s summer camp in Pennsylvania in exchange for a free airfare and pocket money. That was my first flight out of the UK at 21.
I loved America and decided to not go back home – traveling the world solo for about 10 years. By the age of 30, I had visited 37 countries and had been all over America. Most of it now I cannot recall. I also didn’t have a camera or money to buy one, so I have no photos of any of the places that I went to.
At 43 I took a trip to China to hike the Great Wall. I bought a Nikon camera and took photos in auto mode. They were all out of focus and that was when I decided to learn the manual settings, so I could capture what I saw when I traveled to my next destination. Today, I work as a photographer and love capturing American landscapes like Monument Valley.
Monument Valley, A Place of Immense Peace
I have visited Monument Valley so many times over the years that I can’t recall how many times I have been. In 2021 alone I went five times. One thing that’s on my list is visiting the valley when it next snows, as I haven’t yet photographed the buttes with snow. We will see if I can pull it off!
Monument Valley is a place I always go back to because you can go here to get away from your life and the world. I have ridden a motorcycle here several times and once during the lockdowns. The feeling riding down Forest Gump Hill with no one around is magical! I felt proud of not being afraid of taking a bike trip and for being American, which is something I hadn’t felt in a while (due to the various problems the country was facing).
Another time I woke up in one of the cabins in Monument Valley and saw the moon right over the butte out of my window – and boy, that was a sight to see! This year I also got to see the Mitten Shadow – which is something I hadn’t planned. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Top Attractions of Monument Valley
For many people Monument Valley is a bucket list place. I have met a few travelers who said it was their dream and were so happy to have visited. You simply can’t beat the views, sunsets and sunrises – especially if you are lucky enough to have a few clouds roll in to make the setting just perfect.
To me the mittens are the main drawcard. Seeing one of the biannual Mitten Shadows was a favorite experience of mine at the valley. When the shadow creeps up and eventually sits upright on the opposite butte, well that’s a magical moment and one you will want to capture!
Other epic attractions of Monument Valley include Forest Gump Hill (the famous hill where Forest Gump stops running in the movie with the same name), the impressive Hunts Mesa rock formations, Monument Valley Loop Drive where I like going to the Totem Pole, and John Ford Point.
My Best Experiences at Monument Valley
A recent experience that I loved at Monument Valley was getting up for sunrise and making a point of getting a photo of the sun bursting between the two famous rocks. I was there by myself until two other photographers came along to join me with the same idea in mind. They turned out to be great company and we all got the shots we so hoped for. For me it’s often the people you meet at locations like these that make the best memories.
Another time I visited when it was closed due to the pandemic. You couldn’t enter the park and the Navajo Police were watching us in vans. I met a guy from Australia who was there for his bucket list adventure and was unable to go down into the valley. We did, however, have fun taking photos of what we could see and we won’t forget the vans watching our every move. It was a strange time and one I hope we don’t have to repeat.
Good to Know Before you Go
I recommend staying at the View Hotel cabins if you need accommodation. It’s a trendy place for Instagram and it’s just a really nice place to stay. You will be right next to the buttes and wake up to the view out of your window. You can also camp, but only once the pandemic is over.
Please understand that this area of the US gets super hot in summer and there is basically no shade. Go during the off season in either spring or fall. I never understand why there are crowds during the peak season when you consider how unbearably hot it gets! Fall is the best time to visit (early November). It’s still warm and there are no crowds – the perfect experience.
The park rules in relation to the pandemic seem to change every time I go now. So make sure you check everything before you go and ensure you can enter the park without restrictions. On my last visit there they were limiting the number of cars going down into the Monument Valley Loop Drive (and this information couldn’t be found anywhere online beforehand).
It’s best to get to the loop trailhead as early as possible to ensure they will let you go down. I arrived at 6:30am and was one of the first ones to drive down. Be sure to not miss the sunrise while you visit as it’s one of the best sights you will ever see! If you arrive at 9am you will miss it. Check the apps and weather channels for sunrise times and get there 30 minutes before.