Monument Valley is one of the truly iconic places to visit and photograph in the American Southwest. The magnificent landscapes are filled with never ending mesas, plateaus, and enormous sandstone monuments (known as buttes). It’s a landscape photographer’s playground.
The most famous monuments in the valley are the mittens (east and west), which you have seen many times in stunning landscape images, movies, and TV shows. The mittens themselves are worth the visit, but there is so much more in this sacred Navajo valley.
The mittens (which stand about 1,000 feet from their base), when viewed from the south, appear to be two gigantic mittens with their thumbs facing inwards. This can make a great photograph for both sunrise and sunset.
This summary is specific to the shot above. I would suggest spending several days in the valley and explore the 5-10 other great photographic opportunities that exist here (both sunrise and sunset).
Trail Difficulty (2 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 2 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). This shot was taken only about 15 feet off the dirt road know as “Valley Drive”, but getting to the location can be challenging (with bumps and more than a few potholes) on the road.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, AZ parking lot.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is in a very rural area on the Utah / Arizona border, with the closest town being Kayenta, AZ. Directions are from Kayenta, AZ: Drive north on US 163 for 22 miles. Turn right on Monument Valley Rd. (you will see lots of signs pointing to Monument Valley).
At the turn on Monument Valley Rd., drive 6.3 miles to the parking lot of the Monument Valley Navajo visitors’ center (you will pass through a entrance booth with a required $10 daily fee). The parking lot is for the visitors’ center and The View Hotel.
From the parking lot, take the dirt road down into the valley floor known as the “Monument Valley Loop Drive” for 1.6 miles. This winding dirt road is pretty steep in the beginning with many holes and rocks along the way. Once you get to the fork in the road - where it has a sign reading "Private Road - Do Not Enter", make a u-turn and return .1 miles (just past the 15 MPH speed limit sign). Pull to the right side of the road and find the composition shown above. The GPS coordinates for this location is 36°58'23.79"N 110° 5'33.82"W
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For this shot, the best time is a few minutes before sunset while the sun is still illuminating the mitten monument on the left. The light from the sun moves quickly as it makes its way down the mitten. Make sure you are setup and ready to go at least 15-20 minutes before sunset.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
Monument Valley is great place to shoot much of the year. However, this specific shot is not good in May, June, and July because of the angle of the sun on the left mitten. Also, in December the sunset is blocked by a mesa/ridge.
I would suggest using The Photographer’s Ephemeris to help best understand the direction of the sunrise and sunset.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
The shot above was taken with a 50mm lens. You can use a different lens with other compositions.
There are no permits required. There is a $10 daily fee to enter the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. While in the park you must stay on visitor’s roads.
Direction of the Shot
The direction of your shot is north @ 5°.
Special Nuances of Shot
The shot is fairly straightforward. As mentioned, the light from the sunset moves quickly as it makes its way down the mittens. Make sure you have picked your composition and are setup several minutes before sunset.
Special Equipment Needed
Other than a tripod, there is no special equipment needed.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
This location is right next to the dirt visitors’ road in Monument Valley. At sunset there are usually a ton of tourist buses driving by, but you most likely will be the only photographer at this spot.
Monument Valley is in an arid part of the Arizona/Utah desert, but has an elevation of 5,200ft. For the most part, the weather is modest with highs in the summers of upper 90s and lows in winter in the 20s.
I use Verizon, and there is LIMITED cell service in most parts of Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is on the Utah/Arizona border, with the closest town 26 miles south (Kayenta, AZ). The town of Oljato-Monument Valley, UT is about 5 miles west of the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, AZ (which is the classic area for most visitors and photographers).
There are both camping and lodging in both the town of Oljato-Monument Valley and the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. When I visit, I really enjoy staying at either “The View” hotel or “The View Mitten” campground / RV park. The View is a very nice hotel, decorated in Navajo decor, with a pretty nice restaurant. But, the best part of the hotel is the incredible view of the classic Monument Valley Mittens. The campgrounds are just a few hundred yards away.
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
The View Hotel
Indian Rte 42, Oljato-Monument Valley, AZ
1000 Main Street, Oljato-Monument Valley, UT
There are not a lot of food choices in the Monument Valley area. But fortunately there is a pretty good restaurant right next to the visitor’s center called The View Restaurant. When I visit, I usually enjoy a nice breakfast after a morning of photography and for dinner I almost always get the very tasty Green Chile Stew with blue corn bread.
There is also a pretty good steak restaurant 22 miles north of Monument Valley in the little town of Mexican Hat. The restaurant is called The Swingin Steak. But it is not open year round, so call before driving there.
Beer & Wine are not allowed to be sold within the Navajo Nation borders, since the Navajo Nation is a dry nation.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
The View Restaurant
Attached to the visitors center
The Swingin Steak (22 miles north)
2265 US-163, Mexican Hat, UT
Goulding's Stagecoach Dining
Oljato-Monument Valley, UT
There is a nice laundry mat next to the Goulding's general store in Oljato-Monument Valley (6 miles west of the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park).
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest international airports are Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) in Albuquerque (323 miles east), or Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) in Phoenix (319 miles south).
There is a small regional airport in Page - Page Municipal Airport (PGA / KPGA – 125 miles to the west) that services: Great Lakes Airlines, Frontier Airlines, United and Airlines Scenic Airlines.
Area Guides and Workshops
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise/moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.