Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Monument Valley at Dawn

Monument Valley is located on the Arizona-Utah border in northeast Arizona/southeast Utah.  Since moving to New Mexico, I've been to Monument Valley many times, and it never ceases to be new, awesome, and beautiful.  All my previous visits, however, occurred in the middle of the day, due to the timing of the tours I was on.  But this time, I was not tethered to a tour, and the plan was to photograph it at sunrise.

On this trip (April 3-4), I was accompanied by my long-time photo buddy, Barry Schwartz, and a new co-conspirator, Alan Postelnek.  After our hikes in and around Moab, Utah (see "The Fiery Furnace" post below), instead of returning immediately to Albuquerque, we headed south to Monument Valley, arriving as the sun was shining its last rays on the palisades of the mesas. 

The approach to Monument Valley from the north on US 163 brings you to a vista that was made famous in the movie Forrest Gump, where Gump decides he's done enough running.  (Click here to see the clip from the film.) 

 Naturally, then, we had to stop and grab the iconic image.

While we were there, another car pulled over.  Two women got out and stepped into the road to re-create the Gump finish:

A few miles down the road, we reveled in the beauty of the valley at twilight:

And at one point I happened to pull off the road right in front of a formation called The Hen:

We pulled in to our motel, Goulding's Lodge, as the light was almost gone.

Goulding's began as a trading post in the early 1920s operated by Harry Goulding and his wife, Mike.  Harry is the person primarily responsible for the fame of Monument Valley because during the Depression he went to Hollywood and persuaded the director John Ford to use Monument Valley as a location for his Westerns.  The rest, as they say, is history.  (You can read more about Harry and Mike here.) 

The next morning we rose early, as we had signed up for a sunrise tour operated by Goulding's.   Monument Valley is a Navajo tribal park (not a U.S. national park), so tours are conducted by authorized Navajo guides driving pickup trucks converted to carry 20 passengers.  

During the daylight hours, Monument Valley is teeming with these trucks.  But on this pre-dawn morning ours was the only vehicle driving around in the park, and we were its only three passengers!  It could only have been better if we had been able to drive ourselves wherever we wanted to go.  But the tour gave us most of what we wanted to shoot.

First stop was the Visitor Center viewpoint, which looks down on the centerpiece features of Monument Valley:  (L to R) the Left Mitten, the Right Mitten, and Merrick Butte.  Here's what it looks like in daylight (in an image from my visit last September with Road Scholar):

At dawn, however, it looked like this, graced with a crescent moon:

Left Mitten:

                                                      Right Mitten:

Right Mitten with obliging bird:

My photo buddies at work . . .

          Alan Postelnek

          Barry Schwartz

From the main attraction, we moved on to a view called North Window:

Following the road toward the "window," the road ends and the view opens up:

 That's me in the photo above, courtesy of Barry Schwartz.

After the North Window, about 40 minutes had passed since sunrise, so the beautiful "golden hour" light was mostly gone.  On our way out of the park, we visited the Cube . . .

looked across a valley to the Totem Pole area (mostly back-lit; wrong time of day for photographing it) . . .

and passed the Three Sisters, keeping watch over horses and sheep . . .

We drove back to the motel . . .

ate a hearty breakfast, and headed home.

If you would like to see these images and more in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.



  1. Great Trip - some amazing scenery, Navajo history, the story behind "watch for falling rock" good times with friends, and what appeared to be chimping in the middle of the road. / Barry

  2. I love that place and you captured it at a magical time of day!