Goulding’s Monument Valley & Mystery Valley Tour

Goulding’s Tour in Monument Valley

As a resident of San Juan County, I have passed through Monument Valley countless times on my way south, but have only actually entered the park once when a friend was visiting from Japan and wanted to go.  We only drove a few miles into the park, took some pictures, and returned to the overlook to watch the sunset.

Nanako in Monument Valley Sept. 2009

Our Shadows at Sunset in Monument Valley Sept. 2009

It was absolutely BEAUTIFUL and even now when I look at the pictures, it’s hard to believe that they’re real…and I’m the one who took them!  After that trip I think I marked Monument Valley off my mental ‘check-list’ of places to visit, but it wasn’t until last week when I went down and took a tour with Goulding’s Lodge that I realized that my previous visit had barely even scratched the surface of everything there is to see and do in Monument Valley.

Goulding’s Lodge is located on the west side of Hwy 163 directly across the highway from the road that leads to the entrance of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.  In addition to the lodge and tours, Goulding’s also has a campground, museum, restaurant, gift shop, grocery store, gas station & convenience store with a food court, car wash, and laundromat, and an airport.  With such a wide variety of services, Goulding’s is kind of the hub of Monument Valley.

Goulding’s offers several different tours that run daily year-round; the Basic Tour, Deluxe Tour, Mystery Valley Tour, All-Day Tour, and a Hiking Tour.  They also offer their Sunset and Full Moon Tours during the summer.  All their tours are conducted by local Navajo guides who are very knowledgeable about the history of the area.  Originally I had thought I’d just go on the Basic Tour which is 2 1/2 hours and covers most of the famous formations in Monument Valley, but finally decided to do the All-Day Tour which covers Mystery Valley (an area south of Monument Valley that is only accessible on a guided tour) as well as all of Monument Valley including the restricted areas.

Our office has a toll free number for Utah’s Canyon Country (1-800- 574-4386) that people call with questions about visiting the area.  We always get a lot of questions about Monument Valley and the tours that are offered there.  Since the All-Day Tour covers EVERYTHING, I figured it would be a good idea to take it, that way I would be able to answer questions and provide information on all the different tours that Goulding’s offers.

The All-Day Tour departs from the lodge at 9:00am, and since I live in Monticello which is almost 100 miles north of Monument Valley, I had to leave at about 6:45am in order to get down there in time for the tour.  It’s an absolutely beautiful drive- my favorite part is the stretch of road between Mexican Hat and Monument Valley that’s known at ‘Forrest Gump Hill’.  If you’ve seen the movie, it’s the place where he’s running when he decides to stop and go home.

Scene from Forrest Gump with Monument Valley in the Background

Forrest Gump Hill – Utah Hwy 163

When I arrived at Goulding’s I checked in at the front desk of the lodge and was given a ticket which I was told to give to the tour guide when I got to the vehicle.  The tours are conducted on open air vehicles that have transparent plastic flaps that can be rolled down if it starts to rain.  There were several vehicles lined up in front of the lodge- the one that turned out to be for the All-Day Tour was the smallest- it only had 3 rows of seats and could hold 12 passengers.  But the vehicle that was parked in front of it looked like it had 5 rows of seats and could hold 20 people.  It looked like it was pretty much full, and I’m guessing that it was for one of their part day trips.

Tour Vehicles Lined Up In Front of Goulding’s Lodge

When I got on the vehicle for the All-Day Tour, there were two couples already on board, Dick and Joy from Surprise, AZ who were visiting Monument Valley for the first time, and Joe and Linda from Waynesville, NC who first visited Monument Valley about 30 years ago and have been returning and taking tours with Goulding’s almost every other year for the past 25 years!

After a few minutes our guide, Bennett, who had been loading the front of the vehicle with food (they serve you a barbecue lunch on the All-Day and Mystery Valley Tours!) came and introduced himself and then we were ready to go!  We drove up the road past the campground and were soon on an unpaved road.  As he was driving, Bennett began telling us about the mining history of the area through the speaker system that was set up in the back of the vehicle where we were all sitting.  I didn’t even know that there had been mining in the area- we were less than 10 minutes into the tour and I had already learned something new!

We crossed Hwy 163 and turned onto the road leading to Mystery Valley and after a few minutes we stopped at the first major formation- Skull Arch.  Bennett, Dick, and I walked up to the arch while the others waited in the shade at the bottom.

Bennett & Dick Climbing Up to Skull Arch – Mystery Valley

Skull Arch – Mystery Valley

Skull Arch – Mystery Valley

Dick and I were taking pictures and chatting with Bennett, and he told us that there were some footholds carved into the sandstone that separated the arch from a pot-hole type formation just to the right of it.  Dick and I were both interested in this, but after trying to get up from a couple different places, I decided that I probably shouldn’t attempt it- it’s always easier to go up than to go down, and I didn’t want to get stuck up there!  But Bennett said that once you’re up there, it’s an easy climb to the top, then you can come down around the back.  I still wasn’t sold, but Dick convinced me to try it (this was the first of several times throughout the day that I accused Dick of being a bad influence on me!) by offering to help me up the first steep part.  I made it up with help from Dick and Bennett, and from there it was an easy climb to the top, where you had a nice view across Mystery Valley and out toward Monument Valley.

Footholds Carved in the Sandstone Near Skull Arch – Mystery Valley

View from Above Skull Arch – Mystery Valley

View Toward Monument Valley From Above Skull Arch – Mystery Valley

The next stop, Square House Ruin, was just a few minutes down the road.  It’s a ruin with an incredibly flat outer wall and there are also some petroglyphs on the rocks below it.

Square House Ruin – Mystery Valley

Petroglyphs Near Square House Ruin – Mystery Valley

Petroglyphs Near Square House Ruin – Mystery Valley

On our way to the next stop we passed some wild donkeys that were standing near the side of the road- I had no idea that there were wild donkeys in Monument Valley!

Wild Donkey – Mystery Valley

Wild Donkey – Mystery Valley

The next stop was Baby Foot Ruin- this ruin got its name from the small foot shapes that are etched in the rock at the entrance.  Again, Bennett, Dick, and I walked up to look while the others waited down below.  Along with the small hand and foot shapes, there were worn grooves in the rock that looked like they might have been used as grinding stones.

Bennett Climbing up to Baby Foot Ruin

Small Hand and Foot Etchings at Baby Foot Ruin – Mystery Valley

Possible Grinding Stones on the Floor of the Alcove – Baby Foot Ruin – Mystery Valley

Next up was Honeymoon Arch, which got its name from the small ‘honeymoon suite’ ruin that’s located just inside it.  Dick, Bennett, and I climbed up to this one too- it was really nice and cool in the shade directly under the arch.  In fact, even though the high for the day was about 86 degrees, it was always very comfortable in the shade.

Honeymoon Arch – Mystery Valley

Dick Climbing Up to the Ruin – Honeymoon Arch – Mystery Valley

Looking Down From the Ruin – Honeymoon Arch – Mystery Valley

After Honeymoon Arch it was a short drive to Pine Tree Arch, which was our last stop before lunch.  This arch was named for the lone pine tree located just under the arch on the right hand side.  From there Bennett gave us the option of either walking or riding to the lunch area, which was just down the road.  It was a nice walk and we passed some pictographs along the way.

Pine Tree Arch – Mystery Valley

Pictographs Near Pine Tree Arch – Mystery Valley

More Pictographs Near Pine Tree Arch – Mystery Valley

The Crew at the Lunch Area – Mystery Valley

Bennett Grilling up a Delicious Lunch! – Mystery Valley

By the time we got to the barbecue area, Joe and Linda had already mentioned several times, the cowboy coffee they had been served at lunch on the All-Day Tour they had taken with Goulding’s on one of their first visits.  Sure enough, when we arrived at the barbecue area, Bennett started a fire and got the coffee going!  Since cowboy coffee is brewed in a pot without a filter, it’s known for being VERY strong, and Bennett’s was no exception!  If you look at Joe’s face in the picture below, you can see just how strong it was…

Cowboy Coffee on the Goulding’s All-Day Tour

The lunch that they prepare on Goulding’s Tours includes grilled hamburgers with all the fixings, (cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise) chips, an orange, a cookie, and an assortment of ice cold beverages. There is also a vegetarian option available.

Barbecue Lunch on the Goulding’s All-Day Tour

Bennett was a great cook and our lunch was delicious- we all left feeling full and happy and ready for the second part of the tour- Monument Valley!

Monument Valley From the Overlook

It was a beautiful day in Monument Valley the day of the tour.  Actually, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a day that isn’t beautiful in Monument Valley!  If you google ‘Monument Valley’ with any weather word after it (lightning, snow, clouds, rain, etc) hundreds of beautiful pictures come up.  I think Monument Valley is just one of those places that you can visit any time of year, no matter what the weather is like, and you’ll never be disappointed.

Monument Valley

John Ford Point – Monument Valley

One of the highlights of the tour was our stop at Susie Yazzie’s hogan (a traditional round Navajo dwelling)  for a Navajo rug weaving demonstration.  Again, this stop was something that Joe and Linda had been talking about since the beginning of the tour.

We stepped into Susie’s hogan and Bennett began speaking to her in Navajo- he told us that she doesn’t speak English.  Susie came over and sat down in front of her loom and demonstrated carding and spinning wool while Bennett explained the process to us.

Susie Yazzie Spinning Wool – Monument Valley

Bennett Explaining the Weaving Process – Monument Valley

After watching Susie Yazzie’s Navajo Rug weaving demonstration, we stopped at several more arches and overlooks on our way back out.  I hope I have all the names of the arches right- I had brought a pad of paper with me planning to take notes, but once the tour started I was enjoying listening to Bennett’s stories about Navajo culture and the history of the area and talking with everyone so much, that I completely forgot to take any notes!

Sun’s Eye Arch – Monument Valley

Petroglyphs Under Sun’s Eye Arch – Monument Valley

Ear of the Wind Arch – Monument Valley

Big Hogan Arch – Monument Valley

Moccasin Arch – Monument Valley

The Crew at Big Hogan & Moccasin Arches – Monument Valley

Monument Valley

There have been a lot of movies, TV shows, and commercials filmed in Monument Valley, and as we drove from stop to stop, Bennett would point out places where famous scenes were shot.  The first movie to be filmed in Monument Valley was John Ford’s, ‘Stagecoach’ which was shot in1939.  At Goulding’s Lodge you can visit the Historic Trading Post Museum which houses motion picture memorabilia from the area, as well as historic photographs, Anasazi artifacts, and the living quarters of the original owners, Harry & Leone (Mike) Goulding.

A scene from The Eiger Sanction with Clint Eastwood was shot on the Totem Pole which is in the picture below.

The Totem Pole – Monument Valley

Throughout the day, almost every time we re-boarded the vehicle after looking at an arch or ruin, the phrase that was repeated over and over was, ‘Isn’t this perfect?!’  Perfect weather, perfect tour guide, perfect group of co-passengers!  As we wrapped up our tour and headed back to Goulding’s Lodge we were all recapping the day and sharing what our favorite part had been.  I think it was unanimous:  Mystery Valley, Susie Yazzie’s Navajo rug weaving demonstration, and our tour guide, Bennett!   As I said at the beginning of this post, Joe and Linda had been on MANY, MANY Goulding’s Tours over the past 25 years, and they said that Bennett was one of the best tour guides they had ever had.

I didn’t mention this at the beginning of my post, but I’ve never considered myself to be a ‘tour person’.  In fact, I’ve actually AVOIDED tours on most vacations I’ve been on.  The few exceptions that I’ve made have been to places that I COULDN’T go on my own, like the Korean Demilitarized Zone- you have to go with a tour group if you want to go there.

I really like to go at my own pace, I don’t want to give up the freedom of being able to change my plan in the middle of the day, and I like to visit outdoor places when there are as few other people there as possible.  Those have always been my reasons for not wanting to go on tours, but after my experience with Goulding’s, I think I’ve changed my mind- I enjoyed every second of the 8 hour tour!  Now I’m just waiting for my friends and family to come visit so I can take them on a tour too!

Distance from Monument Valley to lodging in San Juan County, Utah:

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11 Responses to Goulding’s Monument Valley & Mystery Valley Tour

  1. AMNON says:

    Hi. you have a great info with photos. thank you for sharing with us,
    I have Q – DO I NEED TO TAKE A TOUR LIKE YOU ? or can i bring my rent car & do the same as the tour?
    I like to have photos from ,Monument Valley,Sunset .moon, Sunrise so to take all these tour will cost $$$$$$$$$.
    I love the freedom to be along to take photos. ( like over 1.000 a day)
    thank you for your help /info.
    all best to you,
    Amnon in NY.

    • Allison says:

      Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures! We get quite a few people who call our toll free number asking the same question- they say that they like to take pictures and want to have the freedom to spend as much time as they’d like taking pictures and don’t want to feel rushed. I usually recommend taking a tour IF POSSIBLE- there are certain parts of Monument Valley that you can not enter unless you are on a guided tour, and you are not allowed to enter Mystery Valley AT ALL unless you are with a Navajo guide. So, in my opinion, it’s well worth it to take a tour if you want to see as much of the park (and nearby areas like Mystery Valley) as possible. On the tour you could focus on taking pictures in the areas that you won’t be able to return to by yourself, and then, if you still want to take more pictures after your tour, you could return to the areas that are open to the public to access in your own vehicle.
      I took my tour with Goulding’s Lodge, so that’s what my blog entry focused on, but there are many tour operators in Monument Valley. I will e-mail you a link to our current travel guide that has all the guides & outfitters listed.
      If you have any other questions, please feel free to e-mail us at info@utahscanyoncountry.com or call our toll free number: 1-800-574-4386

  2. Pingback: Film History of San Juan County, Utah | Utah's Canyon Country Blog

  3. Rose says:

    I found your blog extemely informative and am looking forward to my trip in April 2012. My sister and I also plan on taking in Natural Bridges, Arches, Canyonlands and Canyon de Chelly. This may be a plate full however we do plan on staying in Monument Valley at Gouldings two nights so that we are able to enjoy and savor the area. Thanks for your info. Rose

    • Allison says:

      Rose- Thank you for your comment- I’m glad you found the information in my blog entry useful! Sounds like you have a great trip planned- if you’d like us to mail you some information on the area (Monument Valley, Natural Bridges, Canyonlands, etc.) please send your full name and mailing address to info@utahscanyoncountry.com and we’ll send it to you ASAP!
      Allison

  4. Hi to every one, it’s really a nice for me to go to see this web site, it contains priceless Information.

  5. Dianne Peterson says:

    your blog site is awesome we are planning a trip of utah in mid sept.we went thru monument valley a few years ago by ourselves but now i am wondering if we should go back and do a tour. i have added some sites that you have blogged for our trip now. thank you

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