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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
- Monument Valley: 0-13 miles/0-21 km
- Mexican Hat: 25 miles/40 km
- Bluff: 51 miles/ 82 km
- Blanding: 73 miles/ 117 km
- Monticello: 99 miles/ 159 km
- La Sal: 140 miles/ 225 km