Overnight Hogan Stay & Tour with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Hogan in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

I took my first guided tour of Monument Valley Tribal Park almost 8 years ago, and like nearly everyone else who visits, I completely fell in love with the landscape of the area.  That first tour opened my eyes to everything that lies beyond the famous view of the mittens and Merrick Butte; the arches, cliff dwellings, and the petroglyphs scattered throughout the ‘back country’, as well as the Navajo history and culture of Monument Valley.

In the past couple years working in the San Juan County Visitor Services office, we’ve noticed a marked increase in visitors and tour operators asking us about off-the-beaten-path places, unique experiences and lodging, and cultural experiences.  We try to keep ourselves as informed as we can about all the services that are offered in the county, and many of them we are able to speak about from first-hand experience, but one thing that I haven’t been able to speak about from my own experience, is the overnight hogan stays in Monument Valley.

The opportunity to remedy this presented itself in the form of a friend’s upcoming 40th birthday… I have a close group of friends who celebrate our significant birthdays with an overnight stay somewhere together.  When the idea of staying overnight in a hogan came up, the three of us who were planning the surprise birthday outing for our friend all agreed that it would be a really unique, once in a lifetime experience fitting of a 40th birthday celebration, so we booked with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours– one of our local Monument Valley guides who we’ve been referring visitors to for years, but had yet to experience for ourselves.

Monument Valley is amazing in any weather!

Our friend had no idea where we were taking her for her birthday, but we had told her that we were camping (partial truth) so that she’d know how to pack.  However, as we drove from Monticello toward Monument Valley we hit some really heavy rainstorms which began to make our friend think that maybe us telling her to bring her camping gear had been a ploy to throw her off the track of what we were really doing, because she said that with the heavy rain coming down, our moods were better than she’d expect if we were really going to be camping.

When we arrived in Monument Valley, it had stopped raining, but we were told at the entrance station that the road down into the valley was closed due to the heavy rain earlier.  We figured we’d still be able to go since we were on a guided trip, but I think our friend was kind of wondering what was going on at that point, and why once again, we were unfazed by the weather.

We met our guide, John, at the designated location and loaded our gear into the tour van.  There were a few other people on the tour with us- a couple from Switzerland who were on their honeymoon, and a woman from Brooklyn, New York who was only doing the tour and not staying in the valley overnight.

As we made our way down into the valley, John began pointing out the rock formations and telling us about the film history of the area.  Working in tourism, I feel like I’m pretty well versed in the movies that have been filmed in Monument Valley, (You can read more about the movies/shows that have been filmed in the area HERE) but he named a couple that I didn’t know about like Pontiac Moon starring Ted Danson- I’ll have to look it up!

John Ford’s Point- Monument Valley

Our first stop was at John Ford’s Point, which is definitely a really well known location within the park.  If you’ve ever seen a photo of a horse and rider on a point in Monument Valley, chances are, it was taken at John Ford’s Point!

Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

Hogans in Monument Valley

Wool Carding & Spinning Demonstration- Monument Valley

Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

We continued deeper into the valley, and after a few short stops John told us it was time to ‘introduce’ us to a hogan, which is a traditional Navajo dwelling.  We pulled up in front of a hogan, and John led us inside and told us about how there are two types of hogans- male and female, and he showed us some items traditionally used by the Navajo people including wool, yucca root, and other plants.

He also told us about some of the different designs of Navajo rugs, and about the spirit line- a line in the corner of each rug that is intentionally left to allow the weaver’s spirit and creativity to escape the design so that they’re able to begin another weaving.  Without the spirit line, it’s believed that the weaver’s creativity would be trapped inside the design and they would have difficulty beginning another rug.  As he was talking, a woman came in and begin demonstrating carding and spinning wool to make yarn, which would then be used to weave a rug.  It was pretty amazing the way she made it look so effortless- I’m pretty sure it’s not nearly as easy as she made it look!

Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei- Monument Valley

Big Hogan- Monument Valley

Singing & Drumming at Big Hogan- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

After we’d had a chance to take photos of Big Hogan, John sang and drummed for us.  It was AMAZING.  Looking back, it was definitely my favorite part of the entire experience (and there’s still some really cool stuff coming up!)  He is an amazing singer- I got goosebumps listening to him sing, and I’m getting goosebumps again right now just thinking back on it!  Our friend whose birthday it was, said later that John was such a good singer, it almost made her cry.  Now if that isn’t a testimonial to how good his singing is, I don’t know what is!

Petroglyphs in Monument Valley

Eye of the Sun- Monument Valley

Channeling Energy in Monument Valley with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Not only was John an amazing singer, he was also really good at showing us how to get the best shots at each location.  He also had some photography tricks up his sleeve, which he shared with us and he took some of our favorite photos of the trip!

Navajo Taco & Steak Dinner in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Navajo Taco & Steak Dinner in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Next up was dinner… we returned to the area we had been previously when we’d visited the hogan, which was where we were going to spend the night.  There were actually two hogans there, and John told us that we would be staying in one, and the couple from Switzerland would be staying in the other.  But first it was time to eat!  When we pulled up dinner was already being set up for us.  Although it wasn’t raining, it was still pretty cold and wet, so John told us we’d be eating inside the hogan.  It sounds like when the weather is warmer the tour groups eat outside.

When we stepped inside the hogan, there was a fire going in the woodstove and it was nice and warm.  We went through the line and got our Navajo tacos and steak and sat down and chatted with each other and the other members of our tour.  After we were finished eating, it was time for Navajo singing and dancing.

Navajo Song & Dance- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

To start things off, John called the birthday girl up and he sang a special birthday song for her and then presented her with a Juniper berry bracelet.  It was such an unexpected surprise- I think our friend thought that we had arranged it, but we hadn’t.  We had mentioned that we were celebrating her birthday when we had booked the tour with Simpson’s, and the birthday surprise was all them!

John sang several more songs stopping in between each one to explain to us the meanings of the dances.  Following the dances, John told us what I would consider to be the Navajo equivalent of ghost stories.  While they were more folklore than actual  ‘ghost’ stories, they definitely had the same effect on me as ghost stories, which I realized later that night when I didn’t want to walk to the bathroom by myself!  (I won’t go into details, but you can google ‘Skinwalkers’ if you want to learn more!)

Hogan Birthday Celebration- Monument Valley

After John had us sufficiently scared, it was time to set up for bed.  The hogans are authentic, traditional hogans, so they have a dirt floor and Simpson’s provides a tarp for the floor as well as sleeping bags and mats.  A couple of us had brought cots with us, and we all brought our own sleeping bags since we were thinking it might be a little cold, but it turned out we really didn’t need to bring them.  Not only was there a woodstove to keep us warm, (and a whole box of firewood!) but the sleeping bags that Simpson’s provides are really nice, thick ones so bringing our own sleeping bags was completely unnecessary.

One of our friends had baked a cake and secretly brought it down into the valley, so once we had our sleeping bags/cots all set up, it was time to celebrate!  Trips to the bathroom require a short walk, and since we all had Skinwalkers fresh on our minds and didn’t want to go alone, it actually worked out perfectly when the birthday girl and I went to the bathroom, our other two friends got the cake ready and surprised her when we got back!

Hogan in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Stoking the Fire in the Hogan- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours- Monument Valley

After the birthday celebration a couple of us decided to go outside to see if it had cleared up enough to see the stars.  It had, and it was beautiful outside!  I wish I’d thought to give myself a refresher on the night setting on my camera before going, but instead I had to try to figure it out in the dark in the middle of Monument Valley!  The silhouette of the hogan we were staying in with just a crack of light from the door was too good to miss, but I know I didn’t do it justice!

Before John had left us for the night, he had asked if we wanted to get up for sunrise or sleep in.  Although I don’t think any of us wanted to get up early, there was no question that we definitely wanted to see the sunrise in Monument Valley!  He told us he’d knock on our door to wake us up at 5:40am, and let me tell you, 5:40 arrived WAY too quickly!  But it was so worth it!  John packed up the sleeping bags, mats, and other items they’d provided for us while we packed up our stuff.  I have to say, this was all done in record time.  I thought there was no way we were going to make it to the place he was taking us for sunrise, but we did.  And it was amazing!

Sunrise over Totem Pole & Yei Bi Chei in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Sunrise over Totem Pole & Yei Bi Chei in Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

He took us back to a place where we had stopped the day before- an overlook of Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei.  From that area, the sun rises right behind the two rock formations, and it’s absolutely beautiful.  Once again, John had lots of tips for us on how to take good photos, and he even took our cameras a couple times and took photos with us in them.

North Window- Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

Three Sisters- Monument Valley

North Window- Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

North Window- Monument Valley- Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours

After sunrise we drove to a nearby area with some tables for breakfast.  One thing I haven’t mentioned was that the yuccas were in full bloom and even on our drive down to Monument Valley we were all noticing how many yuccas there were blooming along the sides of the road.  I already have a major yucca obsession, but in the morning light the yuccas were looking especially amazing with the various rock formations of Monument Valley in the background.  I couldn’t help it, even though it was our breakfast stop, I spent most of my time taking pictures with yuccas in the foreground.  It was just too beautiful!  Yuccas… morning light… Monument Valley… it doesn’t get any better than that!

After our quick stop for breakfast, which included muffins, fresh fruit, and cereal, our tour had come to an end.  John drove us up to the Visitor Center and we unloaded our bags and said our goodbyes. We were all completely exhausted due to staying up way too late and getting up way too early, but as tired as we were, I know I also felt a little bit giddy with excitement from having just experienced sunrise in Monument Valley, and getting to see such incredible natural beauty firsthand.  The 15 hours we spent in Monument Valley with Simpson’s Trailhander Tours was definitely a unique, once in a lifetime experience that none of us will ever forget!

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com


Posted in Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Parks, Tours, Tours/Guided Trips, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls – Near the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park

Water in the desert is a beautiful thing.  Growing up in Oregon and on the coast in Southeast Alaska, I never realized how much I took water for granted until I moved to the desert.  In Oregon we call rain, ‘Oregon sunshine’, and I thought I lived in a rainy place until I moved to Yakutat, AK, which is actually one of the wettest places in the US!  (It’s true- look it up!)

Then I moved to the desert.

Water is not a given around here!  That sounds ridiculous to say, but coming from the Pacific Northwest, you really don’t think about water until it’s not there!

Each spring when the weather starts to warm up, we start looking for places to cool off, and luckily there are a couple small creeks with waterfalls in the area that run during the spring and early summer.  Living in Monticello, Indian Creek Falls is definitely a local favorite.  The pool at the bottom of the falls is deep enough to jump into when the water is higher, and just upstream where the creek is wider and shallower is a great place for little kids and dogs to cool off and play.  Or of course, you could always hike up or down stream keeping cool by walking in the shallow water.

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

My son loves playing in the sand upstream from the falls in the shallow water.  He could spend hours digging in the sand making dams and sand castles and floating boats and sticks down the creek.  My husband and I joke that it’s *almost* as good as going to the beach!

Indian Creek Falls- Taken From the Top

Indian Creek Falls- Taken From the Top

Also, if you’re visiting the area with dogs, this is a great place to get them out and let them burn some energy and cool off!  My dog is not a huge fan of water (I’ve never seen her get in water deep enough to swim) but she loves running up and down the creek splashing through the water and fetching sticks.

I’ve recently been becoming more and more aware of how difficult it can be to travel with your dog if you’re wanting to hike…  I would say that the majority of people who visit southeast Utah are probably going to visit at least one National Park during their trip.  Unfortunately, since the National Parks don’t allow dogs off of main roads and paved areas, aside from just driving through, there’s not a whole lot you can do in the parks if you have a dog with you.  One really nice thing about our area is that, outside of Canyonlands and Natural Bridges National Monument, you are able to take your dog almost anywhere with just a few exceptions.

(For more pet friendly hikes and places you can take your dog, please click the ‘Dog-friendly‘ option in the tag cloud or categories on the right hand side of this page.)

If you’re looking for camping in the area, in addition to Hamburger Rock Campground, which is located along the Lockhart Basin Road between Hwy 211 and Indian Creek Falls, there are also a lot of great places for dispersed camping along the road.  There are quite a few spots both before and after Hamburger Rock Campground, some of them quite large if you’re looking for a good place to camp with a group.  If you’d prefer to have a campspot arranged ahead of time, there is also one reservable group site that you can reserve on recreation.gov.

If you’re looking for a fun place to cool off, or a great place camp just outside the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, the Indian Creek Falls area is the perfect location!


From Monticello: Drive north on Hwy 191 for approximately 14 miles to the junction of Hwy 191 and Hwy 211.  Turn west (left) onto Hwy 211 and drive approximately 23 miles. Take the turn off to the northeast (right) for Lockhart Basin/Hamburger Rock Campground. Drive approximately 2.5 miles until you reach the creek and a large unpaved parking area.  Indian Creek Falls is just downstream from the parking area.

It is located approximately 3 miles southeast of Canyonlands National Park and 17 miles northwest of Newspaper Rock.

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com




Posted in Campgrounds, Camping, Dog-friendly, Off the Beaten Path, Social Distancing-friendly, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Custom San Juan County Map Project

Custom San Juan County Map by Fell

Our office has recently been working on what I think we all agree to be one of our most exciting projects to date- a custom San Juan County map made by Salt Lake City artists and husband and wife duo, Tiera & Jorrien Peterson, better known in the art world as Fell.

We had so much fun working with Fell and picking out everything we wanted to include on the map.  San Juan County is a huge county (larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, or Connecticut!) and we have so many parks, monuments, formations & features, archaeological sites, museums, activities, and such a rich history and mix of cultures, it was actually really difficult to narrow it down and decide what to include on the map, but we are extremely happy with the final product!

Custom San Juan County Map by Fell

How many places on the map can you name?  Any favorites?  Anything you think we left off that should have been included?  We’d love to hear your feedback!

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

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Biannual Monument Valley Mitten Shadow Event

Monument Valley Mitten Shadow

In the past several years it seems that popularity and awareness of the biannual Monument Valley Mitten Shadow event has been steadily increasing.  I can’t remember when I first heard of it, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I lived in San Juan County, UT over 9 years before I finally made it down to witness it for myself last September!

The Monument Valley Mitten Shadow happens twice each year, first in late March peaking around the 30th, then again in September peaking around the 13th.  On these days, and for a day or two before and after, West Mitten Butte casts a perfect shadow upon East Mitten Butte at sunset creating what’s come to be known as the ‘Monument Valley Mitten Shadow’.  Adding to the short window that the shadow is visible each year, is the fact that the sky must be clear enough for direct sunlight to be hitting the mittens.  If it’s overcast at sunset, the shadow doesn’t happen, so plan accordingly if you’re traveling to the area specifically to witness this event!

When I finally made it down to see the mitten shadow last September, it was only because I had a childhood friend visiting me from Seattle for about 5 days, and her visit just happened to coincide with the event.  When I realized this, I knew I had to take her down to see it, so we planned our schedule for the week around it making sure to go the day before the peak, so that if the weather wasn’t good and the shadow wasn’t visible, we’d still be able to try again the next night if we were feeling up to doing the the 3 hr 20 minute round trip drive from Monticello again!

Monument Valley Mitten Shadow Crowd

Monument Valley Mitten Shadow Crowd

Although Monument Valley is busy pretty much year-round, and there are always quite a few people at the main viewpoint next to the Visitor Center, when we arrived it was obvious that it wasn’t just a normal day in Monument Valley.  There were probably 20-30 photographers (not just people with cameras, but professional/semi-professional photographers with lots of equipment!) with their cameras set up on tripods, many of which had multiple cameras to catch a time lapse, as well as other shots of the shadow.  I spoke to one of the photographers and he told me that he was part of a photography tour group that was traveling around the Utah & Arizona, and we also saw that Goulding’s Lodge had a special Mitten Shadow photography tour there.

I’m happy to report that the mitten shadow did not disappoint!  It was pretty amazing to watch the shadow of West Mitten Butte creep across the valley floor and climb up the side of East Mitten Butte as the sun got lower and lower in the sky.

Monument Valley is already amazing any day and in any weather, so to witness the mitten shadow in person is nothing short of an absolutely spectacular sight to see!

Navajo Taco at Goulding’s Stagecoach Restaurant- Monument Valley

After all that Mitten Shadow viewing, you’re sure to have worked up an appetite!  Do yourself a favor and stop by the Stagecoach Restaurant at Goulding’s Lodge and get yourself one of THE BEST Navajo Tacos around!  I promise, you’ll be glad you did!

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

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

Posted in Dog-friendly, Events, Fall, Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Parks, Spring, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Five Places to Visit Instead of Canyonlands During the Government Shutdown

Chesler Park- Canyonlands National Park- Needles District

The partial government shutdown may have spoiled a few plans to visit Canyonlands National Park, but Utah’s Canyon Country has plenty of other awe-inspiring sites to make sure your trip isn’t ruined.

While the gates remain open unlike during the government shutdown of October 2013, the absence of personnel to provide snow removal may render the park inaccessible.  In case you aren’t able to visit due to weather, here are some alternatives to try.

John Ford’s Point- Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

If you want to experience the iconic American West of Canyonlands then you will love Monument Valley.

Featured as the location in numerous classic westerns and Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, Monument Valley is more than a symbol of the Wild Wild West. It is stunningly beautiful and evocative. Actor John Wayne mused, “So this is where God put the West” when he witnessed the area for the first time.

Newspaper Rock, Indian Creek Unit of Bears Ears National Monument

If you wanted to go back in time at Horseshoe Canyon, then head to Newspaper Rock.

The original “all the news that is fit to print” is Newspaper Rock. The living museum is located in the Indian Creek Unit of Bears Ears National Monument, just a short distance from the Needles District of Canyonlands.  The sandstone panel is covered with hundreds of petroglyphs. Find the recurring headline of snakes and broad-shouldered, animal-headed men to guess what the ancient people were communicating.

Hot air balloons take to the skies in Valley of the Gods at the Bluff International Balloon Festival               Photo: David Allen

If you wanted the visually stunning landscape of the Maze, don’t miss the Bluff Balloon Festival over Valley of the Gods.

What started over two decades ago as a one-balloon show has grown to a southern Utah event that sees balloonists come from all over the country to participate. An epic sense of giddy fascination may wash over you when you view multiple hot air balloons fly over the Valley of the Gods desert landscape.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument Photo: Aramark

If you like the majestic Mesa Arch, then consider Rainbow Bridge, the tallest natural bridge in the world.

The Navajo people considered the bridge a symbol of life in the desert. Located on Lake Powell, visitors can visit by boat or obtain a permit from Navajo Parks and Recreation to take the two-day hike from the small community of Navajo Mountain.

Moki Dugway- San Juan County, UT

If you wanted the far-reaching views of Island in the Sky, then the Moki Dugway overlook will amaze.

The Moki Dugway is literally carved from the cliff face and talus slope on the edge of Cedar Mesa. The route connects Utah Highway 95 with US Highway 163 by crossing Cedar Mesa and plunging down the dugway at an 11% grade, revealing sweeping views of Valley of the Gods, stripes of color in the rocks of the San Juan River Canyon known as the Navajo Tapestry, and distant Monument Valley.

For more information or to request travel brochures, please call Utah’s Canyon Country at: 800-574-4386

Or e-mail us at: info@utahscanyoncountry.com

Posted in Bears Ears National Monument, Dog-friendly, Events, Monument Valley, National Monuments, National Parks, National Parks & Monuments, Navajo Tribal Parks, Rock Art, Scenic Drives, Things to do for FREE!, Things to do with kids, Travel, Utah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment