Monument Valley

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West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte, and Merrick Butte West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte, and Merrick Butte.jpg
West Mitten Butte, East Mitten Butte, and Merrick Butte
View of Monument Valley in Utah, looking south on U.S. Route 163 from 13 miles (21 km) north of the Arizona-Utah border Monumentvalleyviewfromnorth.jpg
View of Monument Valley in Utah, looking south on U.S. Route 163 from 13 miles (21 km) north of the ArizonaUtah border

Monument Valley (Navajo : Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, pronounced  [tsʰépìːʔntsɪ̀skɑ̀ìː] , meaning valley of the rocks) is a region of the Colorado Plateau characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 1,000 ft (300 m) above the valley floor. [1] It is located on the ArizonaUtah border (around 36°59′N110°6′W / 36.983°N 110.100°W / 36.983; -110.100 Coordinates: 36°59′N110°6′W / 36.983°N 110.100°W / 36.983; -110.100 ), near the Four Corners area. The valley lies within the territory of the Navajo Nation Reservation and is accessible from U.S. Highway 163.

Navajo language Athabaskan language of Na-Dené stock spoken in the southwestern United States

Navajo or Navaho is a Southern Athabaskan language of the Na-Dené family, by which it is related to languages spoken across the western areas of North America. Navajo is spoken primarily in the Southwestern United States, especially on the Navajo Nation. It is one of the most widely spoken Native American languages and is the most widely spoken north of the Mexico–United States border, with almost 170,000 Americans speaking Navajo at home as of 2011. The language has struggled to keep a healthy speaker base, although this problem has been alleviated to some extent by extensive education programs on the Navajo Nation.

Colorado Plateau plateau in the southwestern United States

The Colorado Plateau, also known as the Colorado Plateau Province, is a physiographic and desert region of the Intermontane Plateaus, roughly centered on the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. This province covers an area of 336,700 km2 (130,000 mi2) within western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, southern and eastern Utah, and northern Arizona. About 90% of the area is drained by the Colorado River and its main tributaries: the Green, San Juan, and Little Colorado. Most of the remainder of the plateau is drained by the Rio Grande and its tributaries.

Butte Isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, relatively flat top

In geomorphology, a butte is an isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, relatively flat top; buttes are smaller landforms than mesas, plateaus, and tablelands. The word "butte" comes from a French word meaning "small hill"; its use is prevalent in the Western United States, including the southwest where "mesa" is used for the larger landform. Because of their distinctive shapes, buttes are frequently landmarks in plains and mountainous areas. In differentiating mesas and buttes, geographers use the rule of thumb that a mesa has a top that is wider than its height, while a butte has a top that is narrower than its height.


Monument Valley has been featured in many forms of media since the 1930s. Director John Ford used the location for a number of his best-known films and thus, in the words of critic Keith Phipps, "its five square miles [13 square kilometers] have defined what decades of moviegoers think of when they imagine the American West." [2]

John Ford American film director

John Ford was an American film director. He is renowned both for Westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), as well as adaptations of classic 20th-century American novels such as the film The Grapes of Wrath (1940). His four Academy Awards for Best Director remain a record. One of the films for which he won the award, How Green Was My Valley, also won Best Picture.

Western United States Region in the United States

The Western United States is the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. As European settlement in the U.S. expanded westward through the centuries, the meaning of the term the West changed. Before about 1800, the crest of the Appalachian Mountains was seen as the western frontier. The frontier moved westward and eventually the lands west of the Mississippi River were considered the West.

Geography and geology

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Location of Monument Valley in the United States.
Monument Valley, Apache scout Monument Valley, Apache scout.jpg
Monument Valley, Apache scout

The area is part of the Colorado Plateau. The elevation of the valley floor ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 feet (1,500 to 1,800 m) above sea level. The floor is largely siltstone of the Cutler Group, or sand derived from it, deposited by the meandering rivers that carved the valley. The valley's vivid red color comes from iron oxide exposed in the weathered siltstone. The darker, blue-gray rocks in the valley get their color from manganese oxide.

Siltstone Sedimentary rock which has a grain size in the silt range

Siltstone is a sedimentary rock which has a grain size in the silt range, finer than sandstone and coarser than claystones.

Iron oxide class of chemical compounds composed of iron and oxygen

Iron oxides are chemical compounds composed of iron and oxygen. There are sixteen known iron oxides and oxyhydroxides, the best known of which is rust, a form of iron(III) oxide.

Manganese oxide is any of a variety of manganese oxides and hydroxides. These include

The buttes are clearly stratified, with three principal layers. The lowest layer is the Organ Rock Shale, the middle is de Chelly Sandstone, and the top layer is the Moenkopi Formation capped by Shinarump Conglomerate. The valley includes large stone structures including the famed "Eye of the Sun".

Moenkopi Formation

The Moenkopi Formation is a geological formation that is spread across the U.S. states of New Mexico, northern Arizona, Nevada, southeastern California, eastern Utah and western Colorado. This unit is considered to be a group in Arizona. Part of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range, this red sandstone was laid down in the Lower Triassic and possibly part of the Middle Triassic, around 240 million years ago.

Shinarump Conglomerate

The early Late Triassic conglomerate called the Shinarump Conglomerate, formally the Shinarump Member of the Chinle Formation, is a highly resistant coarse-grained sandstone and pebble conglomerate, sometimes forming a caprock because of its hardness, cementation, and erosion resistance. The Shinarump is found throughout the Colorado Plateau with significant exposures as the canyon rimrock in the vicinity of Canyon De Chelly National Monument, at the north-northeast of the Defiance Plateau/Defiance Uplift. At Canyon De Chelly the Shinarump Conglomerate was laid down upon De Chelly Sandstone-(280 Ma, an erosion unconformity of 50 my), in a region at the west foothill region of the mostly north-south trending Chuska Mountains of northeast Arizona – northwest New Mexico.

Between 1945 and 1967, the southern extent of the Monument Upwarp was mined for uranium, which occurs in scattered areas of the Shinarump Conglomerate; vanadium and copper are associated with uranium in some deposits. [3]

Uranium Chemical element with atomic number 92

Uranium is a chemical element with the symbol U and atomic number 92. It is a silvery-grey metal in the actinide series of the periodic table. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons. Uranium is weakly radioactive because all isotopes of uranium are unstable; the half-lives of its naturally occurring isotopes range between 159,200 years and 4.5 billion years. The most common isotopes in natural uranium are uranium-238 and uranium-235. Uranium has the highest atomic weight of the primordially occurring elements. Its density is about 70% higher than that of lead, and slightly lower than that of gold or tungsten. It occurs naturally in low concentrations of a few parts per million in soil, rock and water, and is commercially extracted from uranium-bearing minerals such as uraninite.

Chinle Formation formation

The Chinle Formation is an Upper Triassic continental geologic formation of fluvial, lacustrine, and palustrine to eolian deposits spread across the U.S. states of Nevada, Utah, northern Arizona, western New Mexico, and western Colorado. The Chinle is controversially considered to be synonymous to the Dockum Group of eastern Colorado and New Mexico, western Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and southwestern Kansas. The Chinle is sometimes colloquially named as a formation within the Dockum Group in New Mexico and in Texas. The Chinle Formation is part of the Colorado Plateau, Basin and Range, and the southern section of the Interior Plains.

Vanadium Chemical element with atomic number 23

Vanadium is a chemical element with the symbol V and atomic number 23. It is a hard, silvery-grey, ductile, malleable transition metal. The elemental metal is rarely found in nature, but once isolated artificially, the formation of an oxide layer (passivation) somewhat stabilizes the free metal against further oxidation.


Monument Valley from the valley floor Monument Valley 2.jpg
Monument Valley from the valley floor

Monument Valley is officially a large area that includes much of the area surrounding Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, a Navajo Nation equivalent to a national park. Oljato, for example, is also within the area designated as Monument Valley.

National park Park used for conservation purposes of animal life and plants

A national park is a park in use for conservation purposes. Often it is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently, there is a common idea: the conservation of 'wild nature' for posterity and as a symbol of national pride.

Visitors may pay an access fee and drive through the park on a 17-mile (27 km) dirt road (a 2-3 hour trip). Parts of Monument Valley, such as Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa, are accessible only by guided tour.


Monument Valley experiences a desert climate with cold winters and hot summers. While the summers may be hot, the heat is tempered by the region's high altitude. Although the valley experiences an average of 54 days above 90 °F (32 °C) annually, summer highs rarely exceed 100 °F (38 °C). Summer nights are comfortably cool, and temperatures drop quickly after sunset. Winters are cold, but daytime highs are usually above freezing. Even in the winter, temperatures below 0 °F (−18 °C) are uncommon, though possible. Monument Valley receives an occasional light snowfall in the winter; however, it usually melts within a day or two.

Climate data for Monument Valley, Arizona
Record high °F (°C)60
Mean maximum °F (°C)52.07
Average high °F (°C)40.6
Average low °F (°C)24.3
Mean minimum °F (°C)12.25
Record low °F (°C)−8
Average precipitation inches (mm)0.26
Source: The Western Regional Climate Center [4]


Panoramic view of Monument Valley from John Ford's Point.jpg
Panoramic view of Monument Valley from John Ford's Point
Panorama taken from the Visitor Center, showing the West and East Mitten Buttes and the road making a loop-tour through the Park
Monument valley panorama.jpg
Panorama of Monument Valley in winter

Other images

Monument Valley in visual media

Monument Valley has been featured in numerous computer games, in print, and in motion pictures, including multiple Westerns directed by John Ford that influenced audiences' view of the American West, such as: Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). [5] [6] [7] [8]

Many more recent movies, with other directors, were also filmed in Monument Valley, including Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (in 1967), the first spaghetti western to be filmed outside Europe, and Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger . [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Four Corners Monument marks the quadripoint in the Southwestern United States

The Four Corners Monument marks the quadripoint in the Southwestern United States where the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. It is the only point in the United States shared by four states, leading to the area being named the Four Corners region. The monument also marks the boundary between two semi-autonomous Native American governments, the Navajo Nation, which maintains the monument as a tourist attraction, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Reservation.

San Rafael Swell mountain range in Emery County, Utah, United States

The San Rafael Swell is a large geologic feature located in south-central Utah about 30 miles (48 km) west of Green River, Utah. The San Rafael Swell, measuring approximately 75 by 40 miles, consists of a giant dome-shaped anticline of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up during the Paleocene Laramide Orogeny 60–40 million years ago. Since that time, infrequent but powerful flash floods have eroded the sedimentary rocks into numerous valleys, canyons, gorges, mesas, and buttes. The swell is part of the Colorado Plateau physiographic region.

Geology of the Capitol Reef area

The exposed geology of the Capitol Reef area presents a record of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation in an area of North America in and around Capitol Reef National Park, on the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah.

Coyote Buttes mountain range

Coyote Buttes is a section of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), spanning extreme south-central Utah and north-central Arizona, south of US 89 halfway between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona. It is divided into two areas: Coyote Buttes North and Coyote Buttes South. Visiting either of the Coyote Buttes areas requires purchasing a hiking permit.

Hunts Mesa mountain in United States of America

Hunts Mesa is a rock formation located in Monument Valley, south of the border between Utah and Arizona in the United States and west of the border between Arizona's Navajo County and Apache County. It is one of two popular interior destinations in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park for tourists to experience panoramic views of the popular sandstone formations from a distance. The other is Mystery Valley. A Navajo guide is required to hike to either.

Gouldings Lodge United States historic place

Goulding's Lodge, formerly known as Goulding's Trading Post, is a lodge, trading post, and museum located just north of the Arizona–Utah border, adjacent to the Navajo Tribal Park in Monument Valley. Harry Goulding introduced director John Ford to Monument Valley where he shot several of his classic westerns. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 20, 1980.

The Wave (Arizona) rock formation in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Conconino, Arizona, United States

The Wave is a sandstone rock formation located in Arizona, United States, near its northern border with Utah. The formation is situated on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of the Colorado Plateau. The area is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitor center in Kanab, Utah.

Vermilion Cliffs

The Vermilion Cliffs are the second "step" up in the five-step Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau, in northern Arizona and southern Utah. They extend west from near Page, Arizona, for a considerable distance, in both Arizona and Utah.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument national monument in the United States

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is located in Arizona, immediately south of the Utah state line. This national monument, 293,689 acres (118,852 ha) in area, protects the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes, and Paria Canyon. Elevations in the monument range from 3,100 feet to 6,500 feet above sea level.

Kayenta Formation

Kayenta, Arizona is a settlement in the Navajo reservation.

Uranium mining in Utah

Uranium mining in Utah, a state of the United States, has a history going back more than 100 years. Uranium mining started as a byproduct of vanadium mining about 1900, became a byproduct of radium mining about 1910, then back to a byproduct of vanadium when the radium price fell in the 1920s. Utah saw a uranium boom in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but uranium mining declined in the 1980s. Since 2001 there has been a revival of interest in uranium mining, as a result of higher uranium prices.

Uranium mining in Arizona

Uranium mining in Arizona has taken place since 1918. Prior to the uranium boom of the late 1940s, uranium in Arizona was a byproduct of vanadium mining of the mineral carnotite.

<i>Wagon Master</i> 1950 film by John Ford

Wagon Master is a 1950 Western film produced and directed by John Ford and starring Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Joanne Dru, and Ward Bond. The screenplay concerns a Mormon pioneer wagon train to the San Juan River in Utah. The film inspired the US television series Wagon Train (1957–1965), which starred Ward Bond until his death in 1960. The film was a personal favorite of Ford himself, who told Peter Bogdanovich in 1967 that "Along with The Fugitive and The Sun Shines Bright, Wagon Master came closest to being what I wanted to achieve." While the critical and audience response to Wagon Master was lukewarm on its release, over the years several critics have come to view it as one of Ford's masterpieces.

The American West of John Ford is a 1971 television special about movie director John Ford's career narrated by John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda. Footage of Wayne, Stewart, and Fonda talking with the aging Ford are interspersed with an array of clips from Ford's films spanning more than five decades, including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Searchers, and Stagecoach, each of which is dealt with at some length.

West and East Mitten Buttes mountain in United States of America

The West and East Mitten Buttes are two buttes in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in northeast Navajo County, Arizona. When viewed from the south, the buttes appear to be two gigantic mittens with their thumbs facing inwards.


  1. Scheffel, Richard L.; Wernet, Susan J., eds. (1980). Natural Wonders of the World. Reader's Digest. p. 255. ISBN   978-0-89577-087-5.
  2. Phipps, Keith (November 17, 2009). "The Easy Rider Road Trip". Slate . Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  3. Malan, Roger C. (1968). "The uranium mining industry and geology of the Monument Valley and White canyon districts, Arizona and Utah". Ore Deposits of the United States, 1933-1967. New York: American Institute of Mining Engineers. pp. 790–804.
  4. "Seasonal Temperature and Precipitation Information". Western Regional Climate Center. Retrieved March 24, 2013.
  5. Phipps, Keith (November 17, 2009). "The Easy Rider Road Trip". Slate . Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  6. Howze, William (September 2, 2011). "Ford's consistent use of popular imagery in Western and Non-Western films". The Influence of Western Painting and Genre Painting on the Films of John Ford (Revised ed.). "Ford is popularly regarded as a director of westerns, the director who made John Wayne a star and made Monument Valley the locus for the myth of the American West. It was a reputation he encouraged. 'My name's John Ford -I make westerns', he once said by way of introduction.1 Among his most popular westerns are Staqecoach (1939), My Darlinq Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1947), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). "Western or non-western, Ford's films exhibit characteristics that transcend those categories. Critics have recognized Ford's preoccupation with the traditional values of home and country, whether the country is Ireland or the United States; they have characterized his heroes as loners, men disappointed with life in some way that is only implied; and they have enumerated the elements of a typical Ford film: Monument Valley, the Seventh Cavalry, a fight, a dance, a wedding, a funeral, and the members of the so-called John Ford Stock Company, actors who appeared again and again in his films: John Wayne, Victor McLaglen, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, Olive Carey, Harry Carey, Jr., John Qualen, and Hank Worden among others.
  7. Punch, David A. (September 2, 2018). "Stagecoach: Defining the Western, How John Ford's 1939 western classic transformed the dying genre into the epitome of American cinema". Medium. "Monument Valley resides on the Utah-Arizona border, within the territory of the Navajo Reservation. Encompassing approximately 30,000 acres, the land is noteworthy for its incredible sandstone buttes, which reach as high as 1,000 ft. Realizing how magnificent the location would be for a western picture, resident Harry Goulding approached John Ford about shooting his next film there. After previewing the landscape through some pictures Goulding brought along with him, Ford was certain he wanted to film Stagecoach there. Some of the motivation for that was the remoteness of the location. Hundreds of miles away from any form of civilization, it certainly discouraged nosey producers from prying, though the natural beauty of the terrain was a deciding factor. It became his preferred location for shooting westerns; Ford favored its majesty over accuracy in films like My Darling Clementine (1946), set in Tombstone, Arizona, and The Searchers, which substitutes the location for practically everywhere the characters travel to. The expansive countryside embodied the untamed potential of the western frontier so vividly it has become the iconic image of the west. Ford’s discovery of Monument Valley was crucial in piecing together his image of the frontier — a vision which has become the defining portrait of the American West."
  8. Movshovitz, Howard (1984). "The Still Point: Women in the Westerns of John Ford". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. University of Nebraska Press. 7 (3, Women on the Western Frontier): 68–72. doi:10.2307/3346245. JSTOR   3346245.

Further reading