Monument Valley, AZ

March 7, Friday

If the drive from Cottonwood, AZ to Navajo National Monument was scenic, the drive from Navajo National Monument to Valley of the Gods is grand indeed.

East on 160 are great bluffs of carved sandstone. The town of Kayenta is surrounded by them.

At Kayenta I get on 163 going north. Out of the flat terrain on the border between Arizona and Utah rise monoliths that loom over the desert floor. I’ve seen pictures of Monument Valley of course but the reality is so much more impressive. They’re so big! And how did they even form? I’m guessing all the rock around them was softer and eroded away leaving just these pillars and ridges behind. Nature is so amazing.

I’ll be going back to visit Monument Valley without Cas in tow, but in the meantime I’m on the hunt for my next camp. I do stop at the famous Forest Gump pullout though and get the obligatory road picture.

Between Monument Valley and Mexican Hat, UT are a series of grades, but they’re all short with flatter ground in between to rest engine and brakes, much easier than a lot of mountain passes. This is my very first 10% sign.

North of Mexican Hat on 163 a brown sign points down a dirt road: “Valley of the Gods”. This is a scenic loop on BLM land that is much like a miniature Monument Valley. But dispersed camping is allowed here and it’s free. You can also get to this road from 261, but the eastern side of the loop off 163 is less rough for an RV.

Like a lot of dirt roads in this part of the country, this is not a good place to camp in wet conditions. Almost immediately after crossing the cow grate is a water crossing. The creek is just a trickle right now and the bottom is a solid slab of rock, but right after a rain it could become impassable.

Let’s cut to the chase. Valley of the Gods is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever boondocked. I snag an open spot about a mile in near two sandstone towers and think I must have gotten lucky to nab the best spot on the loop. The next day I drive a bit farther down the road and discover a number of other excellent sites with a view just as good. Even better, the crowds are nothing like the Cottonwood/Sedona area. There’s no doubling up in sites, in fact plenty of spots remain open every night. Granted once school gets out next month it will probably be a different story.

Taken on the 8th during a break between rain showers

March 10, Monday

After two cloudy and windy days where I stick close to camp, this morning the sun is breaking through the high clouds and the breeze is a mere whisper. Monument Valley time! The drive back along 163 is uneventful, and then it’s four miles down a site road to get to the park. Two hoofed pedestrians wander down the lane, crossing the road in front of traffic bold as you please. They remind me of the bison in Yellowstone.

“What’cho lookin’ at?”

Monument Valley is a tribal park owned and managed by the Navajo. As such, National Park passes issued by the government will not get you in. The fee is $20 per vehicle, but when I pull up to the kiosk the two ladies are on break out back it seems and they wave me through without taking my money.

Shortly after that is the Visitor Center complex. There’s a museum dedicated to the history of the Navajo (or Diné, as they call themselves), an information desk, gift shop, restaurant, and hotel. Right next door is a campground with cabins and spots for RVs and tents. My attention though is immediately drawn to the view from the visitor center. There they are, the Mittens! This is arguably the best view in the park, and for those with limited mobility there’s absolutely no hiking required to enjoy it. It seems almost unreal, that those two formations should be so symmetrical and yet are a natural occurrence. I can see why the Navajo consider this a sacred place.

The paved road ends here and for those who want to see more of the park there are two options. Valley View road (42 on maps) is rated as passable for everything from cars to vans (no ATVs allowed, and low-riding sports cars and motorcycles are not recommended) when conditions are dry but let me tell you, it’s rougher than a lot of the dirt roads I camp down. If you don’t want to beat your own vehicle up, there are tours that leave from the visitor center parking lot that’ll take you along 42.

Taking your own vehicle gives you freedom over where you stop and for how long, but there are a few places tour vehicles can go that visitor traffic is not allowed – such as the window. You’ll have to check prices and decide for yourself what’s worth it. Being on a budget (and not having a new vehicle worth babying), I take Bertha.

42 is kind of like a maze. It’s got one big loops, and then other little side roads that lead to various attractions. Hiking is not permitted in most places, it’s very much a driving park. Scattered along the route are stops with jewelry vendors and outhouses. At John Ford Point is a food cart, and I pay $5 for fry bread. It’s delicious. This is a famous movie spot and you can pay $5 to get a photo of a cowboy on a horse, for $10 I think you can have someone take a picture of you on the horse. Not my thing but the kids seem to love it.

Depending on if you visit in the morning or afternoon, different points of interest will be lit by the sun. The Mittens look fantastic in the afternoon, but the Three Sisters are back-lit and not as impressive. If you have the opportunity to drive around at both times of day, that would be ideal. Many are relatively easy to photograph without zoom, but for a good photo of the Totem Pole zoom is necessary.

The farther back on 42 I go, the less crowded it gets. The best towers in the park are at the visitor center, but the sheer bluffs and jagged fins in the backcountry are nice too in their own way. There are private residences out here, a herd of cattle peer at me as I drive past.

Totem Pole is to the right of the road in the distance.

The road never stops being bumpy and uneven and it takes me a long time to make the loop despite the relatively short distance traveled. A few other favorites along the way are Spearhead Mesa:

And the Thumb. At a few different locations are corrals of horses and you can get tours on horseback. A horse trail leads to this nice view of the Thumb.

Back at the visitor center, I plop myself on the wall and settle in for nearly two hours of Mittens watching as the sun goes down. Patches of high clouds make interesting shadows across the landscape and last light is as spectacular as I’d hoped it would be.

During those two hours a lot of tourists come and go, and I hear snippets of conversation about travel plans and deadlines. I smile, falling in love with my life all over again. I can sit here as long as I please and don’t need to worry about trying to cram All The Things into a week-long vacation. An older couple sitting on a bench to the right of me stay nearly as long as I do and we share a nod at some point. I think they understand.

A full moon rises on the way back home. What a wonderful day it’s been!

Is full-time RVing in your future? Check out the Resources page for a list of informative articles designed to get you on the road with a minimum of pain and uncertainty so YOU can start enjoying amazing days like this one!

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  1. Valley of the Gods | Postcards from the road on April 21, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    […] of the Gods would not even have been on our radar if we hadn’t caught a post by Becky of Interstellar Orchard (thank you, Becky!) describing its beauty and excellence as a […]

  2. Susan LePage on April 18, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    My husband and I love your descriptions of your travels. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us! We wouldn’t have known about Valley of the Gods otherwise; and it looks like we ended up in the exact same spot!

    • Becky on April 21, 2017 at 4:15 pm

      You’re welcome Susan, thank you two for following along! I hope you’re enjoying that spot as much as I did. 🙂

  3. Pamelab on April 14, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Wonderful photos, Becky. Great visit for you! That photo taken between storms is a gem. I recently spent a week in Lubbock visiting family and took one of my grandsons for an overnight at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Very pretty and we got some good photos even in the drizzle and wind. Lots of camping going on and tents too. We even got a photo of a roadrunner!
    Then we took a ride through Cap Rock Canyon State Park and saw some of the wild bison herd. A smaller Park than Palo Duro, but nice scenery, in addition to the bison.
    Happy Trails and thank you for the good information.
    Pamelab back in Houston for a bit.

    • Becky on April 14, 2017 at 2:54 pm

      Roadrunners are hard to photograph Pamela, congrats! I haven’t been to Palo Duro but I have camped at Caprock Canyon and loved it there. The bison trapped me in the shower house one evening, haha! Sounds like you and your grandson had a good time, it is so nice being able to visit family.

  4. Ernesto Quintero on April 13, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Becky thanks for giving me a tour of MV, I missed it during my 8,400 mile trip to the NP of the west back in ’91. Great compositions BTW, congratulations on your Mittens golden hour mission. Be safe.

    • Becky on April 13, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      You’re welcome Ernesto. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to come out this way again someday to see it. And thanks, glad you enjoyed the photos.

  5. Janice W on April 13, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Long time follower; first time comment. There was a lot of passion in this post. When you write your book on avoiding crowds I will buy the first copy.

    • Becky on April 13, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      I’m glad you decided to come out of the woodwork and comment Janice! Thanks.

      If only it were possible to avoid the crowds all the time. Some of the secret is visiting places during off seasons (which usually means the weather won’t be as good), and some of it is just luck.

  6. Debbie LaFleiche on April 13, 2017 at 10:49 am

    I love the photos in this post, Becky!
    Debbie LaFleiche recently posted..Books: A Life-Long LoveMy Profile

    • Becky on April 13, 2017 at 9:24 pm

      Thanks Debbie!

  7. John on April 13, 2017 at 10:40 am

    I visited there years ago and enjoyed it a great deal. Thanks for the reminder.
    John recently posted..Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, WisconsinMy Profile

    • Becky on April 13, 2017 at 9:24 pm

      You’re welcome John. It’s an easy place to enjoy, so unique…

  8. David Brittain on April 12, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks for the great shots from Monument Valley, it is truly a magical place. We were there in May 2015 while doing a 4 month trip in our Casita, one of the best times of my life were on that run, thanks for reminding me of that great time! Safe travels my friend!


    • Becky on April 13, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      So happy to have brought back good memories for you David!

      If camping right there in the park would have been free I’d have watched the sunset every night. Heck, I may even have roused myself out of bet once or twice to watch sunrise!

  9. termain on April 12, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Many individuals make money from their travels and blogs by posting on YouTube. I know you are familiar with this. I just love looking at your pictures, and I hope you are somehow reimbursed for the work to make your travels interesting.

    • Becky on April 13, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      My YouTube channel is due for an overhaul, that’s on my projects list for this year. I don’t make any money from videos right now, but I do get reimbursed in other ways. I accept donations through PayPal and earn a kickback when people use my affiliate link to shop on Amazon (it doesn’t cost the shopper any more money than normal). Thanks for thinking of me Termain. 🙂

  10. Seana on April 12, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Haha I think the “shared nod” is my favorite part of this. I am quite eager to participate in the lifestyle and have those exact same thoughts! Breathtaking pictures!

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      It’s a wonderful feeling Seana, you’re going to love it! I know getting ready to go full-timing is rough but all that hard work will pay off. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed these pictures, take care!

  11. Jodee Gravel on April 12, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Stunning photos, there are few places in the country as iconic as this valley. Glad you had such great weather to see it. We too smile often at how this lifestyle allows us the time to enjoy everything at our own pace while others are rushing through.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Before We Hit the Road AgainMy Profile

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 5:01 pm

      I feel kind of like I have a superpower sometimes Jodee. When I’m out and about meeting all the “normal” people living more traditionally I feel somewhat separated from them because my path is so different. But when I meet people like that old couple it’s like we share a connection, we’re both superheroes and can share that camaraderie with a glance.

  12. Kit Frost on April 12, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Hi Becky, glad you got to visit Monument Valley and Valley of the Gods (it WAS the best kept secret out there :). When school gets out it can be really hot in both Monument Valley and VOG. And spring is a really windy month in Southern Utah. In fact, I like to call one of my camps “Camp Blownapart”.

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      Yes Kit I remember how hot Zion got in the summer so maybe visitation won’t be so high in May. As for it being a secret, it’s been listed on Campendium for over a year so I wasn’t the one who spoiled it, hehe. I can’t help thinking that the BLM will start charging to camp here though because it’s so pretty, just like you now have to pay to disperse camp in Goosenecks.

      Good old western windstorms. So far 40 mph has been the strongest I’ve seen out here, Cottonwood was worse. Hopefully my luck continues to hold…

  13. MB from VA on April 12, 2017 at 2:55 am

    Hi Becky! You are in one of my favorite places on earth! I was wondering if you went all the way through Valley of the Gods? I did it in my F150. Sitting here in VA, I have often wondered if I could get through towing a trailer. As I remember, some of the washes were very “close”, up and down wise. Have fun and thank you for the pictures! Hopefully, I will be there by next year this time…if not much sooner. 🙂 Safe travels to you! MB from VA (for now)

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      I’m camped about a mile in from the east entrance MB and will just turn around and go back out that way when I leave. I drove maybe another two miles after that with just the truck and what I saw I would be willing to take the Casita down but I did not go all the way to the west end so I can’t say. Everyone on Campendium where I found the listing says to use the east entrance if you have an RV.

  14. Judith Blinkenberg on April 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you so very, very, much. Just love this report and hope to go this fall. We love John Wayne so much and watch all his movies. He made this famous for us. Thank you for the pictures! You are a treasure, Becky!

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:38 pm

      You’re very, very welcome. It’s pretty neat standing on that point looking over the valley Judith and I’m sure you two will love it when you get out there!

  15. Gerri & Mike on April 11, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    Amazing place!! I love your photos of the Mittens!! The setting sun makes for interesting color and shadows…..outstanding!!
    Gerri & Mike recently posted..A Vintage Kind of DayMy Profile

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      It would also be great to visit the Mittens on a cloudier day for more brooding and dramatic sky photos. Glad you enjoyed this!

  16. Tina on April 11, 2017 at 6:50 pm

    Just beautiful, oh those pictures and I can’t imagine the view in person would just take your breath away.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      You’re welcome Tina and I’m glad you enjoyed this!

  17. Rob on April 11, 2017 at 6:21 pm


    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:32 pm


  18. B. Kaeseman on April 11, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Love to see the photos of all y\the places you have been, these are some of the best. I hope you continue to have fair winds and following seas as you follow your whims to your next adventure.
    Thanks for sharing your life with us.
    B. Kaeseman

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      You’re welcome B and I’m glad to have you along for the journey. It’s hard to take a bad picture in this part of Utah, if you ever get the chance to visit this area yourself I highly recommend it. Take care!

  19. Margaret on April 11, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Great pictures & write up of your trip. Thanks for sharing.

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:20 pm

      You’re welcome Margaret.

  20. RGupnorth on April 11, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    Nice report on your visit.

    • Becky on April 12, 2017 at 4:19 pm

      Glad you enjoyed this RG.

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