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Towering at heights of up to 1,000 feet, the majestic sandstone rock formations of Monument Valley are not only a famous Wild West backdrop but also a sacred place to the Navajo people. According to old legends, the sandstone buttes are carcasses of long-defeated monsters. After Monument Valley was featured in John Ford westerns,over time it has become a popular location for many other movies, television shows, commercials, and music videos. The Marlboro Man, Wayne McLaren,also made it into Monument Valley. Ford returned nine times to shoot his films, starting withStage coach back in 1939. Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone, Dennis Hopper, Clint Eastwood, Ridley Scott, and the Coen Brothers, among others, followed him. Some of their movies became world-known classics like2001:A Space Odyssey, Once Upon a Time in the West, Thelma & Louise, Forest Gump, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future,and more recently, the HBO series West world.
As impressive as the landscape is as a backdrop, only a visit can do it justice and allows one to embrace its magnificent and humbling spirit. Monument Valley can be reached via several routes.
The northern approach from Utah is particularly striking with iconic views of the picturesque scenery on the distant horizon, flanked by the deep red desert. The buttes are isolated hills standing tall against the blue sky with steep sides and a flat top— they are considered as some of the most stunning and unique geologies in the world.
Millions of years of erosion by water, wind, and varying temperatures sculptured the red formations, whose vibrant coloring derives from iron oxide. The older the buttes grow, the more they erode until they look like skinny fingers pointing into the sky. One of them is Totem Pole which was featured in The Eiger Sanction in 1975. Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy were filmed on the highly eroded butte, which has been off-limits to climbers ever since.
The View Hotel is the only lodging inside the park and offers guided tours to the Monument Valley 17-mile loop which is accessible by vehicle only and takes about three to four hours to complete. Itis also possible to navigate the bumpy dust road yourself, with itsvery low speed limit, past wild horses, sand dunes, John Ford’s Point, North Window Overlook, Totem Pole, and several other landmarks. At the West and East Mitten Buttes, the Wildcat Trail offers spectacular views of the valley. The 3.2-mile loop hike is like a trip in a time machine back to the days of the Wild West. Surrounded by some of the most famous rock formations,you’ll feel enveloped by the majestic energy of the area.
The visitor’s center is maybe the best place to enjoy the sunset over Monument Valley when the buttes are glowing in the melting sun. The town nearest to Monument Valley is Mexican Hat by the beautiful San Juan River with lots of lodging options, restaurants, and rich Navajo tradition.
Enjoy delicious Southwestern cuisine mixed with Native Navajo-inspired dishes at Olde Bridge Grille. The tables by the window overlook the river and the river valley. Tasty Navajo tacos are served on nourishing toasted fry bread instead of tortillas by friendly staff for dinner With fresh salad, the tacos either come vegetarian style or with a choice of meat.
Typically, the best time to visit is from spring to fall. While the summers can get crowded, winter time is usually very calm in Monument Valley.
Snow is not unheard of but rare. When we spent New Year’s Eve in one of the beautiful Cabins of the View, we were asked to leave the faucets on to prevent them from freezing. It was unusually cold that night and when we opened the blinds the next morning, we were lucky to find the whole valley covered in deep snow. All roads were closed and tours suspended due to the sudden onset of winter: the only way to enter the park was by horse.
With a Navajo guide at our side, we visited the sacred site and mythical landscape on horseback.
The animals sank deep with every step they took but it didn’t take them long to find their footing and navigate the valley’s tracks without seeing them. The snow muffled all sounds and turned our ride into a truly breathtaking experience full of grace and grandeur.
Images: Ger Ger Words: Tina Ger
The Unseasonal is a purpose-driven special projects magazine and alternative take on the world – a magazine about passion, travel, beauty, the change in seasons, the unusual, and the human condition. It features timeless pictorials, thoughtful stories, and unique collaborations. The Unseasonal embodies the feeling of a getaway, of slowing down, of exotic places, optimism, breathtaking dreams, unique architecture, and a lightness of being, traced with elements
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