It was a bit out of our way to visit Monument Valley but we didn’t do the area justice 9 years ago as we were too budget conscious to pay the $20 entrance fee. So this time we headed back and storms followed us the whole way. You can get some views for free from the main highway and up to the entry gate but we can now safely say that it’s worth paying the money to get through that gate. As soon as you arrive in the carpark there’s the most incredible view looking down on three prominent monuments.
We were going to do the 5 mile Wild Cat trail that loops around one of the formations but the storm was spreading around us. It wasn’t ideal weather but it sure was fun sitting in our van and watching black clouds dispersing rain and lightning strike down towards the monuments. By late afternoon we decided to just put our rain coats on and do that walk. It was actually quite boring, the view wasn’t good that close to them but luckily we got back to Ruby just before a big down-pour.
The entry fee allows two day access so our plan was to leave the area at sunset and camp for free in national forest, returning the following day for better weather to do the main scenic drive. We found a quiet carpark with the best view from our windscreen so we decided to enjoy some dinner before we left. It was still raining and miserable but low clouds were drifting over the flat-topped mountains all around us.
To exit the Navajo land and camp for free we needed to drive about 40km each way, so I suggested maybe we pay for a campground nearby. We always wild camp for free as we hate campgrounds and don’t need any facilities but it kind of made sense to pay and save the long drive. There was a campground right at the main area of the park with the best view around so we enquired there, knowing it would be too much.
While Craig was asking the sun actually came out, I couldn’t believe my eyes!! The three monuments were glowing red like a hot lamp was shining down on them. The rest of the valley was dark and moody while these rocks looked like they were on fire. I was taking a thousand photos when Craig ran out to tell me even more good news, we could camp for just $20. I think we’ve only stayed in about 10 campgrounds in our 4 years or so of van adventures and $20 was the most we’ve ever paid, but it would save us gas money and it was the best view ever! The reason it was so cheap was because we were allowed to park alongside all the cars that belonged to tenters. If we wanted an ‘RV site’ it would cost $50 and weirdly all they got extra was a bench and us in their view. So of course we stayed there and we had the monuments right in front of us which were hard to take our eyes off. Much to our surprise I went to the washrooms and noticed showers inside – we didn’t even think about showers being included so that was a bonus.
It was a freezing cold night and the tenters clearly suffered too as they packed up and got into their warm cars before the sun even rose, making sure to slam their doors and wake us repeatedly. We were just snoozing though as I kept peaking out the window to see if the sunrise was happening. The time zone changed at some point as if the Navajo area had a different zone to the rest of Arizona so we had no idea what time sunrise would be. Suddenly I saw the sun piercing above one of the monuments and I ran out for a photo. I couldn’t believe our luck to receive four seasons in 24 hours, it was a photographers dream!!
We showered at 6am to beat the crowds and warm up and then we headed along the scenic drive. It was a 16 mile or so dirt road and they literally didn’t invest a penny of the entrance fee into maintaining it. There were huge potholes and the clay road resembled a rough sea at times. It did improve further down though and we passed some interesting rock formations. We felt like the views weren’t as impressive as the one at the main car park looking down on the valley so maybe if you have a fragile car it’s best to just leave the drive and enjoy the view from the top. By lunch time we were back on the road heading towards the Grand Canyon and feeling very happy about our detour to the monuments.