Epic Roadtrip Stop #7: Monument Valley & Arches

Monument Valley

Images and text by Gabrielle.

After Lake Powell, we loaded up the car and started the drive to Moab. It’s not a short drive. Something like 6.5 hours. And making a stop at Monument Valley makes it even longer, because it’s off the highway several miles. But Ben Blair had always wanted to see it, and honestly, I felt the same way when I realized it was in Utah, and that I had grown up in Utah but had never seen it. For some reason, I thought is was either in Arizona or New Mexico (based on absolutely nothing but my lack of geography knowledge). I’m so glad we made the stop! I think it might be my favorite part of the trip.

You could make Monument Valley your end destination. There is a hotel right there, and a restaurant as well. From what I could see, you can hire a jeep that will take you on the road right next to the monuments, and there’s an excellent gift shop. But unless you’re particularly obsessed with spending time there, I would probably recommend it as a stop on the way to Arches or Canyonlands or Lake Powell, versus a destination in itself. All we really wanted was that epic view! We stopped for about an hour and that felt just right. Totally satisfying.

I didn’t understand this until we got there (note my lack of geography knowledge mentioned above), but Monument Valley is part of the Navajo Reservation and managed by the Navajo Nation. I note this because it means that the National Parks pass which can be used at Yosemite, Zion, Lake Powell, etc., doesn’t work at Monument Valley. Just a heads up.

My oldest brother is a Navajo and before I was born, my family lived on the Reservation in New Mexico while my parents taught at a school there. When we settled in St. George, there were Navajo rugs, Navajo sand art, and Navajo turquoise jewelry in our home — and it wasn’t unusual to have friends from the Reservation drop by on their way north. So for me, it was fun to be on there and see the gift shop filled with gorgeous Navajo wares and have it all feel so familiar.

The funnest part: while we were taking in the view, a gorgeous storm moved in. We watched the clouds until the rain reached our view point. Then the kids ran for the van, while Ben and I stayed and let the rain soak us. I was in heaven! I love summer storms in the desert.

Sandstone Arch

After our visit to Monument Valley, we made our way to Moab so we could visit Arches National Park. Neither Ben nor I had been to Arches since college and it was fun to be back.

Arches is great for kids! It’s a relatively small National Park compared to Yellowstone or Yosemite or Zion. There’s one visitor center, a small gift shop, and even a Junior Ranger program — but there is no lodging within the park borders, and no restaurants or cafés either. And you can drive from one end to another in an hour or so. The way it works, is that tourists stay and eat in Moab — it’s just minutes away.

We did some kid-friendly hikes in the morning, then returned to Moab because a storm had moved in. We ate, swam in the hotel pool, and then returned to Arches after the storm. We were hoping to hike to Delicate Arch, but the road was flooded from the storm and we couldn’t get to the hike. So we went to Sand Dune arch instead. That’s Sand Dune arch above. Can you spot Betty?

Then, yesterday morning, we hiked to Delicate Arch. A longer hike, and hot! But worth it. Seeing it feels like you’re seeing nature’s most iconic creation. It really is remarkable, and sort of unbelievable — like it shouldn’t exist.

After the hike, we packed up the van, stopped for a late lunch, and hit the road once more. Next stop: Salt Lake City and Provo!

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever adventured to Arches or Monument Valley? Thoughts? Advice? Favorite parts? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — My Instagram stream is full of snapshots from our roadtrip. Feel free to check it out!

24 thoughts on “Epic Roadtrip Stop #7: Monument Valley & Arches”

  1. I’ve loved following your photos on instagram! I had no idea there were such beautiful places out west. I think I knew nothing about Utah. I’m wondering how you guys handle such things with a large group such as food? Do you guys stop for meals at regular fast food places, or do packed lunches from grocery stores that you keep in a cooler on board? Do the exchange students pay their own or help chip in?

    1. Yay! I’m so glad these posts have introduced you to some of the beauty in the west. What a beautiful country this is!

      Thanks for the questions about the practicalities of the trip. I’ve been getting lots of related emails and hope to write up a post detailing some of the tips I have to offer.

    1. Well, if they’re anything like me, they’re getting tired of the driving and are glad we’re holding still in Northern Utah for a few days. : )

      I’ll try to cover your questions in a Roatrip Tips post I’m planning.

  2. I have taken a couple different, shorter, versions of your epic road trip as various cousins have come to visit from France. Since we live in the Phoenix area and depart from there our trips have included an overnight camp out on the Mogollon Rim; it shocks them to realize we can be in the pines with glorious cooler days and almost cold nights less 3 hours from our house – plus the rim view of the valley are really quite wonderful! Then we have added in drive thru/short stops at the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert before heading to Canyon de Chelly (love!) and then on to Monument Valley. I think one of the “keys” to a Monument Valley visit (if you’re not making it your end destination) is to be there for a sunrise or a sunset .. the light playing off the monuments is spectacular. And yes, having a summer storm come through can also be a treat, really, they don’t last long but it can give you a totally different perspective on the desert.

    For reasons I will NEVER understand every cousin has had an interest in visiting Death Valley! I have no clue what is written in some French travel guide related to the Southwestern US, but they all seem to want to go. However, given that these visits all occur during the annual “vacances” this means July and August and I tell them .. no Death Valley.

    Enjoy your adventure,


    1. Hah! On our Lake Powell boat tour, we were speaking with a family from Switzerland and they were also super interested in Death Valley. I couldn’t believe it!

    2. I am American and I was super-interested in Death Valley, too! Until I got nearby and was already roasting! No thanks! I’d already been letdown by Four Corners and I couldn’t take another disappointment!

  3. Your Instagram feed makes we want to pack up the kids, the car, and hit the road! But, realistically, we’re total Bay Area weather wimps…I’m not sure I could handle this trip in the summer. Maybe Spring Break 2015? But would the swimming be as fun?

  4. From New Mexico….. speaking to the rain in the desert…..it is the most wonderful thing and the “after the rain scent” is so wonderful……..our yellow lab feels the same way you do and will just stand in the rain soaking it up (and she can soak up a lot of rain!)

    Have been to areas you are describing and being from the East Coast, where some people think trees and green are needed for beauty……well, the areas you are describing are, I believe, some of the most beautiful on earth!…..and yes, I have been all over Europe and have seen amazing beauty there also. Haven’t seen Australia or New Zealand “yet” and a lot of South America so it is possible there are more beautiful places……but then who can compare the natural beauty on this earth……

    Keep the pictures coming! We can travel vicariously!

  5. This trip has been soo much fun to follow – your pictures are absolutely gorgeous! And I think you’ve inspired us to seriously start planning a road trip out west! thanks for sharing!

  6. Gabrielle, I’m really enjoying your #epicroadtrip and all the epic photos. So beautiful. I’ve traveled the world but have not seen so much right in my own backyard, so-to-speak, like these amazing national parks. Amazing. I really want to see these places and am so glad you have shared. Time to start planning my own road trip.

  7. My husband works for the Navajo Nation and goes to Monument valley for work several times a year. He loves the views but there is absolutely nothing to do there, so he gets bored. :) It was fun for him to be there when they were filming Transformers 4 though.

    Also we went to Moab before we had kids, I was 7 months pregnant and we decided to hike to Delicate Arch. I had no idea it would be that hard and ended up having contractions for days afterward. Also, I was wearing flip flops AND we forgot our camera so we have no proof. Lame!

  8. Last October we flew to Vegas and enjoyed a day there. That’s about enough especially since we had our son, age 14, with us.
    Then I had reserved a tour flight though, Grand Canyom Airlines. The national parks where closed then. I am so glad. What a wonderful experience going to
    Grand Canyon West and the Hualapai Tribe. The tribe fed us, drove us to the sites and then the airline flew us back. Amazing!!! Beautiful !
    We also saw Hoover Dam while in Vegas. Also amazing even if man made.

  9. I have been to both Monument Valley AND Arches. Can you even try to take enough photos? I wish I had gone in the age of digital – I wouldn’t have hoarded my film so cautiously! (2004 – the Dark Ages of Photography.)

    I love Arches and Moab is a cute little town – I fell in love with their little bookstore.
    Monument and the Navajo lands made me want to watch old westerns and read lots of Louis L’Amour and Tony Hillerman. I have really enjoyed these posts!

  10. OMG Gabrielle, I feel like I am there with you and your family. I am loving the posts and pics! For this Aussie girl it’s like being in a famous Hollywood Western, LOL. The kids must be loving it? Can’t wait to do it with my two in the future.

  11. I would also absolutely recommend staying overnight at Monument Valley for the sunset and sunrise – a wonderful experience that even scenery weary teens will love.

  12. One of my absolute favourite places I’ve been. I can’t wait to be able to take my husband and children there. It truly is a magical place. The first time I went, we stumbled across a place called Valley of the Gods, which also beholds a mythical beauty. Watching sunsets there made me feel the most present and still, just enjoying the moment and not wait for what was next. Enjoy!

  13. My sister was a teacher in the Navajo Nation for many years and we often drove through Monument Valley and surrounding areas. Our favorite Native artisans are located in a sort of marketplace. They’ve basically built self-storage type units for the purpose of giving each artist/seller a place to sell. They even have Navajo tacos on site. Although my sister would often bring home the specific type of flour to make fry bread and Navajo tacos for us, they always seemed better from roadside stands (like most things)!

  14. You drove right through my newly adopted and tiny town of Monticello! I love Arches. When we moved here I was given a book about all of the hikes in the area. In it it said that delicate arch is more of a pilgrimage. I love that! Since we are an hour away we are making it just that and taking a family photo at the top to see how much we’ve grown in the past year!
    Some advice for those with kids visiting Arches…With really little kids try double arch (1/4 mile!) or the windows. They are short and when you get to the arch there is so much climbing around to do! There is also a lot of shade! For the tweens and boys (and adventurous girls) hit the sand dune that is right outside the entrance. You’ll likely add a few pounds of sand to the car but it is great fun! (People even take sleds and sled down it!) I never knew how amazing south east Utah was before I got here. But it is truly breathtaking. If you have the time and inclination, camp at Natural Bridges National Monument or one of the tiny state or National monuments around the area. They are miles and miles from anywhere and when the sun goes down and you see the sky you feel like you are up in space! There are so many stars and you can see ALL of them!

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