After three absolutely gorgeous nights at Mesa Verde National Park (Part 1 and Part 2), we continued our 2016 road trip west. Our drive through Colorado toward Monument Valley, Utah led us by Four Corners National Monument, so we had to stop!
Four Corners National Monument
Four Corners Monument marks the only spot in the United States where 4 states meet. The corners of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet at this point.
The Navajo Nation owns Four Corners National Monument and they do charge an admission fee. The drive from Mesa Verde RV Resort to Four Corners was a little less than an hour. We paid the admission fee and then entered the monument area. A cement platform and little bronze plate mark the spot where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet. We each picked one state and waved to each other from across the state lines!
We took our few obligatory photos and then wandered around the Navajo market that surrounds the monument. Navajo vendors who sell artwork, crafts and souvenirs surround the monument. Bathrooms and picnic tables are available, but otherwise services are very limited. The Four Corners region is very desolate, so make sure you are prepared with snacks, water, and anything else you might need while visiting this monument!
Drive to Monument Valley
After our quick visit to Four Corners Monument, we loaded back in the car and continued our drive through Arizona and Utah to Monument Valley, Utah. The drive across Arizona and Utah is incredible. The landscape is constantly changing. The science teacher in me was in awe of the rock layers, formations, and moon-like landscape in some areas. We passed “Mexican Hat”, a unique rock formation that looks like a sombrero balancing on a spire.
We drove through several small towns but very few services were available. As we came up the hill toward Monument Valley, the towering rock formations appeared in the distance. We had to pull over and take the view in! This is the iconic view of Monument Valley as the road continues off into the distance and Monument Valley rises from the landscape. What a welcome!
Goulding’s RV Park and Campground
We drove into town and parked our camper in our spot at Goulding’s RV Park and Campground with the most gorgeous view into the valley!
Harry and Leone Goulding founded Goulding’s Trading Post in the early 1920s. The Gouldings traveled to Monument Valley to embark on a new business venture. With no roads and limited access to the area, they purchased a plot of land and set up a trading post. They lived and worked out of tents for several years before building a home and subsequently a lodge and other buildings. During the Great Depression, Harry and Leone traveled to Los Angeles with their last $60 to try to drum up some business for filming Westerns in beautiful Monument Valley. After showing off some pictures of the scenery of Monument Valley, one director was convinced and the rest was history! Over the next 30 years the Gouldings hosted famous directors, actors, and others to stay in their lodge and dining facilities while filming. The beautiful locations seen in these films also attracted more visitors.
Goulding’s Trading Post Museum
Today you can visit the Goulding’s Trading Post Museum in the former home and trading post of Harry and Leone Goulding. The museum houses artifacts from the Native Americans who call this area home and from the Old West movies filmed in this area. The “living quarters” in the upstairs of the home are restored with the Goulding’s belongings.
“John Wayne’s Cabin” is a small storage cabin in the back of the property used to film exterior shots in the 1949 film “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” starring John Wayne. The property also includes a gift shop, dining facility and a beautiful overlook of the rock formations of Monument Valley.
Just beyond the lodge is the campground and RV park. There is a small store, shower and laundry facilities and an indoor pool. Beautiful red rock formations surround the campground.
Just a short 10-minute hike from the campground is a beautiful natural rock arch. We enjoyed hiking around the area both evenings we spent at this campground.
Monument Valley Tribal Park
After a relaxing evening enjoying the magnificent night sky at Monument Valley, we got up early to explore the park. The Navajo Nation owns and runs Monument Valley Tribal Park. Park entry is $20 per car (Up to 4 people) and is valid for 4 consecutive days. We paid the entrance fee and then walked up to the Visitor’s Center. There were several information booths but no one staffing them. Downstairs is a small exhibit with very little information on the park or its history. Upstairs there is a large gift shop with extremely high prices and a restaurant. The balcony outside the gift shop offers some of the best views of the park!
Wildcat Trail Disappointment
We had planned to start out our morning with a hike on the Wildcat Trail. This is one of the only trails in the park open to visitors without paying for a guide. The trail entrance is right next to the Visitor Center parking lot. We walked over to the trail and saw big signs saying “Trail Closed”. We could see others on the trail but decided to inquire more before beginning the trail.
Someone finally opened one of the information stations inside the Visitor Center after we waited for about 30 minutes. She less than enthusiastically informed us “it was just closed”. When we inquired further she said that it was because “people don’t listen”. We inferred from her lack of information that someone had to be rescued on the trail because of the heat. The high the day we visited the park was 75 degrees! We were very disappointed with this lack of information and also with the inability to now access anything in the park off the main road. We debated on just continuing on to the trail since obviously others were ignoring the sign, but decided we didn’t want to end up in Navajo jail.
17-mile Loop Drive
Disappointed, we decided to continue on the 17-mile loop road through the park. Please beware! This road is extremely rough. We drove our minivan around the entire loop and while we made it, it was quite the bumpy, slow ride. Todd spent the entire 3 hours we spent on the loop avoiding giant boulders, huge potholes, and other cars stuck on the road! The scenery is spectacular, but the road is not ideal. Guided tours are available from locals. Every tour we looked at was close to $100 per person for a couple hours in the back of a truck!
We did enjoy our drive around the scenic loop despite the terrible road conditions. We made many stops along the way and used a brochure for details of the rock formations and information stops. Most stops were just for a quick photo and to admire the view. Venturing away from the designated stops is not permitted. It was very interesting to see the rock formations from many different angles and in different light as the day went on. We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car as we drove the loop.
Evening at Monument Valley
After we completed the 17-mile loop, we spent the late afternoon enjoying the pool and the hiking trails around our campground. Monument Valley is spectacularly scenic, but I have to admit that we were quite disappointed with the lack of hiking and outdoor opportunities. Unless you pay for a guided tour, your options are very limited.
The next morning we woke up to an interesting site – fog in the valley! It was so interesting to see the rock formations clouded over with fog! We packed up in the light rain and unfortunately the red dust turns to red mud when it rains! We’re still working on getting the red mud out of our car! We then continued our drive through Utah down to Page, Arizona, our home for the next few nights!
Campground: Goulding’s Lodge at Monument Valley
Activities: Four Corners National Monument
Hiking and Star Gazing
Food: Food options and amenities are very limited in the area, so we cooked most of our meals and packed lunches. There is a restaurant at the Visitor’s Center in Monument Valley Tribal Park, a dining facility at Goulding’s and a small local grocery store.