Monument Valley is the quintessential image associated with The American West. Perhaps because of how frequently it has appeared in films, particularly westerns, it is quite difficult to look at this grouping of red rock formations without imagining cowboys riding horses across the landscape.
Despite the fact that the natural processes associated with its formation are culturally agnostic, and the fact that the monument sits on the Navajo Indian Reservation, these rocks have become forever associated with the culture of the American West. The fact that the first music video that pops into my head when I think of Monument Valley is by a German Band, the Scorpions, does not even seem to temper that association. Every American hard rock song feels like it fits in perfectly with this landscape.
Speaking of the landscape, Monument Valley is one of those places with a command of the landscape for miles away. Particularly approaching from the north (or northeast as that is where the highways are), it can be seen from some 50 miles away.
The interesting thing about Monument Valley is how different it can appear on either side of the monument. In the afternoon, the north (northeast) side has a much different appearance than the view from the south, which represents the standard iconic view of the feature, with the sun shining on it.
How this specific iconic set of rocks became associate with 19th century American pioneers on horseback, and the enduring culture and ethos of the Interior American West is probably a challenging question to answer. Yet, it is most certainly the repetition of this association throughout culture and media that makes people living some half a century or more after all of these films were produced continue to feel a certain feeling when they gaze upon this monument. It is hard to imagine a better example of how repetition creates and perpetuates and association than this one. I am truly curious about what the Navajo Nation thinks of it.
The strange thing is that this association has lead me to think of gold prospectors, cowboys on horseback, shootouts and such at other places with a similar feel. Like most naturally occurring features, Monument Valley is not the only place where the natural processes that created these features occured.
The rock formations about 160 miles to the Northeast, outside of Moab, Utah, take on a very similar feel. It almost feels as if any movie or music video filmed at Monument Valley could have just as easily been filmed here to the same effect.
It would be a huge missed opportunity to visit Monument Valley without also visiting Goosenecks State Park, only about 30 miles away.
This is another spot that is photographed quite frequently. Unlike Monument Valley, it seems to have a stronger association with that which is current about the American West; tourism, outdoor adventures, and, of course, the search for the perfect instagram photo.
Visitors to the park can also see Monument Valley from a distance.
I had previously visited Arches National Park, traveling to the most iconic of the arches.
On that trip, I had failed to realize that just a half an hour south on highway 191, it is possible to see one of these arches without ever leaving the highway.
Like any other place in the West, Southeast Utah has places that are underrated, not trying to be noticed.
And places trying to get people to stop that don’t make much sense.
It’s unique natural features connect the past to the present, activate the imagination and provide experiences that are indicative of Western North America as a whole, yet unique to the specific location.