Taking a jeep tour of Monument Valley has long been a bucket list items of Lee’s. Knowing they were pricey though, I hoped that if we went early and had cash we might be able to negotiate a bit of a discount. So we got up early and it was about 8:40am when we hit the iconic Monument Valley view from Forrest Gump and many other movies. Since it was a beautiful blue sky day and there wasn’t much traffic on the road, we decided to stop and get some shots. It turned out to be a great call, because although we had drawn a little crowd by the time we were done, everyone politely waited to get their turn. We even struck up a conversation with a very nice guy who was happy to help us with some pictures and we in return took his.
I should probably mention that almost every picture in this post is going to be Lee’s. It was a 1200 picture day, and Lee was really into it so 850 of those came from him. Afterwards I was groaning a bit about going through so many pictures (I know first world problems), but Lee said he was happy to take care of it and somehow managed to pare those down to about 60. If you know Lee, you know that’s a minor miracle. This post probably won’t have all 60 of them in here, but it is picture heavy, although hopefully you will think it was worth it. He took some wonderful pictures. All the boring plot related ones are mine 🙂
After getting our shots we arrived at Monument Valley about 20 minutes after they opened at 9am. We intentionally decided not to visit the Visitors Center until our tour was done, and instead went straight into the parking lot and walked over to two small booths with Jeep Tour information. They had a nice book with some representative pictures, and because of the wind we knew we wanted a private tour in a closed vehicle, and ended up with a 2-1/2 hour tour in a Suburban with a gentleman named Leslie from Phillips Photography Tours. It cost us $110 each, which I thought was well worth it, particularly because of the quality of our guide. Leslie has been doing this for 25 years and is an excellent photographer himself, and once we told him that we were going to do the scenic loop on our own, he completely focused on the back country areas, and showed us numerous places where we could get some very interesting pictures. My big advice here is be very clear about what your priorities are up front. The time can go very quickly and you want to get the most out of the experience.
Another thing I really enjoyed about the tour was Leslie talked to us quite a bit about the different movies, commercials, and MTV videos that had been shot there. One of those most interesting of those stories was the fact that they helicoptered in Ray Charles and a piano to the top of Totem Pole rock and they shot a Pepsi commercial there.
I should also mention that 15 Navajo Families actually live in Monument Valley, and the back country tour took us by several of their compounds. Leslie told us they only have electric that solar can provide and have to bring in water. There are some springs in the valley (we saw wild horses down in this area), but the valley is very dry in most places and the fact that people were living there was fascinating to me. Our guide was also more than willing to talk about his people and really anything I wanted to talk about. He was obviously very experienced at giving tours, and like the best tour guides, customized the tour to the things we were interested in.
So here’s the pictures. You decided if it was worth the money, keeping in mind you cannot access these areas at all without a Navajo guide.
Actually all day Lee was really in the zone and a couple of times I was really worried he might hurt himself. He always plants his feet solidly when he is taking his pictures, but he is constantly standing on the edge of things, and leaning, which makes my heart beat faster, and not always in a romantic way.
Along with Submarine Rock we got to see Ear of the Wind and Suns Eye. Because we got an early start there was hardly anyone else there, but by 10am we started seeing large groups in open air jeeps going to these same locations. These folks seemed largely miserable, because it was a cold and windy day and sitting high up on the back of a jeep with 12 other people, might be less expensive, but definitely not the way I would like to see this. Plus, they spent much less time at each of these locations, but we were really able to take our time there, even walking up the sand dune and into the Ear.
Once we finished our tour, we thanked Leslie and headed up into the visitors center. It was a large building with a nice restaurant, huge gift shop, and small museum. We had brought lunch with us, but Lee really wanted to eat in the restaurant and he had a traditional Navajo plate, while I went with soup and salad. My only disappointment was the VERY long line to the restroom area. There were only four stalls in the entire building that I could see and as there were several tour buses by this time I had to wait about 15 minutes.
Once we finished eating, we headed out for the scenic drive and the road was much rougher than we expected. I was also somewhat bummed out that every stop had craft sellers in the parking area. It didn’t bother me that they were there, but the way they placed their booths completely blocked the scenic view and you were forced to walk around the booths to get the picture. Here’s an example.
Despite that though we did get some beautiful pictures and the farther away from the entrance we were the less populated it was which was nice.
Still it was a long day and with the bouncing road I was starting to get really tired until something wonderful happened. If you remember in a previous post I talked about how we had stopped and gotten pictures of the girls on horses in Monument Valley many years ago, and I got really excited when we went to John Ford’s point and I saw a horse and this sign.
Turns out that the gentlemen who took that picture, Frank, passed away just this past October and now his grandson Zach had taken over the business. Zach told me that the black horse, Pistol, had also passed away, but after 20 years of doing a really great job. His new horse Spirit was almost as good, although the young man talked longingly of how wonderful Pistol had been. I got really excited and wanted to recreate the picture we took and the young man was happy that I remembered his grandfather fondly and was more than happy to help us recreate the shot. I took a moment and dug up the pictures from 14 years ago and here is the original shot with Lee.
Lee and I both took a turn and I have to say it seemed much scarier as a 50 year old because we were much closer to the edge than I remembered. Spirit did a wonderful job though and didn’t move an inch and we were able to recreate the moment.
It was a wonderful way to end the day and I was so happy that Lee was finally able to fully experience Monument Valley. In our old lives we used to drive through places and take quick pictures, but now we are able to fully sink into the experience. All in all it was the most expensive day we have had in awhile, but for us was totally worth it.
(If you decide to do this, try really hard to go when there’s very few people, and get the “Man On A Horse” shot that people are trying to emulate. This is what it’s supposed to look like, below, and you shoot it not from Ford’s Point, but the point just before Ford’s point. That way you get the full effect. – Lee)
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