An Iconic Desert Landscape in the USA

A Iconic desert landscape - Monument Valley USA

This awe-inspiring valley, with its monumental red mesas and buttes standing isolated amid empty desert sands, is said to be one of the most photographed places on earth and is the most enduring and definitive image of the American West. It has been designated as a Tribal Park in recognition of its importance to the Navajo people since 1958. 
 
A very brief geological history

Three hundred million years ago, this ancient terrain was a low basin. The landscape we see today came into being through the erosion of the Rocky Mountain’s sandstone deposits, geological uplift and the relentless forces of wind, water, ice, and temperature variations. The prominent, isolated red sandstone pillars, known as buttes, which formed over the millennia as a result of this process tower above the desert floor at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet. These are the monuments of Monument Valley and they are made up of three main formations: the Organ Rock Formation (formed from the sediments), the De Chelly Formation (formed from ancient dunes of deserts), and the Moenkopi Formation.

Monument Valley Arizona desert

 

The Navajo

The earliest known inhabitants of the Monument Valley area were the Ancestral Pueblo, who lived there from about 1 AD to 1300. Two centuries later, the Navajo people, known as Diné, moved into the American Southwest, establishing a pastoral society and living in harmony with the environment. They named this sacred area Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii , meaning ‘the valley of the rocks’.

According to Navajo legend, the monuments of Monument Valley are the carcasses of defeated monsters, and many have Navajo names, including
Yei’bi’chei, which is named for the Navajo spiritual god and resembles a dancer emerging from a ceremonial dome-shaped structure; West and East Mitten which bring to mind hands and guardian spiritual beings, and Ear of the Wind. This massive arch, standing 134 feet tall and formed from DeChelly sandstone, features an upward opening arch that looks like an ear and has an opening which catches the wind.

Monument Valley Arizona desert Ear of the wind

 

The making of an icon
 
In the early 1920s, some of the land was transferred from the Paiute Indian Reserve and put up for sale. It was bought by a sheep merchant named Harry Goulding and his wife, Leone who immediately set up a Trading Post to do business with the local Navajo people, exchanging food and other products for handcrafted objects such as rugs and jewellery. (The building is now the Goulding’s Trading Post Museum.)
 
The Great Depression of the 1930s brought hard times to the Navajo. Ever the entrepreneur, when Goulding heard that a film production company was looking for locations in the American Southwest, he set off for Hollywood to pitch for Monument Valley. As soon as the renowned director John Ford saw Goulding’s photographs, he knew this was the ideal setting for his next film. A few days later, Ford’s crew and cast set off for Monument Valley. The film was Stagecoach, starring America’s original cowboy, John Wayne.
 
Monument Valley’s status as the iconic image of the Wild West was assured. In the years since, numerous major motion pictures have been shot in the area, along with countless commercials and music videos. Perhaps the most famous of all is the 1994 film, Forrest Gump in which Forrest and his band of followers jog along Route 163.

Monument Valley Arizona desert Forrest Gump



Whether you're a film buff, a photographer, or an amateur geologist, Monument Valley is one of the world's most awe-inspiring landscapes. Come and experience it for yourself as part of our holiday to QuiltCon Phoenix Arizona, 2025.