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John Ford Country

After nearly two weeks exploring the Grand Canyon I decided it was time to move on to yet another of nature’s most dramatic landscapes – Monument Valley.

Many of you know the look of this region. The colorful mesas, amazingly varied shaped buttes, dunes, and tall spires are no doubt recognized due to their appearance in countless movies and commercials.

In 1938, John Ford and John Wayne made “Stagecoach” the movie that first brought Monument Valley to the attention of the film and tourist industries. Since then, Monument Valley has been a favorite for photographers and filmmakers.

In fact, I read somewhere that “…Stagecoach created three icons: John Wayne, John Ford, and the 30,000 acres of glory on the Utah-Arizona border known as Monument Valley…”

Since Stagecoach, dozens of films have used Monument Valley as a setting.

John Ford returned over and over, and other films shot in part there include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Back to the Future III, and Forrest Gump.

Every generation has had a glimpse of this scenery and why it’s so iconic today.

I even downloaded Searchers to see John Wayne ride through this country on the big screen – very cool indeed

And, the next day drove out to photograph where Forrest Gump ended his run across the country 🙂


I had been to MV once before on a photography trip with some ‘tog friends but it was far too brief. We had been shooting the slot canyons in Page, AZ and had simply made a quick dash to Monument Valley to shoot a sunset followed by the sunrise the next morning before heading back to Phoenix and flying home. I knew then I would need to come back one day. Images from that trip are assembled in my poster “Ancient Places”.

This place really is one of the most dramatic landscapes found anywhere in the Southwest and what the Western writer Zane Grey once described as “a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptored, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.”



The impressive sandstone formations: buttes, spires, and towers – the geological monuments that gave Monument Valley its name – are the result of centuries of erosion and uplift. Mother Nature really puts on an artistic display here and it’s the reason it’s one of the most photographed places in America.


Monument Valley’s formations are interesting too because of the way many resemble animals and other familiar images.

They bear names like “Bear and Rabbit”, “Stagecoach”, “The Mittens”, and “Three Sisters”.

They stand between 400 and 1,200 feet tall and their scale can best be appreciated by driving the Valley road that winds around the area.



Because some of the area is closed off to the general public, I had to hire a Navajo guide to get into some of the backcountry. Years ago we had hired Tom Phillips ( playing the flute in the poster ) – Tom was a true photographers guide – he had guided some of the American greats as well as hacks like me. Sadly Tom had passed away from a heart attack only a few weeks before my visit. Fortunately, his son and nephew (Ray) – and every bit as knowledgeable as Tom – are carrying on the business. I was fortunate to have Ray with me for a couple of outings – to Mystery Valley to see some of the ancient Anasazi Indian cliff dwellings; to see the Valley through “Tear Drop Arch”; and, to put me in the exact spot needed for a moon rise!!


Ray not only shared his location knowledge but helped me understand all that I was seeing – Monument Valley is unique in that the Navajo still live here – he explained it is more than just a park or nature preserve; it is home to Navajo people who have preserved their traditions, their language, their art forms, their pastoral sheep-herding way of life, and their relation of harmony and respect with the land.

He gave me the backstory for some of the formations; insights into the fetishes, symbols, and Kachinas that are part of the Navajo culture; and, interpretations of some of the petroglyphs and pictographs.

Thanks Ray for an insiders view of this spectacular landscape in the heart of the vast Navajo Nation Reservation.

Perhaps you can tell – I enjoyed my visit immensely ☺

Hope you too have enjoyed the images and backstory from this recent stop.

Take care. Safe travels and see you down the road.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. suzanne #

    I like that you included pictures of where you traveled instead of all the cut and paste pics

    July 4, 2012
  2. Jim Walker #

    Very nice. I wish we had spent more time there.

    July 8, 2012
    • Stephen #

      It is a remarkable place – wish I could be there in “prime time” – needed more drama in the skies for outstanding photography – may need to route my journey by using the “photographer’s calendar” I have around here somewhere 🙂

      July 9, 2012

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