In April 2004 I was able to go on a trip I had been waiting for. Steve Kossack arranged a workshop in Monument Valley. This was a special workshop for veterans of a previous workshop with him. Most of us who went had been talking about Monument Valley as one of our goals. We were not disappointed. We battled rain and cold, but in the end got some great images and saw some spectacular scenery. The trip was enhanced by Tom Phillips, our Navajo guide. I highly recommend Steve to you for great workshops. If you need a guide in Monument Valley country, Tom Phillips is great. See Tom's website for what he has to offer. (Editor's Note: Tom Phillips passed away in early 2012. His family appears to be keeping the guiding business going.)
Canon EOS 1Ds, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L @ 34mm, ISO 100
Sunrise at Monument Valley
It was raining fairly hard as we pulled into our motel in Mexican Hat well after dark the first night. We took only the essentials the next morning as we knew we would be climbing to Hunt's Mesa that afternoon. We met Tom Phillips at 5:00 am outside the gates to the park. We followed him to our sunrise location on the valley floor, the Totems. The weather did not cooperate and we didn't get much of a sunrise that morning. We then drove to some beautiful dunes and spent a couple of hours shooting there. Here are some images from that area as well as other locations on the valley floor.
Our itinerary included a climb to Hunt's Mesa with an overnight stay there. We started the roughly 3 1/2 mile hike in the early afternoon. We were told to expect a 10 ft climb up a rope ladder as well as a short scramble up some rocks. It turned out the rope ladder was about 60 ft long. You could travel the lower 75% of it by using the ladder as a big rope to pull yourself up the 60 degree slope. The last 15 ft was vertical. We did this with camera bags and tripods. Check out this photo by Patti Schulze to see what it was like. This is me on the ladder with Tom our guide.
Monument Valley is a Navajo Nation Tribal Park. Until recently I had assumed it was a National Monument or something similar. It is managed much like most national parks with a few differences. The visitor's center is open to all as well as a circle drive through the park. If you want to see more than those things you need to hire a Navajo guide. Tom Phillips was our guide for three days. See the link to his website on the main Monument Valley page. He not only showed us around the park, but tried to help us learn respect for the land and introduced us to several other Navajo's and showed us several ancient ruins.
Mystery Valley is to the south of the main Monument Valley. It's got it's own formations and many other attractions. You need a Navajo guide to travel through Mystery Valley. When I first heard about this valley, I thought it would be something to fill up a day, something not quite as nice as the "real thing", but was I wrong. It's a wonderful place that one could spend days in all by itself. The late afternoon of this day was the first time we had sunlight for more than a few moments.
These are the formations most people think of when recalling Monument Valley. We were blessed with just enough of a hole through the clouds to get some great sunrise shots. When we left our hotel at 4:30 am it looked like the entire sky was clear. By the time the sun actually came up, there was just a narrow break to let in some light. It ended up looking like it would be cloudy most of the day.