I've been looking at photos of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley for three years as a member of the Arizona Highways staff. Last month, I finally got the chance to see them in person, and as spectacular as our photos of these iconic Navajo places are, I don't think they do them justice.
The trip started out from Phoenix with a drive up State Route 87 to Payson. From there, I went east on State Route 260 to Heber, then took state routes 277 and 377 northeast to Holbrook, on Interstate 40 east of Flagstaff. Then it was east on I-40 to near the New Mexico border, where I headed north on a Scenic Drive that will appear in the magazine later this year.
The endpoint of that drive was Canyon del Muerto, the main tributary of Canyon de Chelly. From three overlooks on the canyon's north rim — Massacre Cave, Mummy Cave and Antelope House — I could peer down hundreds of feet to the canyon floor, where Navajo families still live and farm. The overhanging walls of the canyon protect several Ancestral Puebloan ruins. Canyon de Chelly National Monument is free to visit, and though hiking into most areas of the canyon requires hiring a Navajo guide, the trail to White House Ruin is open to visitors without a guide.
After checking out the south rim of Canyon de Chelly, I headed northwest to Kayenta, where I spent the night. In the morning, it was a 30-minute drive north on U.S. Route 163 to the entrance of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, just across the state line in Utah. The fee to enter is $20 per vehicle. It's worth it.
I'm not one for spiritual experiences, but Monument Valley is truly a special place. I recommend the loop drive around the park, which features several overlooks. Some areas are pretty rough, but in good weather, you can do it in a passenger car (the Toyota Prius behind me didn't seem to be having any problems). You also can join a driving tour for a fee. If hiking is your thing, you can take the 3.2-mile Wildcat Trail around West Mitten Butte.
Having visited both these amazing places, I can't recommend them highly enough — even though, armed with only my iPhone and not a fancy DSLR, I felt severely underequipped when it came to making photos. From Phoenix, you can easily hit both Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley on an overnight trip (about five hours of driving each day). I'm already planning my next adventure on the Navajo Nation.
— Noah Austin, Associate Editor
All photos by the author, who shot them with his iPhone and makes no apologies for their low quality.