Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Monument Valley is not a valley at all, but rather a wide, flat landscape interrupted by colorful red buttes and spires rising hundreds of feet into the air. These are the last remnants of the sedimentary rock layers that once covered the entire region. Monument Valley is contained entirely within the Navajo reservation, occupying both Utah and Arizona. This is is one of the most remarkable, beautiful and famous landscapes in the world, early recognized by Hollywood as a stunning background for western films.
Ice Age Paleo-Indian hunters occupied the Monument Valley area between 12,000 and 6,000 BC. Archaic hunter-gatherers left evidence between 6,000 BC and the Christian Era. Anasazi farmers arrived about the beginning of the Christian Era and suddenly disappeared around 1300. Because of their unique pottery styles, they are called the Kayenta Anasazi. As early as the 1300s, San Juan Band Paiutes frequented the area as temporary hunters and gatherers. They named it "Valley or Treeless Area Amid the Rocks" and ascribed supernatural powers to the area. For example, Totem Pole Rock is said to be a god held up by lightning, El Capitan a sky-supporter, and all of Monument Valley near Goulding's Trading Post a hogan that faces east.
Exploration & Settlement
Spanish and Mexican expeditions arrived in the 1700s to explore the area and to control Navajo raiders. In the early 1860s, Kit Carson, accompanied by Utes, rounded up Navajos who had fled to Navajo Mountain. He relocated them to a reservation, but most Navajo returned in 1868 to find themselves competing with prospectors seeking silver. Ernest Mitchell and James Merrick were killed by Utes or Paiutes near the monoliths that still bear the miners' names.
In 1884, President Chester Arthur added this region by executive order to the Navajo Reservation, but prospectors continued to search there for silver. John Wetherill and Clyde Colville established a trading post at Oljeto in 1906 until Wetherill moved to Kayenta. In 1924, Harry and his wife Leone "Mike" Goulding established a post which is still in operation today and bears his name.
Monument Valley became world famous when it was featured in many western film classics, including John Ford's Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Cheyenne Autumn. The Navajo Nation established the tribal park that includes some of the most dramatic buttes, mesas and monoliths, making the area accessible to thousands of tourists who visit the region each year and providing a major source of income to the Navajo people.
Monument Valley Tribal Park is 29,817 acres and sits at an elevation of 5,564 feet above sea level.
Plants & Animals
Monument Valley is the home of the famous "purple sage" of western lore, made more dramatic by the red sands of the area. There are very few trees in the area because of the extreme dryness and lack of moisture, but an occasional juniper will appear near the edges of the valley. When moisture is available, cliffrose, rabbitbrush and snakewood can be seen growing.
Due to the sparsity of habitat, there is not as much wildlife in Monument Valley as in other Colorado Plateau parks nearby. The presence of Navajo peoples who live on this reservation, together with their dogs and sheep, also provides less habitat and discourages an abundance of wildlife.
Monument Valley sits atop the crest of a wide anticline, the Monument Upwarp. These beautiful layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale were deposited here in ancient times and were buried for millennia until, like the rest of the Colorado Plateau, they were uplifted and folded. The reddish hues in the sand and rock of the valley are due to iron oxide; the black streaks of desert varnish are manganese oxide.
Eroded by wind and rain, soft red shale undermines the stronger, vertically-jointed sandstone, producing the many buttes and pinnacles. The buttes and pinnacles of Monument Valley are composed of Permian-age (270 million years ago) Cedar Mesa Sandstone. The slopes at their bases are usually composed of Halgaito shale, while many of the spires have caprocks of red Organ Rock shale, also from the Permian period.
Volcanic activity subsequently occurred in areas surrounding the Uplift, releasing molten rock from underneath. The only remnants of the many volcanoes are the hardened cores (igneous dikes) whose scattered silhouettes tower in the distance. El Capitán, as Kit Carson called it, or Algathla, "the place of the animal hides," as the Navajo call it, is one of the most prominent volcanic monoliths. It rises 1,500 feet at the south end of the Monument Valley Uplift. Alhambra Rock is another igneous dike; it protrudes above the surface north of Monument Pass.
More on the Monument Valley mountains.
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