Majestic sleepover in Monument Valley, Utah

LA Times | Travel

Forrest Gump stopped running here; Thelma and Louise did not. Half a century ago, when advertisers conjured up the Marlboro Man as the personification of the American West's folklore of freedom and rugged individualism, Monument Valley was already the perfect stage. No traveler's wanderings a...

By Mark Vanhoenacker // 03.25.09

Forrest Gump stopped running here; Thelma and Louise did not. Half a century ago, when advertisers conjured up the Marlboro Man as the personification of the American West's folklore of freedom and rugged individualism, Monument Valley was already the perfect stage.

No traveler's wanderings across the U.S. are complete without a trip to this isolated plateau. The shimmering red-rock buttes rising from the mile-high valley floor form a skyline as unique and memorable as that of Manhattan. And just like New York, images of Monument Valley stand at the center of American iconography and culture.

Despite their shared status among the most famous of American backdrops, there remain some differences between Manhattan's concrete canyons and Monument Valley's red silt-stone terrain.



From LAX, Alaska flies nonstop to Flagstaff, Ariz. US Airways offers connecting service (change of planes). Round-trip fares begin at $138.


The View, Monument Valley Tribal Park, Monument Valley, UT 84536; (435) 727-5556,; Rooms start at $95 in winter, $139 in spring, $195 in summer.

One of the most unfortunate has been the lack of appealing accommodations in this area straddling the Utah-Arizona line, hundreds of miles from Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or Denver. The main options have been overpriced motels or chain hotels in towns at least 20 miles away.

Down-on-their-heels motels have their own road-trip charm, of course, but that's only if they cost $27 a night, which these do not, especially during summer. The only option closer in, Goulding's Lodge, is to Monument Valley what the Empire State Building's observation deck is to the New York skyline: a complacent tourist trap that knows exactly what it can get away with. That is particularly unfortunate, given that it was the lodge's founder who first brought John Ford's filmmaking to the valley.

Luckily, Monument Valley finally has a hotel worthy of its scenery. The View, which opened in December, is the first accommodation inside the valley and on the Navajo reservation..

Its distinctive Navajo styling, family-friendly features and handful of hip hotel elements -- combined with a view that is jaw-droppingly sublime -- make this one of the coolest new inns in America. The final coats of paint have only just been applied, but the hotel is already drawing a mix of vacationing families, college friends on road trips and solo urban escapists happy to hole up here for a few days with their yoga mats and laptops.

The hotel's exterior is not much to look at, which is as it should be amid such a landscape. The colors match the stone of the valley, and the building is invisible from even a few miles away.

Inside, things are more distinctive. The lobby's expansive atrium is centered around a massive stone fireplace. Plate-glass walls face the valley and are lined with low leather sofas. A huge sunlit table is the perfect place to read the paper or your favorite Tony Hillerman novel, accompanied by one of the best views in the West.

The walls are hung with Navajo rugs, and Navajo bas-relief designs cover much of the wooden furniture. Just outside the lobby, a graceful multi-level deck, lined with candle lanterns, overlooks the valley.

The rooms feature a large, unstocked refrigerator and a microwave. There are no $25 bottles of Norwegian glacier water, nor is there a spa within 100 miles. On the other hand, the hotel is designed from the bottom up to be environmentally friendly, the coffee is organic and the toiletries are all natural. The lobby has free Wi-Fi, while every room has a mammoth flat-screen television on which to watch your favorite John Wayne westerns. Bedcovers feature geometric Navajo designs and the walls are adorned with Navajo rugs and paintings by local artists. Prices start at $95 in the winter, rising to at least $195 in the summer.

A trading post (closed for renovations) sells jewelry and other work by Navajo artisans, alongside more typical tourist trinkets; a restaurant with Native American accents has just opened. More important, in a community that suffers severe economic and social deprivation, it's no small thing that the View's owners, builders and nearly all of its employees are Navajo.

All rooms have views and private balconies facing east toward the valley. The StarView rooms on the top floor (the elevator, with its own stunning vistas of the valley, is reason enough to stay at the hotel) allow an unobstructed view of a night sky that is unpolluted by light and usually free of clouds.

The moon and starlight -- so bright that the outlines of the buttes are distinct at all hours -- are the perfect excuse for a bottle of wine on your private balcony (alcohol is banned by the Navajo Nation, but tourists using discretion are usually left alone).

On the rare occasion when the weather is not clear, there is the chance to see one of the Southwest's legendary thunderstorms roll across the valley, a spectacle so awesome that it may explain why the Navajos place lightning at the top of their hierarchy of animate beings.

There are still some rough edges: Wi-Fi isn't yet available in all the rooms; work will continue on the area just outside the hotel until June; the heater/air conditioners make an almighty clang every time they turn on; and there is no supermarket nearby, for those who'd rather not eat three times a day in the restaurant.

Monument Valley also gets very crowded in the summer; the same will no doubt be true of this hotel. But with a private deck and a view that may keep even the most outdoorsy travelers in their room, you'll see only as many people as you want.

For visitors who insist on getting out, the View is the closest base for hikes, horseback excursions, driving tours and balloon rides in the valley, or for exploring the Anasazi ruins that are a short day trip in almost any direction.

And, of course, Monument Valley has a central position on the Southwest circuit that includes the Grand Canyon and the canyonlands of southern Utah.

Families might combine it with Las Vegas, golfers with Phoenix and New Agers with Sedona, Ariz. The Nantucket set can detour here en route to Santa Fe.

On the other hand, the scenery in Monument Valley is so exceptional that this hotel will undoubtedly become a destination in its own right.

From the windows and private balconies, the valley is sensed and experienced just as if it were an ocean. There is little to hear but the wind, while the valley floor and the iconic buttes hold a day's shifting light as subtly as water.

And just like the sea, the proximity of the valley becomes reason enough for any type of relaxation or contemplation, from meandering conversation to reading to quiet gazing. In the summer, you can hide in your room and pretend you're the only one for miles.

Visit in winter, when shards of dry crystalline snow linger for weeks on the valley's red rock, and you really will have this most remarkable of American landscapes almost entirely to yourself.