May 2, 2012 by Amanda
If you’re a fan of Westerns, chances are you’re also quite familiar with Monument Valley — even if you don’t know it.
Monument Valley — a Navajo tribal park located along the border of Utah and Arizona — is characterized by its rust-red plateaus, sandstone arches, and perfectly-chiseled buttes. It’s a landscape so awe-inspiring and memorable that it has starred in countless TV shows, commercials, and Hollywood movies — especially Westerns.
Director John Ford fell in love with Monument Valley more than 50 years ago, filming his well-known “Stagecoach” here in 1939. The film, starring John Wayne, would be the first of many to feature Monument Valley — Ford himself would shoot 9 more Westerns here. Even films that were not set in Utah or Arizona (such as Ford’s “The Searchers,” which was set in Texas) would go on to take advantage of the Valley’s unique and dramatic landscapes.
This, folks, is where “The West” was filmed.
John Ford loved the place so much that there’s even a spot named in his honor now — John Ford Point — but he’s far from the last director to harbor a soft spot for Monument Valley.
Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)
Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968)
“Easy Rider” (1969)
Clint Eastwood’s “The Eiger Sanction” (1975)
“National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)
“Back to the Future Part III” (1990)
Ridley Scott’s “Thelma and Louise” (1991)
“Forrest Gump” (1994)
Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible: II” (2000)
The Marlboro Man even could be found in Monument Valley in 1950s advertisements thanks to the area being synonymous with “The West” at that time.
When you visit this place, it’s not difficult to understand why John Ford fell in love with it, or why countless Westerns and epic macho movies/scenes have been filmed here since. After all, Monument Valley is a pretty epic place.
It also has all sorts of dangerous things to climb, which make for some exciting displays of male machismo.
Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy, for example, can be seen climbing the Totem Pole in “The Eiger Sanction” (climbing it has been forbidden ever since…). And Tom Cruise showed off his muscled prowess in Monument Valley in the opening scenes of “Mission Impossible: II.”
But you know what my favorite Monument Valley-related scene has to be? The one in Forrest Gump where a heavily-bearded Forrest ends his cross-country run and announces that he’s going home. That scene was filmed with him running north on U.S. Route 163 in Monument Valley.
For those wishing to visit Monument Valley for a taste of “The West” for themselves, it’s easy to do. A 17-mile dirt road winds through the park, and guided tours and hot air balloon rides are also available for a more up-close look at the park’s famous formations.
Since it’s located on Navajo lands, Monument Valley is not part of the U.S. National Park system — but it should be. It is just as impressive as the rest of Utah’s national parks, if not moreso.
And you definitely can’t skip it if you’re a fan of John Wayne.
Did you know Monument Valley was featured in so many Hollywood films? Have you ever been there yourself?