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Monument Valley: Where “The West” Was Filmed


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.

Monument Valley, Uath

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.

Monument Valley, Uath

Monument Valley, Uath

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.

SearchersSome other famous films with scenes shot in the Valley include:

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)
“Windtalkers” (2002)

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.

Monument Valley, Uath

Artist's Point, Monument Valley, Utah

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.”

Totem Pole, Monument Valley, Utah

Totem Pole

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.

Forrest Gump

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.

Ear of the Wind, Monument Valley, Utah

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.

Monument Valley, Uath

John Ford Point


Did you know Monument Valley was featured in so many Hollywood films? Have you ever been there yourself?


  1. Andi says:

    Nice post, I am heading here in two weeks and this was a great “primer” particularly since I am a big movie fan!
    Andi recently posted..(Not quite) Wordless Wednesday #150: Chevrolet AirplaneMy Profile

    • Amanda says:

      Awesome! Monument Valley is amazing, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it! It was one of my favorite stops on the road trip my sister and I took last summer.

  2. Thanks for this great article and the even nicer photos. They bring back so many nice memories. I didn’t remember the scene in Forest Gump, but you are right, that is one of the highlights of the film. Also, a drive through Monument Valley is like a drive down memory lane, if you have seen all these movies.

  3. Spencer says:

    I have that picture as my screen saver! (But from another angle). It is one of my biggest regrets that I did not make it to Monument Valley when I spent 6 months travelling around the USA in 2004. I reckon it would have been amazing to see it in person.
    Spencer recently posted..Ten Top Hotels in ReykjavikMy Profile

  4. montana02 says:

    What an AMAZING place. I remember the scene that Forrest Gump runs there. No doubt why lots of movies are shoot there.

  5. Ken Adams says:

    Awesome Amanda, your photos convinced me to check this place out

  6. […] land. Everything else about the place — its interesting rock formations, its rich colors, its popularity with movie directors — puts it more than on-par with other destinations in the state. In fact, it may even be […]

  7. Kevin Stacey says:

    Hi Amanda,I’m a huge western fan and just love the scenery of Monument Valley and so while I am in Las Vegas in May I would like to visit this American Western Icon. My question is, do you know of any tour companies who take visitors from Las Vegas to Monument Valley by plane or helicopter. I don’t fancy driving there or taking a tour bus trip of 18 plus hours.


    • Amanda says:

      Hmm, I’m honestly not sure that such a tour would exist since Monument Valley is quite a distance from Las Vegas. I know there are day trips to the Grand Canyon by plane/helicopter, but I don’t know of any going to Monument Valley, I’m afraid. Have you tried asking all-knowing Google?

  8. John Incampo says:

    Hi Amanda, My wife and I are fulfilling a longstanding dream to drive across the country. We grew up with westerns and always said that if we ever made the trip out west we would love to see Monument Valley. We just arrived in Flagstaff and plan to drive there tomorrow. Thank you for this wonderful article and beautiful photos.

    • Amanda says:

      That is very exciting, John! I hope you enjoy Monument Valley – it truly is a special place, whether you love Westerns or not!

  9. charles ikins says:

    Amanda – I understand there are tours that specialize in the John Ford movies in MV – and recommendations?

    Thanks –


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