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Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park/USA

Introducing Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Like a classic movie star, Monument Valley has a face known around the world. Her fiery red spindles, sheer-walled mesas and grand buttes have starred in films and commercials, and have been featured in magazine ads. Monument Valley's epic beauty is heightened by the drab landscape surrounding it. One minute you're in the middle of sand, rocks and infinite sky, then suddenly you're transported to a fantasyland of crimson sandstone towers soaring up to 1200ft skyward.

Long before the land became part of the Navajo Reservation, the valley was home to Ancestral Puebloans, who abruptly abandoned the site some 700 years ago. When the Navajo arrived a few centuries ago, they called it Valley Between the Rocks. Today, Monument Valley straddles the Arizona-Utah border and is traversed by Hwy 163.

The most famous formations are conveniently visible from the rough 17-mile dirt road looping through Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. It's usually possible to drive the loop in your own vehicle, even standard passenger cars, but expect a dusty, bumpy ride. There are multiple overlooks where you can get out and snap away or browse for trinkets and jewelry offered by Navajo vendors. Most of the formations were named for what they look like: the Mittens, Eagle Rock, Bear and Rabbit, and Elephant Butte. Budget at least 1½ hours for the drive, which starts from the visitor center parking lot at the end of a 4-mile paved road off Hwy 163. There's also a restaurant, gift shop, small museum, tour desk and the View Hotel. National Park passes are not accepted for admission into the park.

The only way to get off the road and into the backcountry is by taking a Navajo-led tour on foot, on horseback or by vehicle. You'll see rock art, natural arches, and coves such as the otherworldly Ear of the Wind, a bowl-shaped wall with a nearly circular opening at the top. Guides shower you with details about life on the reservation, movie trivia and whatever else comes to mind. Guides have booths set up in the parking lot at the visitor center; they're pretty easygoing, so don't worry about high-pressure sales. Tours leave frequently in summer, less so in winter, with rates from $55 for a 90-minute motorized trip. Outfitters in Kayenta and at Goulding's Lodge also offer tours. If you want to set things up in advance, check out the list of guides on the tribal park's website (www.navajonationparks.org).

The only hiking trail you are allowed to take without a guide is the Wildcat Trail, a 3.2-mile loop trail around the West Mitten formation. The trailhead is at the picnic area, about a half-mile north of the visitor center