Prepare to be mesmerized by the dramatic landscapes of the Colorado Plateau when visiting Kayenta, the gateway to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in northeastern Arizona.

Vast expanses of deeply hued red earth. Impossibly blue skies. This sacred landscape exerts a transcendent pull on all who set foot here. Simply put, Navajo tribal land is synonymous with the American Southwest, and the region's red spire-like buttes rising out of the desert floor are among the most recognizable vistas in the world.

The Lay of the land

Located roughly 30 miles south of Monument Valley, Kayenta is the nearest town to the park and pure wilderness. Get your bearings at the Navajo Welcome Center just across the border in Utah off of AZ-163, where you can catch your first peak of the two famous buttes, Mitten and Merrick—though, at this distance, it's likely to just be their tops. At the center, you can also purchase a guided tour from certified Navajo tour operators, who'll take you down into the valley in Jeeps for a narrated cruise through these mythical formations. Landmarks, such as Ear of the Wind, require additional travel (often 40 minutes to an hour more) and can only be accessed via these guided tours.

Arts and crafts

Visit the Navajo Arts and Crafts Enterprise in Kayenta to peruse the wares of the tribe, whose silversmiths, potters and weavers have preserved traditional methods in their artwork. Inside the park, the Trading Post at The View Hotel offers a selection of traditional and contemporary Navajo art such as squash blossom necklaces, concho belts, hand-woven baskets and sand paintings. As a nod to the Western movies that introduced Monument Valley to the nation, a section of the trading post sells John Wayne memorabilia. The View Hotel is a popular choice for spending the night inside the park. It is the only overnight option inside the park that has views of the buttes.

Iconic vistas

Monument Valley is maintained as a visitor attraction by Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation, and visitors are welcome to drive the 17-mile dirt loop, Valley Drive, on self-guided tours for a per-car fee. Multiple parking areas along the way bring many of the park's most spectacular rock formations into view. Or set off on the only public hike in the valley, an easy three-mile loop trail that takes visitors to Mitten Butte, one of the most iconic landmarks of the American West.

Visitors can also join guided Jeep tours for up-close views of ancient cliff dwellings and natural arches in more isolated locations. As you travel this special place, be sure to follow the Appreciate Arizona guidelines to preserve the state's landscapes.

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