EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of The Daily Times' outdoors bucket list. On the last Thursday of each month in 2014, we'll bring you a feature on a spot in the Four Corners that you should check out.This month, our readers chose Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park as our outdoors bucket list feature through a poll on The Daily Times' website.
MONUMENT VALLEY — The iconic image of John Wayne perched on a saddled horse with a lasso in his hand, bandana around his neck and cowboy hat blocking his face from the harsh, western sun is burned into the minds of baby boomers throughout the U.S.
But it's also a scene that resonates worldwide.
What else to do in the neighborhood
Iconic buttes throughout Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park make this a destination for any connoisseur of the Southwest. But several spots nearby also offer majestic views.
How to get there: This route takes you by other must-see spots. It's about a 300-mile round-trip drive from Farmington, and takes about three hours each way. From Farmington, drive west on U.S. Highway 64. In Teec Nos Pas, Ariz., continue straight onto U.S. Highway 160 . After 28 miles, take a right onto U.S. Route 191. You will drive into Utah, and, after 26 miles, take a left onto U.S. Highway 163. You will go through Mexican Hat and continue on Highway 163 for about 22 miles. Here, you will pass Goosenecks State Park. Stay straight and you will see signs directing you to Monument Valley.
Next month's Bucket list item: It's the hottest time of the year, which means people want to be near the water. In July, read about the best lakes in the area where you can cool off, as well as a couple of ways to do so.
Douglas Walton, 72, and his wife, Pauline, 67, were far from their home of Perton, a village in England, during their fourth visit on Sunday to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Both are avid John Wayne fans, but unlike most of their friends who have never visited the U.S., they have seen the Southwest for themselves.
"Our childhood was made of Hollywood movies, cowboys and Indians," said Douglas Walton. "You remember things from your childhood better than the things that come later."
On Sunday, the couple set out with matching blue trekking poles to hike Wildcat Trail inside the park. While the trip marked the couple's 40th time in the United States, it was their first time hiking the 3.2-mile trail that meanders into the valley and loops around the prominent sandstone formation of West Mitten Butte.
The trail is well-marked — the route include painted white arrows, cairns and mile-markers — but still conveys the sense of isolation one finds in the desert. Only from the bottom of the valley can one stand at the foot of the rock structures, most towering 400 to 1,200 feet overhead.
The trail begins to the north of the visitors' center parking lot. Ample water — at least one liter per person — and sneakers or hiking boots are necessary for this hike. The trail itself is mellow, but the last stretch requires an uphill climb on soft sand that, after already being in the sun for a while, could drain even the most fit.
Although the formations inside the tribal park have remained largely unchanged over the last 50 years, aside from a bit of erosion, a visit to the area is vastly different than it was decades ago.
Tour guide Leroy Teeasyatoh remembers when he first came to the park in the 1970s and it was a place feared by white people.
"The man would make the woman jump out of the car and take the photo really quick, and then drive right through," said Teesayatoh, who owns Sacred Monument Tours with his wife, Torrie Teeasyatoh.
Monument Valley was officially named a Navajo Tribal Park in 1958, according to Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation Manager Martin Begay, and the visitors center was the only addition for about 25 years.
Hike to Tear Drop Arch
This hike cuts through private land, so you need a guided tour. It's an easy hike, with ruins along the way. There are rigorous trail offshoots, too. The trailhead is off Highway 163, south of the intersection with Highway 468.
Take an iconic photograph
As you head south into Monument Valley, stop near milemarker 13 on U.S. Highway 163 to get a shot of the landscape. You won't be alone; this stretch is littered with tourists snapping shots in the middle of the road.
Stay outside the park
Mexican Hat, Utah, is a small town on the San Juan River. The San Juan Inn is just outside the Navajo Nation, so if you'd like to drink a cold one after a day at Monument Valley, this is the spot you will want to stay. Go biking or four-wheeling
Goosenecks State Park gets its name from the section of the San Juan River that is six miles long but only advances two miles. Hiking, biking, and four-wheeling are all activities available in this Utah park.
In the 1980s, the park received funding to build a paved road, water line and campground. Now, 350,000 to 400,000 people visit the park each year. Leroy Teeasyatoh believes it is important for Navajo people, like him, to serve as guides in the park so misconceptions about his people can be squashed.
"Now when they come, the tepee becomes the hogan," he said.
The Waltons on Sunday chose not to take a ride in one of the open-air touring trucks that bounce hundreds of tourists daily through the tribal park. Not once in their 25 years of visiting the park have they taken a tour.
The couple said they enjoy the independence of exploring on their own, though there are many advantages to a guided tour. The park sits within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation, and parts of it can only be accessed with a Navajo guide. The buttes and mesas that create the area's unique horizon line are sacred monuments in the Navajo culture.
If you go on a horseback ride with Leroy Teeasyatoh, he may tell you these formations are like what churches are to an Anglo society. He may tell you Merrick Butte represents the soul, East Mitten Butte is the female hand and West Mitten Butte is the male hand, representing the open arms of a hug.
Or he may tell you to make your own interpretation.