The Navajo comprise the largest Native American tribe, and the Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the country. Perhaps more than any other Native American group, the Navajo have adapted to modern American society while retaining much of their traditional way of life. One excellent example of this is embodied in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Monument Valley (Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, meaning "valley of the rocks") is sacred to the Navajo people and has been home to many Navajo families for generations. It is also a spectacularly beautiful place that has become one of the most iconic western landscapes thanks to the early cowboy movies of John Ford. The tribal park attempts to encompass all those potentially competing interests.
The park has been developed, much of it recently, to attract tourists and their money. There is a full-service hotel and restaurant, a campground (basically a gravel parking lot with picnic tables and no hook ups), rental cabins, and a visitor center. There are numerous tour companies that congregate around the hotel parking lot before dawn to compete for attention from tourists. Much of the park is off-limits to tourists without a Navajo guide, but the scenic Valley Drive Loop Road (rough gravel) and a few trails are open to the public once the park admission fee is paid. Of the trails open to the public, the Wildcat Trail and Mesa Rim Trail both leave from near the View Hotel parking lot and offer excellent views away from the crowds. Mesa Rim is only a half mile and is a great place to watch and photograph the sunset. There is another hotel and campground complex across UT-163 on the Utah side of the park, Goulding's Lodge, which also offers tours and has a store and gas station.
The Valley Drive is open from 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (last entrance at 5:00 p.m.) in the summer months, but Navajo guides can enter at any time. These hours ensure that anyone wanting to photograph sunrise or sunset out at the far ends of the loop will need a guide. The tours also go beyond the public loop to backcountry areas closed to the general public that are quite beautiful. The scenic loop passes many marked turnouts and overlooks and also has several spur roads to other overlooks. There is no hiking allowed from this road. There are many highlights on the Valley Drive, but some of the best vistas are at Artist Point Overlook, North Window Overlook, and John Ford's Point. There will be friendly Navajo people selling jewelry and other crafts at all popular stops. At least three hours should be allocated for the complete Valley Drive Loop.
Other fascinating sections of Monument Valley include Mystery Valley and Hunt's Mesa, both of which require a Navajo guide. Mystery Valley is very remote and has many sites of the Anasazi ("the Ancient Ones" in Navajo) in addition to arches and spectacular distant views of Monument Valley. Hunt's mesa is said to have some of the best views in Monument Valley and is also quite remote from the visitor center.