Monument Valley, AZ


Coming back from a multi-day exploration of Arizona, my trekking buddies and I made a brief stop at Monument Valley, near the border of Utah and Arizona border. Our trek started a day after Christmas and ended at the 2010 New Years Eve.

Map of Monument Valley, Arizona; (Public Domain Image)

Through Monument Valley you can see buttes rising sometimes 330 meters from the ground. The rocks found there are mainly sedimentary, ranging from the Permian to the mid-Jurassic.  The four main formations that form the buttes are the Organ Rock Formation (the apron), De Chelly Formation (the cliff face), the Moenkopi Formation (the cap) and the Shinarump (above the cap) .

Viewed from the “Visitors Center”; looking at the “East Mitten (left)”, “West Mitten (Center)” and “Merrick Butte (right)”. [The loop road is seen below]

The base of the Buttes (or Monuments) themselves are composed of Permian Organ Rock Shale.  It is nearly 230 m thick. This Permian shale layer was deposited by marine environments such as streams and tidal flats. This time of deposition led to the creation of dark brown and red mudstones and siltstones. Since this a shale layer, it erodes into a low, eastward, sloping angles (which is seen as the apron).

A small trek we took to get a great view of the West Mitten

The next layer on top of the Organ Rock Shale Formation is the Upper Permian De Chelly Sandstone. This Formation is around 130 m thick in most areas. This quartz-sandstone was created in an aeolian depositional time period, such as a desert. It was large enough to create large dunes which are represented by the cross stratification with the mesas and buttes. The De Chelly Formation has been in erosional environment for nearly 50 million years and has caused the buttes and spires that are present today.

A close up view of the “East Mitton”; Notice the sliver-of-a-window near the top on the left side. It can only be seen from this location.

Throughout the park there are also less resistant layer on top of the De Chelly Formation. This is the Lower-Triassic Moenkopi Formation.  It isn’t always visible in the park, since it is easily eroded and it is a red sandstone but stratigraphically younger. The Moenkopi Formation is a shallow marine formation and ripple marks are regularly found within formation.

The John Ford Point looking south towards the Hub; (picture has been filtered to enhances the colors)

At the tippy top of the buttes is the highly resistant white cap called the Shinarump Conglomerate. Quartz, quartzite, and chert predominate both in the pebbles and the matrix. Pebbles composing the conglomerate facies are commonly well rounded, with smooth, unbroken surfaces and ellipsoidal shapes. This resistant cap is probably what caused the buttes formation. Everything around it was eroded away.

Looking west towards the “Three Sisters” near John Ford’s point.

Chosen as a unique, picturesque background especially in old western movies, Monument Valley has had scenes from several memorable movies filmed on location. Many famous actors are affiliated with the location such as Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. John Ford was hollywood’s most director for western movies.

The loop-road’s end at “The Totem Pole”. This is as far south as the loop road will take you. Notice the sand-dune, in the fore-ground.

Between the red-rock buttes and the sandstone towers, Monument valley contains evidence of eons of nature’s constructive and destructive power. During the Permian Period, this patch of land once formed part of a seafloor where sediments and sandstone piled up in layers for millions of years. Tectonic forces raised the slab above the ocean line and created a plateau. Then water and wind chipped away at the sedimentary rock and removed the softer materials, eventually giving us the towering structures that we view today.

Towers seen near “Eagle Mesa”. Looking West from Hwy 163

Monument Valley is now home to the Navajo Nation, one of the largest American Indian tribes. Called “Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii” (“Valley of the Rocks”) by the Navajo, Monument Valley is not technically a national park. It is managed by the Navajo Parks & Recreation Department.

My trekking buddy, “Cui Li” posing near U.S. 163, and I’m looking south towards the two “Mittons” and “Saddleback Butte”. Also, you can see the “King on the Throne” and “The Bear and Rabbit” on the left.

My trekking group and I continued driving north towards our home in Utah. We planned to stay the night in “Mexican Hat, Utah”, (pictured below).

Mexican Hat, Utah.

Mexican Hat’s 18.3 m diameter cap-rock is comprised of Cedar Mesa sandstone — the base is red siltstone and shale of the Halgaito Formation. It’s location is a few kilometers north of the small village of Mexican Hat (named after the sombrero-looking formation) and about 40 km north of the Utah/Arizona border. The parallel rock layers in this region belong to the expansive Permian “Cutler Formation”, which were laid down by the recurring rising and falling sea levels of an ancient marine environment. This flat terrain was then uplifted during the Laramide Uplift (an intense mountain-building event occurring between 35 to 80 million years ago).

My trekking buddy, Cui Lee is posing over the “Goose Necks”

Also, nearby Mexican Hat, Utah, we made a quick stop at the “Gooseneck”. On the edge of a deep canyon above the sinuous river meander known as a ‘gooseneck’ this small park affords a view of one of the most striking and impressive examples of an entrenched river meander on the North American continent.

I’m posing over the “Goosenecks” at the Goosenecks State Park.

The San Juan River twists and turns through the meander, flowing a distance of over six miles while advancing a few kilometers west toward Lake Powell. Pictured above is the result of over 300 million years of geologic activity. The oldest rocks are found at the bottom of the canyon, (310 million years old) and the youngest are all around you on the mesa top, (270 million years old).

I’m posing here at the “Gooseneck State Park” in 1999
Looking across the “Valley of the Gods” at the top of the “Moki Dugway” near the Goosenecks State Park in 2000
I’m standing at Muley Point and Monument Valley in the distance in 2000. The Goosenecks are below.
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