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Monument Valley, a sacred part of the Navajo Nation, is one of the great places on Earth to take a horseback trail ride. Part of the fun is going with a Navajo guide

My daughter works me occasionally, works me hard, trying to persuade me to buy her a horse. So far I’ve resisted. I appease her by taking her trail riding as often as possible.

It would be fun to own a few horses but right now I don’t have the space — my small city lot isn’t zoned for large animals. I’m in the market to buy recreational property and maybe someday I’ll find a spot that is just right for animals. I’ve got to get ready to spoil my grandchildren.

Meanwhile, I can take my daughter riding several times a year, in great locations, for much less money than I’d spend if I owned two horses. We’re gone on some fun rides.

Our most recent adventure was in Monument Valley, up a sand dune and around a rock pinnacle known as the Totem Pole. It was an incredibly scenic ride through classic Western landscape. We also did some hiking in the area. It was a great trip.

Monument Valley has served as the backdrop for many Western movies and countless truck commercials. It’s imposing rock formations have become icons, widely recognized around the world. It’s a favorite area for my family to recreate.

Monument Valley is Navajo land; the tribe controls access and sets regulations.

We rode on a sunny day in November. It was cool in the early morning (we definitely needed a jacket), but temperatures warmed nicely as the sun rose high in the sky.

As you drive the access highway and the Monument Valley scenic drive, you see Navajo vendors at roadside stands selling jewelry, pottery and other items. If you watch, you usually also see native guides offering horseback rides.

I didn’t see any as we approached the visitor center. Fearing we may be too late in the season, we stopped at the Visitor Center to make inquiries. No problem, we were told, if we just drive the scenic loop through the valley we’ll find a couple outfits offering guided trail rides.

Sure enough, as we rounded a corner we saw a sign promoting rides, next to a corral containing a dozen horses. Trouble was, there were no people. We waited, figuring they would return shortly, but nobody came. We were getting impatient, wondering what to do, when a Jeep pulled up. The man inside told us he had a trail ride service a couple miles farther down the road, and that he would be happy to take us out.

We drove down to his corral and visited with him while he prepared the horses. He was very congenial, very accommodating. He said they have several routes laid out, to provide rides of varying lengths, and it was easy for him to customize an experience to meet our interests.

A man and woman vacationing from Italy pulled in and elected to ride with us. It was fun to visit with them as they experienced America’s wild west.

When the horses were saddled, the guide helped us aboard and we started down the trail. The horses were well trained and performed well.

Normally, the guide leads the ride and the other horses follow — the riders don’t need developed horsemanship skills to enjoy the trek. However, the Italian woman’s horse sensed that she was insecure in the saddle, and the horse balked a bit when it should have followed the others away from the corral, the hay and the watering trough. She wasn’t confident enough to spur the animal forward.

Our guide quickly came to her side and helped her get the animal moving. He remained right there throughout most of the ride, making sure she was safe and keeping up with the group.

When the guide saw he was needed in the rear, he invited me to lead the group down the trail. That was easy, my horse responded well to all commands. But being in the lead did make it difficult for me to take photos of the other rides. It is tough to keep a horse moving while dropping the reigns and turning backward to shoot photos.

All in all, it was a very fun ride.

Afterward, we hiked to a little-known ancient Anasazi ruin located on a nearby mesa.

It was a great trip.

Our Experience

Here’s my daughter’s take on Monument Valley.

We stayed at the Comfort Inn in Blanding and I was disappointed with our accommodations. The motel has a great free breakfast (fresh waffles) and a nice indoor pool/hot tub, but the halls were dirty, the place was noisy and our toilet barely flushed. It was Motel 6 quality at almost double the price.

On previous trips I’ve stayed at excellent lodging establishments. I highly recommend:

Gouldings Lodge, located right at Monument Valley
Desert Rose Inn, located in nearby Bluff

We ate at the Homestead Steak House in Blanding (121 E Center; 435-678-3456), and at the Stagecoach Dining Room at Gouldings. Both places serve good food at reasonable prices. When in Monument Valley you’ve got to try a Navajo taco. I’ve enjoyed great tacos from both of these restaurants.

We rode with Blacks Horseback Trail Rides. They do rides from along the scenic loop right in Monument Valley, and also from a point just south of the high school along Hwy 163.

Gouldings can also arrange horseback trail rides, and vehicle tours of Monument Valley.

You can join a guided vehicle tour from the Visitor Center, or pick up a printed guide and explore the loop on your own. The loop road is dirt but suitable for passenger cars.