Posted by: kerryl29 | September 17, 2012

Arizona Day 1: An Introduction to Monument Valley

After shooting for a couple of hours at Sunset Crater Volcano Crater National Monument on the day before the northern Arizona workshop began, I arose the following morning and drove the 3 1/2 hours from Flagstaff to Monument Valley.  The workshop itself began with a meeting at mid-afternoon in the lobby of the View Hotel, inside Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.  The workshop leader was E.J. Peiker, a well-established, versatile professional nature photographer based in Phoenix, whose work I’d been familiar with for more than 10 years.  I was one of only five participants; the workshop had deliberately been limited to a small group (a maximum of five), partly because a number of places on the planned itinerary would be difficult to photograph with a larger number.  (This ended up working out very well; a larger group would have made photographing in some spots–Lower Antelope Canyon, most particularly–borderline impossible.)  While I was easily the most experienced landscape photographer–other than E.J. himself–in the group, there were no novices among the participants; everyone had at least a few years of experience under his or her belt.  And it was a very good group of people, devoid of personality conflicts, which made for a very pleasant experience.

After meeting and a brief orientation, we headed into the Valley for a self-guided tour around the 17-mile scenic drive.  (While the drive itself is, indeed, quite scenic, the road is unpaved and extremely rough in some places.  Though I did see some people navigating the scenic drive in a standard passenger vehicle, I wouldn’t have been at all comfortable doing so with my own car.)  Late August is near the end of Arizona’s monsoon season and just after we started out, the wind kicked up and the rain came pouring down.  But the cloudburst didn’t last long and we were able to visit some compelling locations over the day’s final few hours.  The light, of course, was improving by the minute.

Our first extended stop was at John Ford’s Point, named after the film director who was instrumental in exposing the world to Monument Valley’s stark beauty through his movies.  From the point, you have a compelling view of the northern part of the valley.   I had set up for a shot, but one of the other workshop participants noted a sign, posted by a Native American, that he and his horse would pose for photographs for a small fee.  When asked what the fee was, he said “whatever you feel is fair.”  So, he rode out to a ledge and I recomposed my shot to take advantage of his presence.

A Room With a View, John Ford’s Point, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

I very seldom include people in my imagery, but I’m glad I did in this instance.  The obvious reason would be an element of scale, but that’s not a major factor for me in this case.  I liked the aesthetic benefit of including the man and his horse, as I feel it lends a sense of vastness and wonder to the image.  (The gentleman who posed for us received a nice tip on behalf of our group, for which he was extremely grateful.)

For some scenes, I thought a black and white treatment worked best, such as the shot below, focusing the attention on the spotlighting of Merrick Butte.

The View from John Ford’s Point black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

From John Ford’s Point we descended back to the valley floor and continued along the drive to a number of other notable locations.

Looking South black & white, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

As the sun dropped in the sky, the light-shadow interplay in the valley became sublime.

Fading Light, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Dusk’s Approach, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

At the end of the day, the hope had been to photograph the Mittens and Merrick Butte from the area around the hotel and visitor’s center in sunset light, but it appeared that there would be no great light as a heavy cloud bank dominated the western horizon.  Still, I headed out to see what I could make of it.  My wife wanted me to bring home a classic “Mittens” shot, and I knew there might not be another chance to photograph from this viewpoint during sunset.  Unfortunately, the sunset light never came, but I snapped a couple of frames anyway.

The Remains of the Day, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

While the light wasn’t what I’d hoped for, the scene is so compelling that I think it was worthwhile capturing in any event.

Last Light Serenade, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Though entirely worthwhile, this abbreviated afternoon shoot had been a mere introduction to Monument Valley.  The next day–which would involve a full morning and then an afternoon/evening session with a Navajo guide, deep into the Monument Valley back country–would be the real deal.  It was to prove to be an unforgettable experience, and that will be the subject of my next post.

Next:  Arizona Day 2:  Monument Valley Revealed



  1. Beautiful shots. I love Monument Valley, too. How do I get info on the workshop?



    • Thanks, Bruce.

      Here’s a link to the itinerary for the trip. It was led by E.J. Peiker and scheduled through

      I believe the plan is to hold the workshop again next year, but I don’t know that for a fact. If you’re interested, you might want to contact E.J. directly to inquire. You can find his e-mail address at the bottom of this page on his Website.

      • Thanks so much.


        • My pleasure. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any help.

  2. Love the b&w treatments!

    • Thanks, Tina.

  3. Superb shots. I like the way that the changing light alters the “mood” of your images …..beautiful!!

    • Thanks very much, Jim.

  4. That first B&W image takes my breath away Kerry. Who needs color? You must print that one large and hang it in a place of honor.

    • Thanks, John. I had a feeling you’d like that shot. I’m pretty fond of it myself. 🙂 I had to wait quite some time for the clouds to move sufficiently so that the spotlight would be on Merrick Butte, rather than on the valley floor, but persistence ultimately paid off. I think the shot has a great deal more impact in black & white, which naturally lends itself to a more flexible use of contrast than color.

  5. Beautiful!

  6. Compelling stuff, as always, Kerry. Love the Navajo on the horse image!

    • Thanks very much, Andy.

  7. Spectacular images and I can’t wait to read/see what comes next!!!

    • Thanks, David.

  8. It’s looking really good already, eagerly awaiting the next day….

    • Thanks, Gunta. The experience of the next morning’s shoot falls somewhere in my all-time top 10…

  9. Beautiful Photos – thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks very much.

  10. Kerry … great set. Glad to see you had some kind of cloud cover. Fascinating place!!!

    • Thanks, Mike. One of the reasons the workshop was scheduled at the end of August was to increase the likelihood of clouds in the sky. Things certainly worked out, as future installments will demonstrate.

  11. These Photos are beautiful. Thanks. The colors are great. This is such a beautiful part of our country.

    • Thanks very much, Amelia.

  12. Thanks for sharing… really makes me want to pack my bags and just go!

    • Thanks, Angela.

  13. Amazing scenery. I’d love to go someday

    • Thank you!

  14. […] The first afternoon at Monument Valley was a mere introduction to the locale; the second day was full exposure, an entire morning, from sunrise until the light became unshootable, and then a complete afternoon/evening session.  All of that time would be spent with an experienced Navajo guide and virtually all of it would be spent in the Valley’s back country, where access is limited to the accompaniment of a certified guide.  By the time the day ended, I had categorize it as one of my top 10 photographic experiences ever. Our guide was Fred Cly, who not only knows Monument Valley like the back of his hand, but is a photographer himself.  With a photographer’s sensibilities to locations, timing and light Fred was an ideal choice to guide our group.  (I can’t recommend Fred highly enough; if you’re planning a trip to Monument Valley and are interested in a guide–remember, most of the Valley is off limits unless you have one–drop me a line for Fred’s contact information.)  He met us at the View Hotel before 5 AM and the six workshop participants (including E.J. Peiker, the workshop leader) boarded a converted pickup truck–with open air seating where the flatbed would be.  E.J. likened the vehicle’s makeup to what is frequently used for African photo safaris.  The open air part of the experience would be–interesting–later in the day, but as we jumped aboard that morning it was temperate and dry and the rugged roads of the Valley meant that the trip would be at a slow pace. […]

  15. Gorgeous shots, Kerry! When you shoot B&W, are you shooting in color and converting or actually shooting in B&W?

    • Thanks, Lynn.

      The b/w shots are in color and converted to black & white after the fact.

  16. Beautiful shots Kerry! Another place on my official list I would love to see someday. Sometimes waiting for the right light can be a curse. But it’s always better to come away with something for your efforts!

    • Thanks very much, Michael.

  17. […] trip” to northern Arizona for a workshop in August (which was chronicled at length beginning here).  This was when the pedal hit the metal, so to speak.  I would be dealing with the camera (and […]

  18. […] years ago, when I told him that I was heading to Arizona for a week or so of photography, he expressed surprise, bordering on outright astonishment. “Why would you want to come here?” […]

  19. […] approach proved quite popular, and I continued the theme following a trip to Arizona in the late summer of 2012.  When I announced the decision to back off the copious, daily log […]

  20. Thank you so much for sharing this! The photos are truly awesome and I now look forward to our Monument Valley trip because of this.

    I just wanted to ask for your recommendation on where to stay in Monument Valley?

    • Thanks very much for the kind words.

      Re “where to stay in Monument Valley,” there aren’t many choices. In fact, if you want to stay inside the park itself, there’s only one hotel venue–the View Hotel itself; it’s nicely appointed, well-run and the views from the rooms are absolutely spectacular (this is where we stayed on the photo tour back in 2012), but it’s not cheap (the cost was built into the tour price for me). There are also apparently some private cabins that are affiliated with the hotel (they didn’t exist when I was there). One big advantage to staying at the View Hotel–if you’re into photography–is that, if you want to photograph the Mittens and Merrick Butte at sunrise, you can basically roll right out of bed, walk across the parking lot and set up right on the hotel property.

      There is a campground, which includes some RV sites, within Monument Valley, but that and the View Hotel (and cabins) itself are the only options within the park boundaries.

      In terms of venues that are nearby, but outside the park boundaries, there are a couple of B&Bs and one motel-style location. I’ve never stayed at any of these places, so I can’t give a recommendation. Goulding’s Lodge is the motel (they also have a campground); I know some people who have stayed there and they seemed fine with it, but your mileage may vary.

      My advice would be to do a Web search of “monument valley hotels.” You’ll almost certainly pull up the B&B options and campgrounds, as well as The View and Goulding’s. From that, you can read reviews, check prices (and availability) and make the choice that’s best for you.

      Good luck!

  21. […] number of years ago, when I told him that I was heading to Arizona for a week or so of photography, he expressed surprise, bordering on outright astonishment.  “Why would you want to come […]

  22. […] day before the start of the tour and drove to Flagstaff for the evening, with the plan to drive to Monument Valley the following day.  I expected to arrive in Flagstaff by mid-afternoon, so when I was planning the […]

  23. […] trip” to northern Arizona for a workshop in August (which was chronicled at length beginning here).  This was when the pedal hit the metal, so to speak.  I would be dealing with the camera (and […]

  24. […] photograph since taking a trip to Utah and Nevada in the spring of 2012 and spending some time in northern Arizona in the fall of the same year. So it’s been awhile. Jason Templin, who photographed with me in […]

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