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Monument Valley

Morgan Oliver-Allen


Behind the Shot

The buttes of Monument Valley, near the Arizona-Utah state line in the Navajo Nation, are among the most-photographed symbols of the American Southwest. Instantly recognizable, these million-year-old sandstone formations tower hundreds of feet above the desert floor.

In the early 1930s, an enterprising local businessman sent photographs of Monument Valley to Hollywood studios, and invited them to film Westerns in the unspoiled landscape. Few studios responded, but in 1938, director John Ford picked Monument Valley to film Stagecoach. Navajo and Paiute locals were hired as cast and crew and were paid about $50,000. Ford returned to the Monument Valley to shoot nine additional movies in the following years.

Since then, Monument Valley has come to represent the Southwest in thousands of films and TV shows. For anyone who remembers the iconic scene in 1994’s Forrest Gump, mile marker 13 on Highway 163, just outside of the tiny town of Mexican Hat, Utah, is where Forrest ended his iconic run, with Monument Valley’s distinct formations showing in the background.

Morgan visited this area on his way back from visiting family in Colorado. “I always wanted to ride my bike on this stretch of Highway 163 through Monument Valley. It’s only about 2 miles, about a five-minute ride. It was such a hot day, and we were so lucky to get these clouds.”