“Where the Heck is Monument Valley?”

The Mittens in Monument ValleyThe Mittens in Monument Valley, Arizona. One of the most frequently filmed and photographed landmarks in North America.


It’s amazing how many people I’ve met who claim they’ve never heard of Monument Valley… “never seen it and have no idea where it is.”

“You’ve probably seen Monument Valley more times than you can count,” I typically respond. “You just didn’t know you were looking at it.”
Reactions usually range from skepticism to curiosity. Then I begin to enumerate some of the movies set in Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, the Valley of the Rocks.


The Mittens at Sunrise by James Swinnerton
Monument Valley Sunrise by James Swinnerton. 30 x 40 oil on canvas. Circa 1935. Courtesy of Picerne Collection of Arizona Landmark Art.


“Well first there was The Vanishing American, a 1920s silent film based on the Zane Grey novel. Then there was Stagecoach, the first of many John Ford films including The Searchers, which also starred John Wayne. Others which have well known scenes set in Monument Valley include The Eiger Sanction, Easy Rider, 2001 A Space Odysessy, National Lampoons Vacation, and one of my all time favorites:


Cursory research reveals the valley is also used as a setting for over a dozen popular video/computer games.

In addition to Monument Valley Sunrise by Jimmy, shown above-right, I thought I’d share some of my favorite artistic representations from the early 20th Century.


The Mittens by Gunnar Widforss
Monument Valley by Gunnar Widforss. 15 x 19 watercolor on paper. Circa 1932. Courtesy of Gouldings Lodge Museum.


Check out the Lillian Wilhelm Smith painting below.  Then check out Kayenta Township’s video.




I’m sure you’ll recognize some of the landmarks.  What started out as an isolated trading post run by John and Louisa Wetherill in 1910 is now a bustling community. The illustrator of over twenty Zane Grey novels, Lillian Wilhelm Smith was a frequent visitor to Kayenta in the 1920s and 30s.  I was fortunate enough to meet two of the Wetherill grandaughters shortly before they passed away a few years ago.  They were still referring to Lillian as “Aunt Lil.”


Monument Valley South side Lillian Wilhelm SmithLooking North from Kayenta by Lillian Wilhelm Smith. 20×36 oil on canvas. Circa 1925. Courtesy of Blue Coyote Gallery.


You’ll also see author and lecturer Harvey Leake, the Wetherill’s great-grandson and an expert in the history of the four corners area, in the video. Harvey also wrote the foreword for my book about all the artists who visited Kayenta and Monument Valley in the early 20th century, Shadows on the Mesa-Artists of the Painted Desert and Beyond.



George Herriman Krazy Kat Specialty PieceGeorge Herriman Krazy Kat specialty piece. 16×12 Watercolor and ink. The list of artists who visited the Wetherill’s guest ranch was not restricted to fine artists. Jimmy often brought many of his cartooning buddies along including George Herriman, considered by most as the greatest cartoon artist of all time.


On Location Laskey Camp by Lillian Wilhelm SmithOn Location-Lasky Camp by Lillian Wilhelm Smith. Oil on canvas. 24×30 Circa 1930. Set in Marsh Pass, just west of Kayenta, this painting depicts the film crew camp for The Vanishing American. Producer Jesse Lasky, one of the founders of Paramount Pictures, and actor Richard Dix were guests of the Wetherills during filming. Louisa Wetherill served as a consultant.


Not long ago Kayenta was the kind of place where it was always easy to find a hotel room at a reasonable price. Now I feel lucky to get a room at all during the season.  But I still enjoy visiting.

When I do it seems my wife and I are the only ones speaking English besides the Navajo (aka “the locals.”)  Japanese, German, Italian and French are much more frequently heard -not surprising given most Americans I’ve met admit they’ve never heard of Monument Valley. (Have I mentioned that already?)

Oh well. People never seem to appreciate what’s in their own backyard. I don’t have much more to say other than enjoy the rest of the images.


Carl Oscar Borg Monument Valley 30x34 oc copy
Monument Valley by Carl Oscar Borg. 30×34 Oil on canvas. While writing Shadows on the Mesa, I lamented in a post several years ago that I was not able to locate any Borg paintings set in Monument Valley. This seemed odd given Borg had visited the Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch in 1924. Sure enough, less than one year after my book was published this painting came up at auction. It was sold by Christies in New York in 2013 for over $30,000. Image courtesy of Askart.com.


Carl Eytel Monument ValleyCliffs at Sunset by Carl Eytel. Although largely overlooked in art history, Carl Eytel is considered to be the first Desert Artist. He settled permanently in Palm Springs, California sometime around 1900. A few years later when Jimmy arrived in Palm Springs, the two became close friends and made many sketching trips together across the southwest. Eytel was known to have visited Kayenta and the Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch on at least three occasions. Courtesy of John and Louisa Wetherill Collection.



The Rampart by Maynard Dixon dated 1922Monument by Maynard Dixon. 25×30 Oil on canvas. Dated 1922. Dixon, photographer Dorothea Lange, William Robinson Leigh, Lillian Wilhelm Smith, Jimmy, George Herriman and Rudolph Dirks (another famous cartoonist and friend of Jimmy) all met at the Wetherill-Colville Guest Ranch in late August 1922. Unfortunately there is no written account of what transpired. We can only speculate it was a very lively weekend.


Monument Valley Sunrise by Ferdinand Burgdorff
Monument Valley Holiday by Ferdinand Burgdorff. 20×30 Oil on Board. Circa 1932 Courtesy of Picerne Collection of Arizona Landmark Art.


Monument Valley Thunderhead James Swinnerton

Monument Valley Thunderhead by James Swinnerton. 30×40 Oil on canvas. Circa 1935. Courtesy of Picernce Collection of Arizona Landmark Art.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s