Relatively unknown, moderately physically demanding, and inaccessible to unaccompanied visitors, Mystery Valley is a lightly trafficked but a thoroughly intriguing stretch of desert.
Featuring graceful geological formations, petroglyphs, scattered artifacts, and breathtaking views of wide open spaces and the spectacular buttes of neighboring (and more famous) Monument Valley Tribal Park, this hidden gem provides a unique opportunity for a guided tour among ancient Indigenous ruins.
Geologists believe that the now sun-dried valley was once completely underwater. The remarkable formations are the work of millions of years of slow erosion by wind and water. Mystery Valley, along with much of the American southwest, was once home to the Ancestral Puebloan people (from roughly 100 B.C. to 1300 C.E.) Around 500 years ago—after the Ancestral Puebloans departed from the area, leaving empty settlements and everyday items behind—the Diné (Navajo) tribe descended from northwestern Canada and settled in Mystery Valley and much of the surrounding territory. To this day, Mystery Valley belongs to the Diné and is under their tribal law, and is accessible to visitors only when accompanied by a Diné guide.
While exploring Mystery Valley, one cannot help but feel the immense amount of time that has shaped it. It is a cosmic place of strange red rock formations that, but for a scattering of desert plants, often resembles a Martian landscape. Exploring the ancient ruins of Ancestral Puebloan settlements, and gazing at petroglyphs that look like they could have been scratched into the sandstone yesterday, you can hear the echo of the ancient people who once called this valley home.
Know Before You Go
The Diné consider the valley to be sacred and protect it by only alowing outsiders to visit when accompanied by a Diné guide (you can hire one at the neighboring Monument Valley Visitor Center).