Mystery Valley: the discrete neighbor

Mystery Valley: the discrete neighbor

This the second post of the series about three valleys in Utah. Read my previous post about Monument Valley.

Mystery Valley is not as famous as its neighbor, Monument Valley, but it holds some true gems. Located on Navajo Land, the valley is only accessible with a guide.

Mystery Valley is not as obvious as Monument Valley and its huge rock formations. In Mystery Valley, all the interesting locations are a bit hidden and only a local would know exactly where to go, which is why having a guide makes sense. The bad shape of the sandy roads is another good reason for taking a guide, besides the fact that you are not allowed to go by yourself.

But what is so great about Mystery Valley?

I would say the whole experience! Driving on back roads with a native guide, stopping to see arches and Anasazi ruins in the middle of nowhere…

The contrast with Monument Valley is striking: it is very quiet and not developed at all. There are a few natives living nearby, but the road is unpaved and they do not have electricity or running water most of the time. It is another world, where non-natives can sometimes feel out of place.

Honeymoon Arch | Honeymoon Arch - Mystery Valley, AZ

Honeymoon Arch | Honeymoon Arch – Mystery Valley, AZ

As a photographer, this is a great way to explore a much less famous part of the Southwest, that you do not see too often in pictures. The downside is that it is hard to be there at a time like sunrise or sunset because guides do visits during the day. I would recommend to go in the afternoon because the valley is in the shade most of the morning. When booking your guide, you should tell upfront that you are a photographer and that you would like to be there at sunset times. Some guides will accommodate, others will not.

A few tips

Carrying a polarizer is a good idea to take advantage of the colors of the rocks that can be attenuated with the harsh light.

Do not hesitate to ask your guide to stop to take a picture or for advice on the best vantage points. Most of them are used to guiding photographers and they know the best spots.

Square House | Square House Natural Arch - Mystery Valley, AZ

Square House | Square House Natural Arch – Mystery Valley, AZ

You will be tempted to shoot from the moving car. I know I was. It’s not a steady car though, given the road conditions. Your camera will moving up, down, left and right, making it tough to frame your shot. Try to get a very fast shutter speed, at least 1/250s, even 1/1000 if possible. You can use the S (shutter priority) mode and increase your ISO a bit.

Guides recommendations

We went with Blackwater Tours for a 2.5-hour tour of Mystery Valley. At $65, it’s an OK price compared to other companies, and the guide was nice. We saw quite a few interesting things and it was worth it. The last half hour was however not so interesting. Other tour operators include Goulding’s Lodge and Sandstone Tours. You may want to look at tours that combine Monument Valley and Mystery Valley if that’s of interest to you.

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