How Monument Valley became a symbol of the West

That stereotypical Western backdrop isn’t typical of the West.

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Towering red rock formations and big blue sky make up the classic backdrop of the American West. But the rocks we see in so many movies aren’t typical of the area at all. In fact, they are unique to one place: Monument Valley.

Monument Valley is on the Utah-Arizona border inside the Navajo Nation Reservation, and until the 20th century, it had barely been visited by non-indigenous people. But when John Ford made Stagecoach — the 1939 blockbuster that mainstreamed Western movies and the actor John Wayne — that all changed. More filmmakers followed suit and used the location as their movie backdrop, creating a deep association between Monument Valley’s iconic landscape and the mythic American West.

To read more on the myth of the American West and Western movies, check out Richard Slotkin’s “Gunfighter Nation,” a thorough history of the genre:

Note: The headline for this video has been updated since publishing.
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40 thoughts on “How Monument Valley became a symbol of the West

  1. This is only a symbol for the west for easterners. I’m from Colorado and buttes are definitely not the first thing you think of, usually it’s the Rocky Mountains since it’s Colorado.

  2. Confession…I saw the title and thought this was about the iOS game. In my defence, I don't live in the US so I'd never heard of Monument Valley the place.

  3. Honestly I wish I was alive in 1830 rather than now it just seems like an odd experience living around the central area of United States

  4. Watching western movies you would believe that the entire old west was a desert waist land.. This is because of John Fords love of filming with Monument Valley for a back drop he set the standard for westerns. Even my favorite TV western" Gunsmoke" has Doge city Kansas and its surroundings looking like a desert instead of a prairie. So many western movies and shows have been filmed in the studio back lot out their in the Mojave desert that I can recognize the same rocks used in a hundred western chase scenes with only the occasional stand of California Eucalyptus trees to give away where they really are.

  5. How did monument valley become a backdrops for the west? It was used in the first westerns and everyone copied it. Like if I could have saved you 5 minutes of nothing..

  6. The fact that Forrest Gump walks in the opposite direction to Alabama just makes it even funnier, I’m sure they realised that when they considered it as well as the great backdrop


  8. VOX — You say: "Non-indigenous people began to visit in the early 20th century … " VISIT? How about arrive with force, murder men, women and children, then steal their land?

  9. To a foreigner they can be anywhere in the west but to a local like myself, they are a symbol of the Navajo Nation and Arizona not Texas. Smh 🤦🏽‍♂️🙄

  10. So… these rocks became a staple because they were seen in a hit movie, so studios begun aping what was popular to the point of them becoming a norm?

  11. Can you guys make a video on why hurricanes form in the Atlantic and start by Africa and how global warming are making them more dangerous and frequent?

  12. John Wayne did the Searchers movie in 1956 with Natalie Wood and there was radiation poisoning there supposedly after nuclear bomb testing!

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