Last November, I traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Monument Valley, Utah, and met up with badass babes Bianca Shannon and Bri Cimino. Through a shared bond of horses, we had the opportunity to connect with nature as we traversed the buttes and plateaus of the desert. Before you plan your own trip, read my advice on making the most of your adventure.
For a long time I have wanted to visit Monument Valley and ride horses in the desert. I went on this trip in particular to meet up with friends but also so that I could enjoy the serenity of the experience and the uniqueness of the landscape. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day bustle of life, we need to grasp opportunities to slow down and soak in the beauty of the earth and the creatures we share it with. That's what this trip was all about and it's a journey I would recommend to anyone, especially equestrians!
Need to Know
Monument Valley is in the Navajo Nation, which has a special energy that is generations old. It lacks a lot of modern day luxuries we take for granted, but that's part of the charm and the whole point of escaping. That being said, the first thing you need to know is, the Navajo Nation is very large and has unreliable cell phone service, which is fine as long as you plan ahead. If you’re meeting people, make sure to coordinate with them before you enter the area. Another important thing to note about spending a few days in the Navajo Nation is most of the businesses are cash only, so be sure to bring plenty. You won't find many credit card machines here!
Aboard Geronimo with Oreo loyally by my side.
Where to Stay
I suggest you stay at The View Hotel. It’s a low-key, Navajo-run hotel with the most incredible views I’ve ever seen from a hotel balcony. Request a second floor, corner room. Have a glass of wine on the deck after sunset, and admire the incredible stars at night (by the way, bring your own wine; alcohol is not sold in the Navajo Nation). There is very little pollution in Monument Valley, so you’ll see a sky of stars like you’ve never seen before. Wake up early to watch the sunrise.
What to Pack
If you visit during the fall or winter, pack a warm jacket and insulated clothing because when the sun sets or you’re in the shade behind the big buttes, there is a dramatic shift in temperature. I went in November, so the temperatures were cooler. I wore a big down jacket and a beanie most days. Most days you'll dress in layers. Don’t forget thick wool socks for riding and a pair of insulated gloves. Bring a hat to protect your eyes and face from the sun. The air is also very dry, so bring lip balm and moisturizer — you’ll use it multiple times a day.
Mike, of Dineh Trail Rides and me, rocking my custom Brunette The Label jean jacket.
Where to Ride
Touring Monument Valley on horseback is an experience I will never forget and an activity visiting equestrians shouldn't miss. I had a great time riding with Dineh Trail Rides, which is based below the hotel in the valley. The owners, Jamieson and Lorraine Black, have a great collection of horses, most of which are Mustangs from the area. They often turn the horses out at night to wander the valley before they’re called back in for breakfast. Be sure to call ahead to confirm the price, time, and length of your ride (remember what I said about spotty cell service). Our guide’s name was Mike and he was previously a competitive rodeo rider on the Navajo Rodeo circuit.
To get to Dineh Trail Rides, drive towards The View Hotel on Monument Valley Road and turn left in the direction of the campground. It’s best to meet Lorraine at the four-way junction nearby there as the outfit is located a 25-minute drive away. The road is dirt and is best driven with either an AWD or a 4WD vehicle. I’d suggest riding early while it’s quiet. If you arrange a sunrise ride, it will feel like you and your horse are the only ones in the valley.
The stunning landscape of Monument Valley took my breath away.
Next Stop, Abiquiú
After Monument Valley, continue the adventure in Abiquiú, New Mexico. It's a bit of a drive, but worth it for the quiet, picturesque car ride. On your way, stop and eat at the Abiquiú Inn, which is next door to the Georgia O’Keeffe Welcome Center. I’m a huge Georgia O’Keeffe fan, but I didn’t have time to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe’s Home and Studio in Abiquiú, and I really regret it. Bode’s general store, a short drive down from the Abiquiú Inn, is also a cool visit and has local trinkets and knick-knacks for sale.
While you’re in Abiquiú, stay at Ghost Ranch, an education and retreat center that’s host to a variety of workshops and activities (I recommend one of the painting or meditation workshops). The location is iconic — it’s not super plush but a cool experience; you can just wake up and go for a ride amongst the incredible vistas. Arrange a ride at Ghost Ranch through the reservation desk. You can also book a ride online at www.ghostranch.org. Everyone at Ghost Ranch is incredibly friendly and helpful. The scenery puts you in a creative and calm headspace.
Staying warm in the Freedom Rider Jacket in sand by Alexa Fairchild. Get one for yourself on NF.shop!
Where to Shop
Abiquiú is an easy one-hour drive from Santa Fe, where you should definitely plan to stay for a couple nights — it’s a cool spot with awesome vibes. The vintage shopping in Santa Fe is next level so make sure to check out Santa Fe Vintage Outpost, Kowboyz, and Double Take. Make time to stop by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum to view her extensive collection. If you’re a fan of contemporary art, visit the LewAllen Galleries. To wrap up your day, have dinner at Paloma for upmarket Mexican fare with really cool cocktails.
An adventure of a lifetime for myself and Oreo. Until next time.
This trip was truly one for the books. It is one I have wanted to go on for years and the fact that I got to link up with Bianca and Bri made the whole trip that much more special. I fell in love with a horse named Geronimo, and I’ll head back to Monument Valley again this year to see him.
This experience made me reflect on a time when horses weren’t athletes, but instead a fundamental partner in human survival. A reliable horse meant the difference between life or death, and it was a horse’s bravery and endurance that was valued, not scope or conformation. Whether they’re measured this way or not, horses had a pivotal role in man’s evolution and growth. Although technology has rendered them no longer a staple to human survival, their contributions in getting us to where we are today is what remains in my mind.
Where would we be without the horse?
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All photos by Ryan Heffernan.