View Full Version : permit for navajo land photography

daniel dumitru
26-Aug-2004, 10:03
To all, I am planning a trip to monument valley and antelope canyon in October and contacted the Navajo Film Board for a permit since a number of books suggested this action and was told by the film board that it would cost a little over $750.00 for four days. I explained I am taking these photos for personal use but will be using a tripod and a view camera. They said the $750.00 is a discount since I am do not plan on using these photos for magazine covers. I don't mind paying a hundred dollars to help out but the requested prices seems outrageous to me. I am a serious amateur and do not "feed my kids" as it were and just cannot afford to write this type of fee off. Has anyone got any advice in this regard? Should I just show up without a photography permit, set up, start shooting, and see what happens. By the way, I have no problem with paying for day use permits to the various areas but the $750.00 fee has not been discussed on this forum or others to my knowledge or searching. Your sage advice is much appreciated.

thank you, dan dumitru

Dave Moeller
26-Aug-2004, 10:30

The $750 price feels high to me too, but it's the right of the Navajo nation to charge whatever they want to for use of their lands. Remember that these are private lands, and that the owners have the right to make the rules.

I'd be exceedingly cautious about just showing up without a permit and starting to shoot to see what happens. If you're on Navajo land then you're subject to Navajo laws. Although I've never had anything but good relations with the various Native American groups and individuals I've dealt with, I imagine it's well within the rights of the Navajo police to take not only your film but also your camera if you show up and shoot without a permit. I also imagine that there'd be nothing you could do to get your equipment back if should they choose to keep it.

If I were in your shoes, I'd either look for someplace else to shoot that didn't have such high fees, or consider finding out the cost of one day of shooting and spend the other days scouting locations and just enjoying the views.

Be well.

Ralph Barker
26-Aug-2004, 11:51
I would agree with Dave regarding the private-property aspects. But, I'd be tempted to inquire if the $750 is just for a paper permit for the 4 days, or if other services (e.g. a guide, perhaps?) are included in the fee. In some areas, I believe the Navajo Nation insists that you have a Navajo guide, as a means of controlling potential damage to historic or sacred sites.

Morey Kitzman
26-Aug-2004, 11:56

I've been to both Monument Valley and Antelope several times with my large format rig and tripod. You pay daily fees or permits. In the case of Antelope in runs around $20.00 and Monument has a $5.00 admission charge. To access the more interesting parts of Monument Valley you need a guide, but that is generally around $80.00. Perhaps the $750 is for a professional outfit shooting a commercial or something like that. Unless this is something new, within the last six months, I would disregard it. Incidentally, they have never even asked me the purpose of my photography. Hope this helps.

John Cook
26-Aug-2004, 12:03
This sounds like the wild west version of a southern red-neck speed trap. Many greedy people have discovered the value of ripping-off the rich yuppies.

One day while assisting a still photographer shoot a fashion model on the street in a Los Angeles suburb, a local policeman drove up and hauled us all off to the station where we were forced to purchase a $1000 movie permit. The reason a movie permit was required was that we were using a Hasselblad EL with a 70mm film back and an NC-2 finder. We could not convince the police that any camera that large was not a move camera.

I hear NYC is worse. Shoot a bridge, lose your camera.

Would you consider vacationing in down Maine instead? Aftah shootin, you can go out fowa lobstah. And blu-brie pie. Ayah!

Kevin Crisp
26-Aug-2004, 12:13
The ingratitude. And after the way they've been treated...

Pat Kearns
26-Aug-2004, 12:23
If the photos are for commercial use purposes then indeed the Navajo Nation does require permits. The term "feed my children" can be intrepretted one way by you and another way by someone else. If you are going to sell it then they are going to say it is commercial use and then they are going to insist upon a permit. There is an public 18 mile drive through Monument Valley after passing the admission gate. I have shot in Monument Valley many times using tripods and LF cameras without any problems. My photos are hanging on my walls and have never been sold. Access to areas off this drive requires a Navjo guide. There will be 2 dozen guides in the parking area that charge fees already mentioned. Some areas have signs that prohibit photography. Obey the rules and you will not have any problems. Break the rules and they can confiscate all equipment and film. Different reservations have different rules so be aware. If you wish to take a portrait ask the Native American for permission, give them a monetary payment, get their name and address and send them a print. Being courteous will pave the road with good thoughts of you and all the other photographers that will follow. Have a good trip.

Brian Ellis
26-Aug-2004, 13:05
I've never been to Antelope but I've been to Monument Valley several times, as recently as a year ago. Unless there's been a drastic change since I was there the fee is nothing like $750. You pay an entrance fee like any tourist and for that you can drive around a long and dusty loop, photographing whatever you like. If you want to do anything else you hire a guide. They have booths set up around the visitor center and you can hire them for a half day or a day. The first time I was there we hired one for a half day, I think the cost was around $75. The last time I was there we used a guide that the friend I was with had used before. He spent an hour or more driving us (not over roads, over raw land) to the highest point in Monument Valley where we photographed in late afternoon and early evening, ate a dinner provided by him, slept in tents provided by him, photographed in early morning and then left. The cost for that was $300 for the two of us, $150 each.

I'd just show up, pay the entrance fee, drive around photographing from the road, then if you want to do more find a guide at the visitor center.

Jon Wilson
26-Aug-2004, 13:08
If you have access to AAA or have a friend who is a AAA member, their AAA Idaho Via magazine for Sept-Oct 2004 has an article encouraging visitors for guided tours of Monument Valley et al. There are a number of phone numbers and email addresses you can contact which are referenced in the article. I would tend to believe the quoted $750 price was for the TOP dollar tour.

Dick Baznik
26-Aug-2004, 13:10
My experience matches that of Pat Kearns, though it's mostly been with medium format. My practice is to check in at the Pueblo reception area, where they normally can provide a set of rules and a schedule of fees for the use of cameras other than P&S. BTW, it's completely normal that there is a prohibition against any commercial use of images taken, even if you pay a fee.

In most cases I pay the required fee, usually $5 or $10 per camera (which gets interpreted sometimes as per component, i.e., per body, per lens, per back, etc.), get the receipt that certifies that I've paid, and then go on my way, all the while minding the rules they've established. For example, don't try to shoot any jewelry, pottery, textiles, or other crafts being sold in the pueblo without getting the vendor's permission. The only time I haven't paid the fee is when it seemed out of line, in which case I don't shoot there.

While I am an amateur, I've gotten offers for prints of my images, such as one of a ladder at the Akoma Pueblo ("Sky Pueblo") west of Albuquerque, which I display on a wall at my home. I have never sold a copy, and will not, though I have given a few prints as gifts -- always stamped clearly as not for sale or commercial use.

The $750 fee does seem to be intended for a different kind of shooter. I'd recommend talking to the people you find at each site you visit.

Steve Sherman
26-Aug-2004, 16:36

Most of what has been stated above is true. I have been in these places many times. For Monument Valley permits contact Fred Cly of Fred's Adventure Tours. He has guided photo workshops for me, he has cooked meals for my groups and taken us to places in Monument Valley that the white man does not know exist. He and his wife are first rate people, in fact his father was one of the first guides in the Valley years ago and claims to have taken ANsel Adams and Elliot Porter around the valley. Just the experience of talking with Fred and his wife was worth the money we paid him. He is just a first rate person and his guide service is the only one I have used numerous times. As far as Antleope Canyon, I could tell you stories each one a different fee structure each time I was there. If I were you I would stay away from the Tour Companies who just charge a fee on top of what the Navjo will charge. Go to the CHapter House which is located behind the Marina on the opposite side of the road which is closet to the Canyon themselves which if you don't already know are very close to the Navjo Generating Station which is out State Route 98 I believe. The "Chapter House" is where all affairs of the Navjo Nation are conducted and where I used to get permits. One time with permits in hand for several days I still was approached at the actual canyon by natives claiming to be the land owners and strongly suggesting that I compensate them for the opportunity to enter. The Begay family are the land owners of Antelope Canyon on the other side of the road from the generating plant. This is about a 3 mile drive out in level but semi soft sand to the Canyon. The Canyon itself is virtually flat and can be walked through in 5 minutes. This is also the most famous Canyon and because it is so easy to access commands the most money per visit. Another option is to drive down the road where the generating station is on your right side for about a 1/2 mile and turn left down a hill which may be gated now to a small shack where different Navjo land owners will charge you approx. $20.00 per day to go into "Lower Antelope Canyon" It used to be when I was there that you had to repel down into the many drops in this canyon. Now the Navjos have installed a series of aluminum ladders and attached them to the walls for safety. THis canyon is far more photogenic than the other more popular one and has always been much less crowded. Do watch the weather reports in the immediate area as flash floods in this particular slot canyon can turn deadly as they did about 5 years ago where 7 or 8 foriegn tourists lost their lives due to a flash flood. If you would like any more specific information about these canyons or the area in general e mail me off line and I will try to help.

Kirk Keyes
26-Aug-2004, 17:41
It's more than 7 or 8 people, it was 11. Three bodies were never recovered. It's been estimated that the water through the canyon was 50 feet deep during that flash flood.

27-Aug-2004, 03:32
Not only can you have your camera equipment taken away, they can take your car and everything in it. You have NO legal rights on a reservation. I can also tell you that you are being watched by someone almost every minute you are out of your car. Don't try to sneak around. Hire an authorized guide.

Guy Tal
27-Aug-2004, 09:16
Interesting discussion. One minor correction though - reservation land is not private land and is not owned by anyone. It is held in trust and managed by the local chapters.

Scenic Wild Photography (http://www.scenicwild.com)

27-Aug-2004, 09:28
I live on the Reservation and can tell you for certain that you are being given some wrong information, not all of it is wrong but some of it is way off.

1-the land is not private your tax dollars are paying for it to be kept in trust by the federal government. The Navajo tribe has been given no deed to the land. It is part of the USA. Some give the impression that you will be going to another country

2-"land Owners" only hold housing or grazing leases in the areas you mention. But yes some don't like you taking photos near their homes and many will want their palm greased. I have yet to grease a palm, just pack up and leave.

3-After talking to a Navajo Policeman, who told me some great places to shoot, he told me they cannot take your equipment. That is the hopi and zuni tribes who strictly forbid any photography on their lands. Just like any cop don't argue with them or piss them off. They do know more about the law where they live than you.

4-I have been doing large format for 5 years, but my dad has shot here for over 28 years. We have never had to get a permit. In monument Valley and other tribal parks you need a guide for obvious reasons. Follow those rules or they can take your film exposed or not. Two years ago antelope canyon was 30ish dollars to get into and you could only go with a guide. You are NOT allowed to drive your car in anymore no matter what. This applies to both upper and lower antelope canyon. But you are only allowed to be there for a short amount of time. It does coincide with the right light if that is what you are looking for. There is a Kiosk at the entrance to both upper and lower canyons. Don't try to sneak in. It would be a long and dry walk and you would get noticed right away. Nothing more obvious than a white person hiking across the dunes and through the scrub. I agree that lower antelope canyon is much nicer. Ohter than this the only reason you are being watched is because you have a big ass camera and are fiddling around under a really dark heavy cloth in the hot sun.

5-750 dollars is a huge amount and I would definately call to check on it. If it does not include a guide and the killer tour then just drive along the road and take pictures. I have never been approached while standing on the side of a road.

There are free slot canyons if you do not want to take the same photo as everyone else. There are also a lot of them in the area. Many require a hike though. Definately watch the weather. It may be clear and sunny in page but the floods come from a different direction and come fast this time of year, drough or no drought. October-November is usually super dry with pleasant weather

Remember you DO have the same rights as you do off the reservation. As a nonnative resident for the last 28 years I can definately say these are some very respectful and kind people. It has been only recently that I have been hasseled about paying money to locals for taking pictures of rocks. There are plenty of rocks so why pay to take a picture of them.

Guides are beneficial but don't come cheap. There are many good ones and there are those who will fleece you. Check at ranger stations, and park entrances to find the best guides. The chapter houses may not be the best place, because family members will be recommended before anyone else. If there is not park around by all means the chapter house is the place to ask but call. Mnay of them do not have the money to stay open and staffed all the time. Call closer to noon because all of them have a food program for seniors. In my extensive contact with different chapterhouses this is the time I have gotten people the most.

You also need to remember the whole reservations tends to run on rez time. If someone says they will meet you at 10:00 then assume they will be there between 9:30 and 10:30. It is the land of the great ish. as in 9ish, 10ish and so on. Good luck. If you want pointers to some pretty stuff around page e-mail me.

bob woitaszewski
31-Aug-2004, 08:28
Daniel, Ditto for all the other remarks about Monument Valley, pay the small fee and drive around, take all the shots you can for "free" then talk to a guide to see what additional "photographically" interesting places the guide can take you. I spent a day in the Valley in the winter just getting the more traditional pictures. Good news is in the winter - not many cars to get in the shots. and the rates at Goulding's are affordable

In October, I can't remember if the Navajo's have anyone at the pay station or not? I think so. Anyway, I just bought a 3 hour pass. The "host" load you up on one of their pick-up's with BIG tires and drive you to the slot opening. You havre to compete with the others there;but most are there to take pictures anyway so most are very corteous. But the best light is in May to photograph Upper Antelope. You won't get the "light beam" photograph in October. By the way, someone suggested that you can just walk-in at Upper Antelope Canyon, not allowed. Also don't try to drive in with a standard SUV, You'll get stuck, sans tooo soft and deep. Even the big pickup the Navajo's drove got stuck. There is a real bad spot about 20 yards from the opening. I do remember that there was no one to collect fees at the Lower Antelope canyon in October.

Tim Chakravorty
10-Mar-2005, 16:36
I just got back from shooting 4x5 in Monument Valley the day before yesterday. Other than some BS speeding ticket I got just outside Petrified Forest National Park it was one of my best trips ever. The Navajo's are good people at least from what little I got to know about them.

I can heartily recommend Fred Cly who was my guide for two days. He is very knowlegeable and had many interesting stories to tell about himself, his father and his grandfather -- who frequently had out-of-body experiences. Hunt's Mesa was # 1 on my mind , but because there wasn't anyone else intersted in going (very few know about it, and fewer still visit it) I was initially quoted $250. I told Fred it was more than I could afford for just a 4 hour trip (that starting before dawn) He agreed to bring it down quite a bit provided I did another trip to Mystery Valley the evening before. So I ended up doing both..(and now as I sit looking at the 4x5 Velvia transparencies on my light table, I am very glad I did. Worth every penny).

The trip to Hunt's Mesa is *extremely* rough and in Fred's words it just "tears up his vehicle" which is why it costs so much. But I am extremely doubtful that $750 is a legitimate quote.

Why don't you check with Fred ?