Monument Valley, Utah, was not in our original road trip plans. It was too far south, and not really “on the way” to any of the stops we were making.
But then I found out you could take hot air balloon flights over the valley. We had to rethink our plans.
We woke up before the sun rose on Day 7 to make the 45-minute drive from the Valley of the Gods to the Monument Valley tribal park. The valley is located on Navajo lands, which is the only thing that prevents it from being named a National Park.
We met up with our balloon pilot Frank from Monument Valley Balloon Flights, Navajo guide Gabriel from Majestic Monument Valley Touring Co., and driver Danner at The View hotel, which — true to its name — offers sweeping views out across Monument Valley. Of course, when we arrived, the sun wasn't yet above the horizon.
Our little team headed into the park on a rather rough unpaved road (I would not suggest taking your tiny sedan through this park), and stopped to watch the sun rise between the Two Mittens. Every rock formation in Monument Valley has a name — and usually a story — and Gabriel pointed them all out as we traversed through the park.
There are the Three Sisters:
Totem Pole and the God Heads:
Many Westerns have been filmed out here (it was a favorite location of John Wayne's), as well as scenes from Mission Impossible and countless car commercials. It's not difficult to understand why — the scenery definitely leaves an impression.
Eventually, after stopping to check the wind direction a few times, we came to a clear spot that would serve as the launching point for our hot air balloon. Frank, Gabriel and Danner set to work unfurling and inflating the balloon. It was actually a pretty fascinating process.
And then, before we knew it, Melissa and I were climbing into the basket and rising into the air.
The balloon ride was smooth and rather warm, and the views we got from 7,000 feet up were indescribable. Instead of writing about them, I'll just show you:
Landing was not quite as easy as taking off, but eventually Frank set us down on a bit of uneven road, and the guys began wrestling with the balloon to get it packed away. While this was going on, Melissa and I were treated to a little breakfast, complete with sparkling cider (it's customary to carry champagne on any hot air balloon ride, but since we were on a Navajo reservation where alcohol is prohibited, we settled for cider).
Next it was off on a short backcountry tour, with stops at various natural arches.
The Sun's Eye:
Ear of the Wind:
Our last stop on the tour was at John Ford's Point, which is said to be one of the director's favorite spots to film in Monument Valley (his most notable film, in case you don't recognize the name, is probably “Stagecoach”).
Not quite ready to leave Monument Valley just yet, Melissa and I headed into The View for lunch at their restaurant. We both got Navajo Tacos, which are served on fluffy blue-corn frybread. Yum!
After a few more photos in the early afternoon light, it was finally time to bid Monument Valley (and Utah, for the time being) farewell.
Each day, I’ll be cutting together a quick video to show you what we’ve been up to. Here’s Day 7:
Tomorrow, it's on to Page, Arizona, where we'll explore Antelope Canyon and Lake Powell!
Disclaimer: We were provided complimentary balloon flights and tours in Monument Valley, care of . Big thanks to them, and to Frank, Gabriel and Danner, who were fantastic. As always, though, all opinions are my own.