After two months in Mexico and a quick visit with family in New Jersey we flew back to Tucson where we had our truck and fifth wheel trailer stored. We stowed away our backpacks, recovered our rig from storage, and drove to Gilbert Ray campground in the saguaro cactus desert of Pima County Mountain Park outside of Tucson. Our migration northward had begun.
We spent the next six nights preparing the trailer for travel, hiking through the desert, and visiting friends at Desert Trails RV Park where we had stored our rig. We especially wanted to thank John and Donna for watching over our rig while we were away. The ocotillo and desert rose were in bloom, but as the daytime temperatures reached into the mid-eighties we hitched up to leave – already getting too hot for us and it was just in the eighties.
Our first destination was Page Arizona on the shores of Lake Powell in the red rock canyonlands along the Utah. World famous Antelope Canyon is on the edge of town while nearby Lees Ferry Landing is a major put-in point for raft trips down the Colorado River. The stark slickrock desert of southern Utah stretches out for hundreds of miles into Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument with its hidden slot canyons, weird hoodoo rock formations and desert wilderness. Page itself has all the services we might need.
We stopped for a night at Dead Horse State Park near Cottonwood Arizona to break up the long drive. At $35/night Dead Horse is spendy by our standards, but has water and power at each campsite, a dump station, good cellular signal, bathrooms with showers, generously spaced campsites and is quiet.
From there we made the three and a half hour run to Page battling thirty-five mph winds pushing our trailer around. Once in Page we found our destination easily, Lone Rock Beach; a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping area a few miles outside of town and on a huge beach at Lake Powell. This is a dry camp; there’s no power, no sewer hookup or water, but there is a dump station and clean, flush toilet bathrooms and a good Verizon cellular signal. With my America the Beautiful senior pass we paid $7/night to camp there (normally $14/night without the pass). The strong winds persisted throughout the night blowing clouds of stinging sand into our faces, but it died away the following morning. Lone Rock has the reputation of a heavy-duty party place later in the year when it warms up. But, in early April, it was quiet with plenty of room to spread out and the views of the lake, cliffs and buttes all around were beautiful. We set up in some low sand dunes, prepared to stay for the next ten nights.
This is the land of the Navajo People, and the Anasazi that preceded them, with their ancient towns and petroglyphs still visible. This is the land of John Wesley Powell, the one-armed civil war veteran and first to descend the Colorado River in wooden boats in the mid-1800’s; one of the epic journeys from the era of exploration. This is the land where whitewater river running was invented just after World War II by the likes of Georgie White Clark and Buzz Holmstrom who first ran the wild Colorado in army surplus rubber rafts, then returned and swam it. The small, but interesting John Wesley Powell museum in Page has excellent displays of these intrepid explorers.
Our first order; Antelope Canyon. This world-famous slot canyon is on Navajo Nation lands, so you have to take a tour with a Navajo guide. It cost $48/each for a 90-minute tour. We knew it would be crowded and rushed, and it was, but our Navajo guide was excellent and the canyon so over-the-top fantastic that we didn’t even mind the crowds (TIPS: when taking the tour, go early in the morning before it gets REALLY crowded. Shop around for a tour; some were almost double what we paid for the same service. Also, set your camera on night or low-light exposures as the canyon is dark inside and these settings bring out the color of the rock).
Unlike most canyons, Antelope starts off as a crack in the face of a sandstone wall; no hiking down gravelly washes to reach it – it just appears suddenly. It isn’t very long, gets narrow in spots, but has a level sandy floor; very easy to walk through. It opens into chambers along the way where the twisted canyon walls are warped by centuries of floods into fantastic shapes and colors. This is a must-do for anyone visiting the area – there’s nowhere else quite as surreal as this place.
The day before we had walked out to Horseshoe Bend; a high canyon rim overlooking the Colorado River where it makes a dramatic, almost circular bend. It was super-crowded, but spectacular, and here we discovered why Antelope Canyon and other special places in the west are so strictly protected. As we admired the view a Chinese couple below us were instructing their kids on carving their names into the ancient sandstone. I shouted at them saying they were breaking the law and vandalizing a national monument. They laughed at me, letting the kids continue their destruction, until I resorted to shock tactics saying, “you’re fucking it up for everyone else.” Then they got mad because I cussed, not because they were caught defacing this special place. We’ve seen these things happen more and more often nowadays; ignorant people doing ignorant things. So, for my own peace of mind, we avoid some of the major national parks and other overused areas, preferring to focus on lesser known areas instead. The only way I’d go back to places like Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks is to backpack deep into the wilderness.
We spent another day hiking down Cathedral Wash, a canyon cutting through ancient shale and limestone and ending at the Colorado River near Lees Ferry, about an hour drive from Page. This is a popular, short hike through a very nice canyon. Only one and half miles long, it’s an easy to walk to the river, but there are some areas of rock scrambling to get around small cliff faces. The effort was worth it with few people and a nice soak in the river before scrambling back up to the truck.
Wanting to experience more of the canyons we signed up for a three-hour kayak tour into lower Antelope Canyon. The waters of Lake Powell have flooded the lower part of Antelope Canyon, so we paid $95 each to Hidden Canyon Kayak to guide us into it. Later we realized we could have done this in our own kayak for free. The trip was fun, but underwhelming and we don’t recommend it. NOTE: In addition to the guide fees, you have to pay another $25/car to enter Glen Canyon Recreation Area to reach the boat launch (we paid nothing with my senior pass). Also, large motorized tour boats enter this canyon too, so you won’t be alone as you paddle along.
After the kayak trip we went to the Navajo permit center and bought permits to hike through Waterhole Canyon, a narrow canyon just a few miles south of Page on highway 89. At $12/each the cost was well worth it. Only a mile and a half long, it rivals Antelope Canyon for the twisted sandstone warped into fantastic shapes and better, very few people and no guides, so you can explore as long as you like. The lower end is marked by the highway 89 bridge and the twisted wreck of a car jammed into the canyon. The upper end closes into a series of spectacular slot canyons.
Waterhole Canyon is an easy walk in soft sand until you reach a ladder set up to scramble over an otherwise inaccessible pour-off. Ascending this ladder was a bit dangerous and difficult followed by a very tight squeeze through a corkscrew-like crack, but I made it while Sonia started back.
Once above the ladder I had the canyon to myself. The canyon opens up, then closes in again into a tight slot with a series of chambers hollowed out of the sandstone into incredible shapes, and a few more shorter and easier ladders to climb over some overhangs. I finally emerged from the upper canyon into the open desert before hiking back down through the cracks, slots and ladders to meet Sonia at the truck. This was a day well spent and if you can’t get into Antelope Canyon, then go here, or better yet, do both.
We had planned to stay at Lone Rock Beach until April 12th when we had reservations to camp in Snow Canyon State Park near St. George Utah. But, the weather reports called for high winds for the next few days culminating in fifty mph gusts on April 12th, our travel day. So, we reluctantly decided to move out of Lone Rock three days earlier than we had planned before the high winds made travelling downright dangerous.
We spent our last day at Lone Rock preparing to travel; doing laundry, filling propane tanks, fueling up the truck, and I made one last hike; cross country into the open slickrock desert west of Lone Rock in the afternoon – that was nice.
We packed up early on April 9th and moved on to St. George Utah taking highway 89A, the southern route around Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (the road less traveled). This route passes by the entrance to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but it was still closed for winter, so we continued on. It all worked out and we ended up outside of St George in a beautiful campsite in a juniper forest below jagged peaks. But, that story will be in our next report.