I woke up on day four of our mini American Southwest road trip wishing I could stop time. Already, we’d driven a desolate stretch of Route 66, marveled at the Grand Canyon, stood on the shores of Lake Powell and explored Antelope Canyon. We’d done and seen so much already, but I wanted more. I’d quickly fallen for the RV life I wondered if I’d be able to adapt to, and suddenly I yearned for an open-ended adventure with no set date we had to return our keys.
But for now, we’d made the most of what we had. After our rainy and stormy first day on Lake Powell, we were thrilled to wake up to a clear-sky forecast for our second. We were completely enamored with the Wahweap Campground, which for less than $24 a night gave us access to the full facilities of the Lake Powell Resort, including a lake access beach, a fitness center, and one of the most vista-blessed pools I’ve ever taken a dip in — and that’s saying something. It was the most we paid per night to park our JUCY camper, but man, was it worth it.
While we had a pretty full day planned, we woke up at sunrise so we could squeeze in a bit of pool time before setting of on our latest round of adventures.
Our first stop of the day was the iconic lookout for Horseshoe Bend. I was impressed to see that in an area absolutely bursting with adventure tours and natural wonders, visiting Horseshoe Bend was the number one thing to do on Tripadvisor. I’m sure one aspect of its popularity is the fact that it’s totally free, despite being located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. And when we arrived at the parking lot, we realized it was not only free but completely uncommercialized. No paved pathway, no vending machines, no bathrooms, no tacky souvenir stands selling keychains with images of the river.
Just a big ‘ol lot and a humble sign pointing travelers in the right direction on a sandy path.
After a quick three quarters of a mile hike, we reached the rim. For the longest time all you see is flat red rock and then, boom — you hit the rim and that postcard bend is cracked wide open right in front of your eyes. Water flowing down from Lake Powell, a mere five miles away, curves gently along the floor of the canyon, making its way down the Colorado River all the way to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Just try not to get I’m On the Edge stuck in your head while you sit there.
Heading there yourself? Lucky you! Budget a minimum of an hour for the whole experience, and consider leaving dogs and sassy young kids at home for this one. There are no guardrails, and it’s a sheer 1,000 foot drop to the bottom. We did sit on the edge and pose for photos, but they look a lot riskier than we felt — we moved super slow and low, and didn’t linger too long at the rim after.
Despite the crowds, we found it easy to find space for ourselves to just enjoy and snap a few people-free pics. For photography, Horseshoe Bend is best visited in the morning when the sun is lighting up the canyon. Sunset is a popular time to visit as well, though you’ll struggle to photograph it as you’ll be shooting directly into the sun. A wide angle lens or better yet a GoPro can capture great images. That said, be careful with that selfie stick — I winced watching a few people turn their back to the canyon while teetings super close to the edge. That’s a recipe for losing your balance if I’ve ever seen one.
We could have lingered much longer, staring down into Horseshoe Bend. But we had a date to see it from below. We raced back to the center of town in Page to meet up with our afternoon tour, which brought us first to the Glen Canyon Dam.
We were on a half-day smooth water rafting trip down the Colorado River, a popular option for those wanting to see the canyons from below without signing on for one of the intense whitewater rafting trips offered elsewhere. No need to comparison shop here: Colorado River Discovery is the only company with concessions from the National Park Service to run tours along this portion of the river.
The tour does depart from the Glen Canyon Dam, which is very cool because you get to drive through restricted areas of the dam, but very not cool because it means you have to comply with a bunch of Homeland Security policies including wearing a hard hat for the ten second walk down to the boats, and you cannot carry any bags other than those made of clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC. So just remember to leave the purses, backpacks, and fanny packs in the car (maybe just leave the fanny pack in the car forever, actually.)
At the dock, our group of thirty or so was split into two pontoons. Zoe and I immediately took a liking to our Navajo guide, who was clearly bursting with pride for the gorgeous land she called home. She patiently and thoughtfully answered our dozens of questions about not just the canyon but also what it was like to grow up on a Native American reservation, how she felt about the current state of the area’s tourism, and what it was like to introduce travelers to this magical place day in and day out.
After our frustrating experience with our guide the day prior, it was so refreshing to really connect with someone who seemed as genuinely excited to chat with us as we were to chat with her.
At one point, we stopped briefly along the banks at a set of ancient Ancestral Puebloans petroglyphs. While they were beautifully preserved, we found ourselves most captivated by the tragic story of their defacement. In 2010, a park ranger visiting the site in the afternoon was alarmed to see “TRENT” carved crudely into the 1,000 year old petrogylphs, an unwelcome addition to the site that hadn’t been there just that morning. Realizing the perpetrator was probably still on the river, the ranger radioed down to rangers at further docking sites, who called out “Trent!” every time a group approached until someone inadvertently gave themselves up by responding. The stunt cost him $10,000 and 100 hours of community service.
In addition to soaking up the story of that scandal, this little stop included the chance to stretch our legs and brave the icy waters of the Colorado River. Even in the height of the August heat, the furthest most of us could muster was a quick dip to our ankles, though Zoe drew big cheers by heading in shoulder deep.
Back on the raft, we soaked up the sun, admired rock formations (see the wolf’s face, below?) and chatted more with our lovely guide. The other guests, not so much — they definitely seemed to be having a collective “no more rocks” day.
One of the themes of our road trip was exclaiming how amazing it was that we were on this trip, how much we loved this part of the country, how we couldn’t believe our parents didn’t bring us here as teenagers… followed quickly by how we never would would have appreciated it as teenagers. This particular tour was a reminder of the fact that we were doing this trip at the exact right time in our lives to appreciate it, filled as it was by disgruntled senior citizens and vaguely miserable looking families who didn’t speak a word to a each other the entire trip. I had to really fight the urge to give them all hugs and launch an Oprah-style intervention asking them to dig deep and tap their wells of gratitude and awe. But then I remembered that I’m a cranky brat sometimes when I travel too, and I let them stare disinterestedly into the distance in peace.
And then suddenly, the centerpiece of the trip was looming above us — Horseshoe Bend, from below! We looked up at the ledge we’d been sitting on just a few short hours before and tried to make out the matchstick-sized figures we furiously waved to above. It really was something, getting to see this gift of nature from so many different angles.
And with that, we turned around for the upriver journey back to Glen Canyon.
For those planning trips of their own to this area, there is an option for a full day tour that goes all the way to Lees Ferry, where you then board a shuttle back to Page. Depending on the time of year there are one or two departures per day, typically an afternoon and a very early morning option. There are options to package the tour with a helicopter trip, with a kayaking tour of Lake Powell, or with a slot canyon trip. Note that the slot canyon trip does not go to the famed Antelope Canyon, rather to an alternative slot canyon known as “Secret Canyon.” On the upside or downside, depending on your point of view, the trip is made by Hummer.
This tour was a big splurge for us at $92 per person, but I felt it represented good value. The company was extremely organized and eco-conscious, our guide was fantastic, and it gave us access to an idyllic area we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise, outside of a logistically intense camping and kayaking adventure.
It was with a heavy heart that we drove away from Arizona. We spent two nights in Page, but I easily could have done four or five. They say the more you travel, the longer your bucket list becomes and Lake Powell proved ’em right — I’m already daydreaming of spending a week on a houseboat out there, someday. While we got an amazing overview of the area, there were a million more things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see. Take a dam tour, take a boat ride to Rainbow bridge, photograph more slot canyons, stand up paddle on Lake Powell, drive out to Monument Valley… the list goes on.
But Utah was calling.
Stay tuned for the very last day of our mini American Southwest road trip!
Many thanks to JUCY for our sweet ride! As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.