30th April – 4th May – Another freezing morning as we leave Flagstaff for our visit to the Grand Canyon, taking a scenic drive that takes us past Arizona’s highest peak…….snow covered Humphreys Peak at 12,633 ft. followed by pine forests and then Kendrick Peak…….lower, but still with a sprinkling of snow. We stop at Valle Travel Stop as we head north for the Canyon and enjoy hot drinks as we admire the huge range of American Indian jewellery. We check out the RV Park here but it looks a bit bleak with a notice on their pin board, warning that temperatures are going to dip below freezing tonight. It’s essential that we buy a small heater as soon as possible for when we stop in the evenings.
We decide to check into a room at the Red Feather Lodge and Motel a few miles further on. There’s a really nice guy at reception who gives us loads of advice on where to go once at the Canyon and shows us a very spacious room in the motel area with heating, copious hot water, parking for Moby right outside and a 15% reduction! Knowing that we have a nice warm room to come back to means we are free to go off and explore a bit of the canyon for a few hours.
We buy an annual National Parks pass at the entrance for $75 which will then give us free entry into all National and Wildlife Refuge Parks in the rest of the US. This is really worth knowing if you are going to visit a number of parks, as admission to the Grand Canyon alone is $25.
Because this South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open all year, it means there are more tourists and it’s disappointing to discover that the Hermit Road going west along the Canyon Rim, is closed to private vehicles. However, free shuttle buses run very frequently in this direction, dropping you off at the various viewing points and collecting you on your return. Hiking and biking the complete Rim Trail is also possible. The North Rim of the Canyon is over 1,000ft. higher than the South and therefore cooler, heavy snow has closed it until mid-May.
The first sight of this immense Canyon spread out before us is truly breathtaking and overwhelming. It makes one feel quite insignificant, the scale being so vast that even from the best vantage point, only a fraction of the Canyon’s 277 miles can be seen. Up to a mile deep, with a maximum width of approx.15 miles and covering an area of 1,900 square miles, a vast panorama of coloured buttes and mesas, rust coloured cliffs, eroded forms and weathered canyon sides, carved over unimaginable time, is suddenly there before us. The silence is incredible. Rocks at the bottom of the Canyon date back nearly 2 billion years! Huge, black ravens glide on the breeze over the cake-like layers of rock in the Canyon walls. Besides the raven, there are many other species of birds within the park, including Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and the California Condor and the extreme changes in elevation, exposure and climate are able to support a remarkable range of plant and animal life.
Far below where we are standing on the Rim, the Colorado River flows, continually carving its way through the Canyon as it has done for eons of time. Averaging 300ft. in width and with a depth at times of 100ft. it continues its long journey west before finally emptying into the Gulf of California.
In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell led one of the first documented explorations down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon with nine men in four wooden boats. After several months, Powell completed his harrowing journey with just five men and one boat less. Today, nearly everything is different and for many, the desire to raft the River through the Canyon rates high on their list of ‘must do’s’.
Our second day here is cold but sunny with such clear, strong light that colours in the Canyon are even more spectacular……..a perfect day! Today we drive east along the 25 mile Desert View Drive that takes us past many more breathtaking viewing points. However, at Moran Point the highlight is having the best view of the Colorado’s major rapids…..Hance Rapids, and at Lipan Point we have the finest view of the eastern canyon, where the Colorado makes a great bend to the west having carved its way through the Kaibab Plateau to form the deepest portion of the Grand Canyon.
Lipan Point is also an ideal spot for viewing birds crossing the Canyon, as this is the shortest flight distance for them between the North and South Rims, with forests on both sides.
Our drive today ends with views from the top of the 70 ft. Desert View Watchtower, the inside of which has been decorated with murals depicting Hopi legends. Five Native Indian tribes presently occupy this Canyon region…..The Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, Paiute and Hualapai.
With our heads full of memorable vistas, we leave for the town of Page on Highway 64, originally established to provide housing for workers on the Glen Canyon Dam project, built to store water from the mighty Colorado River and provide hydroelectricity for cities and industries in the west. Perched on the Arizona-Utah border and officially designated as the most remote community in the country, Page today, has become the base for excursions to many National Parks. We visit two tour companies to find out about visiting Antelope Canyon. The work of local photographer Charlie Moore is displayed in one of them and is simply amazing.
Both the Antelope Upper and Lower Slot Canyons are located on Navajo Reservations and have always been a place of reverence to their people, it is therefore necessary for visitors to be accompanied by Navajo guides. If you want your photographs to have that famous shaft of light that shines down through the canyon at certain times of the day, then you must visit the Upper Canyon. We decide to visit the Lower Canyon and are told that if we arrive at the Park entrance gate early in the morning, we can join the first, guided group when it is quieter and less crowded. This will also be a lot cheaper than going with a tour company, that also make a charge for their transport.
We camp for two nights next to the deep blue waters of nearby Lake Powell, named after the explorer John Wesley Powell. This vast lake on the Colorado River was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon once the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963. The level of the lake however, fluctuates considerably depending on the seasonal snow runoff from the mountains. At the present time, the water is very low showing much of the canyon’s sandstone cliffs and mesas which glow red in the late afternoon sun. It’s a major, annual vacation spot for boating, fishing and a variety of water sports.
The English name of Antelope Canyon, comes from the herds of Pronghorn Antelope that used to roam freely in the canyon but to the Navajo, Upper Antelope Canyon is ‘Tse’ Bighanilini’ or ‘The Place where Water runs through Rocks’, and the Lower Canyon is ‘Hasdestwazi’ or ‘Spiritual Rock Arches’.
Steep steps and ladders take our group down into a sandstone chamber. As the passageways narrow and twist it becomes a fantasy world with incredible colours and natural, swirling waves of rock carved by water flow, rain and whistling winds over thousands of years.
We are able to spend over an hour with our guide exploring the canyon and as we near the end, the deep colours begin to fade. A final upward climb and we squeeze out between a gap in the rocks into bright sunshine………
Who would have thought that this amazing place and photographer’s dream, was hidden beneath this rocky desert!