There's just something about the desert. The still air. The crystal clear atmosphere. That feeling when you roll down your window of the air conditioned car and feel that blasting heat hit your face.
Two weekends ago, my husband and I set out across the California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona deserts on a 40 hour, spur-of-the-moment road trip to Page, Arizona. I have been hellbent on seeing Horseshoe Bend and the Antelope slot canyons in person for a few months now and this was our chance to do a quick turn around trip. So at 4am on a Saturday, we set out from Los Angeles County and headed onto wide open 15 freeway, northbound.
Let me tell you, the California/ Nevada desert is a strange and intriguing place with plenty of open road and equal amounts of quirky roadside spectacles. Barstow is the first real glimpse of civilization after coming through the high desert and you can stop at the original Del Taco location to get some eats, including some secret menu items only available at this fast food eatery that had a drive-thru well before McDonald's! Baker is the next opportunity for a bathroom break and it is still quite small and a little bit sketchy. Here you can see the World's Tallest Thermometer, where the annual average temperature for this last California stop is 84 degrees. You can also grab some Sriracha beef jerky at Alien Fresh Jerky and pick up a UFO magnet for the fridge before heading onward.
Once you cross into Nevada, you will come across a few roadside casinos, tempting you with old rollercoasters and promises of "loose slots" in order to get you to spend your dough before you hit Vegas, but they're basically ghost towns. About 15 minutes before Las Vegas proper you will find the Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation of 7 brightly colored stone columns in the middle of nowhere. The installation will be up until mid 2018. The bright colors against the drab, dusty landscape is something else. Totally worth the stop to get some fun pics.
A little after noon, and after stopping for burgers in Utah, we crossed the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell and into Page, Arizona. We finally caught a glimpse of the windy Colorado River, a deep blue/ green that leapt out from the red, carved walls of the canyons. It was still a bit early to check in to our hotel, so we headed straight for Horseshoe Bend. Right off the main road, you can park for free and take a 3/4 mile hike up a sandy trail to the overlook. Photos of this Southwest American landmark are pretty amazing, but no photo does it justice. There are no barriers or handrails. You are at the mercy of the jagged rock jutting out over the U-shaped portion of the Colorado River.
It made me feel alive and peaceful all at the same time.
Although there were a fair amount of people visiting on a Saturday, there was plenty of room to find your own little piece of heaven perched high over the canyon. After taking in every inch we could see, we vowed to come back at sunset for a different feel. In the evening, the wind whips and the river grows dark. The backdrop of the desert glows red and the skies illuminate an endless stark brightness that I couldn't recall from anywhere else in the world.
The reds, yellows, purples, and blues. I'm so glad we saved this for the morning that we left. It was the perfect ending to the road trip. The Antelope slot canyons are the products of a billion years' worth of rain and wind moving within the fragile sandstone. Just as with Horseshoe Bend, I ogled over these images from afar, but it is so much more powerful in person.
Tip: Buy your tickets online and go early. We were the first tour of the day at 8:30 am and therefore had the canyon pretty much to ourselves. We went with the Dixie Ellis' Antelope Canyon Tours. This company is smaller than the others and is completely run by the Navajo Nation. Our guide was amazing and hilarious (ask to be put in Holiday's group; that's his name), providing us with all the knowledge we could handle as well as tips for the best settings on our cameras. The Lower Antelope Canyon, as opposed to the upper canyon, is less crowded and you don't have to ride in the back of a dusty truck to access this part of the slot canyons.
What puts me in awe when I travel is seeing and touching things that are old. Ancient tombs, old cathedrals, aged city walls... there's just something about running your hand over surfaces that have seen the history of the world and these sandstone walls were exactly that- only carved by nature, not man. The Navajo used to corner antelope in the canyons when hunting and hid their women and children down here during attempts at occupation and takeovers by various foreign, newly governing bodies of the United States.
We want to thank the Navajo Nation for welcoming us to experience this wonder.