Thursday, June 20, 2013

Upper Antelope canyon and Horseshoe Bend - Page, AZ

Our next stop after Zion National Park was Page, Arizona. It was about a 2 hour drive from Zion National Park. The City of Page is located in northeastern Arizona. It is one of the youngest communities in the United States, established in 1957 during the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado river. The dam creates Lake Powell, the second largest lake in the US ( the first being Lake Mead created by Hoover Dam also on the Colorado river). Page is the perfect base for exploring all the attractions the Glen Canyon recreation area has to offer. Lake Powell laps 1900 miles of shoreline. The sculptured red sandstone canyons on either side of the lake are breathtakingly beautiful and can best be enjoyed speed boating on the lake. Glen Canyon dam creates a flat stretch of emerald water, perfect for kayaking or jet skiing. 

Our first stop in Page was Horseshoe bend. It is about a 10 minute drive from Page. We parked, and hiked for about a mile downhill on sandy and rocky surfaces. Throughout the hike  all you can see is the vast expanse of the flat desert. It unexpectedly ends in a crater with dramatic views. From the rim of the canyon, you can see the jaw-droppingly beautiful Horseshoe bend. The colors of the rocks change throughout the day and the shadows move in and out of the canyons.  The cliffs are very steep with no guard rails, and it is a bit scary at the edge. Keep away from the hanging ledges as the sandstone might be fragile. Below is the Colorado river meandering around a huge sandstone escarpment. As the river flows, it sparkles and shines in different shades of green and blue. As the Colorado river cut through layers of red rock, the 270 degree horseshoe bend was formed. 

In a few million years, this might be the site of a brand new natural bridge formed the same way as nearby Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Before the rainbow bridge was formed, the Colorado river  circled around a narrow fin of sandstone and with time cut through it and formed a bridge.

On the way back to Page, there are signs for a Scenic Drive that leads to great views of the river and the dam.

We drove to Wahweap overlook that is located along Lakeshore Drive. The scenic view drive goes up the hill and offers 360 degree panorama of Wahweap bay, Glen Canyon dam, Navajo Canyon and surrounding areas. Carl Hayden visitor center at the Glen Canyon dam offers guided tours of the dam and powerhouse.

We booked a guided trip to the upper antelope canyon in the afternoon with Antelope Canyon Tours. It was a 1 hour sightseeing tour. If you are interested in photography, we would recommend the longer photography tour. The canyons are dark at places, and a tripod is very useful and it is not allowed in the regular tour. You need to assemble at their office in Page, and they take you in a truck in groups of 12. The land is owned by Native American Navajos. Only guided tours of the Canyon are allowed. There are other tour operators that are located closer to the main entrance and you can go till there, and then they drive you.

The Antelope Canyons are formed over millions of years mainly by flash floods sculpting the soft sandstone. This is one of the most beautiful natural formations we have seen and no  wonder it is a photographer's delight. The sunlight falling on these incredible formations makes it glow in different colors according to the time of day. Tour operators offer a 11:30 am tour that is most popular because of the sunlight beams creating magic on the canyon walls. This is also the most crowded time. We lucked out as there was a huge group ahead of us that wanted to be together. We had a very small group and our guide helped us with the camera settings, photo tips, and told us about the history and formation. 

Only guided tours are allowed due to the danger of flash flooding. Rain does not have to fall on or near the Antelope Canyon slots for flash floods to occur. Rain falling miles upstream  can funnel into them without prior notice. This is good to remember while planning a trip so that you can avoid the monsoon season. We were there in May, and highly recommend that time as it is dry with very low flash flood risk. Also, it is very comfortable weather wise as it is about 10 degree cooler inside the canyon.

Photography tips: Best pics can be clicked standing in dark areas, and avoiding the sky and any sunlight that will wash out your pictures. Take vertical pictures to capture the depth of the canyon in front and horizontal pics of the roof of the canyon. Tip the guides generously as the land is Navajo owned and operated. 

Let your imagination run wild while clicking pictures. We fell in love with the bear we found there:)

The guide threw some sand to create some beautiful waterfalls:

What to Eat?: We had dinner at this great Mexican restaurant called Fiesta Mexicana that night. They had some really authentic dishes, and the service was great too.

Where to Stay?: We stayed at the Lake Powell Resort and Marina. It is located right on the Wahweap Marina with great views of Lake Powell. The marina where boats can be rented is a short walk. Enjoy a drink on the patio, take a dip in the rooftop pool or relax in the Jacuzzi overlooking the lake and Navajo canyon. 

You could also rent a houseboat, more information about which can be found  here.

Overall, it was a beautiful day and Horseshoe bend and Upper Antelope Canyon are indeed some of Nature's wonders. Lower Antelope Canyon was even more amazing and just unbelievable. We saved the best for the last and will share the beautiful pictures with you in our next post.

- Dee

Friday, June 7, 2013

Our Adventures in Zion National Park

We went on a 5 day vacation to Utah and Arizona the past memorial day weekend. We flew into Las Vegas and drove to Zion which is about a 2.5 hours drive.

Zion National Park has towering sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, beautiful emerald pools and wooded valleys. There are a number of options for hikers and you can choose between easy/ moderate hikes or more strenuous ones like Angel's Landing. Depending on the amount of time you have, you can do the easy 1 mile Emerald Pool hike or a day long moderate Narrows hike. Zion is a photographer's paradise, you can capture great sunset shots at the Virgin river bridge. 

Stay at Springdale, a little town, within walking distance from the the visitor center. There are some nice hotels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants to choose from. Shuttles run into the park at short intervals. The Zion Lodge is the only accommodation available inside the park and offers modern hotel rooms and historic cabins. Nearby cities such as Cedar city, Kanab and St George are within an hour drive from Zion.

We will give you a day by day account of all our experiences. It will surely save you some time planning your itinerary.

Day 1: Exploring the Canyon

We stayed at the Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens in Springdale. It is a beautiful boutique riverside resort with majestic canyon views. Sit by the river or soak in the jacuzzi and enjoy the sun set into the canyon. We were outside till late that night enjoying the full moon shining over the canyon. The place was gorgeous with perfectly landscaped gardens and modern, comfortable rooms. 

Cafe Soleil is a great place to pack some sandwiches and smoothies for a picnic. We tried sandwiches, wraps and the pizza. The ingredients are fresh and organic and we went back the next day. Loved the Pina Colada and Mango smoothies. 

The main Zion Valley area can be accessed only though the shuttle buses. Cars are allowed on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, and we drove till the East entrance. This is also the route to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Page, AZ. We stopped at various places and explored the area. It was fun hiking into hidden canyons and climbing the red sandstone cliffs. Enjoy the scenic view from the Virgin River Bridge, drive through the mile long tunnel, and stop at various vista points such as Checkerboard Mesa. 

Drive back to the museum or visitor center and take the shuttle along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Shuttles operate till as late as 10pm during the summer months. Hop on and off at various stops such as Emerald pools, Angel's landing, Weeping rock, and Temple of Sinawava.   An easy hike on the Emerald Pools trail will lead you to the 3 pools through beautiful canyons and small waterfalls. Angel's landing is a strenuous 4-5 hour hike. The path is incredibly beautiful but this hike is not for someone with Vertigo. You will be walking on narrow trails with steep drops in places. There are chains to hold on to in some areas. If you are not feeling adventurous enough to tackle Angel's landing, walk the weeping rock trail for a view of Angel's landing peak. This is a short, easy and pleasant hike from the shuttle stop along Zion Canyon road.

At night we enjoyed the resort pool and jacuzzi. We picked up pasta and pizza from Zion Pizza and Noodle and ate on the beautiful patio at our resort.

Day 2: The Narrows hike

The Narrows hike is the top attraction in Zion and it is one of our favorite hikes. It is ironic that in this desert, water creates most of what we see. The river carves the soft sandstone to create the incredible landscape of dramatic cliffs and slopes. The steep canyons have been sculpted over thousands of years. 

Get off the shuttle at " Temple of Sinawava". The hike starts with a one mile walk on a paved path along the river. After that you are walking on the river bed. This time, in May, the water was knee deep and at times waist deep. The experience of walking through the river between towering canyons is unparalleled. The water is crystal clear and you can see the river stones. Make sure to rent special boots and hiking sticks as it makes it very easy to walk over the slippery stones. We rented both at Zion Adventure Company.

The last time we did this hike was in September, 2007. The water level that time was lower and ankle deep in most places. In fact, we could walk along the shore most of the time and cross the river when the water level increased. This time, in May, there was so much water due to the snow melt, there was hardly any shore. The water level rises by the evening and we were walking in the water the entire way back. The water temperature was ~50F. The canyon is about 10-15F cooler than outside. In the summer months it feels very comfortable. We hiked a little into the Orderville Canyon and then turned back to continue the Narrows hike. There was less light in that area, and it was very peaceful. We went in till the water was about waist deep and returned after a 5 hour round trip. In spring and fall, you could rent waterproof pants or wet suits. Make sure you heed to flash flood warnings as they are pretty common during the rainy season. This is called the bottom-up hike and is the most popular.

The other option is the less popular and more strenuous Zion Narrows "Top- Down" hike. It is a wonderful 16-mile backpacking adventure starting from Chamberlain's Ranch outside the NE corner of the park. It is usually done in 2 days and it requires a backcountry permit.

This is the mile long riverside walk trail to the shuttle stops.

View from the shuttle stop:

That night we ate at a Thai place called Thai Sapa. The food was decent and they had a lot of options. Our best place for dinner in Springdale is Spotted Dog at the Flanigan's inn. It is a fancy restaurant offering great ambiance and quality food. However, in line with the National Park feel, the dress code is not formal.

After dinner we left for Page, AZ. We spent the next 3 days exploring Antelope Canyon, Horse shoe bend and Lake Powell. Stay tuned for more posts on those. 

- Yam