Day 16 - Sunday 31 July 2016

Route 66, Amazing Antelope, Cathedral, Horseshoe, Little Hollywood

Inside Lower Antelope Canyon

I was awoke 5 minutes before the alarm again, weird how that happens. It was 5.15, I got myself ready, had a quick bite to eat packed the car and was out the door by 6. I was on the road headed to towards a 9.50am tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, but first I needed to get there with Google maps telling me that itís a two hour and fifty minute drive. The roads were clear in Sedona at this hour so it was easy going and very scenic as I drove up the forested/mountainous road into Flagstaff about 40 miles north.

On Route 66 The desert just outside of Page The enterance to Lower Antelope Canyon, with tri-stacks of polution from the nearby Navaho electrical plant First look in Lower Antelope Canyon

Whilst driving through Flagstaff I was able to cross off one of the things that I have always had on my bucket list. Having been inspired as a kid by Dr Feelgoodís rockiní/blues version of Route 66 (I found myself singing it out loud by the way) there I was driving a few miles down the said famous route 66. The only difference to any other road was the amount of hotels promoting themselves as being on Route 66 and the cool retro signage that they were using. It didnít last long (but it felt like it did) as I soon had to turn off on the road headed north (not east) towards Page and Lower Antelope Canyon.

The drive to Page was much more bland. The road was mostly long straight stretches of concrete or bitumen. About 2 hours later (yes it was pretty much perfect timing) I was paying the entry fee into a Navaho reservation and pulling into Dixie Ellis Lower Antelope Canyon Tours for my 1 hour tour, of what I had seen in pictures as an utterly amazing very colourful almost unreal looking slot canyon. It was very busy, there were loads of tourists, it was stinking hot and there was little shade. As soon as I completed my booking I was on a tour.

The twists and turns of rock in Lower Antelope Yours truly taking it all in Awesomeness Incredibleness

There were about 12 of us on the tour taken by our very friendly guide Waylan, a Navaho Indian born in the area and an awesome chap. We had to wait at the mouth of the canyon baking in the sun for about 15-20 minutes before entering. The excitement was building. Finally it was our groupís turn to go in. But first a little information: there are two Antelope Canyons (in fact three, there third is under water and can be kayaked into). There is Upper and Lower. Upper can be walked into from ground level, Lower has to be climbed down into and Waylan told us that itís a bit longer at half a mile in length, than Upper. Both canyons have been forming since around 250 million years (the Jurassic period) and are made from erosion in sandstone caused by water and wind, forming what we were about to submerge ourselves into today.

The next hour was like being a theme park, but instead of fake scenery it was very real. There were many people jammed into the canyon but I also was totally absorbed in my own amazement by it all so it kind of didnít feel busy at all, and eventually as the groups ahead wandered through it really only seemed like it was our group in there. Within the rock, Waylan tells us, are numerous minerals that we can only see somewhat but that a camera tends to pick up better. Heís not wrong, as it seems that many of the photos that I was taking were more saturated in colour than what my eye was seeing, although what I was seeing, both through the camera and with the eye, was incredibly vivid. The tonal range and colour contrasts were rich and deep. The looking upwards, occasionally into tiny slithers of light, against various different waveforms within the rock of all types of sizes was simply divine. There surely is going to be a rich assortment of drawings to come from this visit without a doubt as the sandstone formations were heavily linear and the shapes were so naturally beautiful as if being within some form of fantasyland. (I seem to be running out of adjectives to describe these sights that Iím seeing. Each one is just as incredible in its own way as the last.)

Astoundingness A certain kind of fantastic Beautifulness Magicness

The tour through the nearly half mile canyon lasted about an hour. When we emerged the sun was beating down on us with even more ferocity then when we went it. The final thing Waylan showed us was four dinosaur prints left in the rock, before he gave each of us an ice cold bottle of water from deep within a nearby eski. This was probably the best $20 (+ $1.20 tax and a further $8 for Navaho Reservation fee) that Iíve ever spent. It was worth every single penny, or dime, or whatever.

I walked back in the blistering heat to the car. I sat in the car for a while pinching myself (and probably swearing a little as to how momentous that was.) I finally started up the car, took as swig from my bottle of water that I had left in the car (bad idea as it seemed like it was close to boiling) and drove the short 5-10 minute route into the nearby township of Page. If I thought it was busy when I turned up at 9-ish to Lower Antelope it was now totally packed with cars and a queue for entry heading back out onto the main road.

The Thumb

It was probably 11.15-11.30 and my next experience was starting at 12.30. I found the tour company that I had booked this next experience with after a (very) short driving tour of the township of Page (small town but with what seemed like an unusually large high school). I ate some lunch and had about 35 minutes remaining to wait so I just sat and watched downtown Page role on by. Not a lot happened really. I just marvelled at the many RV monstrosities on the roads. These things are massive. We have Winnebagoís in Australia that I think are large, but these things are like three bedroom homes on wheels. And there was also the American trucks, that we call uteís, that are the size of a small barn. This is one reason why I like America so much. Itís like Australia in some ways but everything is so much bigger, and I mean everything. There werenít a lot of people, or cars, doing the rounds in Page today.

12.30 soon came around. I looked at my phone and realised that I had only 40% power left. I went a little snap happy whilst in Lower Antelope and there was still so much on the agenda for the day. I must conserve was my motto. Anyway, I had booked a few days ago on the 2 and half hour Cathedral Canyon tour with Chief Tsosieís Antelope Canyon Slot Tours. There were only 6 of us on this tour, far much quieter than the hundreds at Antelope. We hopped into a 4-wheel drive and on the road out of town, the first 2 miles on bitumen, the next 2 on sand dunes. Our driver, Erin, was wearing a Metal Milicia hat and missing one of his front teeth, but was awesome fella. He told me that he raced high-speed quads, and was only just racing over the weekend in Vegas and was hence a little stiff today. I immediately thought to myself that we are safe in his hands as we bumped our way up and down sand dunes to our first stop on the tour, The Four Sisters, a strange sandstone rock formation, much like the three sisters in Australia, but four and much smaller. The sandstone was very pale yellow and there were beautiful wave formations at the base of each sister that I thought were prettier than the sisters.

After 10 minutes climbing and photographing we were back in the 4-wheel drive for another 2 or so miles to our next stop, known as The Thumb, another sandstone formation formed through erosion standing erect in the air amongst the dunes. Next to The Thumb was another small wave formation in the rock that showed beautiful layers of counteracting sandstone that had solidified over thousands if not tens or hundreds of thousands of years. We spent a further 10 minutes climbing and photographing before jumping back in the 4-wheel drive and a further 2 mile drive to 2 slot canyons.

The Four Sisters Slot canyon near Cathedral Canyon Cathedral Canyon Cathedral Canyon

The first canyon was small, and we singled-filed our way through. The light was wondrous. A further 5-10 minute trek and we were entering Cathedral Canyon. Erin tells us that this is his favourite canyon in the area because its remote and hardly anyone goes out here. Following our short trek, flanked either side by 100-foot cliffs, we cam across what seemed like a dead end, but there at one point was a small opening that we squashed our way through. It was a little taller than what we had just walked through. This was a very thin slot canyon, at two stages we had to get on all fours to navigate under two boulders that had fallen into it and become wedged (one in particular was quite low down and I wacked my shoulder on it causing a nice multi-layered scratch).

Once out of the thin slot canyon the other side presented Cathedral Canyon. It was nowhere near as long as Antelope but it was much taller and it oozed the same type of charm and there were only 6 of us instead of hundreds. We spent about half an hour photographing and talking to each other. At one stage I sat with my back against the canyon wall. The sand was so lovely, cool and soft to touch. I sat there for a while taking it all in. Nearby was a very extraverted 6-year old girl who was with our group playing in the sand. We struck up a conversation for quite some time much to her parents and cousinís delight. She said that she wanted to live here now, and I somewhat agreed as it was very beautiful and very peaceful just sitting around, but our time was running out so we made the trek back through wide canyon, then the first slot canyon we came through and into the 4-wheel drive and back over the 8 miles or so we travelled into Page.

Some of our little group in Cathedral Canyon Cathedral Canyon, with fisheye lens Kanab (great sign) Another great sign in Kanab

I sat in the front and as we drove back I asked Erin about visiting Horseshoe Bend. He said itís awesome but perhaps much later in the day when the heat had dissipated. I nodded in agreement whilst thinking to myself, well I canít wait that long as I have to get on the road. I had an hour up my sleeve so against Erinís better advice I drove the three miles out of Page to the start of the Horseshoe Bend walk. It was very hot by now and about 3.10 in the afternoon. There were loads of people out there doing the same thing, most of them looked shattered (however most of them were overweight tourists who looked like they had never even climbed up a set of stairs before.) I found the 20-minute walk in and out again pretty easy really. I just powered my past them (the tourists) as they dawdled over the track.

Anyway, Iím sure youíve all seen pictures of Horseshoe Bend before, I certainly had. When I finally got to the end of the 20-minute walk, across the flat mesa, there, over the edge, was Horseshoe Bend, just like in the photos I had seen. It was a little like seeing an old friend who I hadnít caught up with in 5 or 10 years. It felt strangely familiar but this was the first time I had been here before. I took a few pictures, with my camera down to about 20% now, sat on a rock and looked deep down onto the Colorado River that over millions and millions of years had carved out this splendid outlook know to us humans as Horseshoe Bend. Itís an extraordinary piece of mother-natureís sculpture. The rock was a light soft yellow peach colour and the river was a deep green shimming silver with the sunlight in the late afternoon. What a sight.

Famous Horseshoe Bend, unreal

I made my way back to the car, past the struggling humans, and drove for the next hour and a bit into Utah, past Glen Canyon Dam (dam them for damming it) to my Travelodge accommodation for the next three nights in a small town known as Kanab. The drive was easy there was a large thunder and lightening storm that I past through only the edge of. I left Horseshoe at 4, thinking Iíll have my feet up in Kanab just after 5, but little did I realise that Utah has an hour time difference than Arizona so really I arrived just after 6. This threw me a little as I didnít realise it was the case until about 8 (I went for a walk to the supermarket a few blocks from the hotel, as I got to the corner the flashing sign out the front of the supermarket said ĎSunday 8am Ė 8pmí I looked at my phone, it said 8.05. Damn it.) I kept walking for a few more blocks, but being Sunday evening everything was shut. Much to my surprise though sleepy Kanab was quite pretty (well sort of). There were all sorts of weird and wonderful Americana, cool hotel and shop signageís (Americanís really knows how to make a good road side sign), wacky looking restaurants (all closed), and much to my delight information signs up and down the road about Hollywood stars who had stayed in Kanab whilst shooting films or TV there (the web tells me that Stagecoach, The Lone Ranger, Death Valley Days, Gunsmoke, Daniel Boone, Billy the Kid, Fort Apache, El Dorado, Planet of the Apes, Lassie, The Six Million Dollar Man Mackenna's Gold, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Point Break, Broken Arrow, The Exorcist 2, The Flintstones and one of my favorites Galaxy Quest (an excellent piss-take of sci-fi films like Star Trek) and many many others were all filmed in and around Kanab). I later discovered that Kanab is also called Little Hollywood. So anyway, I walked back to the hotel and luckily I had some supplies that I purchased in Sedona to eat (including a block of Cherry Tango dark chocolate that was now sludge from being left in the car all day, it didnít stop me from eating it). By now I was tired, it was 9.30 (not 8.30) so I went to bed. The end of a huge huge day.