Southwest Road Trip: Part Two
Sleep beneath looming buttes and hike through narrow slot canyons.
From the Grand Canyon, we headed east out of the park. Rain was on the horizon as we crossed into Utah and approached Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and its iconic buttes. The towering formations of rock are instantly recognizable, and have served as a backdrop for the American West. Just northeast of the park is a spot made famous in the film Forrest Gump, so we swung by to snap some photos (a large tour bus apparently had the same idea). From a slight rise in the desert, the road beelines for the monuments on the horizon, making for an impressive sight.
As the rain moved in, Jenn and I headed into the park to camp for the night. Upon waking in the morning, we were greeted just outside our tent to one of the best sunrises we saw for the entire trip, the sun burning off the previous evening's moisture and silhouetting the buttes in the valley below.
After breakfast we were back on the road and headed for Page, AZ to catch a tour of Antelope canyon. Antelope is one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world, with good reason, and as a result sees heavy traffic from tourists. Tours of the canyon must be booked with Navajo guides through a tour agency, and can range from quick walkthroughs to lengthier (and more expensive) photographer-geared tours.
Midday tours offer the most dramatic lighting, when the sun passes over high in the sky to stream down into the narrow slot canyon. Even with the fast pace of the tour and the dense crowd (I didn't opt for the photographers tour, where visitors are given extra time to photograph and allowed the use of tripods) the canyon was well worth the visit. The sandstone walls are elaborately carved and illuminate to a orange glow in the the midday sun. Don't forget to look up as you explore. Some of the best images of the canyon are of the flowing curves overlapping overhead, just be sure not to stumble into the person in front of you.
Right outside Page, we swung by Horseshoe Bend, where an easy 1.5 miles hike ends at a popular vista overlooking a dramatic curve in the Colorado river. From there we hit the road once again to head for Bryce Canyon National Park where we would reach the upper level of what is known as the Grand Staircase. Stretching from the top of Bryce Canyon, to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the Grand Staircase represents the cascading layers of sedimentary rock that form the region. Crossing the Colorado and heading west into Utah, the road to Bryce carried us into the heart of the Grand Staircase, where would be spending the rest of our trip.