Canyons and Beyond

Day 41 Feb 23 Thurs Depart Williams AZ – and on to Marble Canyon

just not enough hours in the day or days in the month…or months in this holiday. We were SO hoping to go east to Canyon de Chelly (heard great things about it) but we don’t want to have to add another 1000km to the journey home and rush the last couple of weeks.

One of the best things about an “unscheduled” roadtrip is – having the flexibility to change direction and destination at any time. If you want to explore – take the other road. If you discover an amazing spot – then stop and stay. it kind of grates on my sense of planning and logistics (the penultimate list maker…) but has proved to be the best tactic for this journey.

Passed through the northern tip of the Painted Desert and some fabulous earth formations on the Navajo reservation between Flagstaff and Page. It was sad to see the condition of these isolated Indian communities but also disappointing that there seems no attempt at providing infomation, services or ammenities along the way. A hundred miles and tens of thousands of travellers and vehicles passing through – no cafes, no washrooms – some great locations where we would have paid to park & walk ( the state/federal parks charge $5.00 fees at every spot in Red Rocks country…) but nothing but the same dusty pullouts with shanty stands for native crafts & jewelery. a little initiative here would go a long way.

Decided to take the road less followed…and stay at Cliffdwellers Resort near Marble Canyon – just something I found online. Many of the highway rest stops and facilities are closed for winter and we didn’t expect much where we passed over a bridge, pulled off and found a locked gate. there was a nice information facility but it was all locked up. Little buildings and covered tables made of the fabulous red local sandstone and timbers. Then we realized there was another walking bridge that was open. the Navajo Bridge – over the narrowest spot on the Colorado River canyon. Very windy but stepping out over the deep canyon was quite a thrill – and we had it ALL to ourselves! (after the crowds at the south rim that was part of the fun)

The bridge is also the border of the Navajo Nation – so the entrepeneurship begins as soon as you get to the other side. Small cottages and some isolated lodges, and services for the famous fly fishing and rafting tours that begin at the nearby Lees Ferry. After finding our stay about 9 miles along the road – we headed back to Lees Ferry to explore and check out the access to the river. Well I stopped right then & there to paint – and Brian had a wander along the river. What a spot.

 

Returning to our cosy cabin with the wind howling and dust blowing the sunset along the distant rim of red cliffs was spectacular. the “guys” at the lodge were very helpful and full of tips for walking, even directions to find the California Condor nesting further up the valley. Called the Arizona Strip – it has a long tradition of cattle drives and characters. Crazy boulder formations that seem to have tumbled down the cliff and landed on “plinths” they stand balancing near the roadway – and colours not seen in Sedona.

From chocolate to vanilla to cinnamon…the layers of rock tell the tale of water, dunes, silt and seas long gone. Wide plains of sage and grasses with the odd cactus – gullies and small red carved “mini” canyons that drop below the flats. Not a tree in sight – but a fabulous light and color all its own. Somewhere across there the great canyon begins and the mighty Colorado river flows along but you can’t see it from a 1000 feet away.

Day 42-43 Feb 24 & 25 Zion Canyon

depending on the weather we may get back to camping at Death Valley. These altitude creates such a cold temp drop at nights it has been hard on my asthma in the tent. Otherwise it is quite comfy with our spacious vestibule, folding chairs and camp table and cushy queensize air bed.

Interesting drive up across yet another “rim” with the Arizona Strip valley laid out below against a backdrop of Vermillion Cliffs. Rising again in elevation (this is the north rim of the grand canyon at 8000ft) It is a harsh and stark landscape and environment but both Brian & I found it quite wonderful. They say the winds are a springtime thing, but then of course it is hot like a blast furnace in the summer…so not exactly a retirement village location ;-) A couple of junctions and the Kaibab Reservation but not much out here. Passed through the small community of Fredonia – the convenience store has a huge sign -Guns/Ammo/Beer/Lotto- that kind of gives you the drift. A lot of red dusty trucks. and no herb tea or soy milk at this market.

After the pine forest at rim elevation you start to see the red rock formations again – but slightly different…more angular layers – like someone has tilted up the world in several directions. With the surface marked in waves and swirls of stone ridges – folded in on each other like horizontal braids. In Sedona they are all flat and mostly smooth – believe me you notice these things when you are trying to paint all the crazy formations with the light and shadows racing.

We entered the east gate of Zion and finally bought our Nat park pass (after accumulating half a dozen previous reciepts – which kindly they give you credit for…) and proceeded through the 12 miles of scenic drive. OMG!!! they should just put your car on a conveyor and drag you through here…Driving is dangerous for a first timer. It is a winding looping place of wonder. Sun shining we had a wonderful introduction to the canyon – after the mile long tunnel – bursting through to see the splendid valley with monumental peaks and color all around. I would reccommend if you ever visit Zion – come in through the East Gate. it would be worth the extra milage.

 

Not feeling well again (combo of elevation and motion sickness…) we checked in to the REALLY nice Best Western and I had a bit of a rest before we headed out to stroll the lower creek trail. Later Brian was not feeling great and while he rested I raced out to catch the sunset on the peaks near our hotel/town site.

Another early start to enjoy the dawn (on the opposite valley walls) and then off to the 7 mile drive up to the park lodge and the court of the partriarchs. Can’t describe it. and can’t photograph it. you are SO close to the stone faces that rise up thousands of feet – it won’t fit in the camera. Not possible to share the sense of place fully. You will just have to visit it someday. A truly marvelous point in our journey.



Day 44-45 Feb 26 – 27 managed to get back up this morning to the canyon overlook trail. Well the last few feet of this walk give a lasting impression – from a fabulous height above the wide Zion Valley – but the trail! rock ledges, drop offs and overhangs of stone, hanging catwalks and caves…a little precarious…but it was great.

we skipped Bryce (more elevation) and headed west today – not far – just past St George to Snow Canyon. another great spot with wide valleys and colorful hills of dark maroon, red and white rock. A few more joshua trees again, and green with sage and juniper. some grass coming but still pretty cold at nights. Found a great state park campsite and knowing we had lots of groceries decided to camp. Brian walked and I painted the till the sun hid behind the hills. great campfire and the weather holding off. The stone is layers of white red very black caps and clumps of volcanic rock.

 

behind this ridge is Snow Canyon - just east of St George in Utah


On day two we walked up to the White Rock natural “amphitheatre” the sand and stone SO white it was almost blinding. Great spot. little trees and plants clinging to the sand and crazy cracks in the stone. Rewarded with a wonderful canyon view from the top.


well we were warned the showers and wind might be coming…and it doesn’t matter how great your tent is – its no fun packing up in the rain (the fine sand was the worst part – on everything!) but finally got sorted out and on the road. no firm destination just west – towards Death Valley. You drive through 4 states ! Utah/Arizona/Nevada/California within about 100 miles. and passed through Las Vegas…Weird even from the main highway…and I didn’t see any CSI people anywhere?
passed through an amazing portion of highway west of St george – that explains why Utah and Nevada are a couple of thousand feet higher. what a long hill! and dramatic canyon walls following the Virgin River (and after crossing this same river several times I have to say – she really gets around ;-)

yes this is actually how steep the hill was...it went on for miles - almost 5000 feet drop in elevation

Day 46 Feb 29 leap year day!

hoping to stand in the lowest point in the desert today – Badlands @ -264 ft below sea level. and not 10 miles from it is a peak in the local mountains at 11000+ ! pretty amazing. staying in Pahrump and booked at Stovepipe Wells lodge for tonight – after our desert exploring day. more desert pics next time.

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