Saturday, March 18
Page, Arizona was our destination on Saturday, an easy 100 miles or so. We reserved at the Page Lake Powell RV Resort, a pleasant place at a convenient location. The main downside is a lot of highway noise when we’re sitting outside, but we did see our first bat of the trip here. We are trying to figure out which slot canyon to tour. Antelope Canyon runs around 32 miles and various Navajo families own the land. Some families run their own concessions, others allow commercial concessionaires to run the tours. It is one of the biggest businesses for the Navajos in this area and this time of year is popular with tourists.
Sunday, March 19
We decided to forego the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon Tours because they don’t offer photographer tours this time of year. That means that no tripods are allowed and you have very little time to stand around making images. Canyon X is 15 miles further down Antelope Canyon and is run by the family and a network of others. It does offer a Photographer’s Tour that lasted 3 hours for $64 each.
After a 2-mile ride from the parking lot to the top of the canyon, one young man escorted us down a steep, sandy path to the slot canyon entrance, told us he had to leave to “rope steers” and handed us off to another young man. A group of 3 photographers were already at the entrance. The guide said the light was perfect, knelt down and started throwing the fine sand into the air, revealing the light beam that shone down into the narrow canyon. Dave and I were behind them, so weren’t well positioned to capture it.
The guide changed my camera to what he said was the best settings to capture light in the canyon. I tried a few that way and then set it back to what I usually use. Familiarity is important in extreme light conditions. He escorted us in a ways then departed to take the other 3 men to another slot canyon about 100 yards away. We were on our own, just as we prefer.
X Canyon wasn’t as dramatic as Upper Antelope but it still had beautiful swirling walls and we were totally alone in there for about an hour. The only exception was a young Navojo woman with two little kids, Hannah and Cole. She said they had never seen the sunbeam strike the floor of the canyon before and was taking pictures of it.
When we were done shooting, there was nobody around, so we walked ourselves to the other canyon and spent some time in there. The sun had moved and was not optimal for lighting up the walls, but we managed anyway.
Predictably, I got a few silly shots done.
Because these slot canyons are so narrow and because we’re often shooting straight up on a tripods, we really have to twist ourselves into contorted positions. After 2.5 hours of this, I was tired. Another guide brought a couple to the slot as we were leaving. Walking back through the more open part of the canyon, we began photographing the gorgeous stone.
We took so much time that the guide and husband and wife emerged and I could hear bits and pieces of their conversation as they came up behind us.
“Oh, billy goats smell so bad.”
“When we butcher them, we clean out the stomach really good and save the blood.”
“Do you use hominy in your goat stew?”
We made it home pretty quickly and relaxed outside as the two neighboring Boston Terriers eyed us suspiciously.
Wednesday, March 20
We decided to attempt the Cathedral Wash hike near Lee’s Ferry. It went through a wash with interesting rock formations. I was daunted by tales of a 30-foot dry waterfall that was tough to descend but brought a book in the car if Dave forged on and I didn’t. Because it was still hot at mid-day, we left pretty early for the 40-mile drive to the trailhead.
In the Rav, we crossed the Navajo Bridge that spanned the Colorado just before we reached the hike. I parked at the visitor’s parking lot and we ambled out on the pedestrian bridge. The emerald green Colorado was far beneath us. There were a number of people on the bridge, grouped around a woman with what appeared to be an antenna. They were all focusing on the Navajo Bridge. Then we saw the birds perched on the girders under the bridge.
“Vultures.” Dave guessed. Nope. Condors. Every time we visit Pinnacles National Park we look for condors and have only seen them once. This mating pair were comfortably ensconced and we did not get to see them exercise their 9-foot wingspan. It was still neat to see them so close.
We soon progressed to our departure point. Cathedral Wash was probably 30 feet wide where we dropped into it but it narrowed down after a half-mile or so. There were many different configurations of rocks and mud from one turn to the next. The wash walls were so steep that the majority of the trail was in shadow, which was nice. We hit one or two short drops where we walked on ledges above the wash and then clambered back into it.
We passed an older lady who said she had reached the big dropoff but decided not to try it because she was hiking alone. We soon reached it ourselves. I was dismayed. Dave looked around for a way down but I certainly didn’t like the looks of anything I saw. Then, miracle of miracles, a couple came up the wash and we got to watch how they got back up. It looked doable, so we did it.
There were 4 or 5 more dropoffs that weren’t always easy to traverse but I managed it. The wash continued downward and the banks of the Colorado River were our goal. When we reached it, we were immediately rewarded by a bevy of boats getting back into the flow just upstream from us. There was a little rough water right by us so we got to watch Zodiacs and kayaks bouncing around as they went by.
We had lunch on a hot rock and then started the trudge back. Now we were climbing up all the drops we had done earlier. A few of them involved edging along a narrow ledge ten to twenty feet above the wash floor.
Then we got back to the big one. The way we had descended didn’t look so good now, but investigation didn’t reveal any better alternatives. Balancing on a small, unsteady boulder, Dave heaved himself up into a small pocket. Then he managed to scramble onto his feet, found fingerholds about 5 feet up and shallow foot holds and pulled himself up. I passed up the packs and his tripod and then it was my turn.
I was afraid. Without too much trouble, I hoisted myself into the pocket. I was on my butt facing outward. I had to get one leg up into the pocket, stand up and face inward, all without a place to grab onto. Dave couldn’t reach me until I stood up. I sat for a moment, gathering my resolve and then made the move. I got a firm grip on Dave’s hand. Now I had to find a foothold to raise me enough so Dave could help heave me up. He was bending pretty far over to hold my hands. “Take my other hand” he urged. That meant I had to let go of the rockface with my hands and hope my foothold would support my weight enough so I could help him pull me up. It worked. I was up. Phew! I hugged him as adrenalin coursed through my veins. This is probably another hike I will not be doing again, but I’m glad I did it.
We slogged back the last half-mile or so in the sun. The adrenalin had faded away and I was exhausted. But icy air-conditioning, lukewarm coffee and cookies, and flip-flops instead of hiking boots refreshed me for the 40 miles home. Then a shower improved things more and we had a nice dinner.
Tuesday, March 21
Takeoff day. It was more than 200 miles to Farmington, New Mexico, so we decided to only drive halfway there and camp somewhere. In the middle of Navajo country, there are few campgrounds near our route. Dave found Round Top Mesa, a BLM campground, using the Ultimate Campground application. The app only showed that the camp was near AZ-160 and gave GPS coordinates. I tried to confirm the coordinates on the Garmin and it looked like it was close but neither info actually showed a road.
After a pleasant drive through beautiful red-rock country, we passed the small town of Dennehotsu and looked for a likely turnoff. We found a large pullout off 160, unhooked and Dave went looking for the elusive campground. No luck. We ended up camping by the highway, hoping nobody rousts us.