Last year over Easter, we flew to Las Vegas and did the five Utah National Parks in four days. This year, we had planned to go with friends to Sedona, which we had visited once before and loved with a passion. Our friends unfortunately had to bail, so we started thinking about other things in the area that could entertain us in their stead.
Antelope Canyon had been on my bucket list for a long time, and then we realized that the Grand Canyon was basically right around the corner, and then we realized that it was only another 3-hour drive to Escalante, Utah, which we'd sadly had to bypass last year.
Essentially, this trip morphed from five peaceful days in Sedona into another one of our waste-no-daylight, rest-when-we're-dead events.
DAY ONE: Phoenix to Grand Canyon South Rim
Just a blip north of Phoenix on I-17 is the experimental town Arcosanti, Arizona, the brainchild of artist, architect and all-around visionary Paolo Soleri. I'll send you over to Wikipedia for a full explanation of the project. Here I'll just say it's $15 and a couple of hours well-spent for the tour, and highly comforting to know that there are places in the world where sustainable living is actually being practiced on a daily basis.
Everywhere we went across northern Arizona and southern Utah, we heard about water shortages and weird weather patterns. There's a timer in the shower at the Grand Canyon, asking everyone to take showers under 5 minutes. Where we stayed in Escalante, they're already on the water restrictions that normally apply in August. It rained the day before we got there, which was the first precipitation they'd seen in 5 months. That's right: they got NO SNOW all winter, which means no snowmelt going into the rivers and aquifers for the summer growing season.
Places like Arcosanti that teach us how to live lightly on the earth are more necessary than ever before.
From Arcosanti, we drove through the Saguaro forest and up into the Ponderosa pine forest around Flagstaff, at 6,000 feet elevation. After a stop at Fat Olive's for Italian-certified, internationally-award-winning wood oven pizza, we drove on to Maswick Lodge on the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the night.
DAY TWO: Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon to Escalante, Utah
When we woke up, the Grand Canyon was so full of fog that the view was a blank white wall. As we drove, fortunately, the sun and wind pushed the fog away and we were offered one fantastic viewpoint after another.
Equally grand, but less well-known is Antelope Canyon (famously featured as the wallpaper on Windows 7, for those of us old and uncool enough to recall Windows 7).
Andy researched this up and discovered that noon is the optimal time to be in the canyon, because of these beams of light that only shine into the canyon when the sun is directly overhead.
Being in Antelope reminded me mostly of being in the Sistine Chapel. It's packed to the gills with tourists, and everybody is looking straight up, while the staff tells you to keep moving. it's not really a meditative experience but it's so amazing that you just go with it.
Antelope Canyon is in the Navajo Nation, and you can only enter with a tour group. I'm not a big fan of doing things with tour groups, but in this case it was excellent because our guide, Thena, knew exactly how to get the absolute best shots of the canyon from every angle, and how to set every single cell phone's ISO and white balance to capture the best color. Whether you had the latest iPhone, or a lowly old Motorola like mine, she knew what to do to get the best out of it. Thena rocked Antelope at high noon! You can find her at Navajo Tours.
Continuing north, we soon crossed into Utah and found ourselves driving right by Bryce Canyon National Park. Since we hiked at Bryce just last year, we stopped for a quick half-mile walk to Mossy Cave and a moment of peaceful communion with the hoo-doos. They are just so beautifully otherwordly and wonderful!
We spent the next two nights in Escalante, Utah, at this adorable bunkhouse on the farm of Shannon and Jenifer Steed. You do have to scamper through the orchard to the separate bath house, but it's only $46 a night and there are baby sheep right next door. We loved it!
DAY THREE: Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The area that makes up Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was the last tract of land in the continental United States to be mapped. It is as wild as the West gets: lonely, untamed, rugged, stunningly gorgeous.
We got out early in the morning to the Escalante Mercantile, where we found a breakfast croissant and a sack lunch to go, while the owner told us a bit about her adventures restoring an 1800's Mormon settler's home into the cutest grocery store on planet Earth.
From there, we proceeded to our first hiking destination of the day: Peekaboo Canyon and Spooky Gulch, 26 miles down a dirt road called Hole-in-the-Rock. We arrived at the trailhead and emerged from our rented Nissan Sentra to accolades from the drivers of the other vehicles, all 4WD. Andy definitely deserves a prize for driving that road without damaging that little car, and what Thrifty Rent-a-Car doesn't know won't hurt 'em.
Shannon, our host at the bunkhouse, told us to go "up Peekaboo and down Spooky."
What Shannon didn't tell us is that there are two ways to go "up Peekaboo."
One: you are a confident boulderer.
Two: your companion is a confident boulderer, and said companion goes up first and throws you a rope.
We attempted to go "up Peekaboo" under neither of those conditions, and Peekaboo sat there laughing and saying, "up yours."
Let me interpret the above photo for you just a bit. Andy is walking toward a giant mud puddle in front of the canyon entrance, which can be skirted by balancing on those logs off to the left. In the middle of the photo, you see that scoop in the rock? That's the canyon entrance, about 12 feet above the giant mud puddle.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to climb up that 12-foot rock face without falling into the mud or breaking any bones. There's one decent ledge about halfway up, which fools you into thinking that this feat is possible by 52-year-old sedentary therapist types. After the ledge, there are three tiny indentations to help your fingers and toes up the last half of the climb and into the--wait for it--knee-deep pool of water beyond the entrance.
I got stuck above the ledge, my left fingers in one idention, my right toes in another, and my left foot sliding off the rock face. Andy was behind me trying to push me up, and some firefighter type was leaning down from the top saying he could pull me up.
With my fingers and toes slipping out of their spots, I said, "What would it be like if I just slid back off this ledge?" Andy, who never worries (photographic evidence below), at this point began to worry, probably mostly because my insurance really sucks and it would have been hell to carry me out of there with a broken leg.
After some deep yoga breathing and careful inching backward, I was able to get down without harm.
We bid farewell to Peekaboo and went on to Spooky Gulch, a kinder, gentler slot canyon, where I picked up a whole bunch of bluish-green stones that I'm hoping will come out of the rock tumbler looking like turquiose.
After spending about an hour and a half on our slot-canyon antics, we drove back toward Escalante, picnicking under the hoo-doos at Devil's Garden, then heading over to the escarpment above the Escalante River, one of my favorite views in the world.
The wild, expansive beauty makes me cry.
Our afternoon hike was Lower Calf Creek Falls, a 6-mile round trip walk along the Calf Creek Canyon floor.
Favorite moment of this walk: glancing up at the canyon wall to see petroglyphs: the three warriors.
Look at the top of the dome-shaped rock, then follow the dark streaks down to where they meet the curve at the bottom. The three warriors are on the cliff face just to the left of those dark streaks. There's a white shield-shaped rock just below them.
Can't see them? Don't feel bad. They really are there, but this approximates how difficult it actually is to spot petroglyphs in real life. It was just a lucky glance for me, and then we rounded a corner in the path to find a marker pointing straight at them.
DAY FOUR: Driving from Escalante to Sedona
Andy did all the routing for this trip, so I didn't realize we were doing almost a complete back-track from Escalante to Sedona. I was super excited about getting a do-over along Route 12 and Route 89-A, though. The pictures will tell you why!
We arrived in Sedona mid-afternoon and headed straight for Doe Mountain, a favorite hike from our last visit. Just half a mile from the parking lot to the top, this hike offers a lot of bang for the buck, and an opportunity for Andy to dangle his feet off of high ledges.
We checked into the lovely and serene Casa Sedona, and then headed up the mesa to Airport Loop to watch the sunset, a time honored Sedona tradition. We arrived about 6:00 for a 6:45 sunset, and it was perfect timing.
Pro tip: turn your back to the sun and watch the rocks change color--that's the big show! Once the sun is down, turn around and enjoy the colors in the sky.
After sunset, we headed down to the Golden Goose Grill for dinner where we snagged a two-top in the bar. A guy at the bar was talking about how freaked out he got at Doe Mountain when some idiot man was sitting, hanging his feet over the edge. I tapped him on the shoulder and offered him the photographic evidence.
DAY FIVE: Sedona hiking
The guy at the bar would have really freaked out if he'd been at Devil's Bridge the next morning... yup, there he is again...
After sitting for a while and watching many people, including children, traipse back and forth across the bridge, I decided to brave the journey myself.
Here's what I learned: if you keep your eyes trained to the left as you walk out, keeping the canyon wall in your peripheral vision, there's no vertigo. Just don't look down or out to the right and it's all good.
For our final hike of the trip, we ventured out on the Broken Arrow Trail, offering 360-degree Red Rock views at multiple points along the way.
End of the trail: majestic Chicken Point.
During this hike, Andy and I both realized that 8 miles a day is about all we want to do before his back aches, my feet hurt, and we're thinking longingly of the Advil we left in the car.
Devil's Bridge is about 4 miles, and the route we took at Broken Arrow (we included a side trip to Submarine Rock) was about 4.5 miles, so at the end of this hike, we were ready to head home, full of Red Rock happiness.