Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe, and the Drive to Phoenix

Start here if you’re just joining the Arizona story!

I woke up slightly before my alarm, due just as much to the early morning light  as the activity around me. I desperately clung to sleep but since my sleeping pad had a hole in it and the sun was beating down on my rain fly, my objections to the day were futile. I slowly accepted this fact and yawned, stretched, and took a drink from my water bottle. I realized the sun was streaming from only one angle – northeast, above the lake – and my tent had two doors. I leaned over, unzipped the door and then the fly, and was greeted with a brilliant sunrise above Lake Powell (a man-made lake whose origins are somewhat suspicious and can be read of more further in Desert Solitaire) including cloud cover and cacti I couldn’t have summoned had I tried. I shot a few quick frames before deciding that, although I wouldn’t camp here again, it wasn’t all that bad.

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I packed up my tent and gear – this time, all the way – into the Mustang. Everything was rolled, stuffed, and tied to fit. Though that morning I would head south for a fairly long journey, I wanted no surprises. My gear was packed to be carried out when I arrived to check in at the airport. But before I could check into the airport, I had to check into the campground. At the Grand Canyon I’d left a note but at Wahweap I had no such options. I had to remain until 8am to meet with a ranger.

I was packed up and ready to go before 8am due to time changes, but I held tight and drove over at 8am on the dot. I stood behind a young man inside the store. The couple before us had lengthy questions and needed a considerable amount of hand-holding compared to our requests. He simply asked for shower, trail running information, and change for his bills, and I told them my name to not be charged for a no-show. I also mentioned the Canadian couple trying to overtake my site during the night. I was a bit sad to do so, because the previous folks I’d met from Ontario had been great – the bikers while I’d had the flat – but this couple had been so disrespectful I felt I needed to mention it.

In the parking lot I noticed I’d parked right next to the man in front of me. Not only did he need a shower but he had an ammo can and a Ruger 9 mil in his SUV. It had been a couple of years since I’d sold my Ruger 9 mil, but he instantly gained points for having a gun on a camping trip. I understand that, despite this being the “united” states, it is illegal for me to carry a firearm in a few states. In 37 states, I’m fine. I simply happen to live in one of the not-37 in which it would be a bit of a problem. It had been a while since I’d owned or fired a gun and this young man had my respect for being legally able to carry, where in my home state I am not.

I left Wahweap campground and the gun-toting, trail-running camper after checking in, and headed back toward the signs indicating restaurants. I found the remnants of a coffee shop across the hallway from the restaurant at which I’d dined the previous evening. They had precious few vegetarian options and said they wouldn’t have much until the season kicked off next month. I was okay with this and took a tea with a (more lunch-time-suited) vegetable sandwich to go. I sat in the hotel lounge to eat the sandwich and send any emails/texts I wanted to, since this was the last point I’d have WiFi until I got to the airport.

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I walked to my Mustang in the lazy Arizona early-morning heat and set my GPS to lower Antelope Canyon. I’d read the lower canyon was less crowded and more personal, so out I went. I arrived a few minutes behind the next tour so I had some time to kill. I went back to the convertible and charged my phone while reading more from Mr Abbey. About five minutes before my 930am tour I left the car and began the trek into Antelope Canyon – the “most-photographed-place-on-earth.” Our guide knew how to set cameras to capture the best lighting and we had a good group so many of my photos came out really well. Even the ones I took on my own are ethereal and otherworldly. In person, Antelope Canyon is a beautiful site that too many humans have walked through with wallets too large and eyes far too closed with both jaws and camera lenses agape. On my camera, Antelope Canyon could be Mars. It is a wholly unique landscape of which kind we rarely encounter here, and beyond that, we rarely appreciate for what it is. While I was in rough shape that morning, the canyon looks amazing in my photographs.

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We were lucky to have a small group consisting of a few British and French couples, myself and a couple of other female endurance athletes. Very few children, so our photos are unblemished. I tipped our guide and set my GPS for a few hundred miles south to take me to the airport, but changed my mind and set it for Horseshoe Bend instead. Though the sun would be overhead I had to try again – who knew when I’d be back?

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The sun beat down on me during the short drive to Horseshoe. I was glad I’d brought sunscreen and my safari hat. Stylish, I was not, but I was also not sunburned. At Horseshoe there was a line of Mustang convertibles with car club stickers on them. I parked away from them but more came in and surrounded me while I was hiking. There were more people which I thought was a little odd because the views were definitely better at sunset, but perhaps these people had places to go. It was mostly foreign tourists so they were likely on schedules.

I managed a few better photos this time due to a storm miles away that showed nicely on camera. That gave some depth to the photos instead of just being harsh, hot sandstone high above the deep green river. As I walked back toward the car I began to get a little hot so I went up to the small shaded rest area to reapply sunscreen, drink more water, and eat some pretzels. I’ve learned, especially over the last few years, that drinking water alone doesn’t always help me. I have to eat or drink something salty too, to help absorb everything. After about 20 minutes I was good to go and headed down to my car. I noticed some of the Mustang car club people looking at me strangely as I approached my car but I didn’t really care. It was time to go.

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In Page I stopped for gas and a Gatorade and to use the restroom as I now had about 4 hours of driving left. I realized I’d be getting to Phoenix long before my flight left so I texted my old friend Garrett who’d lived in AZ a couple of years ago and asked for recommendations in Phoenix. He immediately told me to check out Four Peaks Brewery. GPS told me it was ten minutes from the airport so I re-set my GPS and continued on. I drove again past the highest peaks in Arizona, through the kaibab forest, through Flagstaff which had been so kind to me.

I was exhausted.

I saw a Del Taco at an intersection in Page and pulled off to grab some food and get off the road for a few minutes. I hadn’t had Del Taco since I’d been in LA a couple of years ago and although it’s fast food, it’s not bad, and I can’t get it on the East Coast. Those few minutes and the food refreshed me enough for the rest of the drive.

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