January 5, 2009 by billie789
Apologies to Hunter Thompson’s take on an old adage about “when the going gets tough…”
Due to the increased weirdness surrounding Christmas and the weather and some long-standing carnal desires I’ve been harboring for a certain kind of surreal landscape, we got going…right on out of town.
I’ve had a couple of places on my “must see” list for a while now, and we headed in that general direction on Christmas Eve, to Hell with buying gifts, to Hell with Christmas dinners with the family, to Hell with the War on Christmas!
Our drive would take us south by southeast 380 miles out of Salt Lake City and northern Utah altogether and toward the four corners area, named for the perfect 4-way intersection of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Actually, our Christmas pilgrimage would take us more down the middle of Utah and then a veer to the east at the Utah/Arizona border to Page, Arizona.
I had it all planned out and reservations made. We would drive down on Christmas Eve and use Page as our base camp, venturing out each day to the local geological destinations I had in mind. Janet, being the good sport that she is, let me create the whole trip out of thin air and was glad to just get out of town for a few days.
I have wanted to get into a “slot” canyon for years. Out of all the trips I’ve taken to red rock southern Utah, we have been stymied by missed roads, bad directions, no time left on the trip clock, etc.
They are a question mark shrouded in mystery parading as an earthly phenomenon. If you are down in a slot canyon and is rains 10 miles upstream, you could drown. People drown in slot canyons from storms you can’t even see on the distant horizon. Desert flash floods, basically, and they sweep through a slot canyon like a fire hose of Biblical proportion. One of the canyons we wanted to see has another, longer and more difficult section and because so many people have been killed over just the past 10 years in these places, the Navajo’s have made them off-limits unless you’re with a guide. They even recently placed climb-out ladders in one section of the canyon we wanted to visit.
I also wanted to stick a rental boat in the southern tip of Lake Powell in Page and motor on up lake for 50 miles to Rainbow Bridge, the world’s largest free-standing stone arch. You can only get to it by boat or hiking 13 miles each way from the east side of the lake, near the Four Corners area. I managed to rent a 17′ speed boat with a 240 hp engine. I imagined that it would skip like a rock all the way there and back! Janet had never been to Lake Powell, but she’s been to volcanoes in Hawaii, so I was going to treat her to what a huge, 200 mile-long, red rock canyon looks like up close from a skipping stone.
I made reservations so that on Christmas day, a local Navajo guide would take us to one of the more famous slot canyons in the Page area, Antelope Canyon (aka Corkscrew Canyon).
A word about the weather: It’s colder than a sonofabitch in northern Arizona this time of year. Here I come, Mr. Outdoors, from 15 degree F northern Utah expecting that the balmy 40 degree forecasts for Northern Arizona would mean we didn’t need to bring our really heavy winter gear. What a fool I was! Yeah, there was only about 2″ of snow on that gorgeous orange sand desert, but it was 5 degrees at night, it was windy, it was rainy, it was snowy.
On Christmas morning, we got up, made a horrible pot of motel coffee and headed out for a quick trip to Horseshoe Bend, about 5 miles out of Page, downriver from Glen Canyon Dam, the dam that formed and holds back Lake Powell. Page was built as a dam worker’s town back in the 1957.
If you turn around 180 degrees, you would be looking in the direction of Horeshoe Bend, about 1/2 mile downstream.
In speaking with a local Navajo later that day, we were told tales of how many people walk to the edge and keep right on going…on purpose. It’s like the Golden Gate Bridge for suicides. Nice view on the way down.
Back to the slot canyon tour for Christmas:
Into an old Chevy suburban and into the wild; well, a nice drive about 5 miles out of town on a bed of beautiful orange/pink sand to what I can only describe as Mother Earth’s vagina. All laid out, cracked open from the ground up and waiting for her spirit child to “come home.”Keep in mind that this mound with its slot water and wind-carved over eons is actaully a petrified sand dune! Not a rock formation cut out after millions of years of laid-down sediments, etc., but a freakin’ petrified sand dune.
And, voila! I’m in Vahalla!
It lasted about 2 hours of pure, schoolboy excitement! Most views are upwards and they caution against getting mesmerized looking up so that you don’t walk your face right into a low overhang. Fantastic!
A couple of hours later, Janet and I drove out to find Water Holes Canyon, an outdoor slot canyon. We drove right past it as it’s not marked, no signs and the Navajo Nation does not care one twit if White Eyes finds it. They issue a permit for 10 bucks and you’re on your own. We had directions like this: “You drive out on US 89 for about 6 miles until you reach Mile Marker 242. Then, you’ll reach a bridge. It’s out there.” So, we drove, we found the mile marker and started driving back and forth over the bridge, not realizing that the canyon below the bridge is what we were looking for! We parked nearby and after staring at a barb wire fence marked “No Trespassing,” I realized that there was a tiny opening to pass through. We just started walking until the only way was down, into the slot any way we could get there.
Slot Canyons accomplished in spades!
That night, our Christmas dinner was a dream-like get together at…Denny’s! I swear to you, besides a convenience store, it was the only place open between Kanab, Utah, and Flagstaff, Arizona, about 200 miles away. We got there a bit early, around 6 pm and the place was filled to capacity with locals (Navajos), hordes of Japansese tourists and us. Special Christmas menu. Turkey dinner with all the fixings or a rib eye steak. I can honestly say that it was one of the worst, yet somehow best, dinners I have ever had. The turkey slices were smoky, brownish and fell apart in your mouth like it was tofu. Stuffing was actually burned black on the bottom, the rolls never seemed to quite make it out of the oven and to our table (booth) and three tiny slivers of jelled cranberry sauce adorned a leaf of wilted lettuce.
Merry Christmas, y’all!
Next morning, we got up, drank coffee and headed for the Wahwaep Marina for the trip to Rainbow Bridge, or, Nonnashoni in Navajo, meaning Stone Rainbow with all the stripes of multi-colored sandstone. (Jesus! I wonder what the locals were smoking back then?) It was about -70 below zero, or at least felt like it when I stepped out of the Jeep. Air temp was mid-20’s, the wind was blowing, there were white caps on the lake. Your face would have frozen rock-hard in a 50 mile-an-hour boat ride, so, we did what we had to do. We backed away, agreed it was a bad-dangerous idea, stocked up at a conveneince store and headed for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, about 175 miles south and west in Arizona. On a whim. Complete, irresponsible whim, and other than freezing, biting wind and snow deeper than I could have imagined, we had a ball.
First stop, Desert Tower lookout at the Grand Canyon. The tower was built in 1937 for visitor’s and is the fist stop driving in from the east.
After about a 45 minute, white-knuckle cruise on snow-packed roads full of tourists in rental units, we arrived at the main visitor’s center of the Gran Canyon.
Two more…trying to put the Grand Canyon down in a photo is futile. Use you imagination. It’s the biggest, deepest canyon you can imagine!
The next morning, we realeased our reservation on the 240 hp skipping stone I reserved and we drove back to Salt Lake City. I had learned a lot about seasonal weather changes, altitude, (Page and the Grand Canyon are the same altitude as Salt Lake City, nearly a mile high. Thus, the freezing-frigid weather!) The Japanese tour the US Southwest in the dead of winter…Christmas week, in fact, and they eat everything until it’s gone at the motel’s breakfast buffet, whether they paid or not. It was a memroable scene to have the little, chubby Navajo front desk clerk complaining to me that the Japanese were “eating all the food!”
All in all, we came home muy! satisfied with our escapist Christmas!