Dusk at Marble Canyon, on the Arizona-Utah border.
I had wanted to visit Lake Powell ever since I saw Doctor Who breathe his last breath on the futuristic shores (British sci-fi, don’t worry about it), so as part of our Arizona-Utah road trip, we decided to set aside a day to enjoy the water and hike up into the mysterious Antelope Canyon.
We stayed at Lees Ferry Lodge, a cute motel nestled under the immense Vermilion Cliffs, and it was a struggle to tear ourselves from the morning view and drive to the water. We picked up our kayaks from the good-value Red Canyon Adventures and strapped them to the roof of our rental car (always get the loss damage waiver when renting a car - worth every penny) before driving to Antelope Point.
On Lake Powell.
It was an easy, if embarrassing, launch among the luxury speedboats and cruisers, but once out on the water, Lake Powell definitely lived up to its Whovian alter-ego: Lake Silencio. The water was perfect – flat, deep blue, warm. We could see pale rocks under us and then patches of deep black where the canyon disappeared beneath, and strange underwater trees. We had to navigate a few cocky speedboats and a couple of tour groups who kept taking our picture for some reason, but kayaking was much less painful than our previous day’s activity – mountain biking the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It was peaceful out on the water and still enough that we could rest our paddles and float for a while, enjoying the quiet.
After paddling the open expanse of pristine lake, we ducked down a narrow channel of smooth rock walls in search of the entrance to Antelope Canyon. The landscape here was almost alien; the red rocks were smooth and swirled in stacks and the canyon became tighter the further we paddled down it. Navigation got a little trickier around the larger, faster boats, but once we reached the narrower point of the channel, it was just kayaks. There were neat rock ledges that were perfect for "wedged-in" comedy photo opps. The flat rocks were covered in little pink lizards and at the narrowest point, the canyon was extremely echo-y – great for singing Industrial show tunes as we paddled.
Often-photographed Antelope Canyon.
We moored up at the small beach at the end of the channel to hike the rest of the way. The canyon rapidly grew taller and even narrower – now I understand why they're called slot canyons – and in places it was a touch claustrophobic to squeeze ourselves through. Here, the red sandstone was ridged and rippled from the passage of flash floods, and I realized that we had left our life jackets back with the kayaks, completely forgetting the advice of the rental crew. A sudden downpour
could be dangerous in such tight confines of rocky, skull-cracking outcrop. Luckily, it didn’t rain and we emerged without injury or drowning.
After almost an hour of exploring we reached Indian land but we didn’t have a Navajo permit for the day’s excursion so we had lunch on a huge, flat rock and watched little desert toads hop across the sand.
If we'd had more time, we would definitely have taken the trip into the canyon from the other side with Navajo guides to see the magical light beams at midday. But I would still recommend the trip we did – we didn’t see a single other person in the canyon the whole time we were there.
Back at the water, we kayaked over to a secluded beach on the other side of Lake Powell where we could swim out of sight of the boat tourists and their constantly snapping cameras. Idyllic, even as the threatening clouds started to roll in and the other sailors packed up their trailers and headed for home before the rain.
Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ.
After dropping back the kayaks in town, we stopped at the legendary Horseshoe Bend just outside Page, a dramatic curved meander flowing around a towering rock stack in the Colorado River. To call this stop-off an understatement wouldn’t come close to being accurate – a tiny "scenic" sign is all that denotes its existence from the road and after a short hike to a rise, it looms into view below. Descriptive words aren’t adequate, and sadly, neither are photos - it's too amazing a monument (and too huge) to capture without some serious photographic equipment and the daredevil nerve to hang off the precarious edge of a 1000-foot drop to get that perfect shot.
Our final stop before sunset was the Navajo Bridge that spans Marble Canyon, built in 1927 to provide access between Arizona and Utah. It was a gorgeous view in the fading, purple light, a perfect union of nature and industry. Again, my photographs couldn’t capture the beauty of the river landscape but that didn’t stop me trying. Tiny headlights dotted along the distant 89A but other than that, the expanse of cliff and plain was empty and silent and quite spooky once the sun had disappeared and left everything in pitch-thick shadow.
Back at Lees Ferry Lodge, we had dinner out under the stars with a new friend, an attentive husky wearing a bandana. Once he realized he wasn’t getting any scraps from us, he wandered off to chase bats through the dark, and it was blissful to sit out with a beer and watch his energy while we had none. The Vermillion Cliffs loomed up behind us, protective and silent, prehistoric in their stillness. This is an awesome place in the truest sense of the word, ancient and alien yet completely accessible and willing to share its beauty with casual passers-by and hardcore hikers alike. We will definitely be back; there is so much more to see.