Southwest Trip 2021

Grand Canyon Day 3: Just Around the River Bend

Today would be our last full day in a National Park. After a week of adventure, excursions, and dirt, we were one day away from making our final leg back to Las Vegas. But we had one more day, so we’d be making it count.

We started off early—around 5am, so we could see the sun rise over the Canyon. This was a little anti-climactic, because it was cloudy and thus the colors of the Canyon didn’t really light up the way I wanted it to. It was still a kind of cool view though. Also Daniel’s tripod broke while we were at the vista, so that was a downer as well.

On our way to our next stop, we pulled off at a different viewpoint though and got some better pictures, so I was satisfied. We also saw a rabbit, who I chased through the bushes to get a bad picture. I am not a wildlife photographer.

Our main event today would be our calm water rafting journey through Glen Canyon. This journey started in Page, Arizona, which was about a two and a half hour drive from where we stayed. So we spent the early hours of our day driving through the Arizona desert. The goal was to get coffee and breakfast on the road, but apparently there’s nothing between the Grand Canyon and Page, so we had to settle for gas station coffee about an hour into the drive.

We arrived at Wilderness River Adventures in Page and waited for our journey to begin. We were in a big room with about a hundred people. At first we were a little nervous, thinking, “not all these people are going to be in our boat, right?” But we realized that was impossible, as the boats were small and could only fit about twenty. So we knew we’d split off eventually.

After a safety briefing and a security check, we boarded a coach bus. We seemed to hop right on, but we had to wait for the other two coach buses to load before we could leave. It took about 45 minutes. At least the bus was air conditioned.

We drove about 15 minutes to the Glen Canyon Dam, through a tunnel in the rock of the Canyon itself, to get to our boats. Before we knew it, we were on our boat with about 20 other people, and we began our cruise. We were sitting next to a family from New Jersey decked out in head-to-toe Eagles gear, so Daniel knew he was among friends.

Our driver was Scott, who was awesome. He’d been living in Page for 22 years, and he knew everything about this Canyon. He was also very concerned that everyone was feeling well and had enough water, which was a good reminder to keep drinking.

Scott was good at balancing geology and humor. For instance, he told us about “desert varnish,” the blackish coating on a lot of the canyon walls, and how it was caused by a chemical reaction of the minerals and the cold water of the rain. It takes thousands of years for that reaction to occur, and it only gets as thick as a fingernail.

And then he’s also pointing out the “famous rock formations.” “That there’s the lion head, that one’s Pac Man’s Ghost, that one’s the lizard…” Of course they were all made up by him. And he encouraged us to make up our own nicknames for the rock formations.

After about an hour down the river, we came to Petroglyph beach, named as such because of the wall of petroglyphs left between 4 to 6 thousand years ago by the Puebloan people. The wall was really cool, as the petroglyphs were very clear.

And then we saw the vandalism. Ugh. In 2010 an idiot named “Trent” carved his name into the same wall as all of the petroglyphs. Thousands of years of history tarnished. A holy site still visited and revered by the Puebloans sullied. If I wrote “Christina” in the side of Norte Dame, there’s be an uproar. This guy got off with a $10,000 fine. Expensive, yes. But I hope he leaned his damn lesson.

After a visit to the petroglyphs, Scott reminded us that the rest of the journey would be very hot, so he encouraged us to take a dip in the water, which was 47 degrees. We went in for just a second, just to cool off. Our feet were numb when we got out, but it felt kind of good.

We continued down the river and Scott asked us if we’d like some “river cooled lemonade.” Almost everyone said “sure,” and so he pulled on a rope on the outer edge of the boat, and out of the water came a little rope satchel full of lemonade cans. He said it was river-cooled after all. And it really did hit the spot.

Our next big site was Horseshoe Bend, which had reached fame in the past decade or so. It was cool seeing it from the water, as we planned to see it from above on our way out of Page. Scott reminded us that this section was called “Horseshoe Bend” not because it was the only horseshoe-esque part of the river, but it just so happened to be the most easily accessible. It runs right next to the highway. So it’s the most convenient horseshoe—and therefore the most famous.

We continued along for the rest of the ride, looking at more rock formations and enjoying the wind in our faces. It was a really nice relaxing way to enjoy nature, and our last day in the wild.

We disembarked at the Vermillion Cliffs, a rock formation that replicated the layered facade of the Grand Canyon. From there, we reboarded our bus to take us back up the river to Page. It took about an hour, but we didn’t mind. Again, the air conditioning was a blessing.

After reuniting with our rental car, we headed to Horseshoe Bend, this time from above. It was definitely more of a hike to the viewpoint than we realized, and we were completely exposed to the blistering heat. But it was worth it to get these photos.

Sweaty and tired, we made our way back to the Grand Canyon. A lot of the drive was through the Navajo Nation, which is on Mountain Time instead of Pacific, like the rest of Arizona. So depending on where we were, our clocks kept jumping around. We had no idea what time it was.

After barely eating today, we decided to get a big ole pizza at the Yavapai Tavern, where we’d eaten two nights ago. The pizza was just okay, but we were starving, so it didn’t matter. Also Daniel got a giant beer and I got a really good margarita, so that made up for the pizza’s shortcomings.

After dinner we went over to the Canyon Marketplace for souvenirs. We each got a sticker and a shirt. The collection is now complete for our national park trio.

Back at the room we pretty much collapsed. Our last day was a success, and we got to rest easy feeling we’d gotten a good glimpse of these parks.

And yet I’m still keeping a running list of stuff I want to do when I come back to the Grand Canyon…

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