This was part of an amazing road trip around some of the canyons in the USA in March 2014 setting off from San Diego and finishing in Las Vegas.
Sedona via Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon
Today was a much shorter drive, though very different from yesterday as we were driving through the snow that had fallen overnight. After a lovely breakfast and snapping a few shots of Steller Jays and Dark Eyed Juncos who were breakfasting outside on monkey nuts we were on our way to the Grand Canyon. Would it live up to the hype I wondered? Or would the reality fall flat.
(please click on an image to enlarge)
Black Eyed Junco
We continued along 89A through Oak Creek Canyon weaving its way up and around the mountains. At the top we pulled into a viewing place to take a few photos of the canyon and the road on which we had just driven. I am so glad that they clear the roads in this part of the world!
By noon we’d arrived at Tusayan the town just before the south entrance to the park and we stopped to visit the IMAX theatre to watch a film about the Canyon which is well worth doing if you haven’t been there before. Though I must be the only person on earth who suffers travel sickness whilst watching these films! I have to close my eyes to stop myself from feeling dizzy.
The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison – beyond description, absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. Let this great wonder of nature remain as it is now. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s’ children and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see. Don’t let them skin this wonderful country – as they will try to do” ~ Theodore Roosevelt, May 6, 1903
Now we were in the park and following the one-way system to our hotel – El Tovar – where we had booked for the night. It is a National Historic Landmark and is right on the South Rim with views of the canyon from rooms on the northern wing.
The hotel is made from native stone and Oregon pine and the design is based on European hunting lodges and has a world-renowned restaurant along with canyon views.
Paula’s black and white Sunday this week is all about Rural Living.
I was going to post a view from my new house, but then I thought it would be nice to show off a bit more of the beautiful Shropshire landscape which has kept me company during the past four and a half years. Just a couple of miles walk from the town you find yourself with views like these. I have to say I will miss them. The Ent-like trees, the dead straight hedgerows, the sheep in the fields, the tracks of tractors, the black and white timber-framed houses and the hills. Shropshire is a beautiful rural county and I think this image captures its beauty.
Please visit Paula to see other blogger’s thoughts about rural living.
After breakfast at Ruby’s we took a couple of hours to revisit Bryce canyon, this time stopping at different viewpoints within the Amphitheatre Region. In winter you cannot travel to the south of the park and because of the heavy snowfall over the weekend even some of the usually accessible points were only open to cross-country skiers, not vehicles, and the delightfully named Fairyland Point was closed. No matter. We got all the views we could hope to see from Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point. It must be wonderful to be able to hike the trails among the hoodoos in the spring/summer months. Queen’s Garden Trail, Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Loop are just a few.
Bryce Amphitheatre is the largest natural amphitheatre in the park. Vast panoramas can be seen from Inspiration Point and Sunrise Point which feature the Black Mountains in the northeast and Navajo Mountain in the south.
Technically Bryce is not a canyon because canyons are primarily carved by flowing water – a stream or river. Naturally acidic rainwater dissolves limestone, making the rounded edges of hoodoos, but the freezing and thawing of water does most of the sculpting at Bryce.
Sunset Point – a good viewpoint
Back on the road we stopped again in Red Canyon, to get a few more photos. There are several trails here too: Hoodoo Trail, Pink Ledges trail and Bird’s Eye Trail all moderate terrain and where you can see the rare plant species of the region and perhaps some of the wildlife too (mule deer, bobcats, eagles).
We were not shod for the snow, but managed to wander around a little to read the useful information plaques dotted around (and which are the source of information for this post). The most interesting is the legend of Butch Cassidy. There is even a 9 mile Cassidy Trail close by, believed to have been used by the outlaw. North on Highway 89 towards Circleville is the cabin where Cassidy was raised, born Robert Leroy Parker, he was the oldest of 13 children of Mormon immigrants and formed a gang, the Wild Bunch, in his teens.
Turning south onto the 89 the Sevier River winds it way alongside, like a black snake in all the snow. Around nearby Duck Creek modern ranches stand alongside decaying remains of ancient buildings. Horses’ breath steaming in the cold. At Hatch there were loads of antique shops, and any other time we’d have stopped for a browse, but we wanted to move on to the final destination on our itinerary. Pretty stands of Aspens lined the road, pink, white and yellow twiggy branches in the air.
If you turned north at the 89 / 12 junction you would reach the town of Panguitch – a name from a Native American word meaning big fish where there is year-round fishing. The most interesting story about the town though is the annual Panguitch Quilt Walk, celebrated in June every year when locally made quilts are on display.
The town was settled in 1864. The first winter was very tough. Frost killed all the crops before harvesting. A few men tried to get to a nearby town for supplies but they kept falling through the several feet of snow. They discovered that if they lay down a quilt, walked over it, lay down another in front and retrieved the last one, they could walk over the frozen landscape. This ‘Quilt Walking’ enabled them to get to the nearby town and back and helped the settlers of Panguitch to survive.
Back at Mount Carmel Junction we turned right onto Highway 9 the east highway that leads into Zion National Park via tunnels and a switchback to the canyon floor. It was created to allow tourists to make their way round the Grand Circle of parks (Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon).
On entering the park at the eastern end you notice two things – the road is red to blend in with nature around it and the geology is spectacular.
Found near the east entrance is the Checkerboard Mesa. The name stems from the cliff’s distinctive chequerboard pattern. The horizontal lines are caused by cross-bedding, a remnant of ancient sand-dunes. The vertical lines formed because of the contraction and expansion of the sandstone.
The road loops and winds alongside Pine Creek until the tunnels where we waited in a queue to get through – larger vehicles need to be accompanied which is why there is a waiting time.
Some people had parked up to walk out to the Canyon Overlook Trail. It is very steep and narrow though so not suitable for everyone and can be extremely icy in winter. I walked a little way, before turning back, but did get to see some bighorn sheep on the way.
The tunnels were blasted through 1,000 feet high sandstone cliffs, the second one being over a mile long. Exiting the tunnel you get a good view of the Canyon and some of its most famous formations including the Great White Throne. There is a steep, 10 mile drive down switchbacks to the valley floor.
We drove through to the park’s southwest entrance and in to Springdale where we had booked a night in the Zion Canyon B&B only 1/2 mile from the entrance and close to park shuttle buses (summer months only). A bit early to check in we found a lovely little deli and gift shop where we had good freshly made sandwiches and coffee for lunch. The best food so far.
The Canyon was once home to the Anasazi (a Native Indian word meaning Ancient Ones) whom historians believed lived here 2000 years ago and up to the 13th century. The Paiutes discovered the canyon next and were living here when the first white people (Spanish Padres Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Dominguez and the fur trapper Jedediah Smith) came through in the 1700s.) The first Mormon settler was Isaac Behunin who is credited with giving the Canyon its biblical name of Zion. Meaning a place of rest and refuge (Ancient Hebrew = sanctuary). Many of the rock formations have biblical names too.
In the afternoon we returned to the park and drove along the Scenic Floor of the Valley Road stopping at various places along the route, including the Emerald Pools Loop, Angels Landing and Temple of Sinawava. The Emerald Pool was very disappointing, after following a rather icy trail I reached the first pool (puddle) which was a muddy brown. The trail continued underneath a dismal waterfall onto even more uneven ground at which point I turned back.
We were going to eat at the Whiptail Grill near the gas station on the edge of Springdale, but it closed at 7:30 p.m so we were too late. Most of Springdale’s restaurants were closed in March, but we finally found Blondies open where we had a decent burger and fries. Unfortunately much of Utah is dry so I opted for an ice-tea (thinking it would be one of those lemony sweet drinks) only to find it tasted just like bitter cold tea, and I do not like tea! Major fail. By now I was getting withdrawal symptoms for a good bottle of red wine.
Sunday dawned cold and grey. But the photo trip was still on and we spent a couple of hours in the company of Charley from Overland Canyon Tours in the Antelope Canyon which is a few miles outside of Page where the slot canyons are majestic narrow passages with just enough space for a small group to walk the sandy floor – and for the occasional shafts of sunlight to shine down from above. 
The best time to visit is when the sun is overhead so you get those super shots of sunlight on the sand particles shimmering in the oranges, reds and yellows of the naturally carved sandstone. Unfortunately for us there was no sun, but that did not spoil our enjoyment of this incredible place. Even light flares added an interesting purple hue to the rocks. For those of you who are fitter than us you might like to visit the Lower Antelope Canyon which is reached by a series of ladders. All I can say that climbing the steps up into the cab of the Ute was hard enough!
In the afternoon we took a drive back down to Bitter Springs and turned right on to the 89A across the Navajo Bridge to visit Lees Ferry where you can get down to the edge of the Colorado and watch groups preparing to raft down the river. 
(click on an image to enlarge)
Preparing for rafting
At Lees Ferry
Rafts in waiting
Over the ten miles or so south of the Navajo bridge, the Colorado has several fascinating narrow tributary canyons including Seven-mile Draw, Soap Canyon, Jackass Creek and Badger Canyon. The layers of sandstone and shale that form the vermilion cliffs once extended five miles to connect to the same layers in the Echo cliffs. The Colorado River cut a canyon through the Navajo sandstone.
Navajo Bridges (old and new)
Navajo Bridge across the Colorado
We stopped to marvel at the balanced rocks on the way back to Marble Canyon. Thousands of years ago a huge boulder of conglomerate broke from the cliff above and rolled to a stop here. Since then at least 6 feet of this slope has eroded away.
Ultimately the softer rock, now protected by the umbrella of harder conglomerate will erode, and the boulder will topple to the ground again.
Several fallen boulders at the foot of the desolate Vermilion Cliffs on the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon.
At the 89a junction we turned right and drove to the Cliff Dwellers Lodge about nine miles further east to have an early dinner at the diner there.
During the Great Depression, a few white settlers built a small town of wooden structures with shingle roofs that still cling to gigantic boulders in a moon-like setting at the foot of Vermilion Cliffs.
Returning to Page after a very interesting day we managed to catch the sun setting on Echo Cliffs on the land of the Navajo Nation.
 When we did this trip it was OK to have any type of camera but now you need to have a SLR – point and shoot, IPads and IPhones are not accepted, if you have one of these you may find yourself on a normal tour. We had bridge cameras.
 There was a landslip in 2013 which meant that this route was not accessible for quite some time. It is advisable to check routes in this region before setting out.
After breakfast on Saturday we checked out of the hotel and set off eastwards along the East Rim. It was a dry day, but extremely windy, which made standing out on the exposed viewpoints and keeping a camera steady, quite challenging.
(click on an image to enlarge and see the detail)
I was amazed and rather concerned at the number of people who venture out onto the overhanging rocks to get a photograph, especially when said rocks are covered in snow and it is difficult to see where the end is! I wonder how many tourists lose their lives in this way?
The best views of the canyon on the East Rim are from Grandview, Artists Point and Lipan Point. The whole drive takes about an hour but stopping to look from the various pull-ins will add on at least another hour. Possibly more! From this side you can catch glimpses of the River Colorado and the rafts making their way down the rapids.
And if, like us, you are leaving via the east gate then make your last stop at Desert View where you can see and hear the river below. Climb up the Watchtower for even more spectacular vistas, framed by the windows they look like paintings. Admire the wall murals inside and maybe buy yourself a souvenir from the region.
Hard though it was to pull ourselves away from the Canyon we had to get to Page for the night which meant driving eastwards through the Painted Desert to join the 89 route again.
The drive from the Grand Canyon Village to Page will take about three hours without stops, so make sure you don’t dally along the rim for too long! After exiting the east gate at Desert View the next logical stop is at the historic Cameron Trading Post where you can buy artefacts or a Navajo frybread taco if you are feeling hungry!
Painted Desert Scenic Highway
Butte in the desert
Through the Painted Desert
The next two hours is on the Painted Desert scenic highway. The road was pretty empty of traffic in March and the views of the layers of coloured rock meant that it was never boring.
At Bitter Springs where the 89 winds up into the mountains we pulled into a viewpoint where you have views back towards the Grand Canyon and also to Marble Canyon .
Further on is the turn-off to Horseshoe Bend Overlook on the Colorado River, where you need to park up and hike for an hour to view the river from a spectacular high viewpoint. Although I would have liked to see this, we didn’t have the time or the energy for an hours hike (each way).
We stayed at the Courtyard Page at Lake Powell, which is not the most convenient location as it is right on the edge of the town so not easily walkable to the shops and restaurants. But it is quite close to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area from where you get good views of the dam and where you can take river trips down the Colorado.
We popped out later for a burger at the Dam Bar and Grille, a steak house in town, hoping that the snow which was forecast overnight wouldn’t lead to the cancellation of our photo trip to the Upper Antelope Canyon on the following day.
 The US 89 to Page closed after a landslip in February 2013 and you have to take the newly paved 89T or use the route via Tuba City.