September 24-26, 2020
Thursday morning arrived rather frigidly, as the thermometer refused to bump over 40F. With stiff, cold fingers, we started the campsite cleanup. We’d decided it was time to move on from Colorado, despite having an excellent time. Nothing gold can stay.
Becoming increasingly efficient at loading up the car, we methodically put everything in its place and set our bearings towards Page, Arizona and Lake Powell. A stop-off at Mesa Verde National Park, just east of Cortez, CO, was a consideration as we set out.
Dropping down out of the mountains via US 550 South, we passed Ouray and Silverton. Jamie had a spot scoped out that she wanted to return to for some photos. Beneath Red Mountain, lifeblood to Red Mountain Creek, lies a valley and lake that light up in the morning sun. So we, along with many others who had the same idea, stopped off and took a walk around and enjoyed the vibrant foliage.
Departing from the valley, we climbed up to Red Mountain Pass, well over 10,000 ft, and swung down past Silverton. Continuing south, a stop in Durango for coffee and a little morning break was in order.
What blew me away was the rather sudden and discernible difference in landscape as we continued out of the San Juan range. “It’s definitely drier now,” Jamie said, at the exact moment I was thinking the same thing. Tall stands of pine and aspens with abundant grasses and shrubbery was replaced by hearty and seemingly faded vegetation, with sandstone formations as their backdrop. The only vibrance came in a strip along the Animas River leading into Durango, where the trees are provided more sustenance in which to thrive.
Moving west past Cortez, we exited the San Juan Skyway and crossed at the Four Corners intersection on US 160 into northeast Arizona. More of the same landscape met us in Arizona- long stretches of singe-lane highway, straddled by harsh faded orange, red, and beige sandstone and dotted with low-lying weeds and shrubs. The needle was pushing over 90F at this point, with an unforgiving and relentless blaze from above. It was the kind of heat that feels like someones blasting a hair dryer in your face. The haze from the wildfires stalked our route, offering a far-reduced visibility to distant rock formations.
Pulling into Page, Arizona, around 5pm, we found our campsite in the Tents Only area. Unloading the gear, camp was set up in less than 30 minutes. Breaking out the Camp Kitchen, Jamie fired up the stove and used the last of our ground beef to make tacos. Grabbing the fixings (sour cream, salsa, taco bell hot sauce packets, shredded cheese) and cooking some yellow rice, we sat down for a homemade first supper at Lake Powell.
It was quite the change to wake up the following morning, in shorts and out of my sleeping bag. The low overnight temperature was probably around 65F, a stark contrast to the previous morning in Ridgway, CO. We rose with the sun and had a quick muffin/hard boiled egg/yogurt breakfast with a cup of coffee and drove over to Lake Powell Paddleboards. Jamie had reserved a double kayak for us to take out and explore lower Antelope Canyon. Of course, we couldn’t go anywhere without Captain Charley.
Paddling out from the launch, we hung a left around a bend in the lake and entered lower Antelope Canyon. From open water to the canyon took about 30 minutes or a mile-ish. Following the twists and turns of the flooded Colorado River up the canyon, there was no shortage of impressive views. The route offered dramatic vistas of the canyon wall against the turquoise water, and its clarity allowed us to follow the canyon wall as it descended beneath the surface of the water.
After paddling in about 2 miles up the canyon, the floor rose above the level of the water. We beached our kayak, and set out on feet up Antelope Canyon. Charley was thrilled to be on hard earth again, as she was seeming pretty uncertain at times on the water, and I thought we might be yelling “dog overboard!”
The hike took us through narrow slots and wider passes, as we tried to get our own slice of peace amid many groups of people going in both directions. It was unfortunate to see as much trash and graffiti on the canyon walls as we saw. The hubris of man, to deface the earth with our names and words. These rocks and this earth was here long before man and will carry on long after we’re gone. It’s indifferent to our etchings.
We hiked 1.5-2 miles up from the disembark point, checked things out, and turned back the way we came. Loading back into the kayak, we three amigos enjoyed a little snack while on the water, and paddled back to the launch. Charley seemed a more fearless Captain on the return trip.
After returning to camp, we dropped down to Wahweap beach, about a 15 minute walk from our campsite, to cool off and let Charley run around for a bit. Spending only an hour or so down there, we returned to camp to make dinner and wash up. Our little muddy/sandy/dirty paws girl was pooped, and begged to go into the tent to sleep. We obliged, and Jamie and I sat out under the stars a bit longer before turning in and getting our nightly dose of The Office.
With some indecision on whether the area had enough to offer us in the way of hiking, we concluded we’d stay the 26th and leave on Sunday, Sept 27.
So the morning off the 26th, we left camp and headed west, toward Kanab, UT.
Buckskin Gulch is a long, grand passage that stretches 20 miles, with towering canyon walls on either side. To get to the gulch, the trailhead first took us through the Wire Pass Trail, appropriately named as the slot canyon was, at times, just wide enough to squeeze my shoulders through.
The trail was mostly sand and large rocks, washed down the passage during the infrequent, yet violent, flash floods. Evidence of waves of erosion, in the forms of water and wind, scraped and striped the walls. Beams of light shot through the gaps up above, providing light in which to see, but not too much to bake us in the hot sun. I guess if you want to do a hike in the desert in the summer, you need to find a slot canyon. Any other hike won’t offer enough in the way of shade.
Charley held up on the hike, only overheating slightly towards the end of the hike, when we exited Wire Pass and entered Coyote Wash, a much more vulnerable area in terms of desert sun.
After our hike, we took a drive down a dirt road to look for a ghost town called Paria. We didn’t end up finding the ghost town but did run into these beautiful colored and layered mountains.
After about an hour drive, we were back at camp and had all afternoon to do laundry, clean up, and take in the sunset before heading to dinner.
El Tapatio served up an authentic Mexican dinner, something we’d missed out on since arriving in the Southwest more than 2 weeks prior. I mistakenly ordered a margarita suited for an adult family of 4 and enjoyed an excellent buzz.
After dinner, a quick cleanup at camp had us ready for an early departure the following day.
In the next post: Charley does Vegas!