After leaving Bryce Canyon, we had a long drive day to Monument Valley which was punctuated by a couple of interesting stops.
First up was Glen Canyon Dam, near Page, Arizona, which dams the Colorado River and created Lake Powell. Similar to how the Hoover Dam created Lake Mead, this area and the Lake provide a variety of recreational water-based activities that would not otherwise exist in this part of the US Southwest.
After stopping at a Subway in Page for lunch, we then had a stop-off at Horseshoe Bend. Apparently it’s grown massively in popularity over the last couple of years due to it’s very instagrammable nature. It’s approximately a 15-20 minute walk from the parking lot, and despite what it looks like in the photo, there were hoards of folk there.
It is a fabulous example of how rivers meander, and really is horseshoe-shaped. The colours, yet again, were amazing. The mixture of the blues/greens of the water with the orange and red of the rocks was perfect. I was really glad we were able to make this stop-off. Last time I was in this part of the US in 2016 we didn’t see it and I was really pleased to make up for that this time round.
We then carried on towards Monument Valley, and just had time to drop our bags off at the hotel in Kayenta (which apparently I’d stayed at last time I was here as my phone auto-connected to the terrible WiFi – be warned that phone signal and internet connectivity is scarce around here) before heading into the valley and onto our included Navajo Jeep tour.
The vistas in Monument Valley are so iconic, having been the backdrop to numerous films, tv programmes and adverts over the years. I’m very fortunate to have been able to revisit his place, and the scenery still hits you second time round. It’s like being in a movie.
We did the same jeep tour that I did last time when I was travelling with Trek America, though this time it was an included part of the trip (it was an additional excursion last time). We went on the backroads that you can’t ordinarily get to, and got much closer to the mesas and buttes (the stone structures). It’s brilliant doing it in the late afternoon/early evening when the sun is setting as the changing colours really add to the atmosphere.
Once the sun had set, it was time to enjoy some delicious Navajo tacos and be treated to some traditional song and dance. A fabulous opportunity to learn more about the Navajo and their traditions, as Monument Valley is within the Navajo Nation, a Native American territory covering parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
The next morning we left Kayenta and headed towards the Grand Canyon. Our first stop off was about 30 minutes outside of Kayenta, at the Navajo National Monument, where we did a short trail to a viewpoint:
In the cave were dwellings which the Ancestral Pueblo people built and lived in around 1250AD – really cool to see, if not that closely! Yet again another glorious late summer day with not a cloud in the sky.
We approached the Grand Canyon from the east, so our first glimpse of it was from Desert View. On the way, we’d stopped off at a deli for a packed lunch, and so we enjoyed our lunch with a view over the Grand Canyon, a pretty epic lunch-spot, I think you’ll agree:
After lunch we had time to take in the views and snap a few photos from Desert View before driving over to the main Visitor Centre at the South Rim. The bus parking lot was absolutely rammed, and the viewpoints were absolutely packed. It was a Friday, and just about still the summer season, but I was really surprised at how busy it was. Although it’s one of the busiest National Parks, with more than 5 million visitors annually, it seemed way busier than last time I was here in June 2016.
After some more photo opportunities, we then headed to the hotel in Tusayan, which again was somewhere I’d been before, though this time we were in the hotel part rather than the motel part.
Some of the group headed out on a helicopter trip, I didn’t as I’d done it last time. Definitely recommend doing it if you have the time and the pennies. The moment when the helicopter flies low over the trees before you get to the edge of the rim, and suddenly the canyon falls away below you is one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had.
Whilst most of the group went on the helicopter trip, my roommate and I went in search of food and snacks for the hike we had planned for the following day, as well as picking up a bottle of vino, which we enjoyed whilst waiting for the others to return. We went for dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Tusayan is a strip of hotels/motels and eateries, not heaps of choice (Mexican, Italian, steak house – you don’t come to this part of he world for the food!). After a burrito and a large strawberry margarita it was off to bed before a big hike the following day.
We left at 8am and our tour guide drove us into the park. Grand Canyon operates a shuttle bus system to get around the South Rim, and so we hopped on a shuttle bus to take us to the Bright Angel Trailhead. The Bright Angel trail is a there-and-back trail with turnaround options at the Mile-and-a-Half Resthouse, the Three Mile Resthouse, Indian Gardens (at 4.6 miles) and Plateau Point (6 miles). The hike to Plateau Point and back is longest day hike, at just over 12 miles and going over 3000 feet down into the Canyon. Going to the river and back in a day is not an option.
We started hiking at around 8.50am, it was cool and a little windy on the rim, good hiking temperatures. As we got down into the Canyon, it was much less windy. We stopped for breaks at the first 2 Resthouses, and made it to Indian Gardens (our aim) at 11.30am.
Indian Gardens are a complete oasis in the Canyon, lots of trees and vegetation, and a nice cooling breeze as respite from the heat of the day. We stopped here for around 40 minutes for lunch before starting the long hike back. Indian Gardens is 3040 feet below the rim, a long way up! We started back at 12.10pm and were back on the rim by 3.40pm. I was really pleased with how this hike went, it was almost 10 miles and the climb on the way back was hard. I drank about 4 litres of water, there are water taps at each of the resthouses and at Indian Gardens, and even though it wasn’t as hot as it can be at the height of the summer, it was still very hot work. Eating lots of salty snacks is also important to prevent dehydration, so make sure you’ve packed plenty of trail mix!
Last time I was here I just hiked along the rim, and one of the reasons I came back was to hike into the Canyon. It is so stunning in the Canyon, when you get below the rim, you get such a different perspective of the landscape, and the clouds on the day we hiked meant that the colours were constantly changing.
When we got back to the rim, we had an extremely long wait for a shuttle bus back to the Visitor Centre, the queues were very long, I think in part due to it being a fee-free day in the park. When we got to the Visitor Centre, we then had another wait for the shuttle bus back to Tusayan.
After the quickest shower ever, we then met up as a group to come back into the park for sunset. Sunset at the Grand Canyon is a definite bucket-list experience, and one I’ve now been fortunate enough to witness twice. The way the colours change as the sun goes down is just magical.
The next day was our last day of this whistle-stop trip through Utah and Arizona. On our way back to Las Vegas, we made a stop-off at the historic Route 66 town of Seligman.
After an In-N-Out burger for lunch (the best burgers!!), we tried to go and see the Hoover Dam, but the security presence deemed all our suitcases/bags too much of a risk (or too much of a hassle to check) and so we were turned around. A shame. We were able to stop off at a scenic overlook for Lake Mead as a consolation.
After that we headed the short distance back to Vegas and the end of the trip. It’s always sad to say goodbye, but we packed so much in to a week and I had a blast.