Yesterday had been a hard long day, and today was to be even tougher! At least there would be no long hikes. There would be a lot of driving, however. The day began At Bryce for sunrise, then a Dash to Page for our Antelope Canyon Photo Tour. Then we would head to the very photogenic Horseshoe bend but for hitting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for Sunset. Phew, Big that’s a big day and we would need to get a wriggle on. But with hindsight, maybe we got a bit too much of wriggle on and the brakes came slamming on in a big fashion on the way to the GC. More on that later.
The day Started at 4:30 am. Sunrise is not until 6:30, but that is Utah time. We had taken the decision to remain on PCT as everywhere we were visiting would be on PCT but Utah is MDT which is +1hr. So as long as we remembered to alter timings by 1 hour while we were in Utah it would be fine. Still a 4:30 am alarm after yesterday was very unwelcome.
When we stepped outside we soon woke up. It was seriously cold. The Puddles were Frozen over, the car encrusted in a layer of ice that took a good 10 mins to melt and the car thermometer was reading 25° well below freezing. Remember we had just come from Vegas and a day ago were sipping cocktails by the pool. And we were seriously underdressed for these conditions. Even the car was having problems as all 4 tire low-pressure indicators came on.
Still, we headed off in the dark to sunrise point. As we arrived the sky was already well on the way to lightening and wonderful colors were raising up in the frigid air. Unlike Sunset the Sunrise is right over the canyon and fills the amphitheater with wonderful light. Before long the sun rose up above the mountains and filled the canyon, there were some small wispy clouds just above the horizon so soon the sun dipped below these to add even more color to the mix. It was a wonderful sunrise with the valleys out over Utah filled with rolling fog but the air above crystal clear.
We met a couple who showed us what the morning before was like and the whole canyon had been covered in 5-6 inches of snow. We were in complete disbelief at the transformation. As the sun rose and warmed the canyon we watched a couple of deer frolicking in the morning sun. It was definitely worth getting up at sill’ O’Clock for!
Back at the hotel, we had a quick breakfast at Ebeneezer barn and grill. This was nothing special and just the basic continental, Bagels Cereal fruit toast, etc…but it was included in the $100 room rate so we took advantage.
The next stop was Page, Arizona. This small city is really nothing to write home about and was not really the destination more a link to some wonderful natural feature in the immediate area. Namely Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
The drive was fairly uneventful as we headed down Route 89 all the way into Page. The skies were clear blue and beautiful the whole way. The rolling green pastures of Utah soon gave way to the arid deserts and Mesa’s of Arizona and the changing scenery kept us entertained the whole way. The endless long straight highway allowing easy opportunities to get by cautious drivers, RV’s, and trucks so we made great progress and got to Page over an hour before we needed to be at Antelope Canyon. This was handy as I had somehow forgotten to charge the camera battery and with 50% left and a heavy day of use on the cards it wasn’t going to last. Fortunately, we had time to grab a coffee at the local Starbucks and charge it up and grab some take-out lunch from Safeway!
Antelope Canyon is one of those places you see all the time but never really think you will get to visit. You imagine it’s a remote canyon miles from Civilization and scarcely touched by human hands. The Stunning photo’s carefully crafted over hours by super-skilled photographers.
The truth is somewhat different. The Canyon can only be accessed by organized tour and numbers are completely unlimited. This leads to an utter free for all within the tight canyon walls. We had booked onto the Photo Tour a 2 hour guided tour in a small group. It is a lot more expensive but gave us the opportunity to get some real photos.
The tour starts just a mile or two out of page under the shadow of a power plant. We hoped in the guides 4×4 and slowly made our way to the entrance. Outside. 30/40 of the other large tour vehicles were parked up outside, indicating how big this operation is. While being on a photo tour gave us an opportunity to get some clear shots. It did not give us the canyon to ourselves.
For the entire time we were in the canyon it was rammed. There is little room in there but every inch was taken by a tourist. Our guide had the authority to close small sections for a couple of minutes at a time to allow us to get clear shots. This allowed the famous Sunbeam and Sand fall shots. But it is all a fallacy. In truth, the canyon is a noisy, busy, dusty place that in person does not really have the beauty and wonder that the photography you see suggests. However, our primary aim was to come here to shoot. And our guide was utterly fantastic in clearing sections of the canyon just in time for the sunbeams to fall through.
She was really great and we ended up with a host of mindblowing shots we are really happy with. We are not sure we would have been that happy with the normal tour that just heard you though in large numbers.
On the way back we stopped off at a private canyon as part of the photography tour. While the canyon is nowhere near as beautiful the fact there was only 5 of us in there made it far more special and peaceful. We wandered in complete silence and really took in the Slot Canyon. Feeling far more in tune with nature and the spiritual significance of these canyons. The sell-out of the main canyon is a little disappointing. But Photo opportunities are really incredible.
The next stop was another Sell-out.
The main problem with the page area especially at the midday time we were visiting is you are in prime tour bus territory. Thousands of people are bussed out here every day to see the canyons and the stunning natural beauty. But this amount of people does detract a little from nature.
But Horseshoe bend was too good a spot to miss. This staggering Geological feature is one of the main images that comes to mind when people think of the Grand Canyon. Which is unfortunate as it’s not actually part of it!
Apart from the crowds of selfie-takers, it is actually a truly stunning location and one not to be missed. Its scale is in no way disappointing and the colors of the river against the red/orange rock are so pleasing.
Parking is a criminal $10 when you are unlikely to spend more than 30 minutes here and simply a license to print money. But we were not missing this so stumped up, grudgingly. The Hike out to the bend is only half a mile or so but in the now scorching midday sun, it felt a fair haul. The overlook was packed but easy enough to get to the front for a shot or two of the Bend then we hiked back to the car.
We then hit the highway and put the pedal down to reach the Grand Canyon South rim in time for sunset. The Looong sweeping roads are perfect for blasting along and we were making great progress, flying by RV’s and careful locals, and everyone else…why are the locals so careful around here…?
The answer was in our rear view mirror…
You see the problem with the roads here are they are just SO long And So straight and SO wide, it really is easy to lose track of the speedo. The limit in this particular stretch of highway was 65 mph. And we were a bit over. A lot over in fact. And as the officer explained to use anything over 85mph is considered CRIMINAL Speeding and we were subject to a lot more than a ticket. Arrest, Court appearance, a criminal record, and even jail time were all on the table right now…
The nice officer came back and broke the good news. He was letting us (me) off…sort of. He was willing to deal with it as a Civil matter. Which meant we could go on our way with no lasting repercussions…just $437 poorer. We think he took pity partly as we were so obviously terrified tourists and because my wife explained she was unable to drive the car and would be stuck out there should I be hauled off to jail.
Relieved we had slipped the hook we instantly took of again at 100mph+… Joke, we barely broke the speed limit again this trip. And you know what…we still got to every destination on time! A lesson learned. We were far from home and really should have had a lot more respect for Law Enforcement. We urge you to learn from our lesson as well. We were very lucky to only receive ONLY a $400+ fine! It’s not often a $400 fine feels LUCKY!
However more storm clouds were brewing, and this time they were not metaphorical but real meteorological ones. Heavy rain had been forecast all week in the canyon and after the fantastic morning weather we had enjoyed, the clouds really had bubbled up to some pretty epic proportions. The chances of any type of Sunset were looking slim. Still, we didn’t really have anywhere else to go so made our way to the Canyon.
Grand Canyon South Rim – Sunset
After all the kerfuffle with the Police incident and the very slow and careful manner in which we continued to the Park, we were a little pressed for time. As we arrived at Watchtower view the Canyon was a little bit Schizophrenic. One side was bathed in glorious late afternoon sun, the other a dark moody beast of a canyon overcast and dark. It is days like today that really show how utterly huge the canyon is at the south rim.
There far side of the canyon was partially obscured by mist and haze, despite the bright sun. A normal phenomenon when looking out over long distances but canyons are rarely big enough to be affected and it highlighted the sheer enormity of the place with parts of the canyon being over 20 miles away! Even further as you looked down the length of the canyon.
After all the stress of the day, it was nice to just relax a bit and enjoy a coffee while we took in the stunning view. We were back to much cooler temps now having gone from 25°f at Bryce up to 95°f in Page we were back to more moderate mid-fifty’s temps. Nice in the sun cool in the shade.
We made our way across the park to the Visitors center stopping off along the way to take in the vista’s but the clock was ticking and to make Hopi Point before sunset was now getting critical. It was a bit of a shame to rush through the park but that’s where speeding gets you.
The Best Spot on the South Rim for Sunset is Hopi Point. However, there is no vehicle access so we needed to jump on a shuttle bus. We parked up in the village parking lot and headed to the RED bus stop to get the shuttle. Naturally, as we arrived the shuttle was just leaving meaning we had to wait for the next one along.
This took about 10mins but felt an eternity, the Sunset was only 30mins away now and the pressure was building and the sky darkening. When the Bus arrived it was clear this was the last shuttle before Sunset, and it would be close at that. This seemed to instill a sense of urgency in everyone…except the driver. He was in NO hurry at all, seemingly enjoying torturing all the now pretty anxious tourists desperate to make it to the point before the sun headed down over the horizon…yeah yeah we should have got there earlier!
One saving grace was while nearly the entire canyon was now under clear skies the ridge upon which the sun sets was still obscured by cloud and in reality, there was to be not sunset anyway, but still, we wanted to be there to miss it! To his credit, he got us there with a good 15mins to go, but you can just get a bit anxious and never really know how long these things take.
At Hopi point, we set up the camera pointing away from the sun. The best view of the canyon at sunset is to shoot the parts of the canyon that are being lit by the fading light. As the remnants of the sun fade the canyon is lit up in some stunning hues of orange and red and looks truly stunning. Shooting into the sun only really gets the sky. Which is quite wonderful but it’s not much different from any sunset shot as the canyon is mainly in the shade. See which you prefer from the below shots?
Hopi Point can be terribly busy, but today was thankfully pretty quiet maybe 40-50 people milling around getting shots or just taking in the sunset. It was actually quite peaceful. We think maybe the dire forecast had put people off. As for the weather, It broke maybe 5 mins before the sunset dipped filling the canyon with wonderful light and illuminating the distant thunderclouds a wonderful pink which contrasted the dark blue of the early twilight sky wonderfully. It really was a bit of a fluke.
We had been forecast the most horrendous weather for the last two days and got almost none of it. Everywhere we went was blue sky and sun, even when we were minutes away from it being awful, it held almost just long enough, or cleared just in time for the whole trip. It was a big relief.
We hung around the darkening canyon for a while to see if the color would change but it just got darker and darker so we hopped on one of the last buses back to the village. From here we headed back up desert view drive to find a spot for hopefully some star photos. but an hour after sunset the sky was still visibly blue and very few stars were out. The moon was larger and brighter than we anticipated and the test shots showed the sky a very bright starless blue. We still had an hour or so drive to the overnight so decided it was a no-go.
Our final stop of the day was to be a Deluxe Motel in the remote outpost of Seligman. Well, we say Deluxe…it was called the Deluxe Motel, but that is about where the luxury ended, It was about as basic as you could ask for as was the tiny little outpost of Seligman. BUT that is exactly what we wanted a proper old-school Route 66 Motel. From here we would strike out tomorrow on the world-famous Route 66!
But first, we had to remove the uninvited guest from our room…
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