The Mother Road: Arizona

Day 4 of our Route 66 road trip brought us way off of Route 66 to the northern parts of New Mexico and Arizona. We lost cell phone service just shy of Four Corners Monument and had to manually navigate our way from Four Corners to Page, Arizona using nothing but road signs and whatever data Google provided in its standard offline version. We’ll call it an adventure within an adventure and we lived to tell the tale.

The northern parts of these states are remote with just a few roads and people passing through the area, typically from one national park to another. It is hot and dusty and there isn’t much to look at along the way. The only life we came across from Four Corners to Page was in the small town of Kayenta. There is a McDonald’s and three gas stations in Kayenta. All businesses were packed with literal busloads of people touring the national parks. I remember coming out of the toilet stall in McDonald’s to a line of 30 French women waiting for their turn.

Below is a visual of where we were in the United States. The week prior to our Route 66 road trip, Peter and I were two hours north of Page in southern Utah exploring Utah’s Mighty 5. I suppose a person could say I took the long way to get to Page.

Map legend: (1) Zion National Park, (2) Bryce Canyon National Park, (3) Canyonlands National Park, (4) Arches National Park.

Roughly three hours after leaving Four Corners, we arrived in Page, AZ. We gained an hour crossing into Arizona going from the Central to Pacific time zone. I was excited that we were at our final destination for the day and it was only 3pm!

The night before in Albuquerque, I logged into Airbnb and took a screenshot of our Page, Arizona Airbnb address and door key code. I did this solely so that I would not have to fumble through the app when we arrived at our Airbnb looking for the details and I am so thankful that I did because I would not have been able to obtain these details when we arrived in Page due to the lack of cell service and wifi in the city.

Peter and I have traveled to many cities without cell service and have managed to find our way around so I dug into my old bag of tricks to get ourselves to our Airbnb. First was a stop to Starbucks. My plan was to hover outside and leach off of their wifi but they did not have wifi. Next we went to a grocery store and I took a map off of the rack and memorized three things:

  • our current location
  • the street of our Airbnb from our current location
  • Horseshoe Bend from our current location

From the grocery store, we were easily able to locate our Airbnb but we were too early to check-in so we decided to visit Horseshoe Bend to pass the time.

We arrived at Horseshoe Bend at the hottest time of the day. For some reason, I thought the hike from the parking lot to the observation point was only .25 miles (one-way) so I did not bother to get an additional bottle of water at the grocery store thinking my 8 ounces would carry me through. This was a lesson learned.

The hike from the parking lot to the observation point was a sweltering .75 mi / 1.2 km one-way journey along a red sand trail with no shade. Oh, and it’s uphill both ways! There isn’t a water station nor a kiosk (or even someone selling water out of a cooler at inflated prices) at Horseshoe Bend so be sure to bring at least one liter of water with you!

The upside to visiting during the hottest part of the day is that there weren’t too many people at Horseshoe Bend so, again, no need to elbow my way to the best vantage point.

Horseshoe Bend is located 5 mi / 8 km downstream from Lake Powell and 4 mi / 6.45 km south of Page along US 89. It has become an increasingly popular tourist destination in the past two years because of photos posted on social media. For many months leading up to our visit and until recently, a photo of Horseshoe Bend was the cover photo on TripAdvisor.

The observation point is on a tall cliff 4,200 ft / 1,300 m above sea level and the Colorado River is 3,200 ft / 980 m above sea level so the drop from the observation point is 1,000 ft / 305 m. There are no ropes or railings at the observation point and there have been a few deaths from people falling off the cliff. Mind your step!

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped incised meander where the Colorado River cut its bed down to the bedrock to create this natural beauty.

After Horseshoe Bend, we checked into our Airbnb and relished in the air conditioning for a couple of minutes before heading to happy hour and then to our final attraction of the day, a sunset boat cruise on Lake Powell.

Ideally, if you choose to take a boat cruise on Lake Powell, do so in a small boat. Our boat cruise was Costco-sized and was loaded up with at least one coach bus of tourists. It wasn’t the number of people who made the cruise less spectacular than it could have been, it was the size of the boat. A smaller boat can travel into the canyons further and further into the canyons would have been better.

Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona creates Lake Powell. The water level peaks in late spring as Rocky Mountain snowmelt drains into the lake via a handful of rivers. Prolonged drought in the southwest and unsustainable water withdrawals to serve populations as far away as California have caused a dramatic drop in the water level of the lake.

Serious Fact: It takes ONE gallon of water to make ONE almond!

In 2005, the water level of the lake plummeted and then rebounded slightly from 2008-2012. In Autumn 2012, the water level started – and has continued – to recede. Today, the water level is down 33 ft / 10 m from one year ago (August 2017). One year ago, the water level was nearly equal to the water level in 2008 which means all of the progress made from 2008 to 2012 has been lost and, even worse, the water level in 2008 was still much lower than it was at the end of the 20th century.

Many of the channels and canyons off of Lake Powell are currently inaccessible because the water level is so low. It takes only one glimpse at the lake “walls” to see how high the water level was at one time.

Our boat cruise was two hours long and transported us roundtrip from Lake Powell Resort in Arizona to Gunsight Bay in Utah. I am still amazed at how drastically the sun changes the color of the stone.

After the boat cruise, it was bath time for the Corvette and that was a wrap for day 4.

Below are the stats for day 4.

Beginning mileage day 412,582
Ending mileage day 413,064
Total miles driven day 4482

Day 5 began with a 9am slot canyon tour. The slot canyon was my dad’s favorite part of the trip and it was my second favorite (behind the Gateway Arch).

The slot canyon we toured was on private land and can only be toured with Horseshoe Bend Tours. We boarded an open-air truck with three other guests (and our driver/guide) and drove about 30 minutes to the entrance of the slot canyon. The prior tour group was departing the canyon as we were arriving so we had the canyon to ourselves for an hour which was great.

The walls of the slot canyon were around 30 ft tall and the slot canyon fills to the brim with water at least once per year. It was hard to imagine the canyon being filled with water as we walked through it.

The slot canyon length was short, shorter than I thought it would be and it took about seven minutes to walk through it from the entrance to exit. There was a cairn graveyard at the exit which was very cool.

Around the corner from the exit, was a steep sand path that led to the top of the canyon. We climbed up the path and it was underwhelming and not worth the 90-second trek. My shoes were filled with sand by the time we hiked down from the top of the canyon.

Protip: Wear sandals. Sand will be trapped in your shoes for days if you wear closed-toe shoes! Days I tell you! Days!

Two hours later our tour guide dropped us back off at the tour office in Page and we hopped in the car and headed south toward Flagstaff and US 40. We stopped in Flagstaff for lunch. Flagstaff is so pretty! It is a mix of the Pacific Northwest with mountains and evergreen trees and desert Arizona all in one!

Our last stop in Arizona was to the city of Kingman located on Route 66. Kingman reminded me slightly of Pontiac, IL with the plethora of murals. We parked in “downtown” Kingman to run a couple of errands – cash, coffee, snacks, toilets, not necessarily in that order. I spotted the giant mural below on my way to the coffee shop.

On our way out of Kingman, we stopped at Locomotive Park, snapped a few photos and were back on the road with our next stop in California.

Next up, the finale of the Route 66 leg of our road trip terminating in Santa Monica, California.

2 comments on “The Mother Road: Arizona

  1. Nice post! Just a thought, in both Albuquerque and Page, you would have been in the Mountain Time Zone. However, in most of Arizona, we — I live in Phoenix — don’t observe daylight savings time. That’s why you picked up an extra hour on your drive. ☺️

  2. Wonderful canyon! Amazing pictures. :-)

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