As cliched as it is to say this, Mother Nature is truly the best artist. My one-week road trip this past August through Arizona and Utah was one big art tour. The views we got to experience were just incredulous. I was constantly mind-blown and left wondering how some of the geological features are even possible, questioning how much must still be out there, unseen, undiscovered. Well, that and also how much has already been destroyed by man.
This trip was a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. A combination of permits, weather (I mean, who picks to visit the desert in August😇), and timing meant that most places were free of crowds. Other than Antelope Canyon, we were able to explore the places in our own space and time.
Our first stop was Coyote Buttes South. Coyote Buttes North is usually the more revered spot (known for “The Wave”), but honestly, I don’t know how one can even compare this site to another! The thin sheets of sand etched by wind and water over time, curving in and around the bends… the most beautiful shades of red and orange that were painted high and wide… the many stone piles that seemed rock solid, but also seemed so delicately and precariously balanced… and in and within the mounds were crevices and carved out spaces that provided the perfect spot to sit, lie down and look at the sky. It’s as if an artist has been working day and night over the past million years to paint and fine tune every last detail. And this artist once lived alongside dinosaurs, as these dinosaurs have left their tracks here!
White Pocket (part of the Vermillion Cliffs) came straight out of a movie scene. Although we drove for quite a few hours, you don’t quite get or feel how remote it is, until you get there. And when you get there, you don’t quite get how it’s possible that this landscape exists. It’s wild, it’s swirled, it’s twisted, it’s multicoloured, it’s contorted… it’s surreal. We tried to make sense of the new sights – the things we didn’t quite understand – by making comparisons to things we’re familiar with. Oh, that looks like a monkey brain… and that looks like that scene from that movie. Funny how we do that.
Horseshoe Bend made me think long before we were here, long after we are gone. The history that these sites have lived through, the vulnerability yet the strength that these geological features have… makes you feel small. We’re all but just a speck. We all think we’re a big deal, but actually in the grand scheme of things, we are so insignificant.
Grand Canyon North Rim was where I was most pleasantly surprised. I think I had always been a bit apprehensive about visiting Grand Canyon because it seemed a bit done, a bit like it’s just a place that is an easy ‘should go to’. But WOW. Wow wow wow. After we parked, my cousin went to deal with something. He then came back and in a hushed voice said, Come, lemme show you something. He led us into the Grand Canyon Lodge, into a room full of sofas all faced in one direction, all looking out a series of humongous windows. And through the windows was the Grand Canyon. That split second I took a look, my breath actually got caught in my throat. You hear about Grand Canyon, I’m sure I’ve seen a photo somewhere.. but the scale of it, the majesty of it, the colours that danced off the canyon walls as the sun shone down… you don’t truly see it, until you see it.
Antelope Canyon was as expected. Beautiful, but crowded. So. darn. crowded. The only way you can actually get into the canyon is to book one of the tours. Our guide was this young Navajo chap who had a chip on his shoulder (but luckily who seemed to be a bit fond of us so gave us “special treatment”) which actually made the experience quite amusing, heh.
Fortunately, due to a friend’s tip, we booked on to also do some of the smaller canyons – Owl Canyon, Rattlesnake Canyon and Side Canyon. Because actually, while their views weren’t as impressive, the experience (we were the only ones going through there) was so much more enjoyable. And we got to see four owls! In Antelope Canyon, you feel like cattle. Shepherded from spot to spot, only given a limited time to look at/photograph the features. We actually decided to get out before our tour ended because the experience just didn’t feel ‘right’. But definitely still worth going because the features are really extraordinary.
Bryce – our first thought when approaching the canyon was ‘Whaaat. How is that even possible?!’ Home to more hoodoos (tall skinny spires of rock) than anywhere else in the world, this place was straight out of an other-planet-wild-west-meets-folk-tale scene. And the coolest thing was when we discovered we could actually hike down to the bottom and walk amongst the pillars. Totally out of this world. Though I’ll now always remember that whatever goes down… must come back up. Man, those switchbacks went on for days.
Zion was our last stop. And what a treat it was. The experience of the two hikes is like none other.
Angel’s Landing is hike that felt like it should’ve ended earlier than it did, in that at three points when we thought we had reached the final point (woooh!), we realised actually there was more to go (what!). But then the thought of there being more to see would get you excited to get going again. I LOVED the final bit where you got to scale the ridges which were lined intermittently with support chains. And in that very last moment when you come to the top, when THE final view reveals itself to you… WOW. So aptly named Angel’s Landing. So aptly named Zion.
And our final hike of the trip was The Narrows. Possibly the most thrilling hike of the trip. I was immediately sold by the marketing copy – the most dangerous hike at Zion (wooh!) due to the chance of flash floods. You basically slosh through the narrowest part of Zion, feet (actually ankles, shins, knees and even thighs for people like me 😁) in the Virgin River, eyes focused on where you are going (so you don’t take a wrong step, wipe out and get carried downstream) but at the same time desperately wandering up to the tall gorge rock faces that surround you. It’s hard work, it takes 100% concentration, but it’s so meditative, so good for the mind, body and soul.
Yes, most of the good things in life, are wild and free.