Hunts Mesa, Monument Valley et al

Hunts Mesa. A destination, an experience, a vista that will live with me the rest of my years. I’ve been coming to Arizona for 40 plus years, and spending time in the National Parks and accessible tribal lands located within a days drive from the Phoenix Valley have been on my bucket list all those years. Recently I finally made the four hour road excursion north to take in the sights of Secret Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Monument Valley where Hunts Mesa rules over the valley below, showcasing many more monuments than what you see at ground level.

Page sits just south of the Arizona/Utah border, near the shores of Lake Powell, and was base camp for the next several days. It is a good central location with so much to see and do within a couple of hours drive in just about every direction. This historic little town sits northeast of the Grand Canyon, with easy access to the Colorado River for some river rafting via Lee’s Ferry.

The view from the hotel in Page looking towards Lee’s Ferry and the Colorado River.

Because of the proximity to Page I was able to experience in 24 hours:

Secret Canyon – one of the areas slot canyons. It has an opening on both ends of the canyon, and you can also climb to the top of the canyon to take in a birds-eye view of the wavy slots from above. Weaving in and out of these wavy sandstone walls gives you an appreciation for the power of water as it swirls in these tight areas and has for centuries, leaving perfectly aligned ribbings along each orange-ish/pink-ish sandstone wall. The flood waters still come fast and hard from far upstream and can catch you unaware as you sit in these canyons with clear blue skies above. This slot canyon may be smaller than the famed Antelope Canyon, but it allows you access to ‘people free’ photos with a secluded 2 /12 tour with 15 people or less. Very intimate experience with a tribal guide who shared stories of his youth growing up in these canyons, and great photo tips.

Secret Canyon slot canyon – a maze of tight wavy curved sandstone walls.

Secret Canyon – no this is not a painting or highly photo-shopped. Handy work courtesy of Mother Nature inside Secret Canyon slot canyon.

Lake Powell, and all of it’s watery arm extensions, is an amazing location to catch the setting sun, lighting up a backdrop of multi-colored rock formations and inky blue pools of water with their rugged shorelines. Photographing the sunset is a popular evening activity with parking lots full of tri-pods and eager shutterbugs trying to capture the perfect natural lighting on the perfect natural setting. One of the countries largest man-made reservoirs, one could spend days discovering the many hidden gems of Lake Powell and is a must return for me.

A high vantage view of Lake Powell as the sun was setting over the marina.

Boat launch into Lake Powell at Wahweap Marina near Page.

Horseshoe Bend trailhead is a 5 mile drive from Page. The 3/4 mile easy hike to the edge of yet another amazing feature created by centuries of water powering it’s way through bedrock to create  this horseshoe shaped bend in the Colorado River. The contrast of multiple blue hues of the water weaving through the multiple shades of orange bedrock is breathtaking. So are the vistas all along this canyon, but with multiple deaths a year in the area from people getting too bold to experience the perfect view of looking over the edge of the rim a railing was recently installed above the bend to give security to the nearly 2 million annual visitors.

Horseshoe Bend photographed with a fish-eye lens showcasing all the amazing colors at sunrise.

The next day, after unfortunately coming across a horrific bus/SUV accident on Highway 89, where 3 people were airlifted to area hospitals, we were forced to change our plans of going to Bryce Canyon and ended up at a very unique little spot about 30 miles west of Page:

The Toad Stools sit at the southern edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Park with an easily accessible trailhead right off the highway. These multi-colored formations – from bright white, to a golden cream, to rustic orange – are mind boggling in how large boulders teeter atop a pointy sandstone spire that look ready to crumble. Even though they’ve been this way for centuries how do they not topple over?? I sure don’t want to be under one whenever that does happen! The 1.8 mile hike is easy, and generally not over crowded – plenty of space to spread out and see all the amazing rock formations and wall art created by Mother Nature herself.

Toad Stool – cream colored massive sandstone walls provide a backdrop to orange toad stools.

Finally made it to Bryce Canyon the next day – after a 2 1/2 hour drive northwest of Page along a two-lane windy road:

Bryce Canyon sits at an elevation of almost 9000 feet. I visited on April 5th and arrived to an amazing amount of snow. What a contrast of colors with the intense orange coloration of the rock formations dotted with thick layers of snow. It is meditative to fully absorb the aura of these cathedrals and amphitheaters of orange and cream colored spires and natural arches created by the extreme weather conditions that exist in this location. The canyon was named for a mormon homesteader, Ebenezer Bryce, in 1874. In Bryce Canyon you climb to above views of the spires, whereas in Zion National Park you drive through the low lying bases of similar formations. For this reason, Zion does not get as cold and is about 30 minutes closer to Page, which means larger crowds.

Bryce Canyon – this massive amphitheater of sandstone spires dusted with snow spreads out over miles.

A very cool natural arch, bathed in snow, at the farthest open end of Bryce Canyon.

Saturday, April 6th, 2019 – a day that will live in infamy, at least in my little world. A day I wasn’t sure I was going to live to see the end of, but when I did, I was oh so glad. The 2 1/2 hour drive from Page to Monument Valley mid-morning was non-plus. Enjoyed lunch at the The View Hotel while looking out over the world-renown Monument Valley. At 2:30 my travel companion and I met up with our native Indian guide, Toney Begay who works for Monument Valley Safari Tours. A man we would surrender the safety of our well-being to for the next 18 hours. A man who grew up in the area and has been a guide for over 40-years.

Some of the more prominent monuments basking under the crystal blue skies and blanket of white cotton candy clouds above Monument Valley.

For the next four hours we meandered along a 8-mile ‘road’, often going no more than 5-10mph, up the backside of Hunt’s Mesa, in a four-wheel-drive Suburban. I was happy to be enclosed and securely fastened by my seatbelt. The ‘road’ and I use that term loosely, wove through low desert sand dunes; up rock faces where we felt we were going to tip over backwards; along pathways that were no wider than the vehicle where we felt we were going to tip over sideways; and along drop-offs 100’s of feet on both sides of the road in one area. In these tribunal lands there are no guardrails, no barriers of any kind – one slip of the truck on a slick rock or a loose rock gives way – and it would’ve been all over.

Our roadway up the back side of Hunts Mesa to our vista point overlooking Monument Valley.

A higher vantage of the pathway we were about to embark on – with drop-offs of 100’s of feet on either side of the road.

I have always had a fear of heights, especially severe drop-offs. But I knew if I were going to get the best pictures I had to brave the ‘elements’ and sit up front. My travel partner sat in the back, often with her hands covering her eyes. Our highly experienced guide oozed with confidence, and we had no choice but to trust in him and his years of experience. During high season he makes this drive 5-7 times a week and often twice a day. He was so confident of his abilities he acted like we were out for a Sunday drive on the flatlands of Nebraska.

We took many deep breathes, and embraced the adventure that lay before us. When we arrived at our destination, we quickly understood the expression of awe when we told our slot canyon guide a few days earlier we were going to Hunts Mesa. He told us we were in for a treat of a lifetime and he was spot on!  As heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, lump-in-the-throat the trek to the top was – we felt we earned the views that now laid at our feet.

The heart stopping, mind blowing, gut churning, nerve-wracking trek was all worth it!

The whole of Monument Valley spread out before us like divas all battling for center stage to claim the crown for best in show. Each deep red rock monument has been given their own name by tribal ancestors over many centuries. It is hard to fathom this canvas of unique subjects was created by centuries of wind and water, not a pick and chisel at the hands of man. Their lines are majestic, magical, mind-bending – and nearly perfect, in their own right. I took over 600 pictures in the 18 hours we spent in the presence of such greatness.

On our way back down Hunts Mesa we stopped by our evening viewing point to see it had been overtaken by a heard of wild goats.

With no city lights for many, many miles in any direction the thick blanket of stars we experienced were bright enough to bath Monument Valley in a soft glow. Because we booked this tour on such short notice I did not have the proper equipment and knowledge to properly capture the night sky, but we were lucky enough to come across an amazing professional free-lance photographer who did capture some amazing pics that evening from the same look-out we were stationed at. Check out Ranjan Bhattacharya at rbfotoartcreations on Instagram.

On our way back down Hunts Mesa Toney asked if we were in a hurry. Thankfully we said no and were treated to more amazing sights along these sacred tribal pathways: Anasazi ruins built high up in rock faces; rock formations with a wow-factor to rival the world renown monuments we originally signed up to experience; and a hidden gem, Spider Arch, tucked deep along a dry river bed, through porcupine footprints, massive pincushion cacti – to a natural arch to rival any I have seen in person or in pictures.

There was a bit of a slick sandstone rock face we needed to ascend to take full advantage of the visual before us. Our guide Toney showed us how to navigate the rock face by traversing and to keep our bodies low to the rock. We were slip sliding all over and about to give up when I decided to risk doing a face plant and stood up and ran as fast as I could creating enough momentum to carry me up the rest of the face – only to be rewarded with one of Mother Nature’s most awe-inspiring creations. My travel partner plays the native flute and the site of her playing in this natural amphitheater, with our native American guide lying on his back listening peacefully will be a visual that will stay with me all my days.

A short but challenging rock face we had to climb to fully experience the whole of Spider Arch.

It doesn’t get much better than to be witness to my travel companion playing her native flute for our Native American guide as he relaxes under the Spider Arch.

As we made our way back out on to the main road to head back to our vehicle, all of our anxiety from the drive up Hunts Mesa was erased by the plethora of visuals that now filled our mind, our heart and our soul. Along with a new appreciation for the Native American culture that flourishes in places like Monument Valley. Toney and his tribe are a proud people and I am honored they choose to share these amazing sites – sites I will never take advantage of, and will do all I can do support their culture and their heritage so they will continue to be open to sharing these amazing adventuresome experiences.

Check back soon for more pics in the Global Gallery from Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon and all the other sites we visited.