Sunday (5/21/11) after our walk from the campground at Monument Valley, we began our drive to Page, AZ, where we planned to spend the next two nights… with water, electricity and a dump station for those septic tank needs. Our next scheduled trip was to float down the Colorado River from Page to Lees Ferry, about 15 miles, on Monday.
The drive was less spectacular than on the way to Monument Valley, as much of the scenery was rolling, high desert acreage. Yet, hidden among the sandy washes are eroded sandstone formations called slot canyons. These may be as short as a few hundred feet to many miles long. This may be wide enough for several people to walk in, or too narrow to pass without turning side-ways. Many require ropes or ladders to go between levels. We visited one slot canyon, Upper Antelope Canyon, a couple of miles east of Page.
The advantages of Antelope Canyon to the many other slot canyons in this region is that a Navajo guide will walk you through it… with the masses of other guides and tourists. At least it is on level sand, and manageable in an hour, plus 30 minute to bounce on the truck beds to and from the parking lot by the highway. With a little filtering of the commotion, you can have a wonderful view of the steep, curving walls, which change color and figure as the light moves east to west. These mazes are created by combination of the ancient sandstone dunes with their layers of curving sediments, and flash flood cycles. The washes of the desert rush torrents of water toward the stone barriers, which allow some of the water to pass into cracks. Each round of scouring increases the size of the crack, but not in a straight fashion, but in rapid curves. As the slot canyon forms, the sand pulled in by the flash floods polishes the side walls smoother. Some floods deposit more sand to the floor, other push sand out to the next wash.
For the traveler, a tip: if you have a vehicle, drive directly to the entrance for Upper Antelope Canyon, on highway 98, east of Page, just before the Navajo Power station. You will pay an entrance fee ($6/person) to enter this Navajo Tribal Park, then another fee ($25/person) for the truck ride and guide. Most of the hotels and internet sites will try to get you to take a truck from Page, but they will charge you an additional fee to ride (scary in a flat bed truck) a few miles to the entrance, where you have to pay the other fees. If you are more adventuresome, you can walk the Lower Antelope Canyon, “The Corkscrew”. This is across the road, a short hike, and not guided or time restricted. You do have to go up and down 7 ladders in this section.
Monday (5/22/11), we had our coffee and breakfast in time to catch our Colorado River float trip at 8:30 in Page. Colorado River Discovery (www.raftthecanyon.com) provides the boat and guide for half day (motorized) and full day (rowed) float trips on this flat-
water section from the Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry. The boats put in literally at the base of the dam, and the company has security clearance to use the two-mile tunnel at the dam to let you off with a hard hat, until you reach the rafts. We preferred to take the full day trip for a slower ride, and fewer tourists. We, two other riders, and Clay, our guide, made six for the day. We had similar expectations, so the ride was pleasant.
The walls of this section of the canyon rise up 1,000+ feet, with occasional rock slides into the river, and sandy beaches on the inside curves of the bends of the river. We had plenty of time to contemplate the geological forces that formed this cut in the high desert. Above the immediate cut, are various levels of uplifted bluffs and peaks, mostly on the western side of the river. The water, drawn from the bottom of Lake Powel to generate electricity, runs cold and clear, picking up deep green-blue hues from the sky high above the red rocks of the canyon walls.
Our guide alternated his stories from the history of the dam to exploration of the canyon by John Powel 150 years ago to changes in nature and the risk of water resource issues in the future as our population expands and uses more water. His opinions expressed many of our own views, so this conversation went on with numerous illustrations of social ecology. Meanwhile he was rowing, turning the raft to alternate our views, and to keep us in the current.
As nature adventures needs to have some natural elements for challenge, strong winds began to pick up shortly after our start, pushing up the canyon. This made floating difficult, as the raft was more inclined to drift into the bank than downstream. Then, the wind would stop; maybe the end of a downdraft; maybe we had passed into a wind shadow from a section of the cliffs. We noticed that Clay’s commentary would trail off when he had to row extra forcefully to keep us on course. But, the silences were as instructive as the discussion. During periods of silence, we could take in the views, the aromas, and the sounds of the wind, river, and birds above us. A good conversation, like a good relationship, is enhanced by peaceful silence at times.