When we get to a new area we like to get the lay of the land, and scenic drives, along with visits to local BLM offices, are a perfect way for us to do that. In order to accomplish both of these things I put together a route along 89 to Kanab, and then down to 89A, and back to Page that I knew would take a while, but seemed a nice way to scout out the area. Since both of these roads are scenic drives on the atlas I figured we couldn’t go wrong, plus I knew there were at least two BLM offices along the route.
The first BLM office was near Big Water and actually had a very cool little dinosaur museum. The woman on duty was extremely helpful, talking us through various roads on our map and recommending other places. Because we don’t have four-wheel drive we wanted to double check with the BLM before using any of the side roads that we had read about in our friends blog. They all have four-wheel drive so it’s less of an issue for them, but we wanted to double check before trying them out. I’m really glad that we did that because she absolutely did not recommend two of the four roads we were thinking about driving, and gave us good advice on another. She was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing and absolutely credible which we really appreciated. We like to explore off the beaten track, but also understand how important it is to be careful, especially in desert terrain. Plus I really enjoyed the dinosaur museum because it turns out that a unique specimen of dinosaur was found in the Grand-Escalante Staircase. I had no idea!
We continued the drive to Kanab and also visited the BLM office there. This is the office where the lottery for the Wave hike takes place, and I really wanted to ask some questions about the process. I apologized in advance for asking her the same question she must answer 100 times a day, but she was more than happy to talk to us about it. The way it works is each day there are 10 permits issued in person for the wave, and 10 online permits (which people register for 4 months in advance). That is only 20 people a day who are permitted to go to the wave and since people go in groups sometimes only a few group permits are issued. You show up at 8:30am (Utah time), fill out a form with yourself and your party and by 9am they draw numbers. If the first application has 10 people on it, they are done. If it has less then they draw again until the 10 spots are full. Sounds easy enough, but 236 people had showed up that morning for the 10 spots, and that’s in early April. Those are not good odds. Add to that if you stay in Page it’s a solid hour drive to Kanab every day and it gets complicated. Our friend Howard though was determined, and he managed to get a permit, so if you would like to read about his experience (and why people are willing to go to such lengths to do it) click here.
The other big attraction in this area is Antelope Canyon. There are some pretty iconic pictures that come from that beautiful canyon, but because it is on Navajo land you need to experience it via a tour. There are several options ranging from a $41 quick tour to a $250 photographers only 4 hour tour, and we looked at several when we arrived. The money was a factor, of course, but more than that was the variability of the experience. Sunlight comes through the canyon between 10:30 and 2:00 so those are peak times, but that’s also when it is the most crowded (generally 70 people per basic tour). I was attracted to the idea of a 6:30am tour that was billed as a more spiritual experience, but still wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go. And of course the photographers tour would be amazing, but that’s $500 for the two of us, and basically you spend that time getting 8 really good pictures. Finally I decided that since I couldn’t decide, we wouldn’t do it this trip. I wanted to spend the month in Utah and see what else it had to offer, before deciding which tour I want to do (if any).
To that end I researched other slot canyons in the area and saw a place called Red Canyon or Peek-A-Boo. At first it was a little confusing because there are actually two peek-a-boo canyons. The one near Kanab is pretty small, and 4-1/2 miles down an ATV/Jeep trail. At first I thought we could walk it, but the sand is very deep so then we looked into renting a Jeep. It was $148 a day for a 2001 and although I thought that was a decent price, neither one of us has any experience driving a Jeep in deep sand, so weren’t sure about that. Then I looked into getting a mini-tour and ended up talking to a very nice guy at Windows of the West Hummer Tours. For $99 per person you got a three hour tour and he was willing to go with as little as two people. He was super nice and has great reviews, but once again I was thinking of cost and how much of Utah we have left. We definitely want to take a jeep tour in Monument Valley and the other Peek-a-boo canyon may also need a jeep, so at the end of the day I filed that away for our next visit to Page. Lee was OK with doing that because we are absolutely coming back, and along with those other experiences we also want to take the 6-1/2 hour boat ride up Lake Powell to see the Rainbow Bridge. ($122 a person). Lots to do here, and much of it costs money, so we need to come back with a plan and a budget rather than just spend money willy nilly and regret it later. Besides, there’s PLENTY to do without spending a fortune. (Look at us, adulting all over the place. – Lee)
After getting information we headed onto 89A to see what we could do for free in the area. I’ll be honest, the first part of the drive wasn’t very scenic and I was definitely wondering what all the fuss was about. It got a little better when we hit the Kaibab National Forest and stopped at Le Fevre overlook for a scenic view. This landscape though was much like others we had seen before around Flagstaff and we were looking for something more unique. The temperature did drop 15 degrees when we hit 7,000 feet and we saw the sign for the Grand Canyon North Rim but it was still closed for the winter. Not sure why, since there were only tiny patches of snow left, but we kept on driving and eventually headed back to lower elevation. Lee did like the road very much, and coming down he said it looked like a car commercial, and then as soon as we left Kaibab we entered another section of The Vermillion Cliffs Monument.
The Vermillion Cliffs were really red and we kept seeing signs for Cliff Dwelling. I thought this was ancient ruins, but it was actually a really cute little town and we ended up buying diesel there for only $3.19, which was cheaper than many other places we had seen. I should also mention that although it was 85 degrees it was perfectly comfortable in a T-Shirt and jeans and the nice breeze really made for the perfect day.
We kept driving and saw a sign for the Navajo Bridge and without having any idea Lee turned in. This is why you should always stop, because I had no idea that some pictures I had seen came from here. It was such a great surprise because you can’t really see it until you walk through a little gate and we took some amazing pictures.
After seeing the bridge, we backtracked a little and went down to Lee’s Ferry. Again, just wow. This is where the commercial rafting companies put in for their floats down to the Grand Canyon and we were lucky enough to see some rafts. There is also a pretty campground in Lee’s Ferry and although most sites would be too small for us we could have fit in a few and they weren’t completely full.
It was a beautiful drive and another nice day, but this one went a little longer than I liked. We had to stop at Walmart in Page, which was a huge supercenter and had tons of RV’s in the parking lot, but by the time we got home we were eating dinner at 8pm. My friends are probably gasping, because they all know I would eat at 5pm every day if Lee would let me have dinner that early. It was a good day though, and really worth it, although if I did it again, I would go on 89A through Page and stop once I reached the Kaibab Forest.
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You are making me miss my red rock canyon country! I spent a couple of decades going there a lot, and applaud your decision to see more of it before you try Antelope Canyon. The canyon was on my bucket list, and I finally did it in 2014. It is an experience not to miss, but it is terribly crowded. I recommend you let Canyon Country get in your blood a bit before you do it. Then the crowds won’t matter. I spent most of the time with tears streaming down my face just from sheer amazement. And I do have some amazing photos, even from the regular tour. They are on my blog if you ever want to look at them.
Appreciate that. I totally agree that we will enjoy it more on the second pass.
Definitely love this area. When I drove 48 states, I always enjoyed the drive from Phoenix to Salt Lake City and points north. I once had a delivery in Page so I took the time and went up to the dam. Interesting stop and views. As always your incredible pictures are inspiring.
Beautiful pictures! There is so much to see and do in this country that is free which is amazing! Enjoying your journey !
Thanks Laura! I am amazed by that too. Growing up on the east coast I never got to experience these vast acres of free land. It’s amazing out here
We’re reading and taking notes;o)) Just sooooooo beautiful!!!
BTW….doesn’t everybody eat at 5pm;-))))