Honeymooning on a Budget, part three.
Sadly, we did have to leave all of this and return home at some point. At least we have a beach upon return, thus cushioning the fall back to reality.
To say the adventure out West was breath-robbing, eye-boggling, leg-soreness-inducing incredible is an understatement….Hence the robust utilization of photographs speckling this post. A re-cap of the basic itinerary, before we delve more into the intricacies of the amazing!
- Day 5: The Grand Canyon, and a lesson on how photos struggle to accurately capture a moment.
- Day 4: Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell
- Day 3: Buckskin Gulch and Horseshoe Bend (the day of the dropped jaws)
- Day 2: Bryce and Fairyland Loop
- Day 1: Zion and Angel’s Landing
While Bryce and Zion were both absurdly amazing and different, we had the feeling that each day had her own shocks of varied gorgeousness. Day Three at Buckskin Gulch was absolutely no exception.
At first, I had my heart set on exploring the Coyote Buttes and their ever-popular Wave. In order to do so, one must apply to the lottery system, and then hope to be among the ten out of several thousands drawn for the opportunity. We are not lucky and are quite happy we do not play the actual lottery. However, although the photos of the undulating stones are intriguing, we never had the feeling of missing out while sliding through the cool, skinny walls of one of the world’s longest slot canyons.
If looking for stunning scenery and escape from the crowds and/or heat, Buckskin Gulch is the place to be! Well-shaded and somewhat damp, the tall, multi-colored sandstone walls with layer lines, somewhat like tree rounds, provide a great reprieve from the sun. Even in April, it gets quite toasty! Occasionally, we had to wade through water as well, so…..
- Water and Snacks, of course!
- Water Shoes. No matter how short you think you want your hike to be, pack water shoes. Much of the trail is sand; water shoes actually suffice for a good portion of the trek.
- Hiking shoes–there is still some boulder scrambling involved! Protect those ankles.
- Camping gear, maybe….link here, for details on how to hike the entirety of the Buckskin!
- A brain. DO NOT HIKE HERE IF IT RECENTLY RAINED. FLASH FLOODS!
- Sunscreen: the trail begins wide open and exposed, and then opens back up later!
Traveling to Buckskin Gulch:
Located halfway between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT, Buckskin is the perfect day stop when completing a national monument circuit. In our case, we traveled from Bryce, where we saw snow and raindrops flopped onto our heads. Semi-bad weather is fleeting, however, and the day dawned bright and cloudless. Highly recommended: double check at a visitor’s center, if possible, as to the road and trail conditions. We checked in Kanab, at the same center where the lottery for the Wave is drawn, and everyone was extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Reassured that our Jeep rental would be adequate and no inclement weather/flash floods would sweep us down to AZ, we drove on our merry way.
- From Bryce, via Kanab: approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes
- From Kanab: 45 minutes to Buckskin Gulch
- From Page, AZ: 1 hour to Buckskin
The internet warned about a dirt road with many potholes; however, the 8-ish mile stretch is drivable in a car, albeit a bit dicey in the sandier portions, and is already gorgeous! We had no worries at all and made it to the trailhead by 10a.m.
To hike Buckskin Gulch, or the Wave, for that matter, drive down the winding red sand road to the Wire Pass Trailhead. Parking can get a bit tight, so I would highly advise arriving in the morning. A five dollar permit is required, but it is one of those mailbox permits, where you grab an envelope from the metal dispenser, scrawl your information, insert your six dollars, and place the permit into the slot. Do this–our parks and beautiful nature need funding! The Wire Pass, in particular, needs funding to better set a ladder into the stone at one point.
Last warning, but no need to worry: flash floods are deadly. Watch the weather, pay attention to forecasts, and for God’s sakes, don’t get caught in one! Funny enough, we came across a German (precious few Americans were engaging in hiking activities this time of year; chalk it up to cultural laziness, or the fact that it was a weekday) who was quite convinced flash floods and death were imminent. I think he more just wanted something to worry about. Check out the lack of storms in this sky:
Finally, The Hike:
Beginning at the Wire Pass Trailhead, we cross the dirt road, pass the warning sign, and continue on the wide, well-maintained path. Much sand and sunshine to be seen everywhere, along with the incredible stone formations. Erosion is cool.
Perhaps we walk a mile on the flat, open land, perhaps a bit more, until we enter the Wire Pass itself. Wire Pass: thus named, for a reason! Some portions were so narrow that there was no hope of stretching my arms all the way out. After slithering along inside the slot canyon for a bit, we also come to a drop down with rickety ladder and a slight traffic jam. For less agile humans and small children/those with short limbs, assistance is much appreciated, as the ladder is not anchored to the stone. Then, onward! Few impediments lie between us and actual Buckskin Gulch; to be honest, even if we had only wandered the Wire Pass, I would not have been too upset!
I want to stay here forever. Or, at the very least, return and hike the entire over-15 miles down to the Paria Canyon and Lee’s Ferry. Someday, someday. When I’m a millionaire and can make vacationing my job, perhaps. Such a unique perspective of the world! Oh, wow is the quote of the day, again!
After wandering to the end of the Wire Pass, we open onto Buckskin Gulch. Two options: turn left, “up” the slot canyon and back towards the dirt road ( a good option for those preferring a shorter foray into the canyon) or right, deeper into Buckskin Gulch. We proceeded right, which I highly recommend for adventure! Quickly, the canyon narrowed.
And narrowed….several people passed us on their way back, words of caution abounding. No water shoes, no luck, continued to be the basic gist of their kindness. We shrugged and continued plodding along, staring at the sky slit and stones and mud stars and silly dragon lizards doing pushups on the rocks to try to impress/intimidate us….
When we came upon the reason for the water shoe worriers! Apparently, this is quite common, to the point where swimming is not unusual. We barely had to lock eyes before the hiking boots were flying off. Guaranteed, the canyon to ourselves? Heck yes. *photo credit: very lovely teenager who offered to text them once we had service again.*
As you can see, we made it! Noteworthy: the water is ice cold and sand muddy. But not to worry; we had extra t-shirts to convert to towels. While awakening, it wasn’t half bad. Would I want to bathe in it? Nope.
Following our water even, there were a couple more interesting sections–again, water shoes would have been great!–involving making use of the large wingspans in order to wedge ourselves across and over water traps. We loved it all and continued about another hour into the canyon before backtracking. Really, very gorgeous, accessible, and interesting for the wandering mind!
10/10 recommend a visit here for people of most ages and fitness levels! And oh, when we turn corners and see the sun setting the rocks on fire! We regretted the time to leave, but not too terribly…….Page, AZ, a massive lake, and food awaited our mawing stomachs!
Map and Detailed Photos, Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch
Goodbye Buckskin Gulch, Hello Page, AZ!
Goodbye lovely canyon, hello Lake Powell, food, and shower! Page, Arizona: a town-city packed with hotels, Navajo history, tasty foods, tourist amenities, and easy access to complete beauty. With day trips to Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, the Grand Canyon, Zion, Buckskin Gulch, Horseshoe Bend, and more!, it is convenient and strange to have so much to explore in a relatively easily-accessed location. Also, we stayed at the Best Western Plus, where I first witnessed…..the pancake-making buffet machine!! Food is love. It’s the little things. Anyhow, speaking of food, after showering and dinner at a tasty sandwich place, we rushed over to Horseshoe Bend. Only 10 minutes from our hotel, we were expecting to arrive in time for a killer sunset, but…..
Fail. Our utterly unoriginal idea did, however, show us how bad the car lines could get to park at the marvelous nature. The iconic photos would have to wait.
Why is Horseshoe Bend so popular? Apart from the amazing photographic opportunities are the real-life shock and wonder, as well as the ease with which one can wander to the bend. The hike barely changes elevation–for us, an interesting 20 minute walk from the parking lot, if that.
Back-up plan: return later in the night, then again at dawn the next day. The best plan.
Go to Horseshoe Bend at night. My husband did not even really know what we were going toward; I was quite familiar with daytime photos, but had no idea about real life. Not a single car in the parking lot; not a single soul to be seen. Just two dim lights, a bright full moon, and a smattering of stars illuminating the entrance to the sandy trail. Marveling at the stillness, we slide down the hill, wind growing in intensity. The darkness obstructs. We squint to see something, but pay more attention to our feet and small steps down. Then: the rim!
Wind blast towards us, rushing from the cooling water far, far down below, a black snake winding around the stony outcropping. If we wanted to fall, the wind would save us, pushing to stay on the smooth stones. We lean against the railing and stretch out arms out until our fingers touch and look down into the black maw. Not so night–two boats, brighter than stars, are moored below at the base of the stone.
We clamber over the stones, lay down flat, and look ahead at what looks like infinity. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip, my breath blown away.
But, as you can see, the next morning wasn’t too shabby, either!
Lake powell and antelope canyon: the back way
After Horseshoe Bend gazing, we head over to Lake Powell Paddleboards and Kayaks to collect our booked-in-advance water effects. (FYI, Page is the easiest town to navigate!) This company is amazing! They not only harness a kayak/foam noodles on our Jeep, but also show us on a map where exactly to drive, paddle, and roam into Antelope Canyon. Everything is extremely organized and runs smoothly, especially relatively early in the morning. 12 minutes later, we were pulling into the boat launch at Lake Powell! The entrance fee here is $30 dollars as well, but we had our ever invaluable U.S. Parks Pass.
So, Antelope Canyon. One of the most-recognized canyons out west, and a photographers dream when the lighting is right.
In order to explore, one must book a couple of months in advance for the best times and pray the weather and sunshine cooperate, as well as pay $60 per adult for a guided, ninety-minute tour. While it is undoubtedly gorgeous, A) I hate restraints on vacations and B) We are teachers in South Carolina. Although I am sure the guided tours are very informational, we were looking for something a bit less trafficked, longer, and, at this point of our Reise, easier on the legs. In the previous three days, we hiked over 18 miles with many altitude changes! You can imagine my excitement when I realized there was an unstructured, more challenging route into the back of the famous canyon.
I love water. Swimming. I am a wanna-be mermaid….or hippopotamus, for lack of grace. Everything about water, I love: kayaking, paddleboarding, sailing, diving in and freezing, the bright turquoise, fresh-water tranquility, the crashing salty waves, mountain plunges…my happy place. Well, one of my many happy places. Lake Powell is no exception and far exceeded expectations; there is something extra-refreshing about a massive blue expanse after assaulting the senses with rainbow red rocks for several days.
Beginning at an old boat launch, old because we humans have depleted the fresh water supply to the point where the water level is too low to launch actual boats anymore, we slide our vessels into the tire-outlined entryway. Beginning at a very broad portion of the lake, we also have wakes from speedy boats with which to contend, making the ride perfectly rollercoaster like. A map, to clarify:
Switching back and forth with Lake Mead for the designation of largest man-made lake in the United States, Lake Powell is a sight to behold. It can store up to 27,000,000 acre feet of water, and has more shoreline than all states of the Pacific U.S. coastline, combined, due to its many arms extending from the main body. As you can see in the top left map, we launched from the Antelope ramp, swung a left, and paddled down the squiggly Antelope Canyon arm. Quite wide at first, she actually permits semi-large tourist boats to pass through about halfway before narrowing to quite a kayak-friendly width.
After paddling for approximately 45 minutes, we park ourselves at the start of the walking portion of the canyon, picnic, and head into the stone beauty!
The Unexpected Beauty of the Grand Canyon
The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.John Wesley Powell
She takes your breath and your words, inspires awe and incredulity.
Rather than take the shuttle, we rent bikes from Bright Angel Bicycles and stop where we please. Approximately a 22 mile round trip, everything about the experience was perfect.
Next time, we make plans to overnight here and hike all the way to the bottom. Sadly, the time was too short this go-around, but now we know there is nothing overrated about the Grand Canyon. She really is as wondrous as they say.
Everytime I head out West, I will have to return.
I have seen many beautiful places–even this trip, we thought, no way will this be overly incredible, as we have seen so much amazing–but the Grand Canyon is unique, exceptional, and worth every minute of any trip. A perfect end to a wonderful honeymoon.
In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.Theodore Roosevelt.