Page, Arizona, located right on the border of Utah and Arizona, is home to the eye-popping Horseshoe Bend (above), the absolutely gorgeous Lake Powell, and some of the most awe-inspiring slot canyons in the world. It is also home to about ten trillion tourists.
So. Many. Tourists.
They come by car; they come by RV; but mostly, they come by tour bus.
Page is part of what’s known as “The Grand Circle” – a large collection of parks and sites within Utah, Arizona, and Colorado that the local tourism boards market the hell out of. International and domestic tour companies offer different itineraries, oftentimes starting in Las Vegas, that take guests to combinations of these locations. Grand Circle sites include the big five Utah parks (Zion, Bryce, Arches, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands), the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Moab, Four Corners, and, oftentimes, the town of Page.
Page is popular not only because of the sites located there – Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, the Glen Canyon Dam, and Lake Powell – but because it contains numerous economical hotel chains and tour bus friendly restaurants. Given that it’s located right in the center of “the Grand Circle,” it’s a perfect stopover for these tours.
As a result of all this, the number of people visiting Page each year has absolutely exploded. To put it in perspective, five years ago Horseshoe Bend would see less than 100 visitors each day. Today, that number has grown to 4,000 visitors per day.
What that looks like in real terms is an absolutely endless stream of people walking to and from the edge of the canyon.
Here’s a small section of the cliff’s edge on the day we visited: To the left of all these people is a straight drop of about 1,000 feet.
Although we’d heard frightening stories about aggressive and pushy crowds trying to get close to the edge for their requisite selfies, most people we encountered when we visited were appropriately cautious and respectful. However, as you can imagine, it was still way too many people in a spot like that and while we were glad to check it out, we didn’t exactly enjoy the experience.
Which brings me to Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is the most famous slot canyon in the country. It is, without question, stunningly beautiful. The problem is – once again – its massive and ever increasing popularity on social media is putting a damper on everyone’s experience.
The canyons (there is Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon) are located on Navajo land, so visitors must book a tour with a licensed company and those companies are raking in the dough. Prices for these 60 to 90 minute walk throughs are now in the $50 and $80 range, depending on which company you go with and what time of day the tour is scheduled.
Even worse than the “prices that sorda sound like gouging,” is that so many people describe the experience in less-than-glowing terms.
Many years ago, as part of a trip to Europe, Kevin and I visited Vatican City. We bought timed tickets for a tour, assuming that “timed tickets” meant it wouldn’t completely suck. We were wrong. My only specific memory of that tour was being pushed down a hallway in a sea of people and, literally, not being able to pause to look at the incredible artwork on the walls because it was not physically possible to stop. It was completely miserable and we vowed that we would never waste money on something like that again.
From everything we’d heard, a visit to Antelope Canyon would be Vatican City all over again. And the pictures online, bore that out:
No. Nope. Not a chance. There is nothing about these kinds of tours that is appealing.
However, there was another way!! We’d heard some of the approved companies offered “photography tours” which, for a higher price, promised much smaller groups and the chance to use tripods which are generally barred in the canyons. We were intrigued… until we looked at the prices and the small print… Depending on the company and time, we were looking at $110 to $150 per person and, even worse, the photography tours are conducted at the same time all the other tours are happening. The guides supposedly try to to hold other people back and let you take photos without other folks in them, but there are no guarantees. The bottom line is, you may end up spending a whole lot more money for the same frustrating experience.
Honestly, the whole thing just felt like a cash grab and not worth the frustration. So… we skipped it. The “Don’t miss it!” “Once in a lifetime” YOU HAVE TO GO!” item on everyone’s bucket list? We blew it off.
We’re like tourism rebels. “Don’t tell us what to do, Tripadvisor. You’re not the boss of us!!”
Of course, we knew going into our stop in Page that it was going to be this way. But, we had a great plan… a plan that would give us access to a beautiful slot canyon without all the crowds and the gouging. Just a few weeks before our visit, several of our blogging friends had hiked a slot canyon called Waterholes Canyon. At the time, they each noted how happy they were to find an impressive slot canyon that wasn’t overrun with visitors and for which you didn’t need to book a tour guide. For a $12 permit from the Navajo parks office, you could explore an awesome slot canyon on your own. (You can read about their experiences here, here, and here…)
Well, by the time we arrived one month later, our luck had run out. Waterholes Canyon was now restricted. Not only would we need to pay $35 each in order to book a guide, but half of the sites that had previously been accessible were now completely off limits – even with a tour guide. We heard that this was because parts of the canyon had been vandalized and the Navajo were no longer willing to allow people to explore it on their own. Paying three times as much to see half of what our friends had seen didn’t seem reasonable, so, again, we decided to skip it.
So, there would be no Antelope Canyon, there would be no Waterholes Canyon, there would be no tour of the Glen Canyon Dam (we just went to the Hoover Dam, so it seemed kinda redundant), and a boat tour that would take us out to a huge natural bridge known as Rainbow Bridge would cost almost $300. It’s like these people had no idea how much money we’d spent on beer in San Diego.
So what the hell were we gonna do for two weeks??
And here’s where I come to a dilemma. Because I follow some wonderful bloggers who share all their fantastic finds, I know about some awesome places. I also know that Horseshoe Bend went from 100 visitors per day to 4,000 visitors per day over the course of just five years and less than a month after our friends visited Waterholes Canyon, it was vandalized and has now been partly closed off. So, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to write about this stuff at all.
(If I am seeming more cynical than usual – which is really saying something – this past week we visited some 1,000 year old Pueblo Ruins where we saw this:
right next to this:
On the other hand, just because there are a lot of thoughtless and irresponsible people on the planet, doesn’t mean I am not gonna share what we did. These are captivating places that are worth a visit if you’re in the area. Let’s just hope they never end up on the tour bus circuit.
This hike is located within the enormous Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument – a 1.9 million acre protected area (for the time being) in Utah. The Toadstools Hike is located off State Route 89, just up the street from the GSENM Visitor’s Center in Big Water. There’s a small parking lot off 89 and visitors simply walk about a mile back and come face to face with some crazy looking formations.
Toadstools are rock formations where a boulder sits atop a pedestal rock. They look like mushrooms and are formed by erosion
Walking through fields of them is like walking on another planet.
While we were there, we only encountered four other hikers, but you can imagine what would happen if those busloads of selfie takers showed up and started climbing. Ugh.
It takes over an hour of driving on rutted, washboard, rocky roads to get there, but if you’re willing to make the trip (there are no services and cell coverage is spotty), you can get to a little-visited, stunningly beautiful section of the Glen Canyon Recreation area.
This is basically the opposite side of Lake Powell from where we were staying in Page.
All of Lake Powell is beautiful. The water is bright blue, and the cliffs and islands of rock change colors as the sun moves across the sky.
You can see the color change just from the hour or so we were there….
The area is vast, the views are endless, and other than a couple tent campers who’d set up along the edge, we saw very few people while there.
If you’re interested in visiting, this website has all the information you need to get there. Note: Follow the instructions on this site. Do NOT rely on Google maps as it will take you in the wrong direction.
Cottonwood Canyon Road
This is an unpaved road that runs north and south through Grand Staircase Escalante from state route 89 up to Kodachrome Basin State Park and eventually to Bryce Canyon National Park, all of which I wrote about last week. If you’re in the mood for variety, and you don’t mind putting your vehicle’s shocks through their paces, check it out.
You start on a rather unremarkable road with monochromatic scenery, but then you drive over a hill and come face to face with a veritable kaleidoscope of colors….
Keep driving and you’ll eventually hit a turnoff for Grovesnor Arch, a rare double arch set in rock 150 feet above the ground.
Grovesnor Arch is located about 30 miles from the beginning of Cottonwood Canyon and is much higher in elevation than Page. At this elevation, as you look around you, you’ll notice the monochromatic desert has been replaced with fields of pinyon and juniper trees…. a sea of lush green. Plus, it’s at least 10 degrees cooler than it was in Page.
Also located off Cottonwood Canyon Road is the Cotton Narrows hike. This is a 1.5 mile trail through a narrow canyon that runs parallel to the road. You can park at one of two trailheads, complete the hike, and then either return back the way you came or exit out to the road and walk back along the road.
You should also include an extra hour onto your plans because pretty much everyone misses the turnoff at the end of the trail and goes farther than they need to (ask us how we know.) Additionally, you should keep an eye out as you’re walking because you might just come face to face with a baby rattlesnake. Again, ask us how we know. 🙂
There are several other hikes right off Cottonwood Canyon Road. The visitor’s center in Big Water was super helpful and is the best place to get information and ideas.
Page Rim View Trail
This is a 9 mile mixed use trail that circles the town of Page. We only hiked a couple miles of it, but we saw very few people and the views were interesting to say the least. The hike goes by some residential areas but also offers views of Glen Canyon, the dam, the town, and Lake Powell.
The views along the trail were never dull… even if only because some of what was there was so out of place.
The views of Lake Powell are the highlight of the hike and, once again, we enjoyed almost complete solitude while taking it all in.
The trail follows the path of the water up and around, but we turned back after several miles since the sun was setting.
Anyway, this is an easily accessible, well maintained, and fun trail for both hiking and mountain biking and, at least when we visited, there were very few people using it.
Lake Powell – Wahweap Campground
Speaking of Lake Powell, we loved our campground. It’s expensive, but given some of the other places that charge equivalent nightly rates, we thought it was well worth it. Our site was huge, we had a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding landscape, and our neighbors may as well have been hundreds of miles away – even on busy Memorial Day. Freaken dreamy.
Our sunset views every night did not disappoint….
The campground is located within the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, so we had access to everything available at Lake Powell. The lake is postcard perfect at any hour.
and the scenery that surrounds the lake is just beautiful….
Finally, we met up with fellow RVers Rachel and Chris. They can be found at “Its a Wanderful Life” on Instagram and Facebook. They started traveling full time right around the same time as us, so we had a lot to chat about over fishbowl sized margaritas at El Tapatio in Page.
We only overlapped in town for two days, so we only got to hang out the one evening, but we had a great time comparing notes and hope to cross paths with them again sometime in the near future.
And with that, I am right back to 2500 words… Oh well. Anyway, next up is Monument Valley and Bluff, Utah. In real time, we just left the Mesa Verde area of southwest Colorado and have headed up into the mountains. We’re keeping tabs on lots of wildfires and hoping, along with everyone else around here, for some serious rain in the forecast.
Where we stayed: Wahweap Marina and RV Campground