Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

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.

Tourists walking toward Horseshoe BendHere’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.

Crowds of tourists standing around Horseshoe Bend

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!!”

Alternative Plans

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:

Sigh….

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.

Toadstools Hike

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.

The toadstools hike in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument near Big Water, Utah
This one reminded us of E.T.

Toadstools are rock formations where a boulder sits atop a pedestal rock. They look like mushrooms and are formed by erosion

The toadstools hike in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument near Big Water, Utah

Walking through fields of them is like walking on another planet.

The toadstools hike in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument near Big Water, Utah
These ones were a bit taller than us.

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.

The toadstools hike in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument near Big Water, Utah

Alstrom Point

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.

Alstrom Point, overlooking Lake Powell in Utah.

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.

Alstrom Point, overlooking Lake Powell in Utah.

You can see the color change just from the hour or so we were there….

Alstrom Point, overlooking Lake Powell in Utah.

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.

Alstrom Point, overlooking Lake Powell in Glen Canyon Recreation Area
Having this place all to our selves was pretty magical.

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….

Colorful rock formations on Cottonwood Canyon Road in Gland Staircase Escalante National Monument Colorful rock formations on Cottonwood Canyon Road in Gland Staircase Escalante National Monument Colorful rock formations on Cottonwood Canyon Road in Gland Staircase Escalante National Monument

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 on Cottonwood Canyon Road in Gland Staircase Escalante National Monument

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.

Views along the Cottonwood Narrows hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

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. 🙂

Views along the Cottonwood Narrows hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

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 Page rim view hike in Page, Arizona
Sometimes it seems like Kevin is practicing his “gazing into the distance contemplating the meaning of life” Instagram pose, but really this is just what he does when he’s waiting for me to stop screwing around with the camera and walk already….
Rim View Hike in Page, Arizona
Eventually he just wanders off, but he’s still helpful for scale…

The views along the trail were never dull… even if only because some of what was there was so out of place.

Page Rimview Trail in Page, Arizona
I’m just glad there hasn’t been a huge drought going on for months…. Oh….  Wait…..

The views of Lake Powell are the highlight of the hike and, once again, we enjoyed almost complete solitude while taking it all in.

Views of Lake POwell from the Rim View Trail in Page, Arizona

The trail follows the path of the water up and around, but we turned back after several miles since the sun was setting.

Views of Lake POwell from the Rim View Trail in Page, Arizona

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.

Campsite patio at Wahweap Campground in Page, Arizona

Our sunset views every night did not disappoint….

Sunset views from Wahweap Campground

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.

Lake Powell in Page, Arizona

and the scenery that surrounds the lake is just beautiful….

Lake Powell in Page, Arizona

Meetup

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.

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Where we stayed: Wahweap Marina and RV Campground

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34 COMMENTS

  1. Ooh! Love the non touristy photos. Omg. Did you really see a rattlesnake???? We were expecting to see some golfing in AZ, but we didn’t and I am ok with that!

    • Yeah, when we could get away from the hordes of people, it was a spectacular place. So very pretty…. And yes, we really did see a baby rattlesnake. It moved off the path just as we were walking toward him. We probably could have just walked right by it, but we decided to be super careful and go up and around him to give him as much space as possible. Of course, this also all happened the same week we found a Black Widow spider living in our picnic table. It was as if Arizona was saying: “Get out!!” 🙂

  2. Glad you found the roads less traveled while in Page. We’ve been there several time (always stay at Wahweap) and have never done Antelope Canyon…too many people! But there are two nice hikes into canyons with several small arches. We saw no one on either hike. Make sure to check our blog for ideas:) We did do Rainbow Canyon and it is worth the cost with the beautiful boat ride and the awesome hike to Rainbow Bridge. Thank goodness the boat size limits the crowd:) The toadstools are so neat and it is fun discovering all the varieties of toadstools. One day we WILL get to drive Cottonwood Canyon!! This has been on my list for so long and we have tried from both ends but wet roads and washouts have stopped us. Your photos are beautiful and you found some really nice spots.

    • It’s funny, I was on your blog several weeks ago researching the area and read your post about the boat trip to Rainbow Bridge. It looked great and we had every intention of going, but we just couldn’t justify the cost with everything else costing so much recently. I’m sure it’s worth it and we’ll definitely do it on a return trip; this just wasn’t the right time to spend that much. We’ll definitely check out those hikes when we return as well. I know there are a whole bunch of good ones there. We only scratched the surface. Given how central it is, I know we will be back, and perhaps when it’s a little cooler, things will be less crazy. And yes, Cottonwood Canyon Road is really cool. You guys will love it (whenever the weather decides to cooperate).

  3. We feel your pain! Those conditions are exactly why we bought the Jeep. Now we can get to all the places that the d amn bus loads can’t! There is so much quiet beauty just a few miles from each and every one of those National Parks/Monuments, just waiting for you. The scenery doesn’t stop at the Park’s boundaries!

    • You are absolutely right and as we’ve been spending more time out west, we are definitely seeking out these out of the way places. It really does change the whole experience when we can find a slice of nature to call our own, even if only for a bit. There is a LOT to see out there and, luckily, most of the roads to get to these spots are unpaved. If they ever pave them, we’re all screwed. 😉

  4. It looks like you found some great stuff to do in Page. I loved Grand Staircase! The first photo you shared of Cotyonwood Road looks identical to one I took and is the only photo from our trip we have printed and hung in our trailer! I couldn’t believe the crazy orange rock formations right next to the road. It’s hard to share sometimes, when you find a special place, because people ruin things. Thanks for sharing anyway.

    • Wow, that’s pretty crazy that we took the exact same photo! On the other hand, it is a really striking set of formations, especially since the rest of the drive up until that point is so “blah.” I was amazed at how few people were there. I would expect a place like that to be a huge draw for visitors, but, luckily, that was not the case. And yeah, I would know nothing about any of these spots if not for all these bloggers I follow. It only seems fair to pass the information on.

  5. Kudos to you for finding great alternatives to the tourist filled grand circle. It’s such a shame about the vandalizing, some people suck! Steve and Kevin would get along great, he does the same thing while I fiddle with the camera for too long!

  6. Glad you made it to some of the less populated areas. We loved our month camped at Lone Rock but are still working at ridding ourselves of sand ????. By spending an extended amount of time in the area, we discovered more hidden gems that I won’t blog about in hopes they stay somewhat hidden. Such fascinating land!

    • I can totally believe that. There were so many paths we could have driven down, just to see what was there. Grand Staircase Escalante is just enormous and has so many cool spots. If and when we return to Page, we’ll most certainly do some recon ourselves and see what we find. It’s a fantastic area (and I cannot even imagine the sand issues… we were dealing with it and we weren’t even parked on the beach… Yikes!)

  7. WOW! Is all I can say. We have often talked about stopping at Lake Powell, but to date have not done so. Thanks for taking us to places only a few folks take the time to visit….now we might just have to make the stop. Your photos of Lake Powell are gorgeous! Sure makes me want to set up camp there!

    • I think you guys would love it! There’s a LOT to explore off road there and you could find all kinds of cool stuff to check out. Plus, with the lake and everything the town has to offer, you’d never be bored. To some degree, having all the tour buses there was good because it forced us to go find more out-of-the-way stuff. I think you guys would feel the same way and probably really enjoy it.

  8. Great post, Laura. Thanks for letting me reliving the experience with Page’s crowds. Our visit just added to the horde of visitors the town is seeing. Beautiful pictures.

    • Thank you! I think we’ve been pretty much following you all around all spring. I just saw your post which mentioned you TOO missed the turnoff at the Cottonwood Narrows trail. Hahaha! I think they might need to improve the markings on that one. Safe travels!

  9. It’s so sad that you didn’t get to see Antelope Canyon. We did it three years ago and there was not that many people, I was able to get lot’s of beautiful photos without people in them. We had planned to go back to Page but I’m reconsidering after hearing how many people are there now … that’s crazy!

    • I think part of it may also be that we were there over Memorial Day and right after – so right when tourist season is absolutely crazy,. We might have better luck if we visit in the winter or early spring instead. We were happy to have the warm weather, but for purposes of seeing things like Antelope Canyon, I think it might be a lot less nuts at a different time of year. Let’s hope anyway…..

  10. We loved Lake Powell but like you, not crowds so much. Our stay was in early April so it seemed less crowded than you described. Glad you founds so hikes that got you off the beaten path! And bonus points for being able to meet up with Rachael and Chris.

    Your photos were terrific!!!

    Brenda

    • Thanks Brenda! I think a winter or early spring visit might be our best bet in the future. We certainly would like to see Antelope Canyon. We just know our limitations when it comes to crowds and we know we would be miserable. But, that doesn’t mean it would be terrible in February or March. We’d certainly consider it if it works out in a future schedule. We’ll see!

  11. So…which one of you hung over the edge of Horseshoe Bend for that excellent shot? 🙂 And seriously, Eric has exactly the same pose as Kevin when he’s waiting (not so patiently) for me on the trail.
    We’ve toured both Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons and felt like they were worth it, but we only paid $26 for Lower Antelope a couple of years ago and they did a great job of staggering the tours. Wow, the prices are crazy now!! I’m seriously bummed to hear about Waterholes Canyon, because that was on our list for this fall.
    Glad you escaped the plague of tour buses. We loved Toadstools and will check out your other terrific suggestions on our next swing through Page. I agree, Wahweap is worth the price! Although I shouldn’t say that, because it will probably double by the next time we stay there…
    P.S. Don’t even think about your word count. Your posts are excellent!

    • Ha! Perhaps we’re both a little more worried about that than we need to be??? Oh well. Gotta worry about something with these blogs, I guess. 🙂
      The prices for the Canyon tours are really pretty galling. You can go back a couple years on Tripadvisor and see the progression of prices AND the increase in the max number of guests on each tour. At one point it was limited to 12, now it’s 15. And I saw some recent reviews where people said the tour companies were allowing even more than that. They just seem to be pushing through as many people as possible, letting everyone get the same photo, and moving folks along. Not my cup of tea. Like I said above though, if we’re back in the winter or early spring, maybe we’ll check it out then. The week of Memorial Day is pretty much guaranteed to be a nightmare anywhere. As for the Horseshoe Bend, I sat down on the ground and scooted up toward the edge, but had my whole body on land, to take the picture. I’m not dangling my legs over the edge or laying down. Heck no!! That’s crazy. 🙂

  12. Holy Molly, you were out there with a swarm of Ants! But look! you were able to go off the beaten path and saw really fascinating scenery, at Cottonwood Canyon Road and Alstrom Point which we have not been! I was happy to tag along through your excellent post. And no we don’t mind your 2500 words or more, you have a writer’s gift, love your post.
    I guess you will just have to revisit Page early spring to avoid those tourists! But I also think they are gouging the price to make more money (which is really sad) and now charging to hike Waterholes Canyon! Insane!

    • Trust me, it about killed me to not take your advice and go to Antelope Canyon, but now you can see why, right? I do think we’ll be better off by returning in the offseason, and I haven’t given up hope yet. I just know my limitations when it comes to crowds. Plus, like you said, we found some great places off the beaten path, and it really has inspired us to do more of that as we keep moving. And yeah – the gouging on the prices is just really unfortunate… but until people stop paying the crazy prices, they’ll just keep doing it. 🙁

  13. So glad you were able to find options that didn’t cost an arm and a leg while avoiding the crowds. There is so much natural beauty to be seen in the world. Now if we could just get people (like the idiots pictured above) to take better care of it!

    • I agree 100%. The more we travel, the more incredible places we find. You just have to be willing to go down less traveled (and, often, less marked, less maintained, and less covered by cell towers 🙂 ) paths to find them. Now it sometimes feels a bit like playing whack-a-mole – always trying to find places before everyone else finds them.

  14. You wonder when the crush of tourism in the west will stop, whats it going to like in another 5 years? This is one of the reasons we have considered to stop blogging. I feel the answer is to go farther afield and like you find solitude and quiet. It will take more time and effort but will be well worth it. Interesting post, thanks.

    • Interestingly enough, tonight when I posted a picture on Instagram of this beautiful Colorado lake we hiked to yesterday, I didn’t identify exactly where it is. I love my blog and I am not going to stop writing about what we do in detail, but I think a lot of the tourism is coming from social media, and I think it may be worthwhile for us to not be so free with the exact locations of some of these off-the-beaten-path places we find. I think people who will actually spend the time to read a detailed blog post or do their own research on a location are less likely to be people just looking for a quick Instagram post to get a bunch of likes. Who knows? It’s worth a shot anyway.

  15. So I am just catching up on blogs after 10 days with no regular internet service, and your post is making me slightly anxious about our plans to visit the southwest next year. We will definitely be seeking out some of the less-busy locations like the ones you found. I hope you find plenty more similar places in Colorado so we can just shamelessly copy your itinerary!

    • Haha… yeah, we are becoming and more and more familiar with unreliable internet connectivity, the more we travel out west. It’s a constant issue lately. In any case, it is disheartening to see this crush of humanity seemingly everywhere we travel, but it’s nice to know with a bit of effort, we can still find plenty of places that are quiet and lightly traveled. It just takes some work up front to find them. Now the question becomes, do we share those finds or keep them quiet? We’ve had the same issue in Colorado… finding incredible hikes only to learn that the area we hiked has been getting trashed by inconsiderate and irresponsible hikers and is now receiving additional protections from the local wilderness advocates. Disheartening, indeed.

  16. Glad you found some off the path places of which some looked real familiar. We first went to Horseshoe Bend in 2008, it certainly has changed over the years. We have no plans to return to most of the big National Parks…way too crowded. Wahweep and Lone Rock are the best places to stay in Page…all depends on the weather. Hoping by the time we’re out west again we have a second truck like Ingrid, driving is a dually down some of those off the beaten road places are just not doable with our truck.

    • Yeah, we are often very very grateful for our Xterra because it can go pretty much anywhere without being too difficult to maneuver. I will say, once or twice, we’ve wished we had a Jeep with the shorter wheel base, but for the most part, our toad has served us very well. As for the national parks, we are planning on heading to Yellowstone in a couple weeks. Pretty sure we’re gonna hate that whole process, but they’re just such bucket list places, we at least want to try to check them out. Chances are though, by the end of the summer, we will have written off the rest of the big national parks. 🙂 Luckily, there’s no shortage of awesome lesser known places to explore. You just gotta do the research to find them.

  17. Gah, people! Why must some of them suck so much? I’m glad you were able to find some beautiful solitude after all. Completely understood about the big national parks, but if you ever need a few tips on crazy-crowded Mt. Rainier, I could hook you up 😉

    • I will absolutely take you up on that – whenever we get there, which will not likely be this year…unless it continues to be crazy hot, in which case, you never know where we’ll show up. 🙂

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