The area of Arizona north of the Grand Canyon is known as the Arizona Strip and is sparsely visited. Of course, this might in part be due to access to the North Rim closed between October and May. There is very little population in this area and geographically it is part of the geology encapsulated by Grand Staircase – Escalante National Park, a living laboratory for scientific exploration with several recent discoveries of the dinosaur kind.
Our explorations of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah took us to Page/Glen Canyon and Pipe Spring National Monument (both Arizona) and to Kanab, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Kodachrome Basin State Park (all Utah). Mostly, we hiked….in canyons, across deserts, amongst the hoodoos, and through incredibly varied rock formations and outlooks. We experienced several seasons, with the dry heat of the desert around Page, snowy passes through the Arizona strip towards Kanab, cool and clear weather in the National Parks, and wet snowy weather in Kanab. It was surprisingly busy everywhere despite it still being “off-season.”
Page & Glen Canyon (Arizona): experienced vertigo looking down over Horseshoe Bend (a 270 degree bend in the Colorado river just east of Grand Canyon), visited Powell Dam, hiked to see ferns growing in the middle of a desert (“Hanging Gardens”), and went through the Lower Antelope Canyon (a slot canyon with narrow passageways through beautiful rock formations and light play). The surface of the underground slot canyon is visible just behind the pic of our Navajo tour guide (you cannot access this canyon without a guide).
The drive between Page and Kanab was very quiet but with ever-changing scenery. We crossed the Colorado River at Lees Ferry (formerly the only way to cross and now the site for starting all rafting expeditions through the Grand Canyon), passed ancient settlements made amongst the strewn boulders, and through an alpine pass at 8,000 feet.
With its central location, we made our home base in Kanab primarily to make daily attempts to win the “Wave” lottery. In order to hike to the famous Wave formation, one must obtain a permit by lottery either by online entry or in-person. Only ten passes from online and ten passes from in-person entries are issued each day. On each day we entered for 2 of the 10 passes issued, there were between 48 and 60 entries (with each entry for between 1-6 persons). We knew that it would be a long shot but since we wanted to visit the National Parks anyway, we thought we’d try for as long as we were able. In some way, we were probably lucky not to get a pass as a heavy storm closed the few roads accessible to 2WD vehicles and accessing the trailhead would have involved an expensive 4X4 driver service. Nevertheless, we had some spectacular days biking and hiking within 70 miles of Kanab.
Kanab: is not only the service centre for area but is also known as Little Hollywood as it where a litany of western movies and television shows were filmed. Unfortunately, being the off-season, we weren’t able to enjoy the museum or related events.
Zion National Park: the oldest National Park in Utah and probably the most heavily visited. Our timing was perfect, not only for weather, but because as of March 11, the road into the canyon was closed to vehicles. People must take the shuttle bus into the 10km canyon to access the various trailheads, however, bicycles are allowed! It was a combo day for us as we first cycled (headwind uphill on first half), had lunch by a small waterfall, then cycled back out and went on a 3-mile hike up a mountain. Drove back to Kanab with the setting sun filled with fresh clear air and a sense of accomplishment.
Bryce Canyon National Park: significantly larger than Zion and also very popular. However, its high elevation (road goes to 9,600 feet) means that it is a lot colder and indeed, there was still snow keeping some of the hiking areas closed. After a drive to view the canyon from above, we hiked a 7-mile loop trail that took us up and down through the hoodoos and all the various rock formations, with each corner turned or pass through the rocks offering breathtaking moments of awe. As there was no van parking at the trailhead, we had to cycle a couple of miles to and from the trailhead, adding to our sense of hunger by the time we finished just before sunset. The next day, Bryce Canyon received 20 inches of new snow!
Kodachrome Basin State Park: tucked in between Bryce Canyon National Park and the northern section of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a picturesque state park with campground. While we had a chilly night there, it was nowhere near as cold as it would have been in Bryce Canyon. We did an undemanding 3-mile morning hike among the rocks and spires unique to the area.
Pipe Spring National Monument (Arizona): a little southwest of Kanab, this was a wonderful and informative find. This is the historic lands of the Paiute Indians and has been the cultural crossroads between the Paiute, the Mormons, and the U.S. government at the time of statehood for Utah. We did a ranger-led tour of the fort that served as an inn and supply centre for overland travellers, especially for the Mormons travelling to St. George (aka the honeymoon route), as well as a place to secrete second or third wives during the struggle for statehood. While the Mormons over-ranched the area, there are still grazing ranches in the area which means the very limited water supply of the spring is now a trickle that must be divided between the ranchers, the National Park Service, and the Paiutes.
The next post will follow forthwith as we summarize the last days of our journey as we head to Nevada and California before heading due north (after all, there’s more hiking to be done…).