My girlfriends and I were in the mood for adventure, and so last summer we planned a spontaneous trip to explore Northern Arizona and its vast beauty. Courtney, Chelsea and I took off after work one Friday and drove up to Flagstaff where Courtney’s grandmother has a cabin. We pulled into the gravel driveway just after dark and rolled down our windows. Flagstaff has a memorable smell, it’s a mix of pine needles, wet earth and clean air.
We woke up bright and early and drove the two hours to Antelope Canyon. No road trip in Northern Arizona would be complete without a stop at Wicked Coffee though, so we first got our fix and then were on our way.
Antelope Canyon is on a Navajo reservation just east of Page, Arizona. I have no statistics to support this, but I think after the Grand Canyon Antelope Canyon must be in the running for most photographed place in Arizona. And for good reason!
The canyon is on Navajo land; you need to purchase a parking permit and tour to go through the slot canyon. There are two different portions of the canyon accessible to the public, upper and lower. We toured Lower Antelope Canyon.
Our guide was a young Native American who lived on the reservation. While he was chock-full of information about the canyon, he showed his expertise as a guide in helping us with our camera settings. He knew the right ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture to get frame-worthy shots on each portion of the tour.
The tour lasted about one and a half hours from start to finish. The guide walked us through the slot canyon slowly to give us enough time to take as many photos as we wanted and to be present in the canyon. In all sincerity, it’s a spiritual place. You feel swallowed inside the earth.
Antelope Canyon is also near another Arizona gem, Horseshoe Bend. After leaving Antelope Canyon we drove twenty minutes to our next destination. Horseshoe Bend is in the middle of nowhere, and if there weren’t signs and a parking lot you would not know to stop. After you park there is a half mile trail, uphill, that leads you to a plateau. When you reach the plateau, below you see the Colorado river cutting through the mountain side.
I felt still in the immensity of the view around me and was once again reminded how beautiful the desert is. We enjoyed our time here overlooking the water and mountains. My only complaint would be how crowded it was. We had to wait in line to take our photo in the famous spot and then quickly move aside for the next group.
We walked off to the side of the bend and sat for a while to allow ourselves time to take it all in. We saw several people get stomach-churningly close to the side of the cliff and had the privilege to see a couple get engaged.
As we walked back to the car we were all bit with some extra spontaneity and decided to drive an hour to see the Grand Canyon. Chelsea had never been (which is unfathomable to me as we are all Arizona natives) and in honor of the 100 year anniversary of the National Parks System admittance was free. We made it right in time for a rain storm which created fog throughout the canyon. It was eerie and cool.
While we waited out the storm we went to the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim and enjoyed some warm beverages. After the rain passed we took another look at the Grand Canyon and were back on our way!
It was a quick and unplanned getaway, but sometimes those are the best kind. If you’ve never been to Antelope Canyon or Horseshoe Bend it’s worth adding to your list. My suggestion? Add an extra day onto your trip and drive the hour from Antelope Canyon into Zion National Park.