Page Arizona does not rank as a cultural destination. This small town on the northern edge of Arizona was established in 1957 to support the construction of the nearby Glen Canyon Dam. Page’s history is recent; its street plan is generic. But that’s not to say that you shouldn’t visit. Near Page sit some of Southwest’s most spectacular sights. Visit Page not for the town but for all that lies nearby.
Only slightly aware of the natural wonders in the area we’ve always hurried through Page on the way to somewhere else. Though we twice paused to see the spectacular balancing rocks on the approach to Lee’s Ferry and to walk the amazing Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River but we hadn’t taken the time to explore the area’s other attractions. On this visit we’d correct our oversight, at least partially.
Holding the waters of the lake back is nearby Glen Canyon Dam. This massive concrete arch dam plugs a narrow chasm of the Colorado River resulting in lake that can reach 186 miles upstream at its maximum. Tours of Glen Canyon Dam are possible at least as long as the threat of terrorism remains low. On the way to Wahweap Marina we arrived at the dam’s visitor center in time for the second to last tour of the day.
Shadowed by a security guard, a guide took our tour group from the visitor center’s elevator down to the outside top of the dam. After taking in the view from the edge of the concrete mega structure, we entered another large elevator and descended through the center of the dam to the base. At the bottom of the second lift the tour heads through a tunnel to the outside on the way to the hydroelectric power complex. This is the best part of the tour. A green lawn sits in a flat basin at the foot of an arched concrete wall so improbably massive that one’s sense of scale is distorted. Just for a moment it is possible to forget how much water is behind the cement monolith. Seepage through the sandstone of the canyon’s walls is a reminder; there is a brute force of liquid held back by the dam. Standing at the bottom of Glen Canyon Dam is both amazing and intimidating.
Five miles downstream of the dam site is the oft-photographed Horseshoe Bend. A half-mile hike from a parking lot takes visitors to the steep unprotected edge of the gorge. Here the Colorado River snakes through a hairpin turn roughly a thousand feet below the overlook. The sharp contrasts of the light in the canyon make getting a good photograph difficult. Nevertheless the tricky light conditions do not discourage photographic attempts. Nearly every visitor arrives with a camera.
Perhaps even more famous amongst photographers is nearby Antelope Canyon. Wikipedia repeats an assertion that Antelope Canyon is the most visited and most photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest.
On Navajo land, visiting Antelope Canyon requires a tour. We drove to the area and randomly chose to visit the upper canyon. (We will save the lower canyon for a subsequent visit.) For what seemed a rather expensive $46 per person we reserved two places in the next hour and a half-long canyon excursion. After a wait the collected tour group of eight loaded into the back of a 4×4 truck for the dusty ride to the start of the slot canyon.
Upper Antelope canyon begins as a gash in face of a sandstone wall. Entering the opening one thing becomes immediately obvious; all of the beautiful pictures of this place do not do it justice. Inside whirling streaks of rust red sandstone have been carved by nature into abstract shapes. Layers of sunlight highlight different zones of the rock. Wait a short while and the lighting through the top of the narrow gorge changes emphasizing a different portion of the sculptured canyon. Somehow the clichés used to extol the grandeur of natural places do not seem to be sufficient for Antelope Canyon. It is a truly unforgettable place that needs to be visited in person to be fully appreciated. Needless to say seeing Antelope Canyon is worth the effort and expense.
There’s much more near Page that warrants a visit. Miles of Lake Powell including Rainbow Bridge National Monument can be accessed by boat. In nearby Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is Paria Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, the White Pocket, and the TeePees. Vermillion Cliffs is also home to The Wave, an extremely popular and somewhat difficult to access sandstone formation. Not much further away is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. And there is more. The lower extreme of the large Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is not far from Page and is definitely worth an excursion. More broadly Page is near the center of the “Grand Circle”, the collection of the Southwest’s best National Parks and Monuments interconnected by scenic highways. Grand Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon National Parks are just a few hours away.
We visited Page not for the town; we visited for the natural spectacles nearby. Undoubtedly we will return to see more. A lifetime can be well spent exploring the natural wonders of the American Southwest. Page is a good base to start.
The full picture set is on Google+.