To the Grand Canyon

A bridge in the Natural Bridges National Monument


29th June – 314 miles from Monticello, Utah, to Flagstaff, Arizona

We continued our Utah park tour with a visit to the Natural Bridges National Monument. The difference between a bridge and an arch is subtle. A bridge is formed by flowing water cutting through the softer stone to leave a bridge, while an arch is formed by erosion due to wind and the freezing and thawing that causes holes in the rock to form and crumble. At a glance, they’re indistinguishable.

Trails in the Natural Bridges National Monument

The trail through the park took in the three bridges and was one for the more intrepid walker, with some scrambling required across the sandstone and even a very roughly hewn ladder.

Drive carefully in Utah. Photo by Spencer

Heading south on highway 261 the road winds through the valley of the gods. A little north of the town of Mexican Hat, it basically drops off of a cliff at the Mokee Dugway.

Interesting road approaching…

It’s a gravel road consisting of a series of switch backs that drop down to the valley floor below. We had little choice but to take it, the alternative being to backtrack hundreds of miles to find an alternative.

The Mokee Dugway winding its way down. Photo by Spencer

With the road successfully negotiated, we stopped for a late lunch in Mexican Hat before a brief stop at Monument Valley, where we were charged $2.50 each just to stop at the viewpoint. Monument Valley is not an official national park, being part of the Navajo Nation Reservation, so the parks pass that we had was no use to us.

Monument Valley

We continued on to Flagstaff and after checking in to our motel, we grabbed a bite to eat and then spent the evening in the Museum Club bar listening to some country music performed by a singer who bore an uncanny resemblance to Martin Clunes.

30th June – 174 miles to the Grand Canyon and back.

The Grand Canyon

After a hearty breakfast in the restaurant attached to our motel, we drove straight up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, where we stocked up on a picnic lunch before hitting the trails.

I’d been to the Grand Canyon before, and it’s always breathtaking. The previous time had been literally a flying visit from Las Vegas; a flight through the canyon followed by a whistlestop coach tour of the main viewpoints.

It’s not a good idea to attempt to get to the bottom and back in a day. The elevation change is about 5000 feet and it’s a long trail. We just walked about a mile and a half down the Bright Angel Trail to get the flavour of it, had our picnic, and then headed back up. It was an exhausting hike, steadily uphill and very hot, but we had plenty of breaks and enjoyed a few chats with the other hikers.

Sun setting at the Grand Canyon

We stayed on until sunset, getting some of the classic viewpoint photos and enjoying the light. It was very busy, with crowds gathering to watch the sunset. When I returned a few years later on a solo photographic trip I found that it was easy to find spots away from the crowds, who don’t tend to stray far from the main viewpoints.

The pink glow after the sun had set was especially magical, and perhaps even better than the golden hour light of direct sun.

Grand Canyon after sunset

Driving back in the dark was an experience, taking it slowly and keeping an eye out for wildlife, and the whole day was a highlight of the trip, albeit a very tiring one.

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Next: “Rim to Rim”