Travel – Arizona

Out of this World
By: Suzanne Ferrara

If you haven’t witnessed the awe and majestic splendor of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, take a trip to northwest Arizona, and prepare to be totally enamored by Mother Nature’s magnificence. This is the closest you will get to walking on Saturn or Mars–if it were possible—but instead, you’ll do so on the planet Earth.

It’s quite a sight, as Antelope Canyon’s meandering and deep-carved walls are sculpted in hues of purple and orange that have been formed over thousands of years. (Fun Fact: The areas around the canyon– including Lake Powell– have been used as the backdrop in several movies including Planet of the Apes and most recently, Gravity). It’s truly an awe-striking view that you will never forget, and to say that you’ll feel far removed from the day-to-day world in which you live is an understatement. Add to this majestic scene is that Antelope Canyon is considered a sacred place to both the natives who roamed this land centuries ago and to their ancestors who still live here today.

There are two parts to this great slot like labyrinth canyon: the Upper Canyon (above ground) and the Lower Canyon (underground), the latter of which exudes more of the aforementioned unexpected variations of color. You cannot go into the national treasure without a Navajo guide because it is located on Navajo soil, and these guides drive you to the canyon in a 4×4 truck, right to the entrance. While the Antelope Canyon Navajo Guided Sightseers Tour takes about an hour-and-a-half, if you can spend the extra money and have a DSLR camera and tripod take the Professional Photographers’ Tour so you can spend more time in the Canyon, and without as many people. (Big Tip: If you are looking for reduced crowds, the best time to go is off-season which is spring and fall. While you will not see the famous light shafts in the Upper Canyon this time of year, the canyon walls have different colors and are still breathtaking).

The Upper Canyon is where you can witness the breathtaking beams of light shining down into the openings above. Witnessing this is like seeing something from a biblical movie because of the way the light beams down onto the ground. The best time to see this is midday during the months of June, July and August; however, this is also the most crowded time to witness this magic. Regardless of when you go, the view is still amazing and the Antelope Canyon Navajo Tour guides do a great job explaining the geology and mystery of the canyon. (Tip: You need a reservation to get into the canyon; but if you show up late, you cannot go on that particular tour and your ticket will not be refunded). (Tip: If you wear contacts, you may want to switch to your eyeglasses because of dust particles).

Less than ten miles west of Antelope Canyon in the small city of Page is the spectacular and often- photographed Colorado River’s Horseshoe Bend. Horseshoe Bend has chiseled towering walls which extend more than a thousand-feet high from the water’s surface, and it is indeed shaped like a horseshoe. (Fun Fact: The sandstone rock wall is made of hematite, platinum and garnet plus many other minerals). This breathtaking masterpiece is located within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and as you stand at the lookout point, you will awed by the view; plus, the lookout area is about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead and is a fairly easy hike. (Fact: There are no railings from the lookout point, so stay away from the cliff edges, wear hiking shoes, and bring water).

You can also view this majestic wonder from a totally different vantage point, namely, aboard a boat or raft; many visitors say this is the way to go because of the calm water and captivating views. Colorado River Discovery Smoothwater Float Trips is a great option for everyone including families and kids as young as four-years-old. This 15-mile long jaunt aboard a motorized pontoon boat is a pleasurable ride, during which an experienced guide shares the history of the Canyon, its geology, and the explorations of John Wesley Powell. Another great option is to hop on a fixed-wing plane or chopper tour and be wowed by this natural marvel, all from a bird’s eye view.

After viewing one of the most spectacular sights on the meandering Colorado River, you will most likely have worked up an appetite. Head back into town of Page which, by the way, is the perfect place to make your home-base as you tour and vacation in this area. While on Page’s Main Street (which is Lake Powell Boulevard) don’t be surprised if you are hypnotized by the scent of barbeque coming from Big John’s Texas BBQ. That intoxicating aroma is coming from the meat that is slow smoked on oak and mesquite wood for hours, and it’s something you can smell from two blocks away.

There’s something comforting about enjoying this mouthwatering and award-winning Texas barbeque in Arizona. This cozy restaurant was converted from an old gas station and has great atmosphere, not to mention the American Flags hanging about. Big John, a Texas native, started serving his award-winning BBQ in these parts from a pop up tent and later invested in a custom built BBQ trailer. Big John got his start watching cooks at the world famous Louie Mueller’s TX BBQ, which was located across the street from his father’s furniture store in Taylor, Texas. (Menu Tip: Be sure to try the Big John’s Sampler Plate which includes brisket, baby back ribs, pulled pork, hot links, cowboy beans and potato salad. A second favorite is the Barbeque Sandwich and Rib plate that comes with sides).
You can enjoy your BBQ with a locally-made bottle of beer; they serve Grand Canyon’s Horseshoe Bend Pale Ale, American Pilsner, or Sunset Al. If you are not watching calories, finish off lunch or dinner with their delicious house-baked fruit cobbler with ice-cream or their Old Fashioned Mug Root Beer Float. There’s inside seating and outside family-style picnic table seating, the latter of which from where you can enjoy the sunny blue skies of Page. Plus, they serve buckets of peanuts for free, and you eat as many as you want and throw the shells on the ground.

Extend your Native American experience and, no doubt, your admiration for this unparalleled southwest territory by taking part in the dinner show at Sanderson’s Into the Grand. This family-owned restaurant is unlike any other, and offers dinner and a show that will leave you with an even a greater appreciation for the people and the natural marvels in and around Page. Live music, Native American dance performances, stories about the Navajo Nation, and tales of Grand Canyon river rafting adventures are just a few things that entertain guests.

The restaurant and its stage are housed in what was originally the Sanderson families’ boat warehouse which was converted into a rather unique scene itself: it’s also a museum with an exhibit dedicated to the history of the early Grand Canyon River Runners of the 1950s. (Fact: The Sandersons are among some of those river runners and are the founders of Sanderson River Adventures whose operation dates back to the 1950s). The walls inside the converted warehouse are draped with large murals depicting scenes of the Grand Canyon and rafting expeditions. Speaking of rafts, you will hear the incredible story of the journeys the Sanderson family made rafting down the Colorado River with descriptions of some of the most beautiful points on these trips; these verbal descriptions alone will make you want to raft the Colorado as soon as you exit the door. By the way, owner Hoss Sanderson exudes passion for this land and will make sure you have a good time. (Menu Tip: The salsa and chips are delicious and complimentary, and the Pork Carnitas and Beef Brisket are among favorite menu items. Be sure to try the beer sampler of four locally produced beers). (Fact: In September of 2018, The Arizona Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network awarded the owners and operators of Into the Grand, with the 2018 Success Awards).

Looking for a goodnights rest during your vacation? Page has all that you need. While there are several hotel chains strewn about the area, there’s one in particular at which you may want to take a second look and that’s the new Hyatt Place Page/Lake Powell. This micro-hotel offers complimentary breakfast and has some rooms with views of the canyon and the Glen Canyon Dam. There’s an outside pool overlooking the canyon, and it’s only a few blocks from the nine-mile Rimview Trail which encircles Page and offers great views of the Canyon and Lake Powell.

To witness these natural marvels in northwest Arizona is an experience you won’t forget and one you will certainly want to share with family and friends. There are even more captivating treasures in and around the area which can’t all be covered in one article; so do your homework and head to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend for a trip of a lifetime. (Travel Tip: If you are trying to save money, take a direct flight from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas and make the five-hour drive to Antelope Canyon; however you opt for a connecting flight to the Page Municipal Airport).