Original Post: July 31, 2015
We had packed up and gotten on the road by 7 am, determined not to be in the the canyons of Zion when the temperature rose above 90. We’ve certainly had enough of that to last a lifetime. Plus, we needed to reach Antelope Canyon Tours in Arizona by 9 am to make sure we’re able to get a spot on the 10 o’clock tour! But we’re in for a surprise. Two, actually.
First, it wasn’t 9 am when we reached Arizona. It was 8. Huh? I swear this map shows the time zone divider clearly located between Arizona and Nevada, but whatever.
So, one might think showing up an hour earlier is even better for getting a seat on the tour bus, right? Not actually the case if you need reservations for the tour. Bummer. This is a huge disappointment for me especially, as Antelope Canyon was one of the highlights on my list and I couldn’t wait to visit it in person.
Antelope Canyon Tours directs us to another tour company directly across the street, but they, too, are booked.
Still, they tell us about a company directly at the entrance to the canyon which books only on a first-come/first-served basis. Well, it’s worth a try. Not even sure exactly where we were headed, we get on Rt. 98 where we’ve been told hosts the entrance to the canyon.
About ten minutes later, we found Antelope Canyon Navajo Tours and are surprised to learn that it’s $8 a person just to park the car in the lot. THEN, we could go to the kiosk and determine if they have any openings in their tours. $40 a person for the tour. Wait, what? $16 just to find out if we actually can go on a tour? We’re too desperate by this point to care.
Thankfully, when we got to the kiosk, there was plenty of space available on the 10:30 tour. And, it was now nearly 10 at this point. So, we purchased our tickets and waited an hour. Doing what? Not sitting in the sun, that’s for sure. In the air-conditioned car, we loaded photos to the laptops and spent time goofing on Facebook. 45 minutes passed quickly and, seeing that the lot has filled up and that people are waiting in the itty bit of shade provided by the kiosk, we decided to get out and join the crowd. After a 10 minute wait (during which we are soaked in sweat again), we were given assigned vehicles to ride in – open pick-up trucks, fitted with bench seating and covered cage tops.
It’s a ten minute drive to the mouth of the Upper Canyon and our drivers/tour guides rather enjoyed racing each other. We hung on for dear life. Kyle, our guide, parked and brought us to the entrance of the canyon. Before we entered, he explained the best camera settings for taking photos within the canyon walls, saving me a lot of trouble of flipping back and forth and trying to figure out exactly what settings I wanted to use. I liked this guy already. In fact, Kyle ended up taking the majority of photos for many people, but I was loathe to relinquish either of my cameras, surely leading Kyle to believe that I was a bit of an ultra-possessive nutcase. (Yes, not knowing which lens would be best, I brought both my wide-angle and my regular “go to” lens.) One of the interesting differences I noticed between my perception of Antelope Canyon and the reality is that most of the notable images you’ll see are actually photos taken by looking straight up. The most spectacular sights are just above your head! I hadn’t anticipated that!
Believe it or not, Antelope Canyon isn’t very large at all. It’s quite small and only takes about half hour to tour completely. Photos of Antelope Canyon have always captivated me. What an amazing, entrancing, abandoned place! Ha. Abandoned. I’m funny.
There were people. Lots and lots of people. Remember back on Day 6 (That’d be yesterday.) when I said I wasn’t much of a “crowd” person? The tour guides for several different companies are all Navajo-led since Antelope Canyon is on Navajo lands. However, the tours run one after the next with one tour frequently immediately on the heels of another. Multiple times we had to wait to turn a corner to get to the next section of the canyon since the tour in front of us was still there. What made it even more challenging was the fact that once you came to the other end of the canyon, you had to turn around and head back again, essentially swimming against the current.
But, for this:
It was worth it. I’d would have given my left arm to see the infamous light beams. Thankfully, no one had asked for such payment and I walked away from the experience not only with all of my limbs, but with a feeling of ultimate satisfaction. Another destination to cross off the bucket list. And one that was beyond words. I do still wonder, however, what Antelope Canyon might be like without hundreds of people also experiencing its marvels at the same time. I’m probably a century too late to ever know what that experience is really like.
We made the ever-essential PB&Js and sat in the lot, contemplating our next move. It was only noon and the very last thing we wanted to do was get to our next stop, the Grand Canyon, too early in the day to face a repeat of the temperatures in Zion. I had zero desire to repeat that experience. (Dear Lord, please no sun!) So, we backtracked.
We’d passed Kanab, Utah (which I’d been pronouncing wrong my entire life…) and decided that some extra time on the clock meant we could go back that way to tour an animal welfare organization that was near and dear to my heart long before I started working in the field of animal welfare. We arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at 1 pm…er…2 pm. Right, there was that weird time change again. We got there just in time for another tour to start at 2:30. I balked only momentarily at the fact that it was 2 hours long (That does seem excessive for a tour of an animal sanctuary, right?), but signed up because, hey, I’d only be here once and – oh, right, who wants to go to the Grand Canyon and set up camp in 100 degree heat? Not us.
So, we took our Best Friends tour and for as much as I love the organization, 2 hours was definitely not necessary, despite the fact that the facility is over 3,000 acres. The 10 minutes we had in the cat houses and the 10 minutes we spent with a dog (who ignored me, thus breaking my heart forever) was the best part, hands-down – especially for me. Seven days without animal contact and I was in full withdrawal. I can also now say that I am familiar with every single building on the property. Every. Single. Building. And the two pet cemeteries. So, yes, it was a neat place to visit, but if you already know animal welfare and you’re familiar with how things go, perhaps it’s not the tour for you! (Or, in this case, me.) Regardless, I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity since I’ll never have it again. At least we were sweltering in a van with poor air conditioning as opposed to sweltering in the sun on the rim of the Grand Canyon.
Another two and a half hour drive brought us to the Grand Canyon and imagine our shock when we saw how green the road leading to the North Rim really was. Kaibab Forest greeted us with many beautiful pines and even a full wide meadow or two. After so much desert, it was positively stunning.
Some 60,000 acres had been decimated by fire about 8 years prior and the evidence was still plain to see, but regrowth was surely and steadily making an appearance. When we finally reached the park entrance, we were greeted by a herd of bison grazing in the meadow. I expected to see bison on this trip. Just not at the Grand Canyon.
Imagine our surprise when we reach the North Rim Campground to find that the entire location was fully forested and in beautiful, sweet shade. And we delayed coming here??? What were we thinking? We found our campsite – one of the best on the grounds – perched not 50 feet from the north rim of the canyon. It was breathtaking. (Yes, I realize I use that word to describe the experience in many parks, but it is as close as I can get to explaining how it is.) 100% amazing. After setting up the tent, we headed to the edge and captured a few photos of sunset at the Grand Canyon. Another fabulous view. I’ll never be content with a Berks County sunset ever again.
Then, another night in the tent. Without sand baking us as we sleep. That’s right. Finally a cool night to close our eyes. Relief! Oh, and remember that funny time change thing? When we got to the Grand Canyon, we saw this:
Well, thanks, Arizona, for just deciding you don’t have to follow the rest of the country in daylight savings time. So, it turns out that depending on the time of year, Arizona is either in Mountain Time or Pacific Time. Who knew? (Yeah, yeah, those of you who live in Arizona knew. I know. You really should have given a girl a clue!)