Turning 50 is kind of a big deal, so I wanted to celebrate with something special this May. That meant a road trip, this time with my boyfriend David, to take in the majestic sights of Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.
We set up camp, so to speak, in Kanab, Utah, at a lovely, dog-friendly AirBNB home with an incredibly comfy king bed, a luxurious shower that could have fit six people and a gorgeous view of a red rock canyon right in the backyard.
While that peace and beauty was hard to leave, adventure awaited, so we left the dogs with a sitter and made the 75-mile drive to Page, after grabbing a delicious bacon, Swiss cheese and egg croissant sandwich at the French-inspired Kanab Creek Bakery in town.
First on the agenda, Lower Antelope Canyon, part of the Navajo Nation Tribal Park, which requires all visitors be accompanied by a tour guide. Ken’s Tours offers tours seven days a week, morning to early evening, for $50 per person (which you can purchase in advance online or on-site at the box office).
Talk about a hidden treasure. You literally cannot see Lower Antelope Canyon from ground level, but once you descend about six flights of stairs, there is a mind-blowing underworld of slot canyons and wavy rock formations begging to be photographed.
Our knowledgeable, young guide first helped by showing me how to set my camera in the “pro” position, allowing for the maximum capture of light, color and shapes, of which there are many to marvel at. The hourlong tour was very crowded with fellow tourists all striving for the perfect shot, so it takes a while to navigate each section, but you won’t mind the delay.
With each twist and turn, there’s a different surface to touch, a new image to decipher and an awe-inspiring array of red, gold and orange to take in. Every now and then, the light shone through the narrow passages and luminated the hues into something otherworldly, making us gasp. (It’s no wonder that that world’s most expensive photograph, “Phantom” by Peter Lik, was shot here and sold for $6.5 million).
The guide took endless photos of everyone in the group, posing us in just the right light (a real bonus when you’ve just turned 50), and pointing out a wealth of shapes that we might otherwise have never noticed, including an Indian chief, an eagle, a dinosaur and the face of a woman with windswept hair.
We emerged from the canyon awed, energized and ready for our next stop: Horseshoe Bend, about 10 miles away. You’ll pay $10 to park in a lot that can be overrun with buses, other cars and motorcycles, so get there as early as you can, especially in high season (May to October). Then, it’s about a half mile, winding-paved walk until the star of the show comes into full view. (Bring water, wear comfortable shoes and consider a stop at the convenient, clean restrooms before starting on the path).
You’ll know you’re getting close when you see people standing on the edge, armed with tripods, high-end cameras, cell phones and selfie sticks, all angling for the flawless Instagram image.
One look and you’ll see what the fuss is about. You may have seen it on a screensaver, but Horseshoe Bend, like most national treasures, is something that really needs to be experienced in person for full effect.
The round, red rock sphere emerges dramatically from a rim of bright blue and green iridescent water, ringed by a seemingly endless multi-colored layers of earth. It’s like discovering an exquisitely beautiful, surreal new planet right here on earth.
While I’m not terrified of heights, I was not comfortable anywhere near the edge of those grand cliffs. I definitely felt my mortality more than the myriad of youngsters who posed gleefully at the brink, some of them striking poses that made my heart sink. I didn’t want to be a witness to a death by selfie.
David played it pretty safe, too, though he did climb to the top of one of the small cliffs and posed with his arms outstretched in victory. Of course, I snapped a shot and posted it on our Facebook pages. When in Rome, right?
It was now nearing 1 p.m. Hungry after the walk back to the car, we headed into the small town of Page and stumbled onto Big John’s Texas BBQ, which boasted a huge smoker in the front and a folksy restaurant with peanuts on the table and patriotic accents of red, white and blue that seemed to delight the guests that piled in from bus tours.
We split a sampler plate, heaping with tender, melt-in-your-mouth ribs; succulent sausage; tender, fatty brisket; and a stellar potato salad. And when the waitress asked about dessert, we opted for a warm brownie sundae with vanilla ice cream melting under a layer of thick, hot fudge. What can I say? It was my birthday.
For more information about Lower Antelope Canyon or Horseshoe Bend, visit www.horseshoebend.com or www.lowerantelope.com. Big John’s Texas BBQ is located at 153 South Lake Powell Boulevard, Page, Arizona. For more info, visit www.bigjohnstexasbbq.com.