Color Along the Line

Saturday, May 06, 2017 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Ultimate Utah, Days 14 & 15:  Page, AZ to Kanab, UT

Though we had spent several days in Page, AZ,, in November, 2013, we headed back to the town on Thursday for the experience of driving through the scenic northern Arizona-southern Utah area between the national parks.  Our first stop Friday morning was the famous Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River.  Though the country has other rivers whose channels make a 345° bend,  the Colorado's contortion near Page is perhaps most famous.
Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River
When we arrived at the parking area, dozens of tourists were making their pilgrimage to the viewing area.  The .75-mile trail is both sandy and sloping—a bit like walking up a steep hill on the beach.  A six-foot flashing LCD warning sign at the trailhead cautioned:  "Extreme Heat.  Take Water.  Wear Good Shoes."  Of course, 80% or more of the people heading off on the trek carried only their camera or phone.  Flip flops weren't unusual, and a couple of kids were even barefoot.  Our particular favorite was a woman in sparkly high heel sandals, complete with hose and a stylish jacket and scarf.  At any rate, we made it to the overlook, took our obligatory photo, and wondered why this spot is so much more popular than Goosenecks State Park near Mexican Hat, only 100 miles to the southwest.  No doubt the answer is marketing.
Lake Powell Dam
Later we returned to the Lake Powell Dam visitor center to search for a letterbox nearby.  Upon entering the building, we couldn't resist a quick re-examination of the exhibits to see if anything had changed.  We were struck again by the tendency of people to rub the noses of brass busts when they are within reach.
Carl Hayden, longtime Arizona Congressman
Apparently some people believe that rubbing the nose of any statue brings good luck.  This trend ranges from Lincoln's burial site in Springfield, IL to military heroes at Gettysburg Battlefield Park to a famous dog statue in Edinburgh.  Who's to say it doesn't work?  Or that it does, for that matter?
Wahweap Marina on Lake Powell
After a bit more exploration, including the Wahweap Marina and Campground area, we returned to the hotel to do some laundry and catch up on a few other matters.  Leftovers from the previous night provided an adequate dinner before returning to the dam, bridge, and Wahweap Overlook for evening photo ops.
Lake Powell from the Wahweap Overlook
Instead of US-89 (the road we took to Page on Thursday) our return trip along the Arizona-Utah border today we traveled on US-89A, the original route of the 89 highway when it was designated a federal route in 1926.  After the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in Page in the 1960s, US-89 was rerouted to Page, and the old section became the alternate version.
Leaving Page, we took 89 south to Bitter Springs, a small Navajo community where we picked up 89A going north.  Shortly thereafter we reached the 1929 Navajo Bridge, an historic span across the Colorado River.
Historic Navajo Bridge
In the nineteenth century, nearly 600 miles of deep canyons along the Colorado River blocked easy access between Utah and Arizona.  The only place where the river was accessible from both sides was at the mouth of Glen Canyon, and a ferry service had been established there in 1873.
Colorado River from the Navajo Bridge
By the 1920s, when automobiles were increasingly dominating the ferry service, officials recognized that it was time to find a more reliable means to cross the river.  A bridge site was selected five miles downstream from the ferry crossing.  Construction was a major challenge in this rugged area with the equipment available at the time.  When the bridge was complete, a great celebration was held at the site.
After 66 years of service, the 18-ft. wide bridge desperately needed to be replaced with a wider, stronger bridge.  The new bridge was built just downstream from the original, and the historic span was retained as a pedestrian bridge to provide visitors with a breathtaking view of the Colorado River 470 feet below.  It also became the home of a magnetic letterbox hidden midway across the river.
Lee's Ferry landing
After learning about the historic role of the ferry, we had to visit the site, which was just a short drive away.  Though there is no longer ferry service, the landing site is still quite active.  Lee's Ferry is considered the beginning of Grand Canyon National Park with the park's easement along both sides of the Colorado River.  This is the starting point for all rafting trips through the Grand Canyon.  Operated by commercial ventures with crafts holding up to 24 passengers, most trips last a week to ten days.   We arrived in time to see a group orientation before rafts pushed off downstream.
Stopping to check out an interpretive sign along the side road to Lee's Ferry, we learned the secret behind the formations known as balanced rocks, mushroom rocks, or toadstools.  Thousands of years ago, the gigantic boulder pictured here broke off from the cliff above and rolled to a stop where it sits.  In the intervening years, the slope it fell onto has eroded away.  Now the softer rock it sits on is protected by the umbrella provided by the boulder.  But eventually the base will break down and the boulder will topple to the ground again.
The drive down to Lee's Ferry from US-89A marked our first sighting of the colorful Vermillion Cliffs, a massive formation at the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau.  Fortunately for us, 89A follows the southern border of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, so the roadside views from Lee's Ferry to Jacob Lake offered one jaw-dropping vista after another.

Access to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon extends down Utah Highway 67 from the town of Jacob Lake, but we were a week early with the road remaining on winter closure status until May 15. From Jacob Lake, the highway descended the Kaibab Plateau on its way to Fredonia, AZ.  From there we were just a few miles from Kanab, UT, our destination for the night.

Tomorrow we'll dip back into Arizona briefly for the last time on this trip on our way to check out the northern district of Zion National Park.


Two-Day Stats:  
    •  Started in:  Page, AZ
    •  Ended in:  Kanab, UT
    •  Miles driven:   222   (total  3,684)
    •  Weather:  60° to 94°, clear to partly cloudy
    •  Letterboxes:  Found 6, Planted 0   (totals:  F42, P7)

Navajo Bridge Stats:
    •  Length:  834 ft. (Historic bridge), 909 ft. (Modern bridge) 
    •  Width of roadway:  18 feet (h), 44 ft. (m)
    •  Arch rise:  90 ft. (h), 90 ft. (m)
    •  Height above river:  467 ft. (h), 470 ft. (m)
    •  Steel reinforcement:  82,000 lbs. (h), 434,000 lbs. (m)
    •  Construction cost:  $390,000 (h), $14,700,000 (m)

Loved:  We appreciated that the replacement bridge for the historic Navajo Bridge maintained such a similar style and that the two bridges were allowed to co-exist harmoniously side by side.

Lacking:  California condors.  Reintroduced to House Rock Valley along the Vermillion Cliffs, these majestic behemoths of the bird family nest along the cliffs.  Though we stopped today at a spot along the western edge of the cliffs designated for condor viewing, there were none in that area while we dallied and had our picnic lunch.

Learned:  (See lesson above about balanced rocks.)

More Photos from Today
Campers at Lake Powell
Lake Powell near dam 
Colorado River near Lake Powell Dam 
Colorado River near Lee's Ferry
More of the Vermillion Cliffs