A weekend in Arizona
A series of unfortunate events, which included a hopeless situation of our tent collapsing in the middle of the night at the force of some unexpected strong winds, almost forced us to hightail it out of Arizona back to our beloved, more predictably pleasant California. Almost.
The call of the Navajo sandstone highlands that sat there, proudly glistening in the blaze of the powerful Southwestern sun and watching over the rolling green plains at their feet, was too strong to resist; the invitation of the blue and emerald waters of the Colorado River too tempting to ignore. So, forgoing the immediate need to survey the previous night’s damage in our campsite, which we abandoned in haste to seek refuge at the only hotel in town with availability, we decided to make best of our time and experience Page, Arizona’s attractions instead.
After spending a good few hours lining up for and exploring the Lower Antelope Canyon, which I just found out is considered one of the most surreal places on earth, we took the US 89 south to see another famous page attraction.
Not even 5 miles from the tiny city of Page and only around 7 miles from the Lower Antelope Canyon trailhead, past the vermillion plateaus and the surprisingly lush vegetation is the Horseshoe Bend, a truly, truly magnificent meander in the deep-emerald part of the Colorado River.
This horseshoe-shaped attraction is fairly close to the highway, only removed from it by a fairly generous parking lot, which is free, and what would be an otherwise easy and short trail through a golden land had it not been on mostly soft, powdery sand – it’s so soft, in fact, that some walk barefoot. Before we even made plans to visit this part of Arizona, I have seen hundreds of photos of the Horseshoe Bend, all taken from the high overlook to which the aforementioned sandy trail leads. Thousands more circulate the Web, most of them beautiful wide-angle shots of the famous bend. None of those photos, however, could ever give this place justice. None of them could ever prepare anyone for what awaits.
In actuality, this photogenic bend is so magnificent, so stunning that it’s almost indescribable. Completely obscured from the trail, the Horseshoe Bend reveals itself, as if on cue, only when you’re a few feet away from the edge of its spacious vista point at the top of the cliff that flanks it on the eastern side. Once you get to the that point, you will be greeted with a 180-degree panoramic view of it in all its splendor – from where the waters appears at a sharp angle on the right to where it disappears downstream on the left. That view is only made even more striking by its display of vivid colors produced by the minerals it contains.
This rocky unenclosed vista point is not for the faint of heart. It is admittedly daunting because of the sheer drop it presents. But take it from somebody who has a paralyzing acrophobia, it’s definitely worth overcoming your natural fear of heights for. Sitting, standing, or laying on your belly a foot or two from the edge is THE ONLY WAY you can truly experience the raw power of this vision.
From the photos I’ve seen, the Horseshoe Bend is gorgeous any time of the day, the color of the water changing from deep blue-green to greenish gray depending on the light. But we heard that it offers a fantastic view of the setting sun, whose last rays disappear just above the bend’s southern edge. So we timed our visit just a few minutes past 5 pm, starting our trudge on its sand-and-calcite trail just an hour before sunset. Unfortunately, we hadn’t completely shaken off our bad luck. By the time we got to the overlook, the rainclouds that had cleared away in the morning started to roll back in again, covering the western horizon in gray clouds that blocked the sun.
Still, the view impressed. And it inspired, rousing awes, oohs, and aahs (as well as this slight fear of possibly accidentally slipping and falling to our demise) in us and in the 30 or so other people we were sharing this amazing view with that day. I’m sure that hundreds, if not thousands, of selfies, amateur shots, and professional photos were taken that day; the meek taking them from a safer distance, the braver inches from the edge, risking life and limb for better shots.
Below, a boat sat in the water, clearly anchored to the bottom. Two more were secured nearby on the bank. I stood there at the top, looking down on them, feeling a sudden pang of jealousy for its passengers who are either having the best picnic of their lives or camping there for the night. The view from up the vista was amazing and it’s something everybody should see and experience for themselves at least once in their lives, for sure; but being down there, at least to me, meant that you actually get to be a part of something that thousands of people only get to see from 1,000 feet above.
I hungrily took my photos, suffering my fear of heights so I could get the shots I wanted, but I also made a mental note to come back to this place someday soon. Hopefully next time, I’ll find myself on one of its banks below, dipping my bare feet in its cool water, looking up at the spectators on their high perch above as they look down on me.
Horseshoe Bend, a free attraction in Page, AZ located just a few minutes south of the city, is one of the most beloved and photographed part of the Colorado River. If you’re looking to capture its entirety, it is recommended that you bring a panoramic camera or a super wide-angle lens with you.
© Photography by Michelle Rae