“The desert is calling and I must go“. As dramatic as it sounds I actually felt it so strong ever since I drafted up my travel plans to Arizona. Living in California (right next door to Arizona) for 4 years, it was astonishing how I always made travel plans to far off destinations and tick them off of my lists but completely forgot the desert paradise so close to home. It was about time to make that trip to the jaw-dropping natural landscapes and scenic slot canyons.
On Thursday night we flew into Las Vegas and decided to unwind a little from the crazy hectic week and maybe even try our luck at the Casino Tables. After an engaging session of trading off chips we called it a night as we had an early morning drive to one of the underrated gems of Nevada-The Valley of Fire State Park.
Here’s a quick run down of my Arizona itinerary.
DAY 1: LAS VEGAS
Well did you really think we could beat the rooster in Vegas? We grabbed a quick-lunch and drove an hour towards Lake mead at noon. During the journey all I could see was a vast stretch of typical barren geography of the desert with no signs of life whatsoever. Just a mile from the park entrance you could see those beautiful shades of orange sandstone light up the valley.
As Nevada’s first state park, covering 40,000 acres of bright red Aztec sandstone outcrops nestled in gray and tan limestone it is truly a sight to sore eyes. The stunning red sandstone formations, illuminate the valley, especially at sunrise, making it look as though it’s on fire. We got out of our car quickly to realize how 109 degrees felt on the skin; My shins, SHINS were sweating. No kidding! We tried a small 4 mile hike to get some quick photos and headed back to the visitor’s center to soak up some air conditioning.
Hot tip: If you’re visiting in the summer pack loooots of water and if you plan on hiking, begin before sunrise as it’s slightly cooler before the sun comes up. Oh and maybe bring a towel to wipe off your shins.
We hopped in our car and started driving towards North Rim – Grand Canyon. On the way you could do a couple of other spots like Red Rock Canyons and Glen Canyon, but we skipped those coz we wanted to catch the sunset at Page. (If you know me, then you know that I literally live for sunsets; hence the priority). We checked in at the lake Powell Resorts and headed straight to the marina to enjoy a picturesque sunset which enhanced a backdrop of eroded red rock canyons and a tranquil lake in the foreground.
One small thing that I forgot to mention, since Lake Powell is on the borders of Arizona and Utah, our phones and watches were acting weird switching time constantly, making it difficult for us to keep track of the actual time. Arizona does not follow Daylight saving so we gained some time traveling from Vegas which worked to our advantage to be on time for the sunset. I advise to bring out that vintage pocket watch and set it to Arizona time, this would help.
Where to Stay: Lake Powell Resorts and Marina at Page, AZ
DAY 2: HORSESHOE BEND & ANTELOPE CANYON
All lessons learnt from day’s hiking in the sun, we woke up early to do all our hiking in the morning.
Sunrise Location: HORSESHOE BEND
In time and with water everything changes and this entrenched meander is a perfect parchment to that. The horseshoe bend was formed when the Colorado river cut through eolian Jurassic sandstones creating this scenic Glen Canyon. Seeing a hundred photos of this iconic spot on Instagram, this was on my bucket-list for sure and finally experiencing its grandiose in person was so special.
Even though the best time to visit Horseshoe bend during the day is constantly debated, I would suggest pre-sunrise hours to visit this world-famous attraction. You would avoid the crowd and heat and see this magnificent glory in its reddish pink hue. Or you could go in mid day or late afternoon to avoid the shadow of the canyon walls. But no matter what time of day you visit Horseshoe Bend, you are promised one thing for sure: this place lives up to the hype.
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon on Navajo land and has two separate canyons — Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Upper Antelope Canyon is shaped like an upside-down “V” (narrow at the top and wide at the base), making it fairly easy to walk through. The narrow canyon walls at the top creates the magical light beams when the sun is at just the right angle. Lower Antelope Canyon is shaped like a “V” (wide at the top and very narrow at the base), creating warmer tones of the canyons with narrow passageways to squeeze through.
Grabbing a quick breake we headed to tour the Lower Antelope Canyons. Tours run every 30 minutes between the hours of 8 am to 4 pm. You can get the tickets if you just go an hour before the tour but I would recommend to book it online to avoid all the long lines and baking in the sun.
With its glowing, red canyon walls and beams of light shining through the dusty air, Antelope Canyon is a breathtaking destination. Wandering through the narrow passageways, climbing ladders and twisting my way through the sandstone walls, this place slowly unveiled its beauty in bits and turns. We could also see the formation of the lion, Winnie the pooh, the chief of Navajo tribe and the kissing couple. Here are some pictures capturing some of the formations. Can you spot ’em?
The guide explained to us the culture and history of the Navajo tribe while we made our way through the Canyon. Meeting new people and learning about their culture and traditions is what I cherish the most.
I reached a point where the rays of sunshine poured in and illuminated the canyon with warm tones and filled my heart with great content. Almost felt like I was living a “MacKenna’s Gold” scene.
The lower antelope canyon walls can get really narrow and slippery because of the sand in some places. No kidding! Naveen almost slipped and sprained his knee while squeezing our way through. So we had to cut our tour short and head back to the resort.
Know Before You Go:
- You definitely need a tour guide with you to enter both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.
- If you want to capture the famous light beams, I recommend visiting Upper Antelope Canyon.
- iPhone Photography Tip: Set your phone camera to the Vivid Warm to get the best shots of the vibrant colors of the canyon. Your tour guide ususally tells you this.
- If you want to see the vibrant colors of the lit canyons, visit the Lower Antelope Canyon midday between 11am-2pm.
We spent a lazy sunset by the pool while Naveen relaxed his leg out. Oops, almost forgot, we also had a couple of cocktails at the Lake Powell’s floating restaurant-Latitude 37. It is accessible by both land and water.The views of the Wahweap marina from here are insane.
DAY 3: NORTH RIM, ANTELOPE CANYON & GLEN CANYON
There is much more to Arizona than dry desert and sandstone canyons; Contrary to popular belief the water bodies here are spectacular. One of the major (of course the best one) one is Lake Powell; a reservoir on the Colorado river in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. What better way to explore it than a boat ride. We hopped on a 3 hour canyon adventure boat tour from the Wahweap marina and cruised through two of the famous canyons-Antelope Canyons and Navajo Canyons.
The sun and the lighting in Antelope Canyon changes by the hour, even minutes and sometimes every turn. As we entered the canyons, the walls were pale shades of brown as we progressed we saw a warm orange tone in some turns and as we cruised a little deeper into the canyons, the walls grew taller and bright red. Exploring the amazing sandstone colors contrasting with the waters of Lake Powell was a unique experience.
The Navajo Canyons are quite different from the Antelope Canyons, which you can quickly see is due the wall colors. These canyon walls have a split color of white at the bottom and an orangish brown at the top. The towering Navajo sandstone geologic formations with stunning red and burnt orange rocks were just out of this planet.
We also saw a lot of houseboats which you could rent and chill for the day; Or if you are a little more adventurous you can try the kayaks. His knee injury kept us from kayaking in there. But It’s just the perfect paradise for people who love kayaking coz who wouldn’t love kayaking through these canyon walls?
With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, endless sunshine, warm water, perfect weather, and some of the most spectacular scenery, Lake Powell was the highlight of the North Rim.
Other spots for sunset in North rim are:
Point imperial and half of Ansel Adam
Okay let’s skip to my favorite part of Arizona: the sunset. Did you really think that I’ll leave this part out?
There are a couple of viewpoints to catch a scenic sunset at the Grand Canyon. Some of my favorites are:
Hopi Viewpoint: With unobstructed views of the Grand Canyon, it’s best known as a crowded viewpoint for sunrise and sunset.
Mohave Viewpoint: This stop has multiple hidden viewpoints and is a great candidate for couples who want to enjoy a romantic sunset with less crowd.
Powell Viewpoint: Sweeping views and a great photo op!
After spending a good deal of time researching the best place, I am glad that I picked Yaki Point for its scenic views of the east side of the Grand Canyon and a glimpse of the Kaibab Trail below. It was nearly golden hour when we reached. The sun casted its last rays on the canyons and painted them blush pink, heavy clouds started to swarm in and cool winds hustled through the creeks and filled in all the gray areas creating a magical sunset. That place, that view, those feels, it was just so surreal.
After spending more time than I am willing to admit we headed back to our hotel and enjoyed a romantic candle light dinner set up for us at the Bourbon lounge. Savoring some good southwest flavors and cocktails was the best way to end the day.
Where to Stay: Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel in Grand Canyon Village, AZ
DAY 4: GRAND CANYON SOUTH RIM
Rise and Shine; We took it quite literally on our last day of the trip. We woke up at 5am to catch the sunrise at the Matter Point.We are not morning people and since the lighting is the best during sunrise or sunset, we usually miss this golden chance to shoot. So we decide to change that, and look what we found.
With clear blue skies and golden sun rays, witnessing the canyon come alive with every passing hour was pure bliss.
We quickly headed to Grand view-point for a hike. The view-point offers magnificent panoramic views of Grand Canyon and the Colorado river below it. It’s a 3 mile hike from the overlook to Horseshoe Mesa and is pretty steep and rough so I dint make it through the way. If you don’t want to be battling the crowd just head to the small gaps along the point where you can have the place to yourself and take in all the exquisite views.
The Grand Canyon is a mile deep canyon and is truly one of those places that completely takes your breath away. There are endless lookout points to soak in all the beautiful view but here’s a compiled list of my favorites view points during the day:
Mather Point: The most popular viewpoint on the South Rim for Sunrise.
Yavapai Point: Just a little further from the Matter point, but lesser crowded.
Grandview Point: Famous tourist spot for the panoramic views of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River
Desert View Watchtower: A best point to get the 360-degree views of the canyon.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Park Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle (the park pass is valid for 7 days)
- The South Rim is open year-round and is best known for its viewpoints. The viewpoint are accessible via bus or car.
- The North Rim is only open May 15 to October 15, is known for its slot canyons.
- Even though the direct distance across the canyon is only 10 miles, it takes 5 hours to drive between the South Rim and the North Rim.
- Check the National Parks website prior to any visit for updates regarding any closures and alerts.
After countless stops at different points along the Desert view drive to take photos and to marvel at the depth and beauty of the canyon we drove back to Vegas.
Water bottles You need LOADS of water
Tripod to capture all the magical moments
Don’t forget your first aid. In our case it really helped.
Don’t wake me, I’m still dreaming.