Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Leaving Monument Valley, to Lower Antelope Canyon, to the North Rim of Grand Canyon

I awoke on the first day of September just to see the last clouds drift away over Monument Valley. I hadn't planned to take any more pictures here, so the only thing that remained to do was to find someone to pay my camping fee to. Once more, I wasn't successful - the visitor center wasn't staffed yet, and there were no drop boxes or similar either. I told myself that if nobody cared enough about getting the money to even just hang a notice somewhere instructing campers how to pay, I shouldn't feel too bad, and took off.

I stopped in Page to do some shopping, snapped a picture of the coal plant and the polluted sky around it, and then drove the short distance to Antelope Canyon. I opted to visit Lower Antelope Canyon rather than the Upper part, not because of photographic merit (the latter is probably more famous) but on the number of cars parked on each lot - Upper was much busier. It's difficult to get over how much the entrance costs compared to the very good value of things like the national park pass. Access to the Lower Antelope Canyon - which only provides a few hours' worth of enjoyment at most - costs half as much as a pass that could provide months. But then again, it wouldn't be very smart to just drive past a landmark as unique as this slot canyon.

A quarter of an hour later I was ready to descend into the slot canyon. A guide led us the short distance to the entrance. The important part is having a tripod, because this way you get a "photographer's permit" that allows you to travel through the slot canyon at your own leisurely pace - tourists without such a permit (which doesn't cost extra) get rushed through by a mandatory guide.

It took me about an hour to travel the length of the canyon, setting up my tripod multiple times along the way. I could have exited via a metal stair case here and walked back the short distance to my car over land, but instead I opted to walk back through the canyon, spending another hour in the shade.

By now, it was past noon, and I was ready to get to my next destination, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. To get there, I'd take 89 south, then west. I briefly stopped at Navajo Bridge, two steel bridges that span the Colorado River, which sits about 500 feet below the plateau at this point. The weather was still quite good here, with mostly blue skies; but when I reached the entrance to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, it was very cloudy. With the bad weather, and even a threat of rain at the first two spots I stopped in the park, I hadn't really expected a spectacular sunset. Luckily, conditions improved just as the day was ending.

When I arrived at Point Imperial, there were still some large clouds hanging overhead, but some blue was visible once more and the canyon below had taken on more colors again. At the next two viewpoints, it was back to my first impression of Grand Canyon that day again: dull colors under gray skies. At Vista Encantada, things looked bleaker, and Roosevelt Point was worse still. Luckily, by the time I arrived at Walhalla Overlook, the setting sun was piercing through the cloud cover, and bathed the scenery in a dramatic light of colors and shadows. I rushed to Cape Royal, my final stop before the night, anxious to get some good sunset shots.

I set up my tripod. There were only a handful of other photographers present, among them an older man with medium- or large-format gear. A youth group that had also made the trip was less inclined to just quietly take in the views, and instead was scrambling around the rocks. It seemed like they sometimes were oblivious to the exposure. A large cloud obscured the view of the sun for the last minutes of the sunset, but the canyon walls on the opposite side, some miles away, were still getting the sunlight. Just as the sun hit the horizon, it managed to pierce through under that cloud, painting the large rain clouds all around in spectacular colors. Clearly, the cloudscape was rivaling the landscape.

The sun set, and I packed up my belongings and walked back to the car. On the way, I overheard a girl from the youth group exclaim how she thought I was "kinda cute" (even though I hadn't shaved in a few days, I thought to myself). Maybe she had under-estimated how far her voice had gone, and I don't think they expected me to hear. I arrived at the car, loaded my belongings, and I drove to the North Rim campground - this took me much longer than I expected, and the road seemed to have twice as many twists and turns now in the dark than when I'd driven it during the day.

I arrived at the campground after dark, but was relieved to hear they still had empty spots. I bought a bottle of Corona, which along with some Doritos compromised my dinner, and soon retreated for another (more or less) comfortable sleep in the back of the car.

Miles driven: 291mi (468km)

Campground Accommodation: North Rim campground (Grand Canyon National Park): $15.00

Written January 30th 2010 in Esch-Alzette.