Page, AZ & The Grand Canyon
We arrived in Page later in the afternoon and checked into our hotel. Page is located on the shores of Lake Powell, which was created by the Glen Canyon Dam.
Our first order of business was to visit Horseshoe Bend which is a very scenic and dramatic curve in the Colorado River about five miles below the dam. This is a place I’ve long wanted to see in person. Even more, I always dreamed I’d see it in person from a kayak. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to achieve that dream this time -it remains to be checked off the list another time.
The hike from the parking lot to the overlook is about 3/4ths of a mile. The dark shadow in the middle of this picture is one wall of the bend in shadow. It isn’t as close as it looks!
It isn’t until you’re almost to the edge that the bottom drops out.
Seeing Horseshoe Bend was a huge highlight for me… and also for a lot of my new best friends.
There was a sign near the parking lot where Mike took a picture of me – just in case the professional photo on the sign was better than what we would take once we got to the edge.
After that, it was time to find someplace to eat dinner. We ended up at a place called Dam Bar & Grille.
They had some fun decor inside. This was an etched glass divider which was a picture of the Glen Canyon Dam.
Why not just put a whole boat in there?
This was hanging from the ceiling.
Other than wanting to see Horseshoe Bend, Page was mostly a convenient overnight stopping point for our early departure to the Grand Canyon. Because Page is closer to the East end of the Grand Canyon, we planned to enter the park via the lesser used East entrance. I had misread the distance/travel time between Page and the entrance, so instead of having a bit of extra time in the morning, we had to get up before sunrise and hit the road again. The drive wasn’t especially scenic, but we knew the best was yet to come.
There were a couple of cool spots along the way -but the windshield was spotty and my pictures didn’t turn out. I amused myself by trying to get a picture of our car shadow.
I’d saved the Grand Canyon for the last stop on our trip because I expected it would be the high point of the trip. Mike said he was worried that the Grand Canyon would be a letdown after all of the wonderful things we’d seen so far. He didn’t need to be worried!
The Grand Canyon was designated as a national park in 1919 after earlier attempts to do so as far back as 1882. In fact, if the bill to establish the Grand Canyon as a national park had gone through in 1882, it would have been the third national park. For my Michigan family and friends – Mackinac was the second national park!
The Grand Canyon National Park covers 1,904 square miles. It includes 278 miles along the Colorado River. The park gets about five million (plus or minus) visitors a year. I was surprised to learn that the Grand Canyon isn’t one of the most visited National Parks. In 2021, it was ranked13th.
The East entrance to the park was very low key.
The ranger gave us a map.
Once inside the park we were on Desert View Road. From the entrance, we still had 23 miles to go before we’d arrive at the main visitor’s center area. I had expected that we would be seeing frequent views of the canyon as we drove, but it was mostly woodsy scenery with the occasional turnoff for viewpoints.
The first viewpoint we came to was Desert View Point. Once we parked, it was about 1/4 mile to the view. The first thing we saw was the Desert View Watchtower. It was built in 1932 by architect Mary Colter. It was closed “until further notice” when we stopped. It would have been fun to see the views from inside. I can’t find out why it was built at all -but I am guessing it was to enhance tourism at the Canyon in the early days.
Our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon.
From the Desert View Watchtower, we continued along the road. We stopped at a couple of other overlook areas and took more pictures.
When I was younger and was convinced I was invincible, I thought it would be cool to raft the Grand Canyon. Hance Rapid is supposed to be visible from the Lipan Point overlook, but with the water levels so low, I couldn’t spot it.
It must be terrifying to experience in normal water conditions. It drops 30 feet and is the biggest river drop in the canyon. The standard classification for rapids developed by the American Whitewater Association is Class I-VI (VI being considered “extreme”). The Grand Canyon has its own rating system from 1-10. Hance Rapid is rated as an 8, which is equivalent to a Class V on other rivers. It isn’t the highest ranked rapid on the river, though!
Hance Rapid is named after a famous character in Grand Canyon lore -John Hance. John Hance visited the Grand Canyon for the first time around 1883. He established a homestead on the South Rim. He was initially interested in mining or prospecting opportunities, but it wasn’t long before he realized that he could make a living from tourism. He installed tents by his cabin and created the first “hotel” at the Grand Canyon. He led visitors down into the canyon and was famous for his tall tales. One of them was that he’d dug the Grand Canyon himself. It was said that to see the canyon only and not see John Hance was to miss half the show.
We eventually arrived at the main visitor’s center and strolled to the most visited overlook, Mather Point, which was named for the first director of the National Park Service. The Grand Canyon is vast.
It truly is a beautiful sight. Pictures can’t replace the experience of standing there and seeing it with your own eyes. They say on clear days you can see 30 miles to the East and 60 miles to the West.
Our planned activity for the day was to take a bike ride. I’d booked in advance, so all we needed to do was check in at the bike rental company. We were given these two beauties and a map.
Our goal was to ride East along the South Rim. There are paved bike paths crisscrossing through Grand Canyon Village, one of which we followed to get to Hermit Road. Hermit Road, which starts just beyond the edge of the village, goes further along the South Rim for several miles beyond the village. It is closed to cars between March and November. Only bikes, pedestrians and the shuttle buses are allowed on the road in those months. There is a walking trail along the edge for pedestrians. Bikers have to ride on the road and must pull over to the side and stop when shuttle buses are passing.
A quick picture of what the bike trail looked like.
When we started out we were noticeably riding downhill for the first couple of miles. I grumped to myself that the ride back to the shop wasn’t going to be much fun! (It wasn’t all that bad.)
The bike rental information said that at the beginning of Hermit Road there is a 6% grade hill that goes for 1/2 mile of climbing. As much as I hate climbing hills on my bike, I was actually quite surprised at how well I went up it. I didn’t go fast, but slow and steady wins the race.
I had imagined that our ride would be right along the edge of the canyon with lots of views the whole way. It ended up that, much like the drive between the entrance and the visitor’s center that morning, we didn’t see much unless we pulled into the designated overlooks. The road was anything but flat, but the hills were easy enough after the first big one.
The map/guide we got from the bike shop said that if the river appeared brown when we saw it, we would be seeing what it looked like before the river was dammed up. The river was named by Spanish Conquistadors in 1540. The rough translation of “Colorado” to English is “red color”.
About 6 miles into our ride, we were at a point where if we continued to the end (about 5 more miles) we’d be riding mostly downhill -which meant a long uphill on the return leg. That’s something I wasn’t excited about. There was an option where you could ride Hermit Road one way and take a shuttle back, but Mike didn’t want to fuss with that. I was also feeling a bit disappointed about not being able to see anything but trees between the overlook points. (There were only 5 overlooks total.) So we decided we’d seen enough and turned around.
This is what the road we were riding on looked like. No shoulders (which is why bikers have to pull off and stop when a shuttle bus is passing) and no views. I think the pedestrian trail would have been a good choice for more non-stop views. It would be easy to create a good route using hiking and the shuttle buses.
It was really fun to ride back down that first 6% grade hill when we got back to it. I have to pat myself on the back. I pedaled all the way up that hill -at my age! On the way down I saw at least two much younger men walking their bikes up it. Total miles ridden: 12-ish.
We returned our bikes at the shop and then and took a few minutes to walk into the visitors center. They had a really big map of the canyon.
John Wesley Powell and his team were the first to navigate the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869 for a geological survey. Powell had lost an arm in the Civil War -so I assume he was also the first one-armed man to run the Grand Canyon too.
Nearby was a display about the Birdseye expedition which was undertaken in 1923 between Lee’s Ferry (near Page, AZ) to Needles, California in order to survey for the best possible locations for potential dam construction along the river. The Glenn (on display) was one of the original boats on the expedition.
After we left the visitor’s center we went into the gift shop to look for a fridge magnet to add to our collection of places we’ve been.
And then, as we walked back out into the sunshine and through the central courtyard area that connected various buildings there – we realized we were at the end of the trip. Well…almost.
We drove out Grand Canyon National Park through the South entrance and started our last big drive of the trip – four and 1/2 hours to Las Vegas. Our flight home was from Las Vegas and we used the last couple of days before our departure to visit with family we have there. (We might have also played a game of chance or two.)
Tip #6 for visiting our National Parks: What are you waiting for?
What surprised me today: I’d heard of Grand Canyon Village, but thought it was mainly a collective reference to the hotels/lodges located there. I was surprised at how much territory it covers. I found out that there are approximately 2,000 residents there, but I assume they are mostly employees of the National Park Service or the hotels.
What might surprise you: It is possible to take a train to the Grand Canyon from Williams, AZ. I heard there might be an old-time train hold up along the way though!
As you can see, I wasn’t kidding when I said this trip would be whirlwind. Even so, we really enjoyed seeing everything we saw and tried to make the best of the time we had. If our travels take us in that direction again (and I think they will) I have lots of new ideas for what we should see and do.