I climbed into the backseat of the hybrid car, my Uber driver Dale’s silver ponytail matching the paint of his Prius was peaking out of the bottom of his wide brimmed cowboy hat over his shoulder. Only in New Mexico would your Uber driver look like we were carpooling to the ranch. We chatted on the short ride over to the rental car lot, I thanked him and walked toward the front counter, realizing in the early morning chaos I left my wallet on my hotel bed.
That won me another round trip ride with pony-tail Dale and once all of the vehicular transactions were completed, I was behind the wheel of my black, speedy Ford Focus and ready for my mini road trip.
There is something truly American about a road trip. I’m not sure if it’s our manifest destiny nature or just the sheer vastness of the country itself, but there is always some iconic imagery that comes to mind when you think of a classic, summer road trip. I love making a long drive part of my vacation. If you look at it as a piece of the adventure it makes exploring more fun and it feels less like a chore to get from point A to point B and part of the whole journey.
I started off from Santa Fe, New Mexico and took a 7 hour, scenic drive northwest to Page, Arizona. The trip was about 500 miles, but I had planned an early start for two reasons; I wanted to reach Horseshoe Bend before sunset and I knew I’d be tempted to stop at least a half dozen times along the way. The Native American history, desert landscape, and gradients of amber towering hills rolling into green pastures make for views out your windshield unlike any other in the country.
I pulled up with just enough time to spare to set up my things and catch the sun as it coasted behind the rocks at Horseshoe Bend. It has been an image I’ve seen countless times on my Instagram feed but it was a place I wanted to experience for myself. I didn’t have time to change so I threw my gear over my shoulder donning flip flops and a sundress. I knew that there was a small walk to get to the edge of the bend and I was hoping that it wasn’t a hike. There was a sandy trail head and the walk was easy so I was happy I didn’t have to climb over rocks in a dress and sandals.
There were swarms of people lined up along the 1,000 foot ledge of the bend, all peering over to take in the vastness of the curve of the Colorado River, it’s colors changing hues of greenish blue as the clouds shifted past and the sun slid down the side of the mountain. Photographers set up their tripods alarmingly close to the edge to capture that picture perfect sunset moment. Be sure to bring a wide angle lens if you want to show the expansive view of the whole canyon. Also don’t be alarmed if there are tons of tourists there, because of it’s sheer size, Horseshoe Bend can be photographed from almost any side and you’ll still get the desired effect you were looking for. I set up my camera, took tons of shots and got a chance to try out my new tripod, soon becoming one of the crazy ones, setting a leg of my tripod ever so close to the furthest point of the rock.
I sat on a large smooth stone and was surprised to see the groups of people already starting to dissipate before the sun had completely vanished. I assumed “they came, they saw & they selfied” and that was enough which was better for me as I ended up having a large part of the rim all to myself and the ability to take in peaceful view at a natural wonder. It was interesting to look back at the varying shades of oranges to blue that had moved over the bend in the few hours I had been there. I can’t decide which I prefer, the warm sandy shades or the moody cobalt hues.
Going to Horseshoe Bend is free and from a photography standpoint I was curious to see which time of day has better lighting. It would be personal preference but in the morning the sun is at your back casting some shadows into the canyon and the light washes out the distinct variations of color in the rocks. Although there are far less people in the morning, a more dramatic view for sure is as the sun falls and if the day isn’t cloudy it can create a pretty spectacular sunburst along the horizon line. Also, to be able to see and do everything in the area without feeling pressed for time, I recommend staying in Page, Arizona overnight. Take in the views of the bend and explore Lake Powell one day and then climb into the slot canyons the next day, seeing the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons without feeling rushed. It’s not far from the start of the Grand Canyon National Park so it’s a perfect opportunity for a road trip detour.
Check back soon, as this is the first of a three part series of touring Arizona natural wonders. Up next, the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons!