Southwest 2015 – The Titanic Cliffs of Horseshoe Bend

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Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

Today will be our last full day of wandering the Great Navajo Nation and northeast regions of Arizona. There were many places near Page, AZ and we were going to hit up a few of them including the famous Horseshoe Bend just south of town. Because were going to be local for the day, Julia and I had slept in a bit after spending a long day out at Monument Valley and what felt like a super long drive home in the pitch black of night with nothing more than the stars above to guide the way. Breakfast was the usual quick Greek Yogurt, then we grabbed our gear and raced to the Starship to load up and head out for the day.

Our first stop was not even two miles from the hotel. We drove to the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook to see what kind of a view we could get at the bottom of the stairs that led to the edges of the canyon below. Julia and I started our way and were greeted by a sign at the top of the stairs.

“This sign is excellent, wish they would implement these at more places across the nation.”

“The stairs that lead down to the cliff side overlook are literally carved into the Navajo Sandstone.”

Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

GPS Coordinates: 36.9237° N, 111.4793° W

The view is very beautiful one, but can be deadly if you do not mind your footing should you decide you want to get a closer look. The distance to the Colorado River below is a vertical 400 ft (122 m) drop or approximately that of a 40 story building. The distance to the Dam from the overlook is just under a mile (1.55 km). The descent to the overlook is a very small hike down the stone carved stairs, maybe 7-8 minutes tops. Behind the Glen Powell Canyon Dam, a large body of water exists, it is Lake Powell and will be our next destination shortly after this stop.

“Once you reach the overlook, the view of the Glen Canyon Dam becomes impressive!”

Glen Canyon Dam

Glen Canyon Dam is a concrete arch dam on the Colorado River in northern Arizona in the United States, near the town of Page. The dam was built to provide hydroelectricity and flow regulation from the upper Colorado River Basin to the lower. Its reservoir is called Lake Powell, and is the second-largest artificial lake in the country, extending upriver well into Utah. The dam is named for Glen Canyon, a colorful series of gorges, most of which now lies under the reservoir.

The dam was proposed in the 1950s as part of the Colorado River Storage Project, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) federal water project that would develop reservoir storage on the upper Colorado River and several of its major tributaries. The project’s main purpose was to provide water storage to ensure the delivery of sufficient water to the lower basin during years of drought, so as to allow the upper basin to better utilize its allocation of river flow as designated in the 1922 Colorado River Compact. However, problems arose when the USBR proposed to build dams in the federally protected Echo Park canyon in Utah. After extensive policy disputes and legal challenges with environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club, they settled for a high dam at Glen Canyon.

Construction of Glen Canyon Dam started in 1956 and was not finished until 1966. When the reservoir filled, the dam began to deliver a regulated flow of water downstream and a supply of electricity to the region. In 1983, major floods nearly led to the dam’s collapse, but disaster was averted by a close margin. By suppressing floods and other factors that once characterized the Colorado, the dam has led to major physical and ecological changes in the lower river. Controversy continues over the effects both positive and negative of the dam, which has also been antagonized in many literary works.

Glen Canyon’s overall design was based on that of Hoover Dam, a massive concrete arch-gravity structure anchored in solid bedrock, with several significant changes. The engineers wanted the dam to rely predominantly on its arch shape to carry the tremendous pressure of the impounded water into the canyon walls instead of depending on the sheer weight of the structure to hold the reservoir back, as had been done at Hoover. However, most of the rock in the region consists of porous and relatively weak Navajo sandstone in contrast to the stronger rock at the Hoover Dam site, forcing the Glen Canyon design to follow more conservative lines by greatly thickening the abutments, thus increasing the surface area through which the weight of dam and reservoir would be transmitted to the rock and relieving the pressure per square inch on the highly breakable cliffs.(Source: Wikipedia)

“Julia poses for a quick shot by the cliff edge before we leave for our next destination.”

“A short drive lapse video along U.S. Route 89 to the Wahweap Overlook.”

Wahweap Overlook

GPS Coordinates: 36.9681° N, 111.5055° W

About 5.4 miles (8.7 km) from the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, we found ourselves at the Wahweap Overlook at Lake Powell. Julia had been here once before and suggested that we take a visit since I had never been to Lake Powell at all. It was definitely a very cool place because the scenic views here were incredibley vast and beautiful.

“The Starship takes a rest while Julia and I set off on foot for some great photo ops.”

“Tower Butte stands in the distance rising over 1,000 ft (305 m) above the surrounding desert and lake.”

“Julia took a shot of me in the scene for scale.”


I told Julia that I wanted a closer look of Lake Powell, so we saddled up and drove down to Lakeshore Drive. We wandered along the lake side until we found a place to stop where we could get closer shots of the surrounding scenery. The water level seems a bit low, so we proceeded to hike down the dry embankment off the side of the highway near the shoreline. There were lots of great photo opportunities here.

“The water made for a great foreground subject.”

“Heading down to the shore, Julia spotted these strange little sandy sphere no bigger than a pea.”

“There were lots of rocks including some smooth and polished volcanic rock like this one.”

In the distance is the former Navajo Generating Station (N.G.S.) It is a 2,250 megawatt coal-fired power plant located on the Navajo Indian Reservation. It is now run by Salt River Project (S.R.P.) out of Phoenix and is responsible for providing power to most of Arizona.

“The power plant takes on a sci fi appearance like some human colony on a distant world.”

“Looking down a ways toward the city of Page, we could see the north side of the Glen Canyon Dam.”

River’s End Cafe

GPS Coordinates: 36.9144° N, 111.4605° W

It was time for us to get something in our stomachs, so Julia and I packed up the gear and hauled off back to Page for lunch. She had yelped a place the other day that we had wanted to try, so she put in the directions and away we went. The place had gotten some pretty great reviews, but since it was a cafe, it would always close early. Their hours are 8am to 3pm, seven days a week. The cafe is a small shop living inside a bigger building named “Colorado River Discovery”, a raft trip outfitter and equipment headquarters.

“We both ordered grilled sandwiches with chips and a drink for a modest price, it was damn good!”

After having ourselves a solid lunch at the cafe, it was time to head out to our final destination for the day and that is where we’ll stay until the sun goes down. About 4 miles (6.4 km) south of Page, is one of the most iconic and photographed locations in Arizona and we were about to shoot the hell out of that place.

Horseshoe Bend

GPS Coordinates: 36.8794° N, 111.5227° W

The Horseshoe Bend Parking lot has a fair amount of parking, but no restrooms or shade at all. The trailhead to the rim of the canyon begins at the northwest end of the parking lot and immediately starts as a moderate uphill hike through sand to a small hill top from which the rest of the trail is a gradual descent to the cliff’s edge. The overall distance of this small hike is about 3/4 of a mile or 1.2 kilometers.

“The sandy trail is eventually replaced by tough Navajo Sandstone along this path.”

“I followed Julia to the edge of the cliff overlooking the bend.”

“Julia is all smiles!, this is her first visit to Horseshoe Bend and mine as well.”

“The cliffs and views at this location are immense.”

“Julia could tell that I was way excited to be shooting here because I was reviewing every shot thoroughly!’


Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River located near the town of Page, Arizona, in the United States.

Horseshoe Bend is located 5 miles (8.0 km) downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, about 4 miles (6.4 km) southwest of Page. It is accessible via hiking a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) round trip from U.S. Route 89, but an access road also reaches the geological structure, as it is part of a state park. Horseshoe Bend can be viewed from the steep cliff above.

The overlook is 4,200 feet (1,300 m) above sea level, and the Colorado River is at 3,200 feet (980 m) above sea level, making it a 1,000-foot (300 m) drop. The rock walls of Horseshoe Bend contain a variety of minerals, among which are hematite, platinum and garnet. (Source: Wikipedia)


Situational Awareness is Key!

Some visitors at this location like to get as close to the edge as possible to take in a closer look at the massive 1,000 ft (305 m) drop to the river below, but they don’t realize that the sandstone near the edges is not what it appears to be. Often mistaken as sturdy and solid, from a different perspective, it is revealed that they can often times be standing on a thin wedge of stone that could give way at any moment.

“This visitor takes his chances on a thin wedge of the Navajo Sandstone at the edge of the cliff.”

The last recorded death at this location occurred on Saturday, July 24th, 2010. Charalampos Grammatoglou, of Thessaloniki, Greece, was standing on a ledge of thin sandstone when it gave way and he plummeted over 600ft to his death. Just before he fell, members of his party were yelling at him to get away from the edge. The death was the one of its kind first for the popular overlook in 15 years.

“Many visitors came and went, some were more apprehensive about the cliff’s edge than others.”

Getting close to the edge can yield some rewarding shots within reason and if you wanted to get the entire horseshoe, you have to get as close as possible to fit the colorado river below into the widest lens you’ve got. I would suggest anything 16mm or less to capture the entire scene. I was shooting with my 14mm prime and the scene fit just right for me.

“The classic composition for this location, centered and wide.”

Although I have seen this place in photographs and some video, nothing can prepare you for just how massive and terrifying the scale of this place really is. This location has been photographed so many times and with good reason, but often times I like to get shots of a popular composition from a different angle or even away from the composition all together.

“This is a different angle of just a section of the bend.”

“This shot was taken to the right of the bend, tiny people for scale.”

“Julia gets a little bold and positions herself on a rocky ledge.”

“Eventually I joined her and we took in the scenery together at the edge.”

I took a stroll to the right side of the bend and searched for other photo opportunities. There were a few russian kids up on a sandstone peak carving their names into some of the sandstone with a rock. I was pissed and headed their way. They took off before I got there, but I made sure they saw me walk right up to where they were doing that bullshit and let them watch from a distance as I looked at them and scratched out their names from the sandstone. I can’t stand that level of disrespect and all for a piece of land to claim by defacement for their crappy egos.

Unfortunately, Horseshoe Bend is not a National Park, but I have seen things like this at National Parks as well. If you ever catch anyone defacing anything in a National Park, you can call the N.P.S. Vandalism Hotline at 1(888)653-0009. As for places like Horseshoe Bend, I’m not sure if there’s much that can be done short of confronting the perpetrators or at least photographing/ video recording them in action.

“This is the ledge where the defacing was happening, I rectified it immediately.”

So after calling these things ‘Rock Piles’, I learned recently that they actually have an official name, ‘Cairns’ pronounced ‘Kerns’. Apparently they are used as trail markers and are very frequent along the Pacific Coast Trail from what I hear, although I believe that in this day and age, people just build them for fun. There was definitely no shortage of Cairns on this trip and this was another location full of them.


Julia and I had spent a total of three hours at Horseshoe Bend, the golden hour was in full swing and so we managed to take in a few more rounds of photography. The great thing about traveling in the off season is not having to deal with hordes of people, but the down side is that because the off season starts around the first half of autumn and on through winter, we have to deal with much shorter days. The golden hour on this day started at 3:15pm.

Also, no one ever mentioned that the edge of the cliffs have swarming clusters of extremely annoying gnats, so don’t keep your mouth open in awe of the beautiful canyon for too long unless you’re looking to get in a little dose some of all natural protein.

“Julia works to get in her last shots for the day.”

“One last shot of the bend for the day and it was time to call it.”

“A final gaze into the canyon before we leave for dinner.”

RD’s Drive-In

GPS Coordinates: 36.9156° N, 111.4602° W

Dinner time was upon us and Julia and I were extremely hungry by this time. We had taken with us a few snacks to much on during our visit at Horseshoe Bend, but they didn’t satiate our appetites much. I never realized it, but when you are hiking around for three hours and engaged in a most intense session of photography, the appetite can really flare. We had not given much thought about our dinner destination and we wanted to keep it healthy, but Page doesn’t seem to have a reputation for any reasonably healthy food. At this point we just wanted anything to eat and eventually after cruising through town for a bit, we decided to stop at a place called RD’s Drive-In which had some pretty decent reviews.

I wanted to try their signature burger which is the “Green Chili Burger” or as most other places call it, an Ortega Pepper Burger. We placed our order and found a place to sit and relax as we reviewed our shots and discussed all the experiences of the day. Julia and I were exhausted, but once the food was ready, we were wide awake for the moment!

“RD’s signature menu item, the Green Chili Burger.”

After a delicious meal, Julia and I drove back to our place of lodging for the night. The Holiday Inn Express in Page is really nice, and they even serve up some complimentary snacks in the evening for tenants. There were chocolate chip cookies and ice water or tea available most of the night.

“The ice cold cucumber infused water and orange infused tea were so refreshing!”

Today was definitely another major chapter for our personal history book. Julia was having a blast on this monstrous adventure through the southwest and that made me very happy. I love traveling, but when you have someone to share it with that has similar interests and curiosities, it just makes the experience that much more grand! Today was the last full day in town, tomorrow we set off for Springdale, Utah and all scenic spots along the way as we travel the northern regions of the Grand Canyon.

Until the next travel blog, remember to get out there and “Shoot the Planet!”



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