Southwest 2015 – Old State Route 89A to Zion National Park

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Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Today we get to load up the Starship and check out of our room at the Holiday Inn Express in Page, Arizona. We will be leaving the Navajo Nation for Springdale, Utah by way of Arizona State Route 89A, a section of highway that traverses the regions of the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. Neither Julia or myself have ever traveled that way so this was going to be a really cool day of pure highway exploration. We grabbed ourselves a quick breakfast and hit the road immediately out of town. Traveling Route 89 south to the 89A junction provided some really fantastic views of Navajo Mountain to the northeast and the Vermillion Cliffs to the west.

“We stopped for a quick photo of Navajo Mountain in the distance.”

“The vista point off route 89 just before the 89A junction provides a stunning view of Marble Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs.”

“Driving U.S. Route 89 to 89A and the Navajo Bridge.”


We hit the junction and started our drive along State Route 89A to the edge of the great Navajo Nation. The edge of this territory is marked by Marble Canyon (a.k.a. the beginnings of the Grand Canyon). Our first stop would be a very distinct feature that connects the Navajo Nation to the rest of Arizona. We visited this place for a very brief moment during our initial journey into the great Navajo Nation a few days before.

“We pulled over at a parking area on the east side of the canyon and walked the rest of the way.”

The Navajo Bridge(s)

GPS Coordinates: 36.8156° N, 111.6662° W
Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River’s Marble Canyon near Lee’s Ferry in the US state of Arizona carrying U.S. Route 89A. Spanning Marble Canyon, the bridge carries northbound travelers to southern Utah and to the Arizona Strip, the otherwise inaccessible portion of Arizona north of the Colorado River, which includes the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Prior to the construction of the first Navajo Bridge, the only river crossing from Arizona to Utah was at nearby Lee’s Ferry, where the canyon walls are low and getting vehicles onto the water is relatively convenient. The ferry offered only unreliable service, however, as adverse weather and flooding regularly prevented its operation.(Source: Wikipedia)

“The bridge on the right is the original and the left bridge is the stronger, updated version for safety reasons.”

“This is the entry point of the Old Navajo Bridge on the east side of Marble Canyon.”

“There were signs like this posted all along the bridge. Kinda scary to imagine having to sprint from the middle during a storm.”

“The view of the newer bridge from the old one.”

“The Old Navajo Bridge offers a great photo opportunity of the Colorado River as it runs through Marble Canyon.”

“When you reach the west end of the canyon, you will find a plaque with information about the old bridge.”

“There is a really neat looking visitor center on the west end, but it was closed for the winter.”

“This stone sign welcomes anyone who wishes to cross the bridge to the east side of the canyon from the west.”

Fighting that old phobia

After taking a few pics at the west end of the Canyon, we got back onto the bridge and meandered along to see what other photo opportunities were there to be had. I have personally been battling with a bad fear of heights since 2006, but using my camera as a tool of distraction, I have overcome the worst of it over the years. Nowadays I can handle it a lot better than before. Conquering Half Dome earlier this year was my biggest “In your face!” moment to my phobia, but it still catches me off guard when I haven’t challenged my phobia in a while. The Old Navajo Bridge freaked me out a bit at first, but I learned that the longer I exposed myself to that scenario, the more I adjusted I became and the less control my phobia had over me.

Although it may not look like it, the height of the the Old Navajo Bridge to the Colorado River is more than twice the height of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Pacific waters below. That’s 467 ft (142 m) for the Navajo Bridge and only a mere 220 ft (67 m) for the Golden Gate Bridge. I have been to both I have to say that the optical illusion makes you think it’s the other way around.

“Crossing the Navajo Bridge when you have acrophobia can be dizzying, but you will acclimate with enough time.”

“Here is a short clip of Julia and I taking a peek over the railing with my small camera.”


“This chain and lock mark the very middle of the bridge.”


“Julia stands atop the seam of the middle of the bridge .”

Julia and I crossed the highway to get some alternate photos of the bridge and to see what the canyon looked like further away from the two bridges. We were greeted by a barbed wire fence with no signs about trespassing or private property, so we passed through anyway and took a brief stroll south along the edge of the east canyon. There was one really unique photo op that I had never seen before so naturally Julia and I took plenty of shots there and then headed back to the Starship.

“This was the view of the Colorado River and Canyon about a quarter mile south of the Old Navajo Bridge.”

“Snapped a shot of the newer bridge from the south before we hit the road again.”

“After a thorough visit of the Navajo Bridge, it was time to continue our journey west.”

The Balancing Boulders at Cliff Dwellers

GPS Coordinates: 36.7459° N, 111.7530° W
Julia and I stopped along side the road shortly after we left the Navajo Bridge due to a rather intriguing geological showcase. less than 9 miles from our last stop, we discovered some really big boulders balanced atop small rocky outcrops. There was even a house that appeared to be crushed by one of the massive boulders, but we later discovered that the house what actually built around the big boulder instead. I couldn’t dig up any other information about this place other than what I saw during our visit.

“This old ‘Rock house’ gives the illusion that it was crushed by a boulder, but it was actually built around the boulder.”

“There was even an intact chimney around the backside of the dwelling.”

“Three large boulders sit balanced on rocky pedestals along side each other.”

“Julia and I always watch out for one another when we take our highway shots.”

“Somehow I get the feeling that the balancing boulders were placed in their curious locations.”

“Julia stands next to the boulders for scale.”

“The Vermillion Cliffs gave birth to these big boulders and this one looks like a fossilized alien skull.”

“After a good bit of shooting, we started along State Route 89A westbound again.”

San Bartolome

GPS Coordinates: 36.6971° N, 111.9112° W
Julia and I were driving alongside the massive Vermillion Cliffs to the right of us and the northern rim of the Grand Canyon to the left of us. Route 89A was quickly becoming one of my favorite highways on this trip due to the lack of traffic. We saw maybe one car every 5 minutes or so. I slowed down a bit after taking notice of a sign up ahead on the right and decided to pull in to check it out. This area is the San Bartolome Campsite, a merging point that is host to three major trails that pass through this spot. There’s the old Dominguez-Escalante Expedition Trail dating back to the 1770’s, The Old Spanish Trail which runs from New Mexico to California, and The Mormon Honeymoon Trail which runs from Arizona to St. George, Utah.

“We saw this really tattered sign and decided to explore this area really quick.”

“Julia is having a blast on this most epic of expeditions.”

“A single stone monument stands out at the southeast region of the campground.”

The Dominguez–Escalante Expedition

The Dominguez–Escalante Expedition was conducted by a Spanish party in 1776 to find an overland route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to their Catholic mission in Monterey, northern California. Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante, Franciscan priests, and Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, acting as the expedition’s cartographer, traveled with eight men from Santa Fe through present-day western Colorado to the Utah Valley (in the state of present-day Utah). Along part of the journey, they were aided by three Timpanogos (Shoshone) guides.

Due to hardships during travel, the group did not reach Las Californias, but returned to Santa Fe through Arizona. The maps and documentation of their expedition aided future travelers. Their route became part of the Old Spanish Trail, a trade route from Santa Fe to Pacific Coast settlements. These Spanish were the first European men to travel the route through much of the Colorado Plateau into Utah, and back through Arizona to New Mexico. During the course of their trip, they documented the route and provided detailed information about the “lush, mountainous land filled with game and timber, strange ruins of stone cities and villages, and rivers showing signs of precious metals.”(Source: Wikipedia)

“The monument stands as a bicentennial marker of the Dominguez–Escalante Expedition 1776 – 1976.”

“Look a little bit lower and you can also see who made the monument.”

“Facing south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from the center of the campsite.”

“Another amazing adventure and another happy customer!”

“And now it is time to hit the highest plateau of the northern rim of the Grand Canyon.”

“Highway 67 south will get you to the north rim when it’s not closed.”

I had read that the north rim of the Grand Canyon just closed days after our venture initially started and so I expected to see the closure, but I had to go down the road as far as I could go. So shortly after passing the 67 junction south, I turned the Starship around and drove down the small stretch of 67 until we could not go any further. I took notice of a Highway Patrol hanging out on a side road adjacent to the main road that we were on. I had stopped the rig at the closure and stepped out to take some pics. He was probably wondering what we were up to and so he started to make a move to get closer to us, but that’s when I got back in and turned around to head back out to Route 89A again.

“And this is about as far as we were going to get during this time of year.”

“Julia and I drove a little further down the snow covered stretch of Route 89A and decided to stop for a walk in the snow.”

“The Starship takes a break while we play at 8,000 ft (2,438 m)”

“I found a small bone and jammed it into the snow for a shot.”

“Cruising a bit further along 89A, I had to stop for a photo of this bizarre shaped pine.”

“Eventually we began to leave the plateau of the northern rim and stopped when we saw this remarkable view of the Grand Staircase.”

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a U.S. National Monument protecting 1,880,461 acres (760,996 ha) of land in southern Utah. There are three main regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante – all of which are administered by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. President Bill Clinton designated the area as a national monument in 1996 using his authority under the Antiquities Act. Grand Staircase-Escalante encompasses the largest land area of all U.S. National Monuments.

The Monument stretches from the towns of Big Water, Glendale and Kanab, Utah on the southwest, to the towns of Escalante and Boulder on the northeast. Encompassing 1.9 million acres, the monument is slightly larger in area than the state of Delaware. The western part of the Monument is dominated by the Paunsaugunt Plateau and the Paria River, and is adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park. This section shows the geologic progression of the Grand Staircase.

Since 2000, numerous dinosaur fossils over 75 million years old have been found at Grand Staircase-Escalante. In 2002, a volunteer at Grand Staircase-Escalante discovered a 75-million-year-old dinosaur near the Arizona border. On October 3, 2007, the dinosaur’s name, Gryposaurus monumentensis (hook-beaked lizard from the monument) was announced in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. G. monumentensis was at least 30 feet (9.1 m) long and 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, and has a powerful jaw with more than 800 teeth. Many of the specimens from the Kaiparowits Formation are reposited at the Natural History Museum of Utah.(Source: Wikipedia)

“I covered Julia’s back and she covered mine for these excellent highway shots!”

Dinner at Big Al’s Burgers

GPS Coordinates: 37.0432° N, 112.5267° W
All this stop and go action along Route 89A had us getting very hungry. We did have snack that we munched on along the drive, but we wanted an actual meal. The town of Kanab, Utah was the place that we decided to stop for a bite to eat. As usual, Julia took charge as the official Yelp navigator. We didn’t want to take a whole lot of time so we settled on a buffalo burger joint in town called Big Al’s Burgers which seemed to have some fairly good reviews.

“Miss Julia waits patiently for our juicy Double Buffalo Cheeseburger combos.”

Once we wrapped up dinner, the sun was starting it’s descent and we continued our northeast drive. Route 89A merged in the town of Kanab with Route 89 and continued as route 89 until we hit Mt. Carmel Junction. From here we said farewell to Route 89 and hopped onto Highway 9 westbound. We never got a chance to stop by, but at Mt. Carmel Junction there was an interesting looking cafe called the “Thunderbird Restaurant”. Perhaps a visit for the next venture, but for now we had a date with Springdale, Utah.

“Home of the Ho-Made Pies is the Thunderbird Restaurant’s slogan.”

“45 minutes later we finally arrived at the small town of Springdale where the sunset colored peak of the Watchman greeted us.”

“The holidays were in full effect at the Holiday Inn Express at Springdale and we were loving it!”

It was a hell of a long day, but we made it to our destination after an extensive amount of exploration and lots of photography too. We figured that we were probably one of like eight total tenants at the Holiday Inn Express that night thanks to this being the ‘off season’. The gal at the front desk said that the spring and summer are pure madness with the massive surge in visitors which again reinforces the reason why I enjoy traveling in the ‘off season’ so much, not to mention the lower hotel rates. Anyhow, we’re at the front doorstep of Zion now and looking at a few days of new exploration.

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



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