Exploring parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
Exploring parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
Beyond heading to Antelope canyon we hadn’t planned much more than this. So when we found we had a free day our hosts suggested Zion Canyon was well worth the one hour drive from Colorado City. Skip to the end to get a summary.
While driving the long desert roads from Las Vegas to Antelope Canyon we had seen some stunning scenery with pink and red rock formations. But it was a very different backdrop to the drive from Colorado City to Zion National Park which had the pink rocks but with green and yellow bush that flourished thanks to the pretty streams that flow through the area.
I had only researched Antelope Canyon so we didn’t know what to expect entering ZNP. Initially there seemed to be a bit of logistics to navigate through. The town Springdale is located on the border of the national park. From here up to the entry point are free shuttles. There are loads of paid car parks and a few free street parks.
Once you reach the entry point you’ll need to pay USD20 per adult to enter the park and from there you can catch the free shuttle to nine different points that lead to various trails. If you are visiting more than one national park in a year it pays to buy the annual pass.
I had assumed because it was school time there would hardly be anyone in this remote location but this is not quiet New Zealand. We arrived around lunch time so we had a forty minute queue for the shuttle. And as it turns out Zion National Park is the most popular national park in Utah.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit Zion National Park do Angel’s trek which takes a full day and apparently has spectacular views of the canyon. However, we were not prepared for such a big trek so we opted for the tracks marked “Easy”.
To view all the trails click here
We first stopped at the entry to Angels Trek and played by Virgin Creek. Virgin Creek carves our the canyon in Zion. Whenever there are flash floods it creates a surge of water that erodes the walls of the canyon as well as flushing loose rocks on the river bed downstream. This creates a deeper and wider canyon. I remember playing by this stream with the fanau and being an awe of the canyon walls that towered above us.
After a quick picnic here we took the shuttle to another easy walk, Weeping Rock. Here the water has seeped into the earth from above and then reaches an impermeable layer where it pushes out of the side of a cliff. This creates a waterfall that seems to weep out of the rock.
We walked up a small hill to view Weeping Rock which creates a natural hanging garden under the shelf of the falls. It was a dry hot day so the fine mist from the sprinkle of water was a welcome sensation. From under the overhang we could look out toward a lush forest of trees at the base of a narrow red-orange gorge. With the rainbow that had formed with all the factors being in alignment, this looked like the back drop of a magical fairy tale.
This park is very well organised for thousands of tourists a day. It has flushing toilets at every shuttle stop along with drinking fountains to fill your water bottles. And at the entry point you can hire proper trekking shoes if required.
Because of the dry heat we decided not to stay too long. But the small parts we saw were beautiful. If I make it back to these parts again I will definitely set aside more time to see more of these National Parks.
Everyone asks “Why Antelope Canyon?” So perhaps I’ll start there. And then I’ll get into what it was like to view this stunning place (or 15% of it) with my fanau including a tired 2yo. Plus my opinion on our tour.
So, here’s the why. There was a time when I was subject to watching a lot of Lightening McQueen ie the Cars movie. I often looked at the background and wondered what the inspiration was, surely it was based on some place. Sure enough it was based on the old Route 66 and, as I tend to do, which is follow my research down a rabbit hole, I ended up finding Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. I put them on my bucket list of just sees.
Years later as we were deciding on where to go on our sabbatical, I thought we might as well swing by this place since we were heading to New Orleans and I didn’t think I would be heading to America again after that.
And so, was it worth the journey? Very much so!
It was our first destination and although we tried to break up the journey inside of a tight timeframe it still ended up jam packed.
To find out how to get there, check out this post.
The only way to see Antelope Canyon is using a tour guide. Much like the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers, tragic deaths in the canyon caused by natural disasters had created these new rules.
From above the ground Antelope Canyon looks like a crack in the ground that you could jump over and never know what hides below. Or you might shatter the ground beneath you because it was a thin shelf and find yourself falling four metres into the canyon.
An amazing fact is that rain from up to 100 miles away can create flash floods that drain into Antelope Canyon. Once the water reaches the canyon it can be full in minutes.
First the water fills the top of the canyon hitting the sides creating a whirlpool. Once that top is full, it travels as a wall of water filling the remainder of the canyon.
The walls of the canyon are steep and it would be difficult to climb out of quickly. Currently there are steep stairs and ladders to help you in and out.
It was an incident about ten years ago causing some tourists to drown in the canyon due to a flash flood many miles away.
Before opening the canyon for the day, a couple of safety checks happen.
1. Rainfall is checked for miles around. Antelope Canyon May have blue skies but if it’s raining in an area that impacts the canyon then tours are cancelled for the day. This has only happened about ten times in the last twelve months.
2. Snakes, scorpions, wolves and any other dangerous creatures are picked up and moved about 500 metres away.
The canyon had so many designs crafted by the current of the water. The reddish pink earth was called Navajo sediment. We visited in the late afternoon and saw varying colours on the walls depending on where the suns reached inside the canyon.
Everyone in the fanau loves it! They were not enthusiastic about visiting Antelope Canyon until they were walking through it realising how beautiful it is. 4yo found it a bit scary because he said he was in a long tunnel. 2yo screamed his head off for about fifteen minutes of the walk – which seems endless when you’re trapped in a confined space that echoes. Once he passed out then I relaxed back into enjoying the scenery.
As for the tour, we went with Dixie Ellis. I’d read reviews about being given history of the people and some info on local flora and fauna. I’d hoped I could offset the tour as part of geographical, historical and biological study but this tour lacked cultural depth or any sense of education. 14yo comment that the “tour guide” was just a safety instructor and then went on to say that it could’ve been because it was the last tour of the day.
Horseshoe Bend is a river set amongst a Navaho red rock canyon that has a hairpin turn shaped like a horseshoe, hence the name. It’s easy to access and comes with some precautions but it’s well worth the effort.
If you are making the trip to Antelope Canyon you must visit Horseshoe Bend, it is only fifteen minutes away.
The walking track to reach the lookout gave us a tiny window into what it’s like to walk on dusty, gritty sand type rock and to feel the burn of the sun overhead while the red rock bakes you from underneath. What could be considered a bleak landscape is home to so many creatures but we saw none. There are so many people on the track you don’t even have to be scared of snakes. The view is amazing and perhaps I’m biased towards water bodies, but the blue of the water combined with the red/brown/pink rock definitely makes for a pretty picture.
Horseshoe Bend is located fifteen minutes from the town of Page and fifteen minutes from the tour places for Antelope Canyon. The walk is a light twenty minutes (if you’re not carrying kids) up and over a hill then down to a cliff edge where you can view the river and wide bend in the canyon. Avoid going at peak times when it’s hotter and flooded with tourists. Morning and late afternoon is best.
Unfortunately we were still jet lagged on our fourth day arriving in America from NZ so we woke late and, after a two hour drive plus a few stops for the kids, only arrived at Page by 2pm. We had booked the Lower Antelope Canyon tour for 4pm but my watch said 3pm. Side note: Page is the closest town to Antelope Canyon but it’s also close to the border of Utah and Arizona which are in different time zones. It was this confusion that meant we only had thirty minutes to see Horseshoe Bend before sunset.
We parked the car in a very full carpark that also had bus loads of tourists. The signs said to take at least one bottle of water per person and to wear closed toe shoes. I laughed at the water warnings because I’d read that the walk is only fifteen minutes from the carpark. And the older kids smirked as they passed a lady wearing sandels who was complaining about stones in her shoes when there are multiple warnings to wear proper shoes and she had only just started the walk.
The water suggestion is important for the little ones. Having said that, Horseshoe Bend is in a desert and the earth heats up. That means you feel the heat from above you and below making you feel much hotter than if you were doing a fifteen minute trek in bush. We were brisk walking to ensure we didn’t miss our slot at Lower Antelope Canyon, so hubby and I were hot and thirsty by the time we reached the bottom where the lookout is. But if you had time to sit and savour this place for a while then you definitely want to bring water with you.
Our 12yo and 14yo, free of any excess weight, cruised it even on the uphill back to the carpark – with proper footwear and a water bottle.
On another note, it was safe to be at the lookout with the 2yo because there is a proper railing as long as your child doesn’t stray from the path. You could easily take a pram down this track but it is quite dusty and sandy so a carrier would probably be easier. (Because I was asked: No, we don’t have a carrier – it would’ve been too much extra luggage for a year of travel).
Sometimes I wonder if visiting a place will be as beautiful as the photos I googled portray. Feeling the awe of such natural beauty and the work of natural phenomenons having carved out this massive space makes Horseshoe Bend more beautiful than a picture can describe.
Surprisingly we didn’t need to be that organised to get to Antelope Canyon but timing is everything, right from month and hour. Here’s how we planned our trip and why we ended up planning it in this way, and why it’s worth driving yourself to Page, rather than taking a tour bus.
Having Antelope Canyon as our first destination on our sabbatical meant planning all steps on how to get there prior to leaving NZ. So along with everything else that needed prep before leaving the country for twelve months, I had to have a few things booked – apparently. Here’s how we got to Antelope Canyon. Skip to the end for a summary.
Turns out that the reviews were for peak season travel which is America’s school summer holidays. We were traveling in their autumn- October. That was fortunate for us because two days before we flew out the only thing we had booked was the tickets to Las Vegas which is the nearest city to fly into to reach Antelope Canyon. We decided to staying Las Vegas for a few days. It seems that paying a taxi USD20 + tip would be sufficient from airport to city.
We were flying out on the Monday and on the Thursday I booked a two bedroom Las Vegas Airbnb close to public transport that would get us to The Strip. Then on Friday I booked the deposit on a rental vehicle that could seat six passengers. Thank goodness for Trello because I was so exhausted I wouldn’t have remembered the high priority stuff.
Our plan was to rest in Las Vegas, recover from jet lag and general stress of winding up everything in Auckland before embarking on a four hour drive to the small town of Page which is the closest resting place to Antelope Canyon.
We decided that with everything going on, our most important steps were to get to LV and have accomodation after a 35 hour journey.
As long as we had good internet connection (wifi) then we could book the rest. We figured if we missed out then we’d do something else.
This worked out well for us because we did have a better head space after arriving in LV and getting some sleep.
We were still tired but excited about being “on holiday”. We ended up booking an Airbnb the night before we needed it. We decided to go for a cheap place so that we could stay in a slightly nicer place in New Orleans. That meant booking one room that slept six with a private bathroom and shared kitchen. We would be based at a junction one hour from Zion National Park heading north and two hours from Antelope Canyon heading south. That also meant we only had to drive two hours from LV instead of four to Page.
Turns out that was the best decision because the hosts we stayed with were super lovely. They lived onsite and gave us some history about the small town of Colorado City in Utah that shocked America. Plus they told us what to see and do. They also recommended we book Lower Antelope Canyon tours that night if we were planning to see it the next day. Sure enough there were only two time slots left for a group our size (ie four adults and one child and one two year old). I picked the afternoon booking because I didn’t want to get everyone ready by 6:30am to reach a 9am tour that was two hours away.
I’ve driven in Australia from Melbourne to Wagga to visit family. That’s a boring five hour drive of straight roads and flat terrain with very few noteworthy landmarks along the way. It’s easy to fall asleep there.
Although driving from Utah to Arizona to get to Page is through desert, it is not boring!
There are amazing structures carved by the elements. A more in depth analysis in the school section. There are plenty of stops along the way if you have time. We stopped at Glen Canyon Dam which is just outside of Page and has an info centre with lots of information on how the canyons are formed and how these amazing rock structures have been carved out.
As a side note I asked my host if we should see the biggest dam in America which is close by. His answer implied that a dam is a dam. His mindset is more like ours when it comes to “hot spots”: The beautiful national parks and reserves were far more worthy of time out here in Utah than another man made structure.
Best way to get there from Auckland is to fly to Las Vegas then rent a car to Page. From Page it’s an easy drive to some beautiful national parks and many tours operate form here. Antelope Canyon can only be accessed through tour operators so it’s best to book that ahead of time so you don’t miss out.
This article is really useful for getting around Las Vegas
For family ideas on what to do around Page I found this awesome article
Although you can stay in Page to view Antelope Canyon, if you are arriving via Las Vegas, I recommend staying closer to Zion Canyon. Stay here for a few days so that you are not rushing around and you get a higher absorption of this beautiful area. From many towns near Zion Canyon, like Kanab, you are roughly a two hour drive to Antelope Canyon which you could cover as a day trip. On the other days you could visit Zion Canyon or Bryce Canyon. Depending on how long your stay is, you could then visit the Grand Canyon.
Arriving in Las Vegas we hadn’t organised any transport to the Airbnb. We had read reviews saying we should take an Uber. There was free wifi at the airport but not in the carpark which is where the pick up zone for the Uber is. We ordered the Uber but couldn’t track its progress because we were a ten minute walk from the airport wifi zone.
The Uber arrived but the driver rejected us because he didn’t have a car seat. We canceled the Uber and Uber charged a cancellation fee (the price of the fare) even though it was the driver that cancelled us.
We took a taxi and the cost was only $5 more than the Uber quote so I would recommend just taking a taxi for the sake of ease. On a side note, I unfortunately dropped my license and bank cards in the vehicle 🙁 I’ll only be able to order new ones once we book long term accomodation which is a few weeks away. Not very comfortable about the idea of ordering a bank card to be sent to a third world country. Will soon see how reliable their mail system is in Cuba or Mexico.
The taxi driver took us to our accomodation but we were a few hours early so the place was not yet ready so we requested the driver drop us to the nearest mall. We shopped around for a few hours with all our luggage and once the place was ready we lugged it all the 1.5km to our Airbnb.
The Strip is the street tourists come to see. It has the famous hotels, the Palaggio dancing fountain, the mini Eiffel Tower etc. We were staying in a residential area ten minutes drive from The Strip.
We were very close to a bus stop, only ten minutes walk and ten minutes walk to the mono rail. We ended up using both options. The bus is super cheap being only a couple of dollars per person. Check out the bus routes here The monorail is USD5 per person and is only worth buying a ticket if you plan on using it multiple times over a 24 hour period, in which case you can buy the USD12 day pass. Check out the monorail website here.
To get to the malls, we walked since they were only a twenty minute walk. But we did find the taxi fares were pretty reasonable, perhaps because we were not travelling very far. It also meant we had more flexibility to explore other malls because the taxi driver could take us to cheaper supermarkets or malls that had what we were looking for.
Using a taxi is not much more than ordering an Uber and allows you flexibility.
Buses are super cheap and more worthwhile than using the monorail.
Hired this massive American car from Las Vegas and drove it to Antelope Canyon as well as Zion National Park. The two little ones loved the DVD player where they could watch Paw Patrol. The boot was massive and could comfortably fit all our luggage.
Driving was smooth and it had a lot of power. Only one incident where I was driving on the left side of the road! Fortunately my 14yo (sitting in the middle row) reminded me and it was a quiet country road.
We were fortunate enough to see this ambulance and fire truck pull up in the carpark where we were ordering Mexican food in the small town of Page which is the closest town to Antelope Canyon
This MedicWest ambulance is a reminder of the lack of free health care here. It’s a private ambulance so has the colours of it’s company. The long petrol tanker has a trailer and was leaving the carpark where we found the MedicWest ambulance.
We visited the Staheli Family Farm, famous for it’s Halloween zombie night runs. We saw tractors and rode a trailer being pulled by a tractor. We also saw it’s famous Zombie paint ball bus.
This colourful car captured 2yo’s attention. We found it in the M&M store, which btw, was four levels.
And a run-down yellow school bus
Our experience of Las Vegas was not the party life that tourists usually seek when visiting. Instead we stuck to sight seeing the strip, and shopping at some of the malls, which meant a lot of walking plus navigating the terrain outside of “The Strip”.
We didn’t do any casinos or bars at Las Vegas so I wouldn’t say we did the usual Las Vegas trip. Having four kids, Las Vegas wasn’t on our list of to-dos. We ended up here because it was the closest city from Auckland that would get us to Antelope Canyon. However we had decided to stay two nights here so that we could recover from the 35 hour journey. Which actually is more than that because we woke up five hours before our flight and couldn’t check in to our Airbnb until five hours after we landed.
We were all exhausted and what I didn’t realise was that we were about to start the pattern of having 2yo and 4yo waking up early (at 6 or 7) while 12yo and 14yo woke at 11am or 12pm. I suppose if I’d known then perhaps I could have nipped it in the bud straight away. But I think it’s really been because quiet time is when 2yo and 4yo go to sleep so we all get to chill or catch up on digital time.
Anyway, landing in Vegas for us meant experiencing a version of American culture that most would expect in a city like Las Vegas. There were fast food joints everywhere, big cars, big roads, malls, bars, and everyone charging for anything. People trying to make money off tips dressed up in flamingo outfits, or even as minions, walking up and down the Strip hoping to pick up tips from a tourist wanting a photo op.
Stepping a few blocks away from The Strip where we stayed was run down pavements, ordinary people that do ordinary jobs, and although we saw a couple of drug addicts we didn’t see any homeless.
For 12yo and 14yo it’s been a lot of walking, looking after a backpack or helping with a younger brother in the dry heat. We were always grateful to step into an air conditioned hotel, which is often the only way to get off one of the pedestrian bridges used to cross the road. They don’t make it easy to escape these hotels so you can end up on the casino floor instead of back on the street. But at least that meant there were plenty of clean toilets for us to use. And if we went up one floor in the hotel we had have a quiet space to recoup before the arduous walk to nowhere.
Everywhere on the Strip was crowded and that meant extra walking because we were negotiating people traffic.
Outside of the Strip it was spacious and quiet. Malls were cheap if you went to a store that specialised in sales. Ross Dress For Less had branded gear left overs from last season. Another store did the same but with shoes. But even, the department stores are relatively cheap. We picked up some great quality sneakers for the little ones at half the price it would’ve cost in New Zealand.
Because we were eating out we struggled to find fruit and veg so I ended up feeling bloated every time I ate. I could taste the high levels of sugar in everything. I bought bread for the kids and it was inedible because it was so heavy in sugar but not in a nice way.
The supermarket, although 24 hours and only one kilometre away from our Airbnb, was set in a neighbourhood that meant we were not to walk there at night. Our Airbnb was very clear that we must not. So we went to the petrol station across the road on the corner. The counter staff were friendly and helpful but we struggled to find food we could call sustenance. After two nights I was glad to leave Las Vegas in the hope that being in the country meant we would find healthier food options.
Interestingly, after learning we were from NZ he asked if we were mayohree (Maori). Although I watch a lot of American fluff we have had a few funny moments where one of us didn’t understand the accent which meant answering a question nonsensically.
There are many beautiful hotels to explore which we did a lot of. And although we didn’t see any, there are also free shows. We did, however, manage to catch the famous Bellagio dancing fountain.
Not sure that I would revisit Las Vegas. Compared to a place like New Orleans it definitely lacked a depth of culture. Having said that we still enjoyed it for what it is and that included the famous hotel district, the very American food places and the many cheap bargain shopping opportunities.