Vermillion Cliffs, Giant Boulders and a Bridges over the River Colorado (Apr 23 2014)

VermilionCliffs4.JPGSounds like a critter got inside Sprockets last night, maybe in the undersink cabinet. The rustling sound kept me up all night but it was too cold to get out of bed to investigate.

Even in the morning, it is cold so we quickly drive away, down a steep grade, from the Kaibab Forest down to prairie level. It’s still four or five thousand feet above sea level, but it does get better, i.e., warmer.

It’s a cloudy, hazy, windy morning but as we drive parallel to the Vermillion Cliffs the sun catches up and the cliffs get sharper. It’s a long, straight-ish road – smooth and nicely paved, appealing to Sprockets’ Teutonic sensibilities.

VermilionCliffs5.JPGVermilionCliffs8.JPGIt will be a day of many surprises. The first is near Soap Creek, so called because of the saponic elements in that creek — a place simply known as “Cliff Dwellers.” There are gigantic boulders, as big as houses strewn here and there, some balancing on impossibly tiny bases. Ancients and more recent eccentrics have made homes under these boulders.


SoapCreek1.JPGCliffDwell19.JPGMarble Canyon, up ahead, is a tiny hamlet of gas station, lodging, coin laundry and coin-operated showers. Although it takes 50 cents just to open the door and then another $2 for just five minutes of showering, we decide to shower anyway. More than the cost, we are disgusted with the water temperature – barely warm enough to stand in. It isn’t even lukewarm. But we go in there together – luckily the stall is pretty roomy – and share the five minutes, both of us managing to wash hair. (Although mine doesn’t feel very clean afterwards.)

“The water temps sucked but it’s still great to be clean,” I sigh, drying my hair on a camp towel inside Sprockets.

The bathrooms have hot water and Big Dog gets to shave and I get to wash last night’s dishes. We’re all set to move onward.

LeesFerry5.JPGThe second surprise: Lee’s Ferry. A short spur road from Marble Canyon takes you to this area which is a canyon carved by the Colorado River. It’s the only place in, say, 600 miles where you can actually cross the river. The Paria River joins the Colorado here, so there are the giant cliffs of the Paria, as well as Colorado, not to mention the rock formations of Vermillion Cliffs. They are stark, red and awesome. It feels like you are on Mars. In fact, I think I saw this very scene in Total Recall, that movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger goes to Mars.

LeesFerry2.JPGLeesFerry8.JPGLeesFerry11.JPGLeesFerry12.JPGThe flora is obviously un-Martian. All along the way, we’ve been seeing lovely bursts of color. White, orange, yellow and purple. Opuntia cacti in glorious full fuschia bloom.

This is where you can start your river trip to the Grand Canyon. Operators, guests, bus drivers all converge here. There is a scrawny campground on a bluff – will it be tonight’s camp spot?

LeesFerry25.JPGLeesFerry27.JPGLeesFerry28.JPGWe take a short hike along the river. This used to be a busy ferry crossing back in the day and remnants of it lie in ruins, above and under water. Another short walk takes you to lonely Dell Ranch. Beyond it is the Paria Canyon trail. Deep in the trail are more cool canyons but it’s miles and miles away. We are not ready for a 60 mile hike. And neither is the trail – it’s still closed for the season.

LeesFerry31JPGOn our way out, we get to Surprise #3: Navajo Bridge. It’s a rather beautiful piece of steelwork that spans the Colorado River. This is Navajo Country and there are Navajo vendors along this route selling beautiful jewelry along with some tackier souvenirs, blankets and pottery.

NavajoBridge4.JPGOriginal Highway 89 – the shorter route to Page – is closed due to a landslide. Despite the fact that it happened years ago, the road has not been rebuilt yet, so we have to take the long way to The Gap, and then back up to a high plateau. We’re now on top of the cliffs.

Page, at the southern mouth of Lake Powell and the Damned Dam is a busy little river/lake resort like Havasu. Crossing another bridge, we make it to Wahweap, a camp, boat launch and resort area in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area.

The lake, often referred to as “Lake Foul” by environmentalists, did not exist before the Glen Canyon dam. Despite efforts to stop its construction, it went in anyway in the 60’s, inundating Glen Canyon and all of its features. Is there a Bryce-like Atlantis under all of that water?

LakePowell1.JPGActually, now, Lake Powell has so much less water than it should, but its still waters reflect the stark beauty all around and, I have to admit, it is lovely. Here, the land is mostly a ghostly white with touches of creamy orange and browns – a milk tea kind of color. Different shapes rise out of the water, like a post-modern Guilin.

Wahweap’s campground is HUGE — 4 different loops with hookup sites and 4 loops without. Some of the loops are still closed. Campsite registration is closed for the day, so we put our name and license number on a sheet of paper. Security tells us they’ll come to collect the money in the morning. We wonder if they’ll ask for the full $26 or if it comes down to $13 with the Pass.

LakePowell5.JPGThe ground around our site is covered with sharp, hard burrs from tumbleweeds. The needle-sharp points poke right through my flipflops.

It’s already sunset and by the time I get dinner made (Spanish omelette and pasta) it’s dark and we eat by lamplight.


Author: ontheroadwithsprockets

I've been traveling since I was born -- the first big trip was before I was two, across the Pacific, from my native Japan to Los Angeles on a cargo ship. There have been many journeys since then, through many continents and cultures.

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