Updated: Aug 5
On our mid-May trip to the Grand Canyon, we had hoped we could close it out by sightseeing and a little hiking on the North Rim. It, however, was still closed for the season due to snow. So, we had to come up with a slightly alternate plan. Despite this, I'd say our little Northern Arizona road trip of sightseeing did not disappoint.
We'd already made a one-night reservation for a cabin at Jacob Lake Inn, so we proceeded with that being our destination for the night and hit the road for the 4-plus-hour drive, which took longer because we made several stops along the way.
Little Colorado River Gorge
Departing the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, we headed east on Hwy. 64. Maybe a little over an hour in, we started seeing fields of bright wildflowers in the distance. Mostly orange, which we learned were globe mallow flowers. To get a better look, we stopped and parked at a Navajo Nation Parks & Recreation trail that led to an awesome overlook of the Little Colorado River Gorge, and beyond the gorge, you could see the fields of wildflowers.
When we stepped out of the rental vehicle, the heat hit us hard. I don't know if it had reached 100º yet, but it sure felt like it. This would be a very short hike, so we just set out to take in the sights, and welcomed a few minutes to stretch our legs.
Expansive fields of globe mallow across the gorge!
In addition to the globe mallow, the trail was surrounded by lots of high desert flora and fauna, like various sage brush and this flowering banana yucca.
And we also happened upon a small herd of wild horses along our trail that kept a focused eye on us as we passed. Exhibiting their protectiveness, they quickly formed a barrier around the young foal amongst them. But they did not take their gaze off of us.
As we completed the loop back to the parking area, we stopped to chat with a Native man who was selling jewelry and other crafted wares. Such booths were a very common sight along the highway. He told us it had been hotter out the day prior, so today was tolerable.
We got back in the vehicle, happy to retreat to the cooler air, and continued on our journey. Our next stop would be the famous Horseshoe Bend outside Page, Arizona, something I have wanted to see in person for a while. So, we continued onward with a scenic stop at Antelope Pass Vista along Hwy 89.
This destination in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was very busy with visitors, but everything seemed pretty organized, from the signage to the pay kiosk to the parking lot to the trail. After we paid our day-use fee, we were surprised to pretty easily find an open parking space, despite how busy and full the lot was.
We parked and generously applied some sunscreen to keep the intense midday sun rays at bay, as the trail and overlook are all fully exposed, save for a few shade canopy structures constructed along the side of the trail.
As we were getting ourselves ready for this 1.2-mile roundtrip "hike," another small group of young adults emerged from a car a couple spaces away from us. One of them was wearing a red "Keep 'er Movin'" shirt. Now, I'm originally from Wisconsin, and Charlie Berens has come out with his comic talents years after I moved away, but I am still fairly familiar with him and his antics. I don't know too many people outside of Wisconsinites who would know of him, let alone be wearing one of his trademark shirts.
"Ha! Nice shirt. Where in Wisconsin are you from?"
And so it began. Another chance meeting with kids from Wisconsin (or Minnesota) on our adventures. Another chat about local and native familiarities. Because Charlie Berens was a topic of conversation, I shared with the group my sister's personal experience with him, explaining that she had gone to see his live comedy skit and got to do a meet-and-greet, where she gifted him a souvenir t-shirt from the local bar/restaurant where she's worked for 15 years.
I was very surprised when one of the girls in this group nodded and said, "Oh, yeah. I know that place," referring to the small-town bar/restaurant. A few weeks later, we were shocked to see that Charlie was wearing the shirt in one of his viral videos. #almostfamous
At that point, we decided to... keep 'er movin'... and we headed over toward the start of the well-maintained red dirt trail to Horseshoe Bend. The trail was definitely busy, but it wasn't narrow, so two-way foot traffic wasn't too insurmountable. The sky was brilliantly blue with full sun and it felt pretty hot out, but in no time at all, we reached the Horseshoe Bend overlook area, which was also fairly crowded with people taking selfies and group pics. We waited around a little bit to find an "opening" where we could do the same.
At Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River created a roughly 1,000-foot-deep, 270º horseshoe-shaped bend in Glen Canyon.
I did not realize this, but Horseshoe Bend itself, and that part of the Colorado River, are a part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. About nine miles downstream is where Grand Canyon National Park begins. Hwy 89, the land north of the trail to the Horseshoe Bend overlook, and the parking area for the trailhead are in the City of Page. The land south of the parking area and the trail and overlook are on the Navajo Nation. What a mixed breed of jurisdictions!
If you look closely, you can see tiny kayakers floating on the river.
It was hot and the water was looking so welcoming, so I decided I might take a dive down myself.
Just kidding. That's just the sign at the trailhead.
By this time, we'd been on the road for a bit and I was definitely ready for some lunch, so we drove into Page to find a local diner.
Then we backtracked on Hwy 89 to divert north onto Hwy 89A to get to our next destination: Historic Navajo Bridge, but not without capturing a few more scenic photos.
The orange globe mallow flowers along the highways were just beautiful. And lots of scattered rain clouds started popping up.
Once we got over the pass and started down into the valley on Hwy 89A, the Southwest desert scenery was just amazing with its wild horses and brilliant red rock formations set against the bright blue sky.
When we reached the Navajo Bridge, we got out to walk on it and take some photos. It was quite windy out on the bridge, which spans over a picturesque Marble Canyon and the Colorado River below. We had to hang on to our hats.
Marble Canyon and the Colorado River.
Some history and context around the Navajo Bridge, courtesy of the National Park Service (and why there are two bridges next to each other):
Those traveling across the country on Highway 89A between Bitter Springs and Jacob Lake, AZ, arrive at two bridges similar in appearance spanning the Colorado River. These two bridges, one historic and one new, represent one of only seven land crossings of the Colorado River for 750 miles.
The Bridge's Historical Relevance
In the 1870s, pioneers from Utah began to expand their settlements into northern Arizona. Nearly 600 miles of deep canyons along the Colorado River stood in their way. One of the only places a wagon could reach the river from both north and south was at the mouth of Glen Canyon. Thus, Lees Ferry, named after the first ferry operator, John D. Lee, was established there in 1873.
In the 1920s, automobiles began using the ferry as a means to cross the Colorado River. It was recognized that it was time to find a safer, more reliable way for vehicles to cross. A bridge site was selected 5 miles downriver at Marble Canyon. Construction of the bridge began in June of 1927.
This was rugged and remote country making it difficult to get men, materials and equipment from one rim to the other – a distance of only 800 feet. The ferry was used to transport materials when possible. However, on June 7, 1928, the ferry sank in an accident that killed three men. Since the bridge was nearing completion, the ferry was not replaced.
So, for the next several months, no direct route existed between Utah and Arizona. People had to travel 800 miles around the canyon to reach the other side of the river. It was an historic day when, on January 12, 1929, the 18-foot-wide, 834-foot-long bridge with a 90-foot arch rise and a 40-ton limit was opened to traffic. At the time, it was the highest steel arch bridge in the world and made traveling between Utah and Arizona much easier. At the bridge's dedication ceremony, it was reported that airplanes flew under the bridge, no doubt dazzling the nearly 7,000 people in attendance.
For the first five years, the bridge was known as the "Grand Canyon Bridge" but was changed to the "Navajo Bridge" in 1934. It served the area for 66 years, at which point it became evident that a wider, stronger structure was needed to more safely accommodate larger vehicles.
The New Bridge
It was decided a new bridge would be built just downstream from the existing bridge, with construction beginning in May of 1993. The new structure would be 44 feet wide, 909 feet long, and 470 feet above the Colorado River.
During construction, it was necessary to make sure no rocks fell into the river, which would be too great a danger to the rafters on the Colorado River below. A net, therefore, was strung under the bridge to catch debris. All rock for the footings was cut and hauled up to the rim. Additionally, it was necessary to remove rock for the newer, safer approaches to the bridge. The rock was cut using a technique that made it appear natural, and in places it was stained to give it a weathered look. On May 2, 1995, two years after construction began traffic was diverted onto the new Navajo Bridge.
Today, both bridges remain intact; the historic span having been converted to a pedestrian bridge with amazing views of Marble Canyon and the Colorado River.
After we departed the Navajo Bridge for our next destination, Cliff Dwellers, we started to see a massive dust storm in the distance, so we pulled off to the side of the highway to capture it.
After seeing this weather phenomenon from a distance, we weren't quite sure what we would encounter on the road ahead, but luckily, it didn't directly affect our route – only made for some interesting sights.
Shortly, we arrived at Cliff Dwellers Stone House, a unique roadside stop along Hwy 89A.
To offer some perspective on the size of these boulders...
Then there's the onsite stone house.
Looking out one of the windows of the stone house.
So, what's the deal with this stone house? I attempted to do some research online about the backstory. I wasn't able to find any legitimate, official websites or resources. Lots of other bloggers are all telling the same story about a woman named Blanche Russell (supposedly a showgirl/dancer) and her husband Bill who were driving cross-country to the desert to ease her husband's tuberculosis, and their car broke down here, so they built a dwelling out of stone and took up permanent residence. I wasn't able to find credible sources, however, to verify this story, so I don't know if it's true or if it's folklore.
When we visited this site, Native Americans had a booth, selling jewelry, etc., just like we saw along Hwy 89 when we stopped at the Little Colorado River Gorge, which was an area managed by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation. This makes me think that we were on Native land.
Either way, the balancing boulders are cool and the stone house is impressive.
Jacob Lake Inn
We were about a half an hour away from our final destination for the day. And after four-plus hours on the road, it felt great to settle in for the night in Jacob Lake, AZ.
We loved this family-owned resort and would definitely come here again. We got these cute little rustic cabins that offered very basic amenities (like hand soap!) and our space was small, but it was clean and newly renovated.
We also experienced very friendly service from the resort staff. The onsite cafe was open when we'd arrived, despite it being early in their season, which made us all very happy, so we got a table and enjoyed a wonderful dinner before heading back to the cabin for some R&R.
Since the North Rim of Grand Canyon was still closed, we'd decided to spend our final vacation days back in Zion National Park, one of my favorite places. So tomorrow, we'd be heading there for more sightseeing and some hiking, showing my sister-in-law the park for her first time.