Two days in a row, I was up at 4:45 to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. Day #2 was considerably more challenging because I had to poke the beasts in an attempt to get the whole crew down there. There was kicking and screaming, but we got there and were able to get settled in before the sun came up. Unlike yesterday, there were some interesting clouds, so the show had a little more drama. Unlike the crystal clear morning yesterday, however, there was no 'bam' sunrise moment. Life's like a box of chocolates, eh? I loved it, Kim loved it, the girls were a little 'meh', but I KNOW that they will be sitting around with their girlfriends when they are in their 20's reminiscing about the romantic sunrise they saw years ago at the Grand Canyon...
Since we were up, we took advantage of the time and packed up and hit the road. The day's drive was really diverse - skirting the east side of the South Rim, through a long stretch of Painted Desert, a bunch of Southern Utah's red beauty between Bryce and Zion, and finishing the trip into Springdale via the Zion Canyon and a 1+ mile tunnel. It's the anti-South Dakota!
Stop #1 for the day was an off the beaten path Dinosaur Tracks tip we got from a road warrior friend and client back home (thanks, CC!). As directed, we watched for the turn off of Arizona 89 which directed us to turn towards Tuba City (?!). Then we turned down a dirt road and followed the hand painted signs that were leaned up against the fence posts into a gravel parking area with a few old pick up trucks and jewelry stands. The second we arrived, we were greeted as warmly as we have ever been by John, our local Navajo guide. John was decked out in his Bob Marley shirt and rainbow ganja cap, and said he would guide us around the site.
We took about a 30 minute walk around the land just off the road and John showed us 150 million year old fossil raptor tracks, bird tracks, a huge T-Rex track, petrified dinosaur eggs, fossilized claws, jellyfish, kelp, and so much more. There was no official Ranger or park (John alluded to this being land in a bit of limbo between federally protected, Navajo reservation and other bureaucracy which keeps them from doing more digging or developing), but despite any formality, he was super knowledgeable and gave a great tour. For the same bureaucratic reasons, it didn't appear they could 'charge', but we had no problems with a 'donation/gratuity' and bought a little jewelry as well. We headed out shaking our heads a little but with a big smile. Great stop!
Stop #2 was unplanned. Soon after the last stop, we drove by a sign pointing out Horseshoe Bend. This was mentioned to me at some point as a tip, but I had lost sight of it literally until we drove by. It is an upstream feature of the Colorado River above the Grand Canyon. We spun around to check it out. It was about 100°, so we grabbed some water and hiked up and then down a monster sand dune hill, down to the edge of the Bend. The Ranger we passed on the way down was encouraging everyone to be careful (along with the warning signs describing how you can fall to your death...), so we heeded all that as we approached the edge. It is a very high canyon where the river does a 180° bend and the water is a crazy blue/green color. Very dramatic and VERY treacherous to get to the edge, so much so that I didn't get the picture I wanted due to the pucker factor being too great. Nonetheless, great quick stop, very beautiful.
We then headed north and got to Bryce Canyon National Park mid-afternoon. Bryce had been on the top of Kim's list ever since first seeing pictures of the canyon when we were researching the trip. It is a great Big Trip National Park since you can get a great flavor for what it has to offer in just a few hours. We checked in with a Ranger for hike suggestions and they pointed us to the 3ish-mile Sunrise Point/Queens Garden/Navajo/Wall Street loop. This took us down the canyon about 300 feet, wound us through the endless hoodoos and back up to the rim via Wall Street. Bryce is a 10 out of 10 on the WOW factor. Hard to describe, but where the Grand Canyon is breathtaking and immense, Bryce is much more intimately dramatic. You are right there in the rocks, seeing formations everywhere. And the Wall Street ending had us thinking we were in an Indiana Jones adventure. Stunning, a complete can't miss if you are ever anywhere close by.
After Bryce we headed to Springdale, Utah. This city is less than a mile outside of Zion National Park and will be our home for the next two nights. Looking forward to seeing more of Utah National Park awesomeness tomorrow!