See firsthand why millions visit Horseshoe Bend
By Amy Proctor, Special to the Fort Bliss Bugle:
Page, Arizona, is a dusty, little place. Entering into it from any direction isn’t particularly impressive. Yet every year, millions of tourists make a point of going out of their way to visit it. It is a must-stop destination for photographers, foreign tourists and travel junkies. What is it about this little town in northeastern Arizona that has such appeal?
Page is uniquely Navajo. It borders the Navajo Nation and most of its 7,000 residents are Navajo. There’s the well-known Lake Powell, which is the second largest man-made lake in the United States, attracting water lovers to its beautiful shores for boating and waterskiing. The Colorado River brings white-rafters and tubing enthusiasts. The famous Antelope Slot Canyons, (previously written about in the Bugle: http://fortblissbugle.com/day-trip-to-antelope-slot-canyon-makes-for-memory-of-a-lifetime/ ) is probably the biggest draw to the area. A photographer recently sold one of his pictures from inside the Antelope Slot Canyon for a whopping $6.5 million, and the notoriety of that sale continues to bring more visitors to Page.
But one of the most recognizable spots in Page is Horseshoe Bend. It’s iconic. It’s used for Arizona tourism. It’s aqua. It’s treacherous. And most of all, it’s free and open to the public.
Horseshoe Bend was named for the horseshoe-shaped Colorado River as it bends through a deep canyon creating breathtaking vistas. The Colorado River is greenish blue, contrasting against the orangey walls of the deep canyon, which makes this a place to stop and marvel.
Horseshoe Bend in Page is less than a 10 hour drive from El Paso, which may sound a bit long but it’s perfect for a four-day weekend. It’s located just to the southwest of Page, while still being in the city’s perimeters, just a couple miles south on U.S. Route 89. There’ll be a sign on the right which reads “Horseshoe Bend Overlook” if you’re traveling south from Page. When you see that sign, you know you’ve reached your destination.
It is a short but potentially challenging hike from the dirt parking lot to the Horseshoe Bend overlook, depending on your level of fitness and amount of gear you carry. Spanning about three quarters of a mile, a mile, a mile and a half round trip, the first part is a steep incline that’ll take you to a summit, which overlooks the canyon. The rest is downhill – which means it’ll be uphill on the return. The easy to follow path is mostly dusty dirt with some sandstone rocks underneath but requires good hiking or athletic shoes. This is not a place you want to slip, especially as you near the edge of the lookout.
Approaching the canyon you’ll see an abrupt drop off, and once at the overlook you’ll see the beautiful Colorado River bending around the canyon. It is quite a scary proposition getting to the edge to see the entire river with a sharp 1,000-foot drop off straight down onto the rocks below. It’s also a bit scary seeing so many people trying to get pictures of themselves on the edge, legs dangling over the drop. But if you take your time and watch what you’re doing, you’ll see that fear is more of a guardrail and caution a call to common sense.
This isn’t a place for small children or pets because, unlike the Grand Canyon, there are no protective rails or safety features to hold anyone back from a fall. Both children and pets are welcomed, at their own risk, but parents often spend their time panicking if their children aren’t in a backpack. This shouldn’t scare you off. People have been known to crawl to the edge if they feel unsure about their balance, but even if you have a healthy fear of heights, the nature of this area will make you glad you’re there.
Sunsets are most popular with photographers and many visitors, as the sun takes its bow behind the horseshoe bend of the Colorado River, but it isn’t a particularly colorful sunset. Sunrises occur in front of the bend, illuminating the canyon and river and are far more colorful, but many skip sunrise because of the early hour, making it a more private experience.
Tour buses full of tourists make their way to the overlook but tend to stay for only 30 minutes. The best way to experience Horseshoe Bend is to give it several hours. Walk around, soak in the atmosphere, sit down and ponder – don’t just “click and run,” because when you look at your photographs later you won’t remember much about the area except whatever is in the frame. The majesty of the entire area can be totally lost.
Page checks the box if you’ve been dying to see these famous locations, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Slot Canyon and Lake Powell, but it’s also acts as a springboard for many other places to visit. Four hours west is the Havasupai Indian Reservation in the Grand Canyon, home to the beautiful Havasu Falls. Two hours to the east of Page is Monument Valley, the famous location where many Western movies featuring John Wayne to Johnny Depp have been filmed, and just two hours north of Monument Valley is Moab, Utah, where Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park are located. Many other epic locations can be added to your itinerary from Page.
Things to know:
-There are no restrooms anywhere in entire Horseshoe Bend overlook area.
-Especially from spring to fall, bring water. It gets extremely hot in the summer so an umbrella or hat is a smart idea. Camelbaks are ideal.
-There is a covered picnic table at the top of the summit before descending down to the canyon.
-If you’re bringing a camera, you’ll need a wide angle lens to get the entire bend of the Colorado River. Many cellphone cameras are wide enough to get the scene, or you can use the panoramic feature.
-Bring hiking boots or athletic shoes with good grips. The edge of the overlook is made of rock with some sand.
-The closest hotels are two miles north on U.S. Route 89.
For more travel articles featured in the Fort Bliss Bugle and ideas for things to do while stationed at Fort Bliss, visit Amy Proctor’s travel blog at www.amyproctor.squarespace.com.
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