When you stand on the bluff overlooking Horseshoe Bend, near Page, Arizona, you truly come to understand why words like “immense” were created. I’m a true believer that pictures speak a thousand words, but pictures don’t do this view justice. It is almost incomprehensible what an awe-inspiring vision this is. It is something that truly has to be witnessed first hand to fully appreciate.
The walk down the hill to the bluff is pretty unassuming. It gives no clue of the magnificent secret that is kept at the end of the trail. It’s about a 3/4 mile walk from the parking lot. First up a fairly steep sandy hill, then down a rocky sandstone trail with reddish-gray rock everywhere. There are some beautiful cliffs off in the distance but they pale in comparison to the real treasure found at the end of this short hike. It’s only within the last 20 feet or so, as you climb the short rock ledge up to the edge of the bluff, that the view finally gives way and yields this gem of geologic marvel.
While awesome, it raises the hair on the back of your neck in more ways than one. Like the Grand Canyon, there are no guard rails. There is nothing to prevent a fall if you misstep. The bluff at this vantage point is about 1000 feet above the river.
Adam Finch and I were the only ones of our group to make it down to the overlook. Parker Pfister had walked about halfway, but he was nursing a pinched nerve in his ankle that required him to walk with a cane, or a 54inch tripod, whichever was most convenient at the time. After making it to the crest of the hill, he decided it was smarter for him walk back down now fearing that he may not be able to make it back up the hill on departure. Parker had visited Horseshoe Bend before, so it wasn’t quite the disappointment for him that it would have been for me not to make it.
Unbelievably, as we stopped at the crest of the hill to catch our breaths, a stranger that had been coming up the trail behind us walked up, pointed at Parker and asked, “Aren’t you Parker Pfister?” I’m mean, c’mon now. Two rockstar sightings in two days out in the middle of no where. Like before, it turns out this guy had been at WPPI and had seen Parker speak there. Small world, eh? Of course I spoke there too and he didn’t recognize me!
Marcus and Jason, however were the real victims on this last day of our trip.
After leaving Antelope Canyon the night before, we decided that since we were in Arizona, we had to get some Mexican food. We found a bustling little cantina in nearby Page boasting “Authentic Mexican Cuisine”. I guess maybe it was a bit too authentic as both Marcus and Jason came down with a very, very nasty case of food poisoning.
It was pretty late when we finished eating and we were all beat. Once we got situated into a hotel, everyone went straight to bed. We had another 545am wake-up and our plan was to be at Horseshoe Bend by sunrise. There was no socializing until the wee hours of the morning like the previous night.
Sometime just after 2am Marcus and Jason both became violently ill. When I came down to load the truck early the next morning, Marcus was stretched out on the bed looking pretty worn down. It was an unfortunate way to spend the last day of our trip. We still had some pictures to make but we also had about a 9 hour drive to get back to LAX for our red-eye flights home. As Marcus wrote on his blog, he spent most of our last day together asleep in the car or wishing that he was.
The guys were real troopers though. We left the hotel pretty much on time and they slept in the car as Adam and I made our way down to Horseshoe Bend precisely as the sun was coming up over the mountains behind us.
Photographers are trained that the best light is always at sunrise and sunset, and most often that is true. As we headed down to the overlook I was envisioning the bend in full early morning sun. What I didn’t count on was how deep the canyon was. As the sun rose in the sky there was a huge shadow in the canyon and on the river. The top of the bend was in full bright sun. It was nearly impossible at that point to make a usable image without resorting to some high dynamic range tactics. I was glad that I had made a sequence of images earlier when the sun first creeped over the mountain and splashed light on the distant hills. As it turned out, our first opportunity was our best.
Adam and I kept hoping the sun would rise quickly and fill the bend with light, but after two hours of wishful thinking we decided to head back to the car, feeling a little guilty about our sick and injured friends.
After getting back to the car, Adam and I found that Marcus and Jason were still having a rough go of it. We loaded up, got in the car and prepared for the long drive from Page to Los Angeles.
Jason had mentioned earlier in the trip that he really wanted to see a bit of Americana. Part of our trip would run parallel to historic Route 66, made famous in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. There was considerable discussion in the car about getting off the Interstate and driving a portion of Rt. 66. Parker and I were a little nervous about it as we had a lot of ground to cover in getting to LA.
At this point I had pretty much done all of the driving. From Vegas to Springdale, Utah to Page, Arizona. About two hours after leaving Page I had reached the point that I could barely keep my eyes open.
We stopped for gas about an hour from Flagstaff.
There was a little coffee shop next door to the gas station, so those of us that could still stomach food decided now was a good time to grab a little breakfast. The ladies working the grill were making some delicious looking breakfast burritos.
Adam and I each ordered one. Parker ordered one too, but he got SPAM instead of sausage or bacon. I hadn’t seen nor heard about Spam since I was a kid. I’m not talking about the email Spam, I’m talking about the canned meat Spam which is rumored to be able to outlast a cockroach following nuclear holocaust.
After breakfast Parker agreed to drive for a while. I just didn’t think I could keep my eyes open for many more miles and needed a nap. I was already asleep by the time our wheels hit the Interstate again.
About two hours later I woke up just as Parker was pulling the truck into quaint little Seligman, Arizona. Rt. 66 runs through the heart of Seligman and the town has made an industry out of preserving this historic stretch of highway.
Ordinarily I would have been all over this town making pictures. I was so tired and groggy when we pulled in that I didn’t pull the camera out until about 20 minutes after we got there. We only spent about 30-40 minutes there total. Fortunately Jason was finally starting to feel better at this point and we all wanted him to enjoy this real taste of Americana, even though we were on a tight travel timeline.
I probably didn’t walk more than 100 yards away from our car. I was so tired I just couldn’t get into it. Seligman is definitely a town I would like to return to and spend some time in. It looked like a lot of fun. Even though I didn’t shoot as enthusiastically as usual, I did manage to make a few worthwhile images.
After leaving Seligman, we hit the road for good headed straight to LAX. We stopped a time or two for food and fuel but the photo-ops were pretty much over. Parker did find a nice little dry creek bed beside the highway once when we swapped drivers, but for the most part we were all ready to put the long drive behind us. We got into LA on schedule and didn’t run into any traffic hassles. We cruised right into the rental car drop-off and after re-packing our gear, boarded the shuttle bus to our respective terminals.
This is where the first annual Roadtrip of the Woolly Mammoths comes to a close, and perhaps fittingly so. Each of our airlines were in different terminals. As the shuttle made its way through the airport, we parted company quickly, efficiently and without much fanfare. A gruff uncomfortable man-hug here,Â a handshake there – enlightened heady goodbyes were exchanged like “had a great time” and “it was a blast”. Pretty soon Marcus, Adam and Jason were checking in to their Quantas flight, Parker was getting comfortable over at US Airways, and I was boarding United flight 44 on my way home to rejoin my family.