We drove for four hours from Las Vegas to Horseshoe Bend, and it was the most beautiful drive I’ve ever driven. The freeway stretched fearlessly ahead until it disappeared over the edge of the desert and brilliant blue sky. Weathered, metal striped rock formations sprawled out along the road, the sun burned above us like we were on Mars. Renette and I nibbled on our 20 pc. Mcnuggets as we passed by little, abandoned towns made up of farms, empty fruit (?) stands and where all the buildings were closed (forever?) Maybe it’s a Sunday thing.
Horseshoe Bend was hard to miss, cause there’s pretty much one route that goes over the North Rim of the Grand Canyons and there are huge signs to pull off the road here. We parked in the dusty but ample parking lot, and followed the other tourists up the hill to the ‘trailhead’ down to the canyon edge. It’s a downhill, rocky ten-minute hike so I was grateful not to be in sandals but I didn’t need my Camelpak either. It was our first real sighting of the canyon, everything was pure gold. I never studied geology, but something about the tint of the rocks or the minerals just sparkled and cast the warmest, golden hue. After our initial awe, bestie and I got to work on capturing the ‘gram photos. You know why Horseshoe Bend is always in everyone’s photos of the Grand Canyons? Cause you sit so close to the edge that no one else can sit in front of you so it looks like you’ve conquered the world all on your own (via the ten-minute hike) and also you might fall off and your spirit would be a part of the majestic scenery forever.
Antelope Canyon was next on our list, but little did we know that the last tours ended around 3-4pm. We JUST missed it which really sucked because Antelope Canyon is just MINUTES away from Horseshoe Bend. I almost cried but luckily my best friend was there in person to console me and we headed down to the South Rim to pitch our tent before nightfall. **PROTIP** Do research on tour times so that you can do Antelope Canyon tours (SO worth it) and see Horseshoe Bend on the same day. Don’t be an idiot like Kalong.
It was about a 2.5 hour drive down to Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village where we made reservations months in advance. It’s a great campsite, very well organized, clean, restrooms included. We pitched our tent in the dark, and drove to the village market for boxed wine and snacks because both of us were too exhausted to start a fire. Zzzzzz. Random plug: I LOVE my Mountain Hardware Shifter 2 backpacking tent. It’s so roomie for how light it is, and extremely easy to pitch. My new self-inflating air mattress is also my favorite thing, and I slept like a rock.
The next day, we headed back to the Grand Village Market for breakfast (amazing breakfast burritos), lunches to take with us, and wifi. Once you’re in the Grand Village, all the sights are 10-15 minutes apart. The South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park has a bunch of visitors centers, parking lots, and a paved path around the edge where people can hang out and take photos. Dotted along the upper paths are trailheads to hike down into the canyon. Renette and I, of course, headed straight to the Bright Angel Trailhead. The terrain was spectacular, and it was a pretty easy hike the first few hours. We mused at bizarre rock textures and formations, wishing we had at least read a pamphlet on cool structures or details to appreciate. Oh well. They say that it take double the time to come back then it takes to head down since returning is all uphill. We headed back after the 3 Mile Resthouse, but we TOTALLY could have gone all the way to Indian Garden with time to spare before sunset. Sometimes when you get two fit Oregon girls together who have practically grown up in the mountains, you shouldn’t always listen to other well-meaning hikers. We had so much time to kill that we hopped on a shuttle bus to the Kaibab Trailhead to see if we could do one more hike before sunset. The shuttle system around the park is free and super convenient. We ended up watching an overcast, rainy sunset off a cliff on the west end, an anti-climatic yet satisfying end to the day.
Renette and I made the executive decision to drive BACK along the North Rim the next, adding on 2 extra hours of driving time JUST so that we could see Antelope Canyon after all before our flights home. It also meant waking up at 4am to pack up. Disgruntled determination is what true friendship is all about. With scrappy wifi I managed to make a reservation with Ken’s Tours. Frankly, I don’t know if I’d recommend them or not since it was my first and only time exploring the Lower Antelope Canyons. From what I observed, the underground canyons stretch for a quarter mile and handfuls of tour agencies and guides have set themselves up along the area. They all over a similar service, but you can’t go into the canyons without a guide.
Antelope Canyon is stunning. It’s a narrow slot canyon and flows through smooth, color-shifting Navajo sandstone formed by flash flood erosion. We were there early in the morning, but the best time is to go at midday so that the sunlight can illuminate the walls from above. I wish we had more time to wander through those gorgeous, twisty rocks. The place was absolutely packed with other visitors, and it seemed like the guide’s main concern was to keep the paths from blocking up. I have to admit, there was SO much pressure to get the perfect photo that I didn’t get to give this place the appreciation it deserved.
Renette drove the rest of the way back to the airport as we congratulated ourselves on checking off a bucket list item together. We were capable women, we were adventurous women, team Renlong proved themselves to the world (ugh she’d kill me). With dry shampoo in our hair and dirt in our hiking boots, we hugged each other goodbye at LAS. It was time for me to go home to a nice boy in San Francisco.