Lower Antelope Canyon and Navajo National Monument

Lower Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is located near Page on Navajo Nation land, just outside Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Antelope is the most visited slot canyon in the Southwest, partly because it is easily accessible and by far the most publicized, and also since it is extremely beautiful, with just the right combination of depth, width, length, rock color and ambient light; many other slot canyons are deeper, narrower or longer, and some have rock that is even more colorful and sculptured, but here conditions are ideal.”

 

Our Hopi guide Mathew takes us down into the canyon

 “Antelope Canyon was formed by erosion of Navajo Sandstone, primarily due to flash flooding and secondarily due to other sub-aerial processes. Rainwater, especially during monsoon season, runs into the extensive basin above the slot canyon sections, picking up speed and sand as it rushes into the narrow passageways. Over time the passageways eroded away, making the corridors deeper and smoothing hard edges in such a way as to form characteristic “flowing” shapes in the rock.”

Navajo National Monument

Navajo National Monument is a National Monumentlocated within the northwest portion of the Navajo Nation territory in northern Arizona, which was established to preserve three well-preserved cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan People: Broken Pottery (Kitsʼiil), Ledge House (Bitátʼahkin), and Inscription House (Tsʼah Biiʼ Kin). The monument is high on the Shonto plateau, overlooking the Tsegi Canyon system, west of Kayenta, Arizona. It features a visitor center with a museum, two short self-guided mesa top trails, two small campgrounds, and a picnic area. Rangers guide visitors on free tours of the Keet Seel and Betatakin cliff dwellings.“

After a short hike to view the Betatakin cliff dwelling, we settled into our lovely campsite for the evening. This time of year, the campground was nearly empty and is always free of charge!

Sedona Arizona

Sedona is an Arizona desert town near Flagstaff that’s surrounded by red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. It’s noted for its mild climate and vibrant arts community. Uptown Sedona is dense with New Age shops, spas and art galleries. On the town’s outskirts, numerous trailheads access Red Rock State Park, which offers bird-watching, hiking and picnicking spots.

Dramatic sandstone formations such as Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock appeal to photographers and enlightenment-seekers, as does the modernist Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into rust-colored rocks. Oak Creek Canyon has trails for hiking and mountain biking, plus sites for camping and fishing. Part of the canyon is home to Slide Rock State Park, named for its natural water chutes, popular for swimming. Native American petroglyphs can be seen in the Coconino National Forest heritage sites V Bar V, Palatki and Honanki (the latter 2 also feature cliff dwellings).

Oak Creek Canyon

Airport Mesa Loop Trail

After visiting one of the four famous Sedona vortexes, we enjoyed a beautiful 4.5 mile sunset hike around Tabletop Mesa.

There is no other hike in the Sedona area that offers such awe-inspiring views as the Sedona Airport Mesa Loop Trail. It offers hikers a 360-degree panorama with views of almost every major red-rock landmark along the perimeter at an elevation of 4,500 feet.

 

Death Valley National Park

With 3 million acres of wilderness, Death Valley is the largest national park outside Alaska. Elevations in the park range from -282 feet below sea level at Bad Water (the lowest point in North America), to 11,049 feet at Telescope Peak. The park encompasses 3.3 million acres and normally enjoys summer temperatures in the 110’s and 120’s, but also experienced a record temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit. It is considered the hottest place on earth and the driest place in the United States.

Of the more than 900 plant species found, 19 are unique to this area.

Driving in from the south as the sun sets, we make our way up a narrow winding road to the Wildrose Campground at 4,100 ft elevation. The mountains being much cooler than the surrounding desert, the temperature dropped quickly from 72 degrees, down to a low of 31 degrees in the early morning.

Up early at Wildrose Campground, we drove the dirt road up Wildrose Canyon toward the Charcoal Kilns and Mahogany Flats.

The 25’ high Charcoal Kilns were used to produce charcoal to smelt lead and silver from local ore mined beginning in 1877, and ceased operations shortly afterward.

After the Kilns, the 4WD Road gets a bit rough, climbing to the Mahogany Flats Campground and the road’s end at 8,133 ft.

Returning the way we came, we head for the Visitor’s Center to view the exhibits and plan a sunset photo tour of the park.

On the way, we encounter a small herd of feral donkeys, turned loose after mining operations ceased in the late 19th century.

From the Visitor’s Center we set out for Bad Water Basin and Artists Drive before the sunset. On the way we pause at the Harmony Borax Works and an example of the “20 Mule Team” borax mining transportation and extraction methods.

Next stop: Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin in Death Valley National Park, noted as the lowest point in North America, with a depth of 282 ft (86 m) below sea level. Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous 48 United States, is only 84.6 miles (136 km) to the northwest.

The site itself consists of a small spring-fed pool of “bad water” next to the road in a sink; the accumulated salts of the surrounding basin make it undrinkable, thus giving it the name.

From Bad Water we quickly travel to Artists Drive to attempt to capture the beautiful mineral colors in the hot light of sunset.

Artist’s Drive rises up to the top of an alluvial fan fed by a deep canyon cut into the Black Mountains. Artist’s Palette is an area on the face of the Black Mountains noted for a variety of rock colors. These colors are caused by the oxidation of different metals (iron compounds produce red, pink and yellow, decomposition of tuff-derived mica produces green, and manganese produces purple).

Called the Artist Drive Formation, the rock unit provides evidence for one of the Death Valley area’s most violently explosive volcanic periods. The Miocene-aged formation is made up of cemented gravel, playa deposits, and volcanic debris, perhaps 5,000 feet (1500 m) thick. Chemical weathering and hydrothermal alteration cause the oxidation and other chemical reactions that produce the variety of colors displayed in the Artist Drive Formation and nearby exposures of the Furnace Creek Formation.

 

Artists Palette

Artists Drive is a very narrow one-way road restricted to vehicles less than 25 feet in length.

Alas, dusk put an end to our photographic endeavors, but a sunset dinner back at our campsite provided more than adequate recompense.

There is so much to experience in Death Valley and we have barely scratched the surface. We will undoubtedly return!

Tomorrow, on to Flagstaff and Sedona Arizona.

The Mojave National Preserve

Lovely desert wilderness…..

Driving in from the from Las Vegas, Nevada to the north, the road turns from paved to dirt and then to very rough dirt. Not awful, but the Park Service does advise 4WD vehicles only. The desert dusk scenery is lovely and I am the only vehicle on this 40 mile stretch of road. I find plenty of open campsites at Hole-in-The-Wall Campground and settle in for the night.

The Mojave National Preserve encompasses 1.6 million acres, including portions of the Mojave, Great Basin and Sonoran Deserts  About half of the Park is congressionallly designated wilderness.

Sunrise Hike: Rings Loop Trail, Hole-in-the-Wall Nature Trail and Barber Peak Loop Trail

Mojave Yucca

Buckhorn Cholla Cactus

Banshee Canyon

The ascent is so steep, hikers climb using iron rings mounted in the rock for hand and toe holds in two sections.

Beavertail Cactus

Barrel Cactus

Although the landscape appears barren, the Mojave Desert is home to a plethora of wildlife including Bighorn Sheep and the Desert Tortoise.

Lovely desert landscape

Sunset