Wednesday, April 25, 2012

FOUR CORNERS TOUR, Part 3: Page & Lake Powell

Driving into Page, Arizona, is a surreal experience.  Amidst miles and miles of open desert, the last thing you expect to see is a giant body of water.  The city of Page sits at the base of man-made Lake Powell, and practically glows with its unique combination of bright blue water and bright orange sandstone formations.  Just north of the lake is Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Further north and east is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. To the south and east are the Navajo and Hopi Nations.   In other words, this city is nestled in the hub of some of the most vast and beautiful scenery in the American southwest.  It’s hard not to feel a bit awe-struck here.

So it should come as no surprise that this is where Hollywood decided to re-tell THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.  The Biblical epic, starring Max von Sydow as Jesus Christ and a young Charlton Heston as John the Baptist, began filming while the Glen Canyon dam was still under construction in the early 1960s.  According to James V. D’Arc’s When Hollywood Came to Town, the first shots were made at the Crossing of the Fathers site on Lake Powell.  A few years later, Heston returned to Lake Powell... only this time it was known as the PLANET OF THE APES.  The opening scenes were shot on the banks of Warm Creek Bay. 

I found that the best way to see these sites was to take a boat tour from Wahweap Marina.  The destination of that tour wasn’t too shabby either.  After two hours on the meandering “lake,” we entered a narrow cove and saw Rainbow Bridge, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.  This 230-foot-tall arch was created a few hundred millions years ago by a combination of wind (on top) and water (underneath).  To the Native Americans, it is a sacred religious site -- a rainbow turned to stone.  For that reason, tourists are no longer allowed to pass beneath it.  Regardless, the sight leaves one speechless.  (It was a very quiet boat ride back to Wahweap Marina.)  

Just south of Page is another staggering work of nature: a bend in the Colorado River that has produced a giant monolith.  From the cliffs above the ancient riverbed, it is frankly terrifying to look over the edge.  The drop is roughly 1,000 feet.   I found it almost impossible to get a camera perspective on the scene that effectively illustrates the scale.  Only a couple of photos that feature other visitors (one standing on the edge of the cliff, one in a tiny boat on the beach below) give it the proper perspective.   After looking up Horseshoe Bend on Wikipedia, I realize that none of my photos captured its beauty. 

This was not, however, the most breathtaking thing I saw in Page.  My favorite part of last week’s trip may have been a brief Navajo-led tour of Antelope Canyon.   My tour guide Bonnie had an obvious passion for the place, pointing out every significant feature she’d ever noticed inside the narrow slot canyon, and even telling a few stories about their meanings to the Navajo people.  I learned that nature is never an object to the natives.  The sky, the trees and, yes, even the rocks are every bit as alive as we are.  Standing in Antelope Canyon, this was not at all difficult to comprehend.  On that note, maybe I should let the photos speak for themselves.


  1. Awesome sites, Joe. If you're interested in the more Navajo history, I'd recommend 'Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West' by Hampton Sides. Great historical read.

  2. Thanks, Michael. I've had "Blood and Thunder" sitting on my "to read" shelf for almost a year now. I guess it's about time....