When we arrived there were already five cars in the car park, dashing our hopes of being alone. It was still dark, though the eastern horizon was considerably brighter than when we had left the hotel a few minutes ago. Excitement had replaced the groggy, pre-coffee feeling of a 5am alarm. We stepped out of the car and felt the chill of the cold hours of the end of a winter's night in the desert. We'd already missed a sunrise at the Grand Canyon so I was delighted to be doing this, whatever we had to suffer. It was a half-mile walk over a sandy hill to get to the rim, it should have been easy but the cold and altitude left us breathless. When we arrived we found that the best position had not yet been occupied and we staked our claim immediately.
I've always wanted to visit Horseshoe Bend. I've seen countless stunning pictures of it in magazines and on the internet but I honestly had no idea where it was. Whilst researching the Grand Canyon I came across the fact that it is on the Colorado River, before it enters the Canyon. As we were so close
I could not miss this opportunity. We'd watched we sun go down over the Grand Canyon the night before so it was completely dark when we arrived in Page, Arizona.
By the time we arrived at the rim it was light enough to make out the outline of the canyon and we could already tell this was something special. Behind us, the sky was glowing pink. The air was still and all we could hear were the sounds of people preparing camera equipment and trying to keep warm. A few minutes later the brilliant orange of the sun peeped over the mountains behind us. The light was too low to reach down into the canyon but it cast the rocks behind us into sharp relief.
We waited, almost breathless as the light subtly, almost imperceptibly, shifted over the landscape. Beyond the canyon, a range of mountains caught the light and glowed radiantly in shades of orange and yellow. The light then moved swiftly across the plain between the mountains and the rim of the canyon. Whilst we were waiting for the canyon to be lit, I looked around and saw an incredible landscape. As far as the eye
could see was red sand studded with stunted desert bushes. In the far distance, off to my right, was another mountain range. These mountains were glowing with the early light too. Behind, the rocks which had become visible as the sun rose, were now being transformed from looming shadows to beautiful structures composed of thin layers of sedimentary rock.
In front of us the light was just reaching the rim of the canyon on the far side. By this time the clouds were glowing and the sky was taking on a variety of hues. As the canyon became more visible its form became apparent. I have never seen anything like it. Horseshoe Bend is a point where the river completes a 270° loop around a hard outcrop of sandstone. Far below, the Colorado River was a black ribbon. From where I was standing it appeared to almost complete a full circle.
As the light changed more and more details became apparent. The river, which had been jet black, took on a wider range of green tones. The sandstone rocks gleamed red, orange and yellow. They formed sheer cliffs dropping vertically straight down to the river. The scale became
evident as we spotted that at the apex of the bend, accessible only by boat, was a camp site, complete with a tiny outhouse for a toilet. We could see paths which looked like no more than a tiny dark line against the greenery of the site. At the edge was a small beach where canoes could be pulled up.
Standing there, despite the biting cold, just watching the sun creep over the landscape in the still of morning was an awesome experience. So much of life happens at a frenetic pace and it was good just to slow down to the speed of nature and wait to see what happened. It felt spiritual, like I had a connection to the landscape and the mind that created it.
Seeing Horseshoe Bend fulfilled a long term ambition. I was glad to have done it and it more than lived up to all of my expectations. As so often though the completion of one ambition leads to the genesis of a new one - there was no time for it on this trip but some day I just have to kayak the Colorado River and see Horseshoe Bend and the
Grand Canyon from a completely different perspective. The bucket list never gets shorter.
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