Splendors of the Southwest

North America
December 3rd 2016
Published: December 17th 2016
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Horseshoe BendHorseshoe BendHorseshoe Bend

Breakfast on the edge
The chaotic, urban jungle of the Northeast stands in stark contrast to the serene, natural beauty of the Southwest. As natives of the former, Kristina and I were elated to escape our hectic 9-to-5 to discover the wilderness of Arizona and Utah. Although it's been a lengthy 9 months since our last adventure, our wanderlust was still alive and well. In fact, the only cure for us, 2 healthcare professionals, was indeed the travelbug. Our first break from work since starting our new jobs was ironically, job-related, but Kristina's pharmacy conference in Las Vegas was the perfect jumping-point for a day-trip to Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park, and Kanarraville Creek.

Even better was the fact that Kristina's company reimbursed our travel expenses, and when your boss tells you he's picking up the tab, you go for the filet mignon. We upgraded our car rental, booked a hotel on the Strip, and indulged in food and alcohol. But this trip wasn't about Sin City, it was about hitting the road to see the wonders of the Southwest. We began our trek on a nippy Monday morning at 1:30 a.m., just as all the Las Vegans came out
Lower Antelope CanyonLower Antelope CanyonLower Antelope Canyon

Playing in the sand
to play. Loaded up on Redbull and snacks, we set off in our dandy Prius on the 4-hour journey to Horseshoe Bend, the less trafficked sibling of the Grand Canyon. When Arizona's slogan is, "The Grand Canyon State," you know you're the forgotten child, but in recent years, Snapchat and Instagram have been to Horseshoe Bend what potassium permanganate is to hydrogen peroxide becoming water and oxygen: a catalyst. You don't need a chemistry degree to realize that Millennials have turned social media into the world's best travel agent, so we had to witness for ourselves what we've already seen a thousand times on the computer screen.

Despite losing an hour to the time zone difference, we managed to arrive just before sunrise at 7:24 a.m. to hike the quarter-mile to the cliff's edge. Several earlybirds were already posting their selfies on Facebook, but Kristina and I were content just to enjoy the serenity unplugged. Bloggers claim the best images are captured at dawn and dusk, but regardless of when you come, the peaceful silence among the rocks carved by the Colorado River cannot be portrayed through oversaturated photos and witty captions. It can only be breathed and felt,
Coral Pink Sand Dunes ParkCoral Pink Sand Dunes ParkCoral Pink Sand Dunes Park

Hiking to the highest dune
which we did for a good while before eating leftovers for breakfast and jetting 15 minutes down the road to our next destination, Antelope Canyon.

These rocks used to be home to antelopes, hence the name, but development of a dam turned this oasis into a barren landscape. These days, the only ones roaming around here are the Navajo Indians who call the upper parts, "Tsé bighánílíní" (meaning "the place where the water runs through rocks"), and the lower parts, "Hazdistazí" (meaning "spiral rock arches"). The upper canyons are famous for their light beams that appear near midday during the summers, but can get very crowded with tourists. Meanwhile, the lower ones are more narrow and require climbing steep stairs, but feel more adventurous and are less frequented. We opted for the latter because more exercise never hurt, booking a tour online through Dixie Ellis for $20/person for the earliest time possible during the winter, 9:10 a.m. There are the more expensive photography tours that require a tripod and DSLR (yes, they do check), but we decided that wasn't for us. Our tour lasted an hour and consisted only of the guide and 2 other visitors from China. We
Kanarraville CreekKanarraville CreekKanarraville Creek

Wading through frigid waters to reach the 1st waterfall
were told winter is a great time to come due to the lack of volume, which shouldn't be taken for granted because these canyons should be enjoyed slowly and intently. A knowledgeable guide is also crucial because a story is only as good as the storyteller, and ours was exceptional. He told us the history of the area, how 11 people died here in 1997 from a flash flood, and even gave us a photography lesson. After playing in the sand and snapping our pictures, Kristina and I continued our drive across state lines to Coral Pink Sand Dunes Park in Utah.

To be frank, this state park ($8 entrance fee per vehicle) is quite mundane and should only be visited if you're already in the vicinity. The 2-hour drive for a Lawrence of Arabia photo would have been more worth it if we had time to 4-wheel or sled down the dunes ($25 for sled rental). And despite it's attractive name, these sands aren't remotely pink. Even in the perfect lighting and some color blindness by the viewer, these dunes can only be described as orange. However, this area is so remote that a quaint picnic, a little
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Ascending the 1st flight of stairs to reach the slot canyon
time for a good book, or some quiet solitude are enough to warrant a visit. After half an hour of dragging ourselves across the "desert" to the tallest dune, we moved on to the last stop on our road-trip, Kanarraville Creek.

This small town on the outskirts of Zion National Park looks like a movie-set from a Halloween horror film. From creaking barn doors to barbed-wire fences and abandoned homes, this place was made for nightmare on Elm. But hidden above the hills is a little known creek that rewards its visitors with picturesque waterfalls and wooden ladders. At 5500 feet above sea level, Kanarraville deserves Denver's nickname because I experienced altitude sickness for the 2nd time in my life. While not strenuous, the hike from Town Hall (free parking) to the foothills is about 15 minutes, followed by 1.5 miles of a trail running alongside the creek, followed by another mile into the slot canyon. Little did we know how long the hike would be, because Kristina and I expected to see the waterfall around every corner, only to be disappointed. We waded deeper and farther into frigid waters with growing concerns about frostbite. We were grateful to have met a fellow hiker earlier who warned us not to attempt the 2nd waterfall due to freezing conditions. Luckily, we found the 1st waterfall just before giving up due to the dimming lights, and with that, we hiked 45 minutes back into town, dried off, and whisked ourselves back to civilization in Vegas.

After another day in Sin City to indulge in gluttony and sloth, Kristina and I left separately to return to work. After this trip, we constantly remind ourselves about the 2 worlds we live in: the reality of our everyday life, and the adventure that awaits just beyond it. While our next journey won't be for another 7 months to southeast Asia, Kristina and I are already planning and lusting over the next trip. Until then, happy travels!


18th December 2016
Lower Antelope Canyon

Southwest Canyons
What a great shot! Life is an adventure.
18th December 2016
Lower Antelope Canyon

Thanks! Cant wait to hear about your next one
19th December 2016

Splendors of the Southwest its good article thank you cheap flights
19th December 2016

Social Media vs. Reality
"Bloggers claim the best images are captured at dawn and dusk, but regardless of when you come, the peaceful silence among the rocks carved by the Colorado River cannot be portrayed through oversaturated photos and witty captions. It can only be breathed and felt, ..." some of the wiser words I've read recently. Great blog. Loved your writeup of Kanarraville Creek, which I suspect most visitors to Zion have never heard about.
28th January 2017

Millennial Travelers
As Millennials, Kristina and I are bombarded with unrealistic images online of what a destination "should" look like. We've learned beauty is based on perspective rather than expectation, which I'm sure a seasoned traveler like you knows better than we do!

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