Page, Arizona was our first stop after leaving Durango and driving across the expanse of the four corners area. A timeless drive across America’s empty expanses of dirt and rock, as my hands gripped the wheel images were conjured in my head of Dean Moriarty rolling back and forth across the continent in his rattletrap 1951 Nash, bearing down on whatever town lay ahead. The plan was to hang out on Lake Powell for a few days and work before rounding the lake and heading up to Escalante, and Page was the destination town.
Most of what I knew about Page was gleaned from The Monkey Wrench Gang, a novel which didn’t exactly have a positive interpretation of society and human impact on the desert. So expectations weren’t exactly preloaded in the town’s favor. As we rolled into Page, we were greeted by what was very obviously a tourism centered town – a wide main drag dotted with tour companies and eateries, large tour buses parked up and down and tourists of every nationality walking all about. The pivotal focus of the tour companies seemed to be Antelope Canyon, an adventure which required buying a tour to experience, and which our thrift helped us decide to skip in favor of the canyons which still laid ahead in the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument.
As we settled into Page, however, it quickly got to work in winning us over. It may not have had an REI or Trader Joes, bike lanes or even multiple varieties of Kombucha at the grocery, but it started to stand out as a place of subtleties to seek out and enjoy.
We took a day to work, then decided that we ought to explore what Page had to offer the occasional vagabond. The woman at the visitor’s center happened to be the nicest lady we’d met so far on our trip, and she gave us an abundance of ideas about what to do in Page, on Lake Powell, and further up UT-89 where we’d soon be traveling. Aside from that, we totally lost track of time in the museum section of the visitor’s center, which contained everything from Native American cultural artifacts to displays on various expeditions in the area from Spanish exploration to contemporary Colorado River rafting.
Page Rim Trail
We could only really find one trail listed as “for biking” in the area, which by the looks of the visitor’s center brochures appeared to be a mellow walking trail which you could take bikes on. We had limited information and didn’t want to find ourselves walking our touring bikes, so Sam and I pulled the mountain bikes out of the barn and started rolling. Once we started down the trail, however, we found so much more than we’d expected.
Page sits atop a large mesa with a sharp sandstone rim on all sides, looking down across the desert like a fortress. The Rim Trail circles the entire town on this razor’s edge, skirting along clifflines and rolling along the tops of yellow and red sandstone tanks. It covered 9 miles, and you could hop on at the trailhead next to the Elementary School, or from nearly any neighborhood in town.
Once we were on the trail we found, to our surprise, that rather than the mellow dog walk we were riding a trail which lent itself well to mountain bikes. Largely without elevation gain or drop, what laid out before us was a rolling undulation of cross country flow, sandy washes, and slickrock slabs. Once we reached the main loop via the sandy connector trail, we started heading East (clockwise) along the loop. The trail was sand tamped into a firm layer, a hard and fast ribbon in a sea of sand. Immediately upon joining the main loop, we were granted a panoramic vista of Lake Powell below and Antelope Island front and center. Far on the other shore, Castle Rock gleamed in the desert sun.
As we continued East, the trail weaved in and out along the topo lines of small receding canyons, providing us a stammering of small rock gardens, boulders, and slabs to hop over. As the trail bore South away from the lake, Navajo Mountain loomed in full view with the flat pan desert in the foreground. We knew that Antelope Canyon was nestled somewhere right in our view, but the narrow crevice through which it joined the surface was so small as to hide the canyon’s glory in plain sight.
Moving south, the jagged cliff began to soften into smooth, rolling tanks of sandstone easing down to the desert floor below. I recalled memories of such rocks in places like Kane Creek and Horsethief Canyon, but was reminded how so much beauty can be found anywhere you look in the desert. Reaching the Southern end of the rim, we walked out onto an acropolis of rock to sit and eat our lunch, observing the intricacies of the desert beneath us.
Rounding to the Southern side of the mesa, the character of the trail changed distinctly. We were brought closer to neighborhoods and made an awkward and unnerving highway crossing before settling into the trail again. We dropped below the rim now, and the trail gained interest as it craftily wove between the rocks which had long ago fallen off of the cliff above. As we stopped to observe our surroundings, we noticed the unlikeliest thing – a full disc golf course spread in the desert before us, with two golfers wandering through the sage and agave on their way to their next tee. Kicking ourselves for not packing discs into the van, we moved on.
As we rounded to the Western aspect of the mesa, the views again became spectacular. Below us we could see the Glen Canyon Dam, with the Vermilion cliffs in the distance behind. A sandstone moonscape spread out on either side of the trail. Bristling cones of rock pointed in every direction, every one with hundreds of layers of strada each in perfect parallel with the others. What a world to navigate.
As we made two more road crossings and skirted the golf course, we made a most disconcerting discovery – right in the center of the trail we were traveling lay a newborn baby rabbit. He was so small as to fit in the palms of our hands, and so young as to not yet have opened his eyes. Wondering where Mom was and fearing for his well being, we started making calls to animal control and doing research our phones about the best course of action. Our fear was that he would surely die if he were left in the desert alone, but everything we were reading was assuring us of the opposite – momma would be back looking for him, but would wait until the coast was clear. After standing vigil with him for some time, we noticed a large jack rabbit hopping around the brush above us, eyeing us warily. So we dampened the dirt beneath a tuft of tall grass, and laid him there for his parent to find. Good luck, Geronimo.
As we rounded the Northern side of the mesa, we found ourselves right back where we started. A well marked trailhead sign identified the connector which we’d come down, and stopping to regard the view once more, we pedaled back up to the van. If we were unsure about Page, the Page Rim Trail did away with our unease. The trail may not have been technically demanding, but the scenic payoff made up for all the rest. Thanks, Page!
Did You Bring the Soap? The Chronicle of Two Dirty Hippies on Lake Powell
Satisfied from our ride, we headed down to Horseshoe Bend to observe the rafters meander by on the Colorado far below and to watch the sun recede. Overnighting in the trailhead parking lot, we woke up to an incredible view. One of the most rewarding things about vanlife is being able to choose your backyard real estate from some of the continent’s most incredible places, day after day. So what will we do today?
The thing which had most drawn us to Page was Lake Powell, a man-made lake of monumental size spreading 183mi from the Glen Canyon Dam in Page to the Colorado River’s inflow in Canyonlands. Completed in 1963, it took 17 years for the lake to fill and, in course of this action, submerge canyons, healthy ecosystems, and archaeological sites under water. What is left is a web of finger-like canyons, steep walls accessible from the glassy lake surface. Powell was a feature which we could spend weeks exploring, we were torn about how to best spend our time.
Ultimately we decided to head to the Wahweep Marina to do some paddling. Entry to the marina came at a cost of $25, and the kayak rental totaled nearly $70, but we justified it thinking about the unique experience we’d be granted. Lunch packed, kayak rented, we started paddling. When we rented the boat, the staff informed us that we were restricted to Wahweep bay – which we were disappointed about until we realized the scale of the bay.
We started paddling along the Southern shore, along rocky shoals and sand beaches. Soon the RV clad beaches began to fall away and the canyon walls became higher. We turned up the first slot canyon we encountered, and realized that we were doing something that we’d remember far into the future. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see the high desert canyon walls populated with a thriving aquatic ecosystem. Ducks scattered as we rounded a copse of palm fronds, and catfish wove among the reeds thumping the bottom of our boat as they went on their way. The steep canyon walls receded to the sky, and round huecos punctuated their travel upwards.
As we exited the canyon, we pulled off on a white sand beach to have lunch and swim. The warm water washed away our weariness, and the air dried us nearly immediately. We sat on the beach for a long time and soaked it in, regarding the azure water and the fortress-like rock features beyond. We moved on to explore more canyons, some which continued back turn after turn, not much wider than our paddle width. We got out and clambered up the rock to their moonscape pinnacles, and hopped off onto lonely white islands of glistening rock in a sea of tropic blue. We used the whole day and paddled back to the marina in time to return the boat, still feeling like we’d left things unseen and places unexplored. We will be back with our own sea kayaks, and time enough for some overnight adventures in this incredible and unique place.
Well, Page, we arrived as skeptics and we were proven wrong. We crossed the dam and pointed the van for Kanab, but with the regret that we had to leave so soon.