Driving past the Desert View entrance of Grand Canyon, we rode with uncertainty to our next destination, watching the last trace of Mount Humphrey’s snow cap dip behind the hilltops like a setting sun. We were driving through Page, AZ on our way to experience Utah’s quinfecta of National Parks, with a hopeful detour to Antelope Canyon.
Two days earlier, a park ranger at the South Rim recommended a drive to the North Rim. It was our first choice for camping inside the park after reading about trailer sites that back up to the canyon rim. But given its popularity and limited availability, we were shut out long before we ever started planning. Consequently, a day trip to the North Rim loomed large until the park ranger laid out a map in front of us.
“As the crow flies, the canyon is 10 miles across,” she explained while tracing the route. “However, by taking Center Road to 64 East, and following the road to 89 North, which then becomes 89A North for a while, and turning onto 67 South for the rest of the way, you should reach your destination in a little over 4 hours.
“Four hours?” questioned Leah, incredulous of the time.
“That’s right,” the ranger explained. “It’s 212 miles around to the other side.”
“And four hours back,” rebutted Leah.
“Well, it is remote,” admitted the ranger, “but it’s really worth it.”
Turning to me, “Remember,” Leah asserted. “You’re the one who’s gonna be driving eight hours. So there’s no way we’re taking that day trip. Not unless you’re willing to get up at four in the morning.”
That immediately put things into perspective. We left the visitor’s center feeling less secure about our plans.
“So, we’ll think of something else,” I suggested. “How about we stop in Page to break up the ride to Zion? Then we can explore Antelope Canyon. It’s part of the Navajo tribal park, and it’s really famous.”
“How do we get in?” Leah wondered, “and do we have to pay?”
A quick Google search brought quick answers. “Of course, we have to pay,” I affirmed. “But it says here that you can’t enter the canyon without a guide, and you definitely need reservations to guarantee a space, especially the week of Memorial Day holiday.”
“How’ya gonna manage that?” asked Leah. “It’s so last minute, and you know what the crowds are gonna be like this week.”
I was up to the challenge, and perseverance rewarded me with a early afternoon reservation with “Ken’s Tours” on our travel day… or so I thought. Unfortunately, closer inspection of the confirmation specified an 8:00 am entrance time–not the 2:00 pm time I bubbled. “No fucking way!” I yelled at the sky.
“I did nothing wrong,” I argued to Leah. “Those fucking bastards switched the time on me.” I was angry, and ready to pick a fight I knew I’d lose, but still I returned to Ken’s website to double-check. Of course, THE CALENDAR WAS FULL! I had psyched myself up for this after being turned away from the North Rim. I wanted this excursion more than anything. I had seen photographs of the canyon, and needed to witness this spectacle for myself.
“Look,” Leah explained. “We’re not gonna make eight o’clock, and you know it. So you may as well cancel our reservation, and we’ll call in the morning to sort it all out.”
The agent on the phone couldn’t get past the cancellation post from the night before. She insisted that by cancelling, we forfeited our reservation. But Leah was not giving up so easily.
“You gave us a time we didn’t order,” she lectured, “just so you could fill up your calendar. Besides, it’s already 7:30 in the morning which makes it completely unreasonable to expect us to be there in half an hour since we’re at the Grand Canyon, and we still have to drive two-and-a-half hours to reach you.
I listened in on the call, and didn’t understand the logic that was going back and forth, but Leah wore the agent down. She relented by agreeing to wait-list us, provided we show up at 2:00 pm to take the place of two no-shows.
Obviously, as can be seen from the banner above the blog, we made it in time, and got to explore the lower canyon. Our guide, Broderick, a full-blooded Navajo who also spoke Hopi and Zuni, escorted us to a sloped overhang, where hundreds of canyon seekers waited patiently for their moment…
Before it would be our turn to take the stairs, Leah and I had an hour’s wait, which gave us plenty of time to get to know our group of nine others and Broderick, who’s been working as a guide for Ken’s Tours for the past six years. We introduced ourselves to a millennial couple from Belgium, a mother/daughter from Japan, a Gen-X couple from Sri Lanka, and three deaf-signing teenagers, of which one could speak.
Broderick filled much of the time feeding us background information on his life. We learned that Kenny Young (of Ken’s Tours) also breeds prize bulls for the professional rodeo circuit, and Broderick who has ridden bulls in the Kenny Young Bull Riding Classic since his late teens was an adoring mentee of Kenny’s, learning how to properly grip the bull rope around his bull-riding hand, and best position his rope handle. It was at the arena that he first met Kenny’s granddaughter, who has been his steady soul-mate ever since. And it was only after Broderick bought her a four-bedroom house as part of a customary Navajo dowry that the deal was sealed.
While they have no immediate plans to marry, Broderick willingly shares his vision of how the wedding will take place–which surprisingly does not include a ceremony within the canyon walls. Instead, he imagines a small invited assembly atop a holy mesa accessible only by helicopter.
Forever the romantic, Broderick remains deeply devoted to his guide duties and the heir of a family business who sees 1,500 plus visitors a day wind their way through Arizona’s most famous slot canyon at $25 a piece.
The waiting time moved quickly, and soon it was our turn to descend into the canyon.
From the moment we twisted into the slot’s sandstone corkscrew, I knew I was in photo-nirvana.
And after a walk through nature’s majesty, I acknowledge that it’s the best money any would-be photographer can spend.