We all know rather well Tony Crocker's
penchant (some would call it geekdom) for solar eclipses. With the centerline of Sunday's annular eclipse a mere six-hour drive away along the Utah/Arizona border, Tony talked Mrs. Admin and yours truly into driving down for the event. (Those of you from the East should realize that around here, a six-hour drive is basically "right next door.") It would also give me the chance to play more with my new-found attraction to panoramic photography, and also try photographing an eclipse for the first time. And neither of us had yet been to Lake Powell.
We left a good three hours later than planned at noon on Saturday, but in the end that turned out to not be a big deal even though my plan was to take the scenic route through Brian Head
and Cedar Breaks National Monument. At Cedar Breaks our drive would max out at 10,450 feet of elevation before dropping through Grand Staircase/Escalante to eventually reach ~3,600 feet at Lake Powell.
After crossing Cedar Mesa and the lava flows of the Markagunt Plateau we descended to U.S. 89 at Long Valley Jct. and headed south past the headwaters of the Virgin River and through the few small towns north of Kanab. Each one of these uses a unique speed deterrent for unsuspecting tourists.
Despite our late start we also made an unplanned side trip to kick off our sandals and take a walk at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park west of Kanab.
We refilled the gas tank in Kanab and sped eastward for the final stretch to Lake Powell, 65 miles through a whole lotta nothin' aside from some unique topography along The Cockscomb next to the Paria River. Tony and his friends were staying in hotels, but Mrs. Admin and I preferred to camp. Right at the Utah/Arizona border we hung a left to Lone Rock Beach, where the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area allows people to drive onto the beach to camp. I'm not a fan of car camping and much less so in a campground, but Lone Rock Beach has no specified sites -- you just pick a spot on the beach and plop down. I managed to get the Taurus through some deep sand to the lake shore reasonably distant from other campers and we set up as the sun went down for the day.
Tony arrived in town on Sunday morning with lizardqueen
, and after some hectic dropped calls we found ourselves southbound on U.S. 89 again right behind them heading into Page, Arizona, with the three 775-foot towers of the coal fired Navajo Generating Station dominating the flat desert horizon southeast of town. Tony, lizardqueen and Tony's friends from France checked into their hotel rooms while Mrs. Admin and I went for a hot breakfast at Denny's. Simple, right? Not when Denny's runs out of eggs.
They sent one of their line cooks to Wal-Mart to buy eggs, and by the time he got back the kitchen was backed up for 45 minutes.
With breakfast choices few and far between we toughed it out. Page is a unique place, founded in 1957 atop a small mesa as the construction village for workers on the Glen Canyon Dam that forms Lake Powell. As a result it's still filled primarily by single-wide mobile homes that were transported there for the construction and have since become modestly more permanent structures for the town's 7,247 residents, as of the 2010 census. Nearly 27% of the town's residents are Navajo. According to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, at the time the dam site was identified it was the most remote location in the Lower 48. That 65 miles of roadway that we had driven from Kanab (actually ~70 or so to the dam site itself), and the 35 or so miles beyond Page, was built just to facilitate the dam construction. A number of films have been made in the area, including Into the Wild
, Broken Arrow
, Superman III
, the 2000 and 1968 editions of Planet of the Apes
, and The Outlaw Josey Wales
Tony was signed up with lizardqueen for a tour group to visit The Crack in Upper Antelope Canyon, which is on Navajo Nation land and they thus set the rules. My guidebook indicated that The Corkscrew in Lower Antelope Canyon could be accessed on your own for a $17.50 pp fee, but when we arrived at the Navajo Nation fee booth we found out that had changed and that they required a $25 pp guide fee for that, too, in addition to a $6 pp hiking fee. Not wanting to go on a guided tour, we went over to Glen Canyon Dam for...a guided tour.
Honestly, though, I found the tour down inside the dam fascinating, as were the exhibits at the Carl Hayden Visitors Center.
Upon meeting that morning it was decided to view the eclipse from Lone Rock Beach where we were camped, so after the tour Mrs. Admin and I headed back to camp to await the others' arrival. I pulled the air mattress out of the tent and put it under the sun shade and promptly fell asleep to the sound of boat wake lapping on the shore.
An hour and a half later I awoke to find no eclipse watchers in my camp. I got Crocker on the phone and learned that Xavier and the others had tried to find us on the beach but were unsuccessful. Plus, while looking for me Larry got his car stuck in the sand, something that I had already witnessed with three others in the few waking hours that I had already spent at the beach. To get a better view and to avoid the deep sand the crew had set up on a shelf above the beach. We headed out to join them in setting up.
As the sun lowered in the late afternoon sky the show began.
There were perhaps 15-20 eclipse fans gathered on that shelf, and all were very friendly and accommodating in allowing us to look through their many thousands of dollars-worth of telescopes and other equipment. I may wisecrack jokes about Tony's fascination with eclipses, but I've got to admit that nature put on a pretty amazing show on Sunday evening. I'd love to witness a total eclipse, but let's just say that I won't be flying to Australia for it.
After packing up everyone came back to our beachfront campsite to drink wine, eat cheese and salami and chat around a crackling campfire well into the evening, but only after Xavier, too, got his rented SUV stuck in the sand and we all spent 45 minutes digging it out in the dark. The conversation was lively and intriguing with international overtones, including Xavier's father Alain who lives in Brussels and is retired from NATO. I think that Jean-Michel, who didn't speak any English, was happy to be able to converse in French with Mrs. Admin as it was just about his only chance to talk with someone who isn't traveling with them on their three-week trip. Mrs. Admin and I didn't get to crawl into our tent until 1 a.m.
On Monday morning we relaxed with some coffee before breaking camp and heading out.
As we ate breakfast a couple of beggars swam up to the beach and walked right into our camp looking for a handout, clearly well accustomed to doing so.
Tony and his friends were heading for a hike to The Wave, an oft-photographed rock formation northwest of our camp. For a multitude of reasons, however, not the least of which were the forecast 97-degree high temperatures and a long drive back to Salt Lake, Mrs. Admin and I instead decided to pay our first visit to Bryce Canyon National Park en route home.
Now, I understand that National Parks make some of our country's most spectacular natural wonders accessible to the masses. I get it. But Bryce Canyon, as beautiful as it is, is a complete junk show in my opinion. Between the kitschy gift shops, the tour buses, the "hiking trails" built with a bulldozer the same way that the Slutsky's cut ski trails at Hunter Mountain, etc., the "wilderness experience" is completely Disney-fied.
With time being short I opted for a walk (I'm reluctant to call it a "hike") down to the canyon floor via the Wall Street trail, and back up via the Queen's Garden trail.
What I found, however, was that while the initial portion of Wall Street was non-stop, bumper-to-bumper people hiking in both directions, most people seem to just go down a little ways, turn around and return to the rim via the same route. That meant that once I had pushed on for about three quarters of a mile I at least had some
distance between groups of hikers. In a couple of places I scrambled around a corner off the trail to find complete solitude, or at least what seemed like it. So the day wasn't a total loss.
Three and a half hours later, we pulled back into our driveway in Salt Lake City after a better eclipse experience than Evren apparently had at Brian Head