Fairies and Cliff Dwellers and Angels

Actually, it’s a single ferry, but that just didn’t fit the theme as well. Humph.

Mike and I took off on our roadtrip on Sunday, July 31st, 2011. This, incidentally, was my birthday — birthday 29.2. With only vague plans in mind, we drove north.

After a mere 2.5 hours of driving, we pulled into a lovely bouldering spot in Flagstaff where a few friends were spending the day. Although we didn’t boulder, we stretched our legs and watched their antics for a bit. Both Joe and Jeff were celebrating their birthdays as well. Joe has a pretty sweet gig researching owls in the Grand Canyon for the next few months, but I still think our roadtrip wins. Nice try, Joe.

Next stop: Lee’s Fairy Ferry

I’m not being entirely faithful to the facts here. Lee was not a fairy. He didn’t have a fairy. We did not, in fact, even stop at Lee’s Ferry. Lee’s Ferry is a historical site in northern Arizona that has been replaced by a much more modern bridge. Ferrys, after all, really aren’t that practical for major highway crossings of the Colorado River. The bridge is known as the Navajo Bridge, and it offers stunning views of the river just northeast of the Grand Canyon. But before I get to the bridge, I must discuss the original ferry.

The ferry was established and operated by John D. Lee, a Mormon settler in the area. This might not be terribly interesting to you, but I am currently reading Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which offers a rather disturbing account of Fundamentalist Mormonism in the western states. Lee was executed in 1877 for his part in an 1857 massacre of approximately 120 emigrants traveling from Arkansas to California. Lee and some Mormon militiamen teamed up with local Native Americans, dressed like Native Americans, and attacked the party under disguise, hoping to never be identified as the White men they were. Because the emigrants put up a good fight, Lee and his posse were certain they had been discovered, so Lee faked a truce and convinced the emigrants to put down their weapons in exchange for safe passage through the area. His group then rounded up everyone over the age of 7 and massacred them, believing that they would no longer be identified as the perpetrators. As you can see by the 20 years between massacre and death sentence, Lee had quite a lot of time to lay low at his ferry before authorities caught up with him.

The ferry operated for a quite a while, even after Lee’s death, but as I mentioned earlier the Navajo Bridge has since replaced it. The bridge is called the Navajo Bridge because it was built with the cooperation of the Navajos, whose land the bridge rests on. The bridge is one of just a few crossings of the Colorado River in Arizona, and it offers wonderful views of Marble Canyon below. The sky was a bit ominous and the wind was cool when we stopped to take a few photos.

Marble Canyon and the Colorado River

Navajo Bridge

Next Stop: Cliff Dwellers’ homes

Normally when one speaks of cliff dwellers, one is referring to Native American tribes like the Pueblos who sometimes built their homes into the sides of cliffs. In this case, the cliff dwellers are more like eccentric homesteaders, and their homes aren’t exactly in the cliffs.

Mike and I were just driving along when we saw some crazy structures built amongst some oddly-shaped rocks. We stopped and discovered the cliff dwellings  at the base of Arizona’s Vermilion Cliffs. Apparently a couple relocating to the southwest because of the husband’s tuberculosis suffered car troubles at the base of the cliffs. They decided it was as good a place as any to settle down, so they built some crazy shelters into the rocks and stayed. The other piece of the story that I liked was the fact that cars used to have to drive up the steep roads backwards to prevent their cars from stalling. If they drove up the roads in the normal direction the cars would stall as the gas flowed away from the engines.

Cliff Dwellers' Home

Another view of the home

Next stop: Jacob Lake Inn

Blueberry Pie. Yummmm!

Next stop: Random free campsite on National Forest Service land

Next stop: Zion National Park!

The first real destination of our trip was Zion National Park. Mike and I have both been to Zion before, he on several occasions, but it’s truly an adventurer’s park. Sure there’s a great infrastructure for tourists who want to ride a shuttle and snap a few photos, but there’s also a tremendous amount of backcountry exploring to be done.

After a morning of grocery/supply shopping we finally made it into the park around noon. Such a late start is not conducive to backcountry exploration, so we decided on a simple hike up to Angel’s Landing to warm us up for the next day. I say “simple” with a hint of sarcasm. Most profiles of the hike describe it as “strenuous; steep with exposure to long drop-offs.” It’s a 5-mile round trip hike with 1,488ft. of elevation change between the bottom and the top. Such a  hike may not seem simple, and it wasn’t exactly a stroll, but compared with our later roadtrip activities it was a veritable cake walk.

We started the steep climb around 1:00, right in the hottest part of the day. No worries — we Phoenicians are used to the heat. It was shocking how many people we saw with 12oz. bottles of water and nothing else though. We even stopped to give some of our water to a man well on his way to severe dehydration.

The entire hike is steep, but the crazy part comes toward the end when “steep” is coupled with “dangerous.” The trail narrows, steel posts and chain handrails appear, and the sides of the trail drop off a thousand feet or so. You find yourself clinging to the chains while peering over the cliffs, imagining the grisly death you would encounter should you slip. People do die on this trail. Or rather, falling off of it. It’s no secret: there are tons of signs posted telling you how many people have died. The sign claims only 6 since 2004, though our local canyoneering friends think the number is fudged. Regardless, it’s not hard to imagine how someone could take a tumble right off the edge and into oblivion.

All the sketchy danger is a prelude to the true reward, though: an amazing, 360-degree view of the park. Zion is beautiful, and Angel’s Landing is a great place to observe the majesty. You truly have to see it to believe it, so put it on your bucket list if you’ve never been before.

Our hike down was pretty uneventful, though we did see a deer and a rattle snake. We had a bit of trouble finding a good campsite that night since the place we knew about was closed; nonetheless, a kind woman at one of the pay campsites tipped us off to a free spot on BLM land just a short distance away and we managed to set up in the dark for a semi-decent night’s sleep, despite the multitude of ants swarming the site.

I’ve brought you all the way through Day 2 of our 2-week roadtrip. Stay tuned for more — the adventures only get crazier, the photos only more dazzling, I promise.

The view from Angel's Landing

Crazy tree

Chip and Dale

The route goes right up that spine

The rattle snake


The view

I see mountains!

Such pretty colors!

A view of Angel's Landing

3 Responses to “Fairies and Cliff Dwellers and Angels”
  1. JM Simpson says:

    Beautiful photos!! I will tag along from my computer chair!

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] the past I’ve written about Zion National Park, which is my favorite NP so far because of its high-adventure canyoneering opportunities. […]

  2. […] is part of Grand Canyon NP). We parked at the Cliff Dwellers site, which I covered in an earlier post. From there we descended into possibly the muddiest canyon ever. There were several fun rappels and […]

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