Winter is a cool time to explore the desert

December 12, 2016

A ride through Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park reveals an icy red desert and buttes on the Arizona-Utah border.

Seeking something other than the traditional 70-degree, sunny Christmas that Southern Californians like me often take for granted, I persuaded my dad to spend the long holiday weekend last year somewhere more remote, and perhaps white.

We signed up for a three-day trip with an Asian tour bus company out of Monterey Park, just east of Los Angeles, to Arizona and Utah. Disclaimer: The trip is better done driving your own car, especially if you like legroom.

At the crack of dawn, we loaded our luggage onto the bus and it made its way east. It stopped briefly at Baker, Calif., which boasts the tallest thermometer in the world, and we saw Sin City only in passing.

Soon it was all desert and mountains. After hours and hours of what started to look like sameness, we reached the Virgin River Gorge, a long canyon in northwest Arizona carved out by the Virgin River. Water flowed majestically across the marbled rock.

By sundown, we reached St. George, Utah, a city near the Arizona border with a large Mormon temple visible from the highway. The tour bus stopped at an Asian buffet that I assumed had mediocre cuisine compared with whatís available back home, so I decided to walk to the Mormon temple instead.

It was farther away than it looked, and it started to snow, so I got just close enough to take a decent picture.

Then it was back on the bus for the final stretch of the day to Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, where we stayed for the night. When we arrived, it was too dark to see the lake, so we headed to our room to get some rest.

Before sunrise the next day, we packed back into the bus to make our way to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, a red-desert region on the Arizona-Utah border. It was snowing, and the wind chill factor made the cold more biting.

Native Americans operating the park had us pile into Jeeps. My dad claimed the seat next to the driver while I convinced myself I could weather the low-30s temperature for the panoramic view from the convertible Jeep.

As the Jeep followed a trail down a gentle slope, the vehicle slipped on the ice and I thought we were on the verge of tipping over. It didnít, though, and Iím not sure if the driver was even worried. He must be used to driving on this terrain.

Sandstone buttes of various shapes made the ride seem almost like a safari, but we were tracking images, not animals. We stopped at several photo opportunity spots, including the Mitten Buttes and the Merrick Butte, and surveyed the landscape where John Wayne filmed "Stagecoach." Snow made it especially picturesque.

At the end of the ride, I ran into the visitors center for shelter from the chilly wind and also ran back out to the bus, which was a bad idea wearing traction-less Ugg boots because I slipped and fell. Conveniently, I was wearing so many layers of fleece and goose down that I barely felt it.

We then headed to what I anticipated would be the highlight of our quick holiday getaway ó Antelope Canyon. Iíd seen photos of the multi-orange slot canyon formed by erosion.

Experiencing it in person, I found the pictures didnít lie. We walked into the canyon led by a young Navajo guide even more savvy with iPhone photography than we were.

As we weaved through the natural wonder, our guide showed us how to adjust our iPhones to the chrome setting and how to focus the lens to capture flowing "shapes" in the rock like a sunset and a bear.

Those photos, in my opinion, could pass for the professional ones that enticed me to visit in the first place.

We ended the day with a nice dinner back at the resort with a view of Lake Powell where the cinnamon roll bread pudding was warm and delicious.

We woke up before dawn again on the final day of our getaway and took a scenic ride around vast, blue Lake Powell to Horseshoe Bend, on the Colorado River near Page, Ariz.

Reaching the bend required a hike up a slight incline, but the physical activity helped warm us up.

The lookout point was the perfect place to watch the sunrise. As the blue hues of the night receded, light illuminated the red rock and water at the base.

We couldíve visited Antelope Canyon in warmer weather, but Monument Valley was more pleasant coated in snow than enveloped in scorching heat ó and it was especially enchanting during the holidays.

With three days full of postcard moments, we began the long drive home.

IF YOU GO

Monument Valley: Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation offers guided tours, hiking trails and scenic drive directions at navajonationparks.org.

Antelope Canyon: Various tours of the Navajo-operated slot canyon are available at antelopeslotcanyon.com.

Horseshoe Bend: Tours and information on visiting the canyon are available at horseshoebend.com.

Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas: Rates on lodging and boat rides are available at lakepowell.com/lodging/lake-powell-resort.

 

 





 


Associated Press