My wife and I (early 60’s) just completed a brief spring break visit to Monument Valley and Page. We arrived from an afternoon connecting flight from NC to DRO Airport, stopping for gas and food items at the City Market in Cortez; later treated to a colorful Sunset sky just before arriving at The View Hotel in Monument Valley,. Our first night lodging was a Full Driver Room (comfortable mattress and nice view of the parking lot!) and the second night was a balcony (King Suite Second Floor Premium View – last room at the end of the building with open floor plan including sofa, table and chairs, extremely comfortable mattress, nice bath with excellent shower and the largest balcony in the View Hotel with eastern, southern and even western exposure views!). The View Hotel is a gem of a lodging oasis in the middle of nowhere with a courteous staff, nice accommodations and good food as well as the “view” throughout the property. At 4:00 am both mornings of our stay I awoke in search of clear sky to find mostly clear sky but lingering clouds along the Eastern horizon where the Milky Way rises in the early spring. I never did get to see a decent view of the Milky Way because of the clouds along the horizon.
On our first morning, we went outside and watched a morning starburst sunrise aside Merrick Butte from the visitor’s platform near the visitor center. We then looked in the gift shop for something for our wonderful neighbor who was pet sitting our cats. The Lee Cly Trail (adjacent Mitchell Mesa) had some earth moving equipment and culvert pipes nearby near the trail so the lower level views were not very good right now. My wife walked a portion of the Wildcat Trail (while I was reviewing my pictures) and she enjoyed those views. We drove to Forrest Gump Point for iphone pictures. We returned to The View Hotel and checked into our balcony view room and had an early dinner in the dining room. The food in the dining room was good with an efficient and friendly service staff. In fact, all staff of the hotel we encountered were nice and welcoming. We then went to our room balcony to enjoy the Sunset which tonight was underwhelming. That night I went out on the balcony in the early morning and imaged the Milky Way, but conditions were still suboptimal with a cloud bank along the horizon.
In the morning we awoke to a great sunrise outside our room on the balcony. In fact the same cloud bank that was present in the early morning hours which impeded my attempt to image the Milky Way now helped to produce nice colors of yellow, red and purple sky illuminated by the rising Sun behind Merrick Butte. After breakfast we drove the upper portion of the Valley Loop Drive (the front desk staff were extremely knowledgeable on the current road conditions for the loop drive) to below the switchbacks to near the first scenic turnout to view the Mittens and Merrick Butte up close. We left after lunch for our lodging at the La Quinta Inn and Suites in Page. Driving to Page we encountered snow and wind! As we arrived just outside Page it was still completely overcast with some rain as we passed one of the staging areas for Antelope Canyon tours with a parking lot filled with cars and tourists lined up in many rows waiting for their turn to view Antelope Canyon. After checking into the La Quinta Inn the weather was no better as now the wind was stronger >20 mph and rain was heavier. We had planned to go view the Sunset at Horseshoe Bend but the weather refused to cooperate. Perhaps we will return in the future when the entire planned infrastructure is completed at Horseshoe Bend (the observation platform is now constructed). I kept checking the weather forecasts for that evening as I was scheduled for the night photography tour in Upper Antelope Canyon; every thing pointed to clear sky. Beforehand, we went out to dinner with both of us having a nicely presented and tasting chicken salad dinner at Dam Plaza Bar & Grille.
That evening, I did the night photography tour by Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours in the Upper Antelope Canyon. There were 3 participants signed up (including me), but the couple cancelled (too cold @ 39F) so it was just me and the guide! Because it was only the two of us, we drove out to the canyon along the back route used by the guides to access the Upper Antelope Canyon. This “road” was slow going 4X4ing excitement with ruts and sharp switchbacks which eventually intersected with the “normal road” used to ferry tourists to the canyon. My guide said he liked this access as it was shorter than going out onto the tourist road. Later that night we did return via the tourist road which felt like being on a 4 lane divided highway compared to the back entrance. Once at the entrance to the canyon it was obvious that the sky was clear as the stars were everywhere as the clouds had dissipated. My camera and lens were wrapped in a rain-sleeve to protect them from the dust anticipated in the canyon. However, because of the recent rain and with no one else in the canyon there was no dust in the air so I was able to remove the covering from my equipment. Once in the canyon the air temperature was mild with no wind. My guide really liked the fact he did not have to show me how to use my camera at night and I was excited to explore this slot canyon in solitude at a leisure pace stopping to take pictures but also spending much time just looking around and up. My guide used a light source which back-scattered light throughout the canyon walls bringing out the yellow, pinks and purples hues. The rear of the canyon was a surprise as it really opens up to a sky full of stars. The only image I had trouble capturing in my camera was how open it becomes in the back of the canyon. I was using my Canon 6d with a 24 mm lens which was great for the tight overhead shots in the rest of the canyon; but my 14 mm lens would have been better in the rear of the canyon to capture the cavernous openness. I did not bring my 14 mm out with me this night as I never intended on changing a lens in the canyon. Imaging the stars above the canyon walls was easy. I also created and imaged “night shafts of light” on the canyon walls and floor with a narrow beam light. My guide had not seen anyone else use similar illumination to capture night shafts of light on the night tour. We spent about 1 ½ hours in the canyon just walking, talking and taking pictures. It was the highlight of the trip for me knowing that most “tourists” only see the canyon with a multitude of other visitors under noisy and dusty conditions. If posters here are looking to see Antelope Canyon with fewer tourists, a night tour may be for you, both photography and sightseer spots are available.
After a hot and cold buffet breakfast at La Quinta Inn we left early for our afternoon connecting flights from SGU Airport to NC. Before our flight we drove around northern St George (we had visited here a few years ago and are considering it as a possible retirement location if we decide to relocate) and had lunch at Kneaders Bakery and Café in St. George; wow, crowded but great food – we will return to the Bakery this summer to eat again as we have tickets to see The Prince of Egypt at the Tuacahn Amphitheater and will probable spend time viewing new construction retirement housing. Despite a few hiccups due to the weather we had a nice spring break trip!
See pictures from our trip in this photostream: