Last week, I went out to Arizona for a work trip (conference) but took an extra three days to explore northern Arizona. For the past few years, I've been itching to see Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon and both did not disappoint!
Getting to Page, Arizona
To get to Page, Arizona is not an easy feat from the East Coast. There are no direct flights, so if coming from NYC (or other major East Coast cities), your best bet is to fly directly to Phoenix as early as possible and then rent a car and drive 4 hours to Page. This was quite a long trip and I am SUPER glad I took the first flight out at 6:30 am from JFK as the rest of the day did not go quite as planned...
Due to my early flight, that meant I also had to be up at 3:30 am to get to JFK by 5 am from Manhattan. I can never sleep well whenever I take an early morning flight (the anticipation of waking up/not missing the alarm) so I was pretty sleep deprived by the time we landed in Phoenix (about a 5 hour flight direct). We landed at 9 am Phoenix time though, but by the time I got my car rental and left the airport, it was almost 10:45 am. The first thing I did was drive to the nearest Walmart about 15 min. away to stock up on water and snacks for the road, then I hit up the infamous West Coast burger and fries franchise In and Out for lunch and by noon, I was on the road.
It's generally a very straight drive from Phoenix to Page and though the speed limit was like 75 mph, you're going uphill most of the time (northern Arizona like Sedona, which is on the way, is at a higher elevation which means it's also cooler). My car rental didn't have strong pick up speed even though it was an SUV so I wish I was flying faster but I was just going about 75-80 mph max. (not that you should be speeding but I usually like to think +10 over the speed limit is okay and most were going way faster than me!). Anyway, about an hour into my drive, I GOT A FLAT TIRE!!!!!
I've never gotten a flat tire on my own...This was also the second time ever in life renting and driving alone. Thank goodness the woman at my Enterprise car rental had asked me if I wanted roadside assistance before I drove off the rental lot! Usually to keep costs down I turned down all the car insurances/packages, etc. But when she asked if I wanted roadside assistance (which is only like $6.99/day and basically a tow truck will come help with any car issues) I had a bad foreboding feeling and got it just in case.
I was also lucky the flat tire happened early on during the drive. Between Phoenix and Page, there is basically nothing but mountains and desert road (although when you pass thru Flagstaff there is civilization). I was a mile away from a gas station so I pulled off the highway and called for help when I was at the gas station (which was in a safe area, thankfully). Took about an hour for the tow truck guy to come and he was able to change my tire in about 5-10 min. So I didn't know this before and will share this to others who may not as well. When you get a flat tire:
- you cannot drive more than 50 mph on a spare tire
- you cannot drive more than 50-100 miles with a spare tire on
I did not know this! In my mind (before I found out) I thought I was gonna just be driving the car around with a spare. Anyway, so I found out I needed to switch out my car at the nearest Enterprise so off to Flagstaff I went (driving oh so slow at 50 mph while everyone else was whizzing by). Luckily it was within 50 miles of where I was. So I get to the Flagstaff Enterprise rental at the airport (no direct flights from NYC, otherwise I would've tried to fly into Flagstaff to cut driving time!), and the guy tells me he has no cars to give me!!!! It's about 3:30 pm at this point and I'm hungry, sleep deprived, and generally cranky from the whole tire situation. Plus everything closes by 6 pm (like the rental car office and the garage) so I was feeling nervous. And I forgot to mention earlier that my car was pretty new (only 5K miles on it!). So the car rental guy called the local garage who had the exact tire I needed to replace so he sent me over there to switch it out. It was about a mile away, and when I got there, I see how busy they are and not feeling happy about having to deal with all this (I didn't have to pay for the tire though). The mechanics there were really nice though and took care of me, within 45 minutes they switched out the tires (they said they couldn't repair the flat, the tire melted too much! It was quite hot on the road). So by the time I got back on the highway again, it was close to 5 pm and I still had 2.5 hours to drive!
At this point, I start to race against the sun. As I head north, there are less and less cars on the road, and zero services. Ok, not COMPLETELY zero, thank God there was ONE service area about 1.5 hours from Page. It's in Cameron, Arizona and it's near the Navajo Trading Post. There is also a Conoco gas station there but it's pretty deserted so it feels a bit sketch. I initially saw the gas station first and wanted to pull in and use the bathroom but it didn't feel safe to me (lack of people) so I drove down the road further to the Burger King and used their facilities instead (more people and definitely a tourist bus stop area I believe). Otherwise, there was NOTHING to stop at between Flagstaff and Page. I was feeling nervous too--what if I somehow popped another tire??? The tow truck guy told me flats happen often on the highway from all the traffic/debris from trucks. Anyway, at this point in the day with light fading, I was not feeling great driving solo but I was thankful I started my day early.
For GPS, I was using good old Google Maps, and I knew that at some point, it was taking me off the major highway of route 89. To get to my hotel, it took me onto Coppermine Road which is like a highway road except it's one lane in both directions and less cars!!! However, on my return trip, I was glad my GPS took me on Coppermine Road north because I came back south on US route 89 and saw that it is a HUGE incline up on one segment of the road whereas Coppermine Road was flat the whole way. The difference in length between the two is only 5 miles and while 89 is a more commercial road, I guess I'm glad I was on Coppermine.
So, long story short, I got to my hotel RIGHT at dusk and I was thrilled I made it but had zero energy for anything else and basically went straight to bed. Not sure if I would ever put myself in a situation like that again! I mean, everything turned out fine but I didn't like how I felt uneasy driving solo so remotely and without much energy.
Hotel in Page
I stayed at La Quinta Inn Suites, which was great. Feels like a new hotel and the staff is super friendly. My rate $135 USD included breakfast too but I never ate it (I opted for nearby McDonald's to save time after I finished seeing Horseshoe Bend). I highly recommend as an affordable and central place to stay. It's less than a 10 min. drive to Horseshoe Bend and most restaurants, about 15 min. away from Antelope Canyon.
My initial plan was to see Horseshoe Bend the afternoon I arrived. Since that obviously didn't happen, I got up at the crack of dawn (5 am) to see it at sunrise (which was at 5:30 am in mid-April). I am SO glad I did!!!! Most people recommend seeing it at sunrise and after seeing it, I understand why. The bend faces East, so as the sun rises, you see the colors of the canyon change. If you see if any other time of day like afternoon the face of the canyon will be in shadow of the sun.
It's also completely safe to see/do on your own. When I arrived in the parking lot, there were about 10 cars there too. It wasn't too cold, about low 50s, and it wasn't windy yet. It got windier as the morning went on. FYI, it just gets really windy in northern Arizona! On my drive from Page to Sedona, the winds were so forceful I could feel the car waver thru it!
The walk from the parking lot to the overlook is easy--you walk uphill in sandy terrain and then downhill, all less than a mile. The path is wide and easy to follow.