Throughout the world, there is just a small, elite legion of natural wonders, a crack force of spectacular miracles of nature, that will forever captivate the minds of travelers. We have been fortunate to have seen many - Victoria Falls and Table Mountain in Africa, Mount Everest in the Himalayas, the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock in Australia, Lake Titicaca and the Amazon in South America, even the lava caves on the small South Korean island of Cheju and the Taroko Gorge splitting Taiwan right down its middle. But nowhere compares with this part of south-west America where day after day you can have your imagination swept away in awe of the majesty, mystery and magnificence of evolution that exist here.
For much of these we have to thank the mighty Colorado. As it forges its 1500 mile path from its source at La Poudre Pass, two miles high in the Rockies to its eventual disgorgement into the Gulf of California in Mexico, it leaves in its wake an exhibition of true art, with monuments to its greatness standing vigil all along its rolling waters.
For here in Arizona and Utah are sights that attract us humans from all over the world. Everywhere we go there are Germans, Japanese, Australians, Brazilians, people from all nations - some speaking gobbledegook languages which we don't think they even understand themselves and which we think they make up to sound like us.
However, if you follow the mighty Red River to the Utah/Arizona border, you will find that man's interference has dealt it a brutal indignity. For it is here that the massive Glen Canyon Dam looms large, staunching the noble river's natural path. It is one of fifteen dams that interrupt its imperious flow, the second biggest to the Hoover Dam. But, in the process of creating a huge storage tank of blue water and generating limitless green hydro-electric power, it has produced another wonder, the stunning Lake Powell, America's second largest reservoir. After it took 10 years (1956-1966) to build the concrete buffer, it took a further 17 years for the influx of the Colorado to pour into the myriad of canyons to constitute the 185-mile long lake. Lake Powell is not just a modern-day haven for boaters and vacationeers, but a veritable showroom of what the river has produced as art over millions of years. It is surrounded by mesas and buttes. Now for those, like us, who don't know their buttes from their elbows, basically buttes (pronounced 'bewts' as in beaut-y) are high rock formations that are taller than they are wide, while a mesa is much larger and wider and slightly less elevated (like Table Mountain). This place is full of them, each one seducing the camera lens like a stone Lorelei. When set next to the still open water, their proud dominance lights up the whole scene.
While you are here, you might also want to test your level of vertigo and take a tour of the dam, peering over the sweeping rim which overlooks its sister bridge as well as a stomach-churning 700ft drop. You will have to take two elevators right down into its engine-room bowels, knowing you are encased in millions of tons of concrete. You will be accompanied by a cheery knowledgeable guide who somehow manages to find an infectious enthusiasm for this cold monolith.
But our thanks to the Colorado run further. There's more...
Five miles downstream of the dam is one of the most amazing spectacles you will ever see. If you drive out of the small town of Page, a place built in the late fifties/early sixties originally to house the 2,500 workers who built the dam but now full of hotels and motels, you leave your car in an isolated car park and walk about a mile, over a hill, to one of nature's greatest sights. For you will find yourself at the rim of Horseshoe Bend, a place where the Colorado performs one of its best circus tricks, flip-flopping back on itself, hugging a massive rock like a giant blue-green snake. It curls 1000ft vertically beneath you at the foot of a sheer drop, a drop that every year claims the lives of, on average, two to three over-confident tourists whose bravado is their undoing.
To get an idea of scale, you can pan in on the picture above and may just spot the specks of the tiny kayaks on the inside bank of the bend at the bottom.
But wait. It just gets better.
Antelope Canyon is a freak of nature. It is in fact an enormous storm drain, created by the countless rushes of rainwater finding their exit after the rare deluges that happen here in the desert. It sits on Navajo land and so you have to be taken in a small group by an Indian guide, who leads you out into the desert and into a small crack in the ground, down two steep metal staircases.
What greets you is a marvel. A 400 yard narrow corridor, just a foot’s width in places, of wavy, combed, pristine sandstone illuminated by the occasional glimpse of the blue desert sky. The natural swirling designs leave man-made art in its wake and it left us in total wonder at what this area has to offer.
It is unbelievably beautiful and goes straight into our top five of the most incredible places we have visited. As with all great things in life, photos just don't do it justice.
Camping in Antelope Canyon
You emerge through the crack in the ground
And the there's still more. The best is yet to come...
Some 170 miles south of Glen Canyon lies the phenomenon that we have called 'the Daddy Of Them All' - the Grand Canyon. This jaw-dropping ravine is made up of layer upon layer of rock that has formed over millions of years from blankets of sediment, yet incredibly the Colorado River remains no wider today than it was 5 million years ago. It just goes on cutting deeper and deeper into the canyon, rather than choosing to go wider. The 277-mile 6,000ft deep Grand Canyon truly deserves its place on the honors list of natural wonders and, like Lake Powell, the Arches in Utah and Horseshoe Bend, owes a debt of gratitude to the mighty Colorado. As do we and millions of other tourists from around the globe who flock here year after year.
The view from the South Rim
A curious local elk
Please forgive the sentimentality but...
While at the Grand Canyon, I felt the irresistible need to recreate the moment I whisked Sandie off in a helicopter from Las Vegas, with a ring in one hand and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot in the other, landing on a ledge of the Grand Canyon to propose marriage on January 31st, 2009.
So, once again, I went on bended knee to ask the big question.
This time there were only two major differences (1) she took significantly longer to say 'Yes' and (2) it took me significantly longer to get to my feet again.
The years may pass, the grey might appear, the limbs may grow more wobbly, the memory may falter, but, as the song goes, “Better Together”. 💕
(Sandie looks more like a kindly social worker reaching out like Mother Teresa to a little old begger!)
She said "YES" - Happy Man!!!
We have had to replace our I-phones and, of course, the exploitative phone company presented us with the latest model, with added clever tricks and gizmos that no-one understands nor will ever use. This time they have come up with 'Facial Recognition'. The spotty juvenile assistant showed us how easy it is - you just have to look at it and it burst into life. Sounded simple.
Mine worked for a while. I was impressed. Then, one morning, after a late night, I looked at it, it looked back at me, I stared back... and it just didn't recognize me.
Edgily, I screamed in frustration at Sandie "do I look so bad, so hung over, so old when I wake up that this bloody phone doesn't even recognize me?"
It was then that my wonderfully calm wife explained, as if talking to a child, that I had turned it off the night before and when turning the power back on you have to revert to the old code method to fire it into life.
Thank God. I thought we'd have to change our evening imbibing habits of a lifetime to accommodate our new precious machines.
AND A TINY ROYAL WELCOME...
A royal baby is always greeted with cheering and celebration by the Brits. So welcome to the world, Prince Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. He is the first person ever who, potentially, could become both King of England AND President of the United States.
Can you imagine? In the unlikely event of it happening, can we beseech you, HRH Prince Archie, that the first thing you do is boot out all those shameful, ridiculous, stymied, self-interested Members of the British Parliament, together with all the self-serving, hate-filled witch-hunters in the swampy American Congress.
No pressure there then, Archie.
As Winston Churchill said in 1945:
"... democracy is the worst form of government - except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time".