Sunday, August 2, 2020

You want it--they've got it

If you’ve been bitten by the yard sale bug, always on the lookout for a bargain, the World’s Longest YardSale is positively paradise.

Sightseers and shoppers, sellers and schleppers—all mingle in an immense mass of goods salvaged from attics, barns, and back porches. Snaking for 600 miles through six states, this yard sale is junkster’s nirvana.

And it’s happening in August.

Starting in Gadsden, Alabama, on top of Lookout Mountain, the 127 Yard Sale is, in reality, an incredible marketing strategy.  Organized in 1987 by local chambers of commerce, this extended yard sale was an attempt to bring people off the interstate system onto the less traveled mountain roads. Rural communities embraced the concept, and it grew steadily in popularity. Through Alabama, into Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, the train of tables extends along the Hwy. 127 corridor (hence the name), offering a leisurely tour of rural America in addition to bargain hunting.

Campers to computers.  Purses to puppies.  Unused windows, lawn mower parts, a smattering of “antiques” and honest-to-goodness craft items.  Everything imaginable, including the kitchen sink, is strewn along the roadside in this sale.  People from all over the country plan vacations encompassing this haggling heaven, whether they are sellers or buyers.

But my husband and I happened upon this event by accident.  Gadsden was an overnight stop on our road trip from Texas to the Smoky Mountains.

“Did you come for the yard sale?” asked the manager of our motel when we checked in.  Although we were clueless, other guests knew just which way to head out in the morning.

Stopping to ask directions to Nocalula State Park in Gadsden—we wanted to see the fabled Indian falls there—provided the first clue about what we would encounter.  The service station clerk warned us about crowds of sellers and shoppers crammed into the park (the sale’s starting point), yet the mass was still navigable, and the park provided a welcome refuge from traveling in the car. 

Still unaware of the event’s magnitude, we headed for Lookout Mountain Parkway, a recommended scenic drive according to our guidebook.

What unfolded along this road, also known in the Gadsden area as Tabor Road, became more fascinating with each passing mile.  Actually, the miles merely crept along in a swarm of people, autos, and goods.  Roadsides teemed with tables, tents, and tourists.  Cars lurched as drivers scoped out their next stop. 
Toys, hubcaps, dishes, or baby cribs.  Vintage jewelry, farm-fresh vegetables, and fishing lures.  It’s all there for the haggling. Nobody missed an opportunity to make a buck or find a bargain.
Shoppers can jump into the longest yard sale at either end or somewhere in the middle.  This year the sale is scheduled for August 4-7, time enough to cover the whole route, if you have a mission, by selectively choosing stops.

People all along the route embrace this marketing ploy, whether they live in towns or in rural areas connected only by ribbons of two-lane road. Wares are spread on tables, blankets, or bare ground and faithfully tended in village parking lots, private front yards, and open fields.

As miles of hilly farmland planted in corn and beans rolled by, yard sales thinned but never disappeared for long.  “Got Milk—and Butter, Fresh Churned,” proclaimed one farm house sign.  Boiled peanuts, watermelon, lemonade, and hot dogs were offered to tempt tourists off the road and to keep their stamina strong for the next round of deal making.

Thousands of vendors participate, and locals often rent cabins and campsites to those who follow the craft fair circuit.  Some homeowners also rent space in their yards for sellers to set up shop.   Sellers come in old school buses, campers, or trucks loaded with new, or almost new, and often obviously used goods hoping to catch the fancy of passing motorists. Roadsides become outdoor malls swarming with super shoppers.

Following the trail takes the traveler through beautiful mountain scenery, forests, and rolling hills, with several state parks and recreation areas along the way for moments of relaxation.  It was definitely a scenic route with enormous appeal for a variety of reasons. 

Success of this free event relies on coordination from each community, and many towns plan special activities to take advantage of the influx of tourists. Hotels and restaurants along the way fill with the curious and the committed, a sign that the strategy to entice people into the mountain communities is working.  
It’s an incredible experience, a little tacky and wacky, but truly fun for those who love to shop until they drop—and take home plenty of goods as proof.
Find printable or interactive route map at
More information at

Photos from free sources

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Phoenix has more than spas to attract visitors

For many visitors to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, location is the main draw.  There’s no denying the attraction of spectacular Sonoran Desert scenery, breathtaking Camelback Mountain, and a sunny Arizona climate. All these natural features have spawned a huge resort community with world-renown golf courses and spas.

Golf at nearby Gainey Ranch offers spectacular scenery
But even visitors who chose to downscale their accommodations will find the area offers numerous attractions for a variety of interests. Spend a few hours a day away from your hotel or resort exploring these interesting sights:

Musical Instrument Museum—Fun for the non-musical visitor as well as those who play an instrument. Whether you know much about music or not, you’ll enjoy the diversity found in this museum. Learn about and hear musical instruments from every country in the world as they bring to life sights and sounds of different destinations. See guitars from the earliest models up to present day instruments. Listen to an antique organ, explore cultures through the sounds that represent their lives.
Check out unique instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum
Taliesin West—Built by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s, this stunning project was constantly expanded and modified until the architect’s death in 1959. Regarded as one of his greatest masterpieces, Taliesin West was literally built out of the desert using rocks and sand to balance the design with the surrounding environment. Guided tours lead you through the buildings and explain Wright’s theories as brought to reality here. Architecture students still study the master’s talent in extended workshops.

Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed and lived in Taliesin West.
Desert Botanical Garden—The world’s finest collection of arid-land plants and wildflowers is displayed in a beautifully landscaped outdoor garden. Five thematic trails illustrate topics such as conservation, desert living, plants and people of the desert. Rather than finding the garden a dry, barren plot of land, you’ll begin to appreciate how alive the desert is with colorful blooms and adapted creatures.
Desert Botanical Garden showcases beautiful and unusual plants.

Get a bird's-eye view of the Sonoran Desert.
Hot air balloon ride—On this magical adventure observe the Sonoran Desert from above while drifting tranquilly on a sunrise flight. Feel wispy breezes while inhaling fresh air.  Watch the balloon get inflated and then observe the captain masterfully use air currents to raise the wicker basket a mile above earth. Riding in the balloon’s basket is a thrilling experience and provides unobstructed views for the best photographs of this unique landscape, not to mention a couple of jackrabbits scampering below. Afterwards, bask in the glow of a successful flight at a traditional champagne breakfast served  on white-clothed tables set up where the balloon lands.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Love nature? Head to Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica

The coastline of Osa Peninsula is studded with palm trees and volcanic boulders.

For sheer diversity of flora and fauna, you can’t beat the “Amazon of Costa Rica,” Corcovado National Park. But it’s not easy to get to. In fact, our journey there from Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, was an adventure itself, requiring transportation by plane, van, boat, and tractor.

Our destination was Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge on the Osa Peninsula, a shoe-shaped piece of land that juts out into the ocean at the southern end of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

The adventure begins
Taking to the air on the first leg of our journey to Osa Peninsula
First we flew via chartered plane to the peninsula. Then we rode by van to Drake Bay, stopping briefly in the village of Ajujitas to learn about perfectly round rock balls and their cultural importance in ancient times.

Lots of travel by water in this region
Next we boarded a motorboat that sped for half an hour through open water. Dense vegetation, beaches, and sea birds captured our attention during that ride. As we approached shore, fierce waves crashed against huge boulders that the captain had to maneuver around.

Because docks are not allowed in this remote area, we waded ashore and walked on a pebble-studded beach before boarding a trailer pulled by a tractor that carried us up the steep hill to Casa Corcovado. There are no roads to this deluxe outpost, but that allows nature to take center stage. 

Casa Corcovado Lodge is a luxury eco-lodge on the edge of Corcovado National Park, crown jewel of Costa Rica’s park system. Situated on a 170-acre private reserve, its hill-top location offers stunning views of one of the world’s last true wildernesses. From there we were able to explore the extensive rain forest, including some of the largest trees on Central America and the densest population of scarlet macaws.

Our cottage--luxury even in remote wilderness
Following a late al fresco lunch at the Lodge, we walked the Sendero Azul, a short private trail on the reserve.  Woody vines, towering trees, and massive palms lined the way. As we meandered along the route, we observed sloths, monkeys, and many intriguing species of birds--eventually capping the day off by watching a brilliant orange sunset glow over the ocean while sipping cool drinks from Margarita’s Bar.

Glorious sunsets provided a perfect ending to each adventurous day.
Exploring Corcovado National Park

Entering the rain forest where we marveled at  the variety of flora and fauna

The next day was one for exploration of Costa Rica’s last wilderness frontier and one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions. Corcovado National Park encompasses 103,000 acres and includes at least 13 ecosystems which provide protection for a multitude of endemic wildlife and plant species. It supports one of the world’s largest remaining lowland rain forests and species such as scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots, four monkey species (we saw all) and jaguars (rarely seen).

Trees are huge; in this case two grew together via a connecting horizontal root.
Our group trekked a challenging path made more uncomfortable because of the hot and humid weather (expected in a rain forest). Eventually, we arrived at the coast and enjoyed gazing out to sea, as the surf rushed to the beach, breaking over large lava boulders on the way.

Corcovado also functions as a marine sanctuary, protecting coral reefs, lagoons, rivers and estuaries, as well as 23 miles of palm-studded beaches. Crocodiles, whales, and dolphins can be found in surrounding waters as are all four species of turtles.
Nature shows off butterflies, birds, monkeys, and so much in Corcovado National Park. 

Snorkeling around a reef

The next day’s snorkeling adventure allowed us to sample more of the park’s pristine scenery,  despite getting drenched before leaving Osa Peninsula. Strong waves made the exit to open water so treacherous that the boat was inundated with water before we could begin the 45-minute cruise to Isla del Cano and the Biological Reserve there.

Larry prepares to snorkel at Isla del Cano.
But who cares when you going snorkeling? For almost an hour we splashed our way around a coral reef, photographing multiple species of fish (including a shark) that swim in and around the various formations. Pleasant water and a picturesque underwater tableau made this an adventure to remember.

Back at the Lodge, our group walked through a garden looking for hummingbirds. Later, at the solar pool on-sight, we spotted a rarely-seen speckled owl in a nearby tree. The local guides took much interest in my pictures.

A beautiful scarlet macaw.
After checking out the spring-fed pool on a lower level, we walked to Margarita’s for another glorious sunset and to ponder the wonders of Costa Rica that we had seen and experienced so far on this trip.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Irish experiences you won't find online

Listen to a private bagpipe performance.

Whether it’s lunching with a lord, a private art gallery tour or shucking oysters on a beach with a fisherman, a host of ‘unGoogleable’ experiences await on a luxury Irish getaway.

The internet can tell you lots about a luxury holiday on Ireland, but once you arrive there you will soon discover there are so many unique experiences that simply don’t show up in the search engines.

Live like royalty

Offering top-of-the-line services, gourmet dining and utterly unique things to do, Irish castle hotels are the ultimate in sheer luxury and indulgence, be it in a room for two, a presidential suite, a state room or the exclusive hire of the entire property for family and friends.
Crom-Castle, County Fermanagh is one castle turned hotel you can stay at.

 Whether you’re looking for spa rest and relaxation, classic country pursuits, historic sights and cities, scenic Ireland or all of the above, you will be treated like royalty at the likes of Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ballynahinch Castle in County Galway or Dromoland Castle in County Clare, all among the most desired destinations in Europe.For those who like go it alone luxury, the stunning Crom Castle in the lakelands of County Fermanagh offers its complete West Wing for rent, and if you need more space, the entire castle is also available for hire. 
Ballyfin Castle has been restored to its previous excellence.
Your stay can be self-catering, or if you would like your food served, a cook can be provided. For a yet more exclusive experience, you can have afternoon tea with John Crichton, the 7th Earl of Erne and Baron of Fermanagh, or even spend your whole holiday with him as the host of your stay at his family's ancestral seat.
Garden at Lough Eske is a joy to walk through.
Ireland’s luxury destinations can customise your stay with the utmost creativity and discretion. Or you can easily create your own itinerary, or have one designed according to your interest.

For example: Forage for food with a local permaculture expert and then cook what’s been gathered with the head chef of the lavish Adare Manor in County Limerick.

Ashford Castle, junior suite
Rub shoulders with authors, historians and television personalities that epitomise the essence of Ireland, or delve into the Wild Atlantic Way to experience the meaty Connemara Oysters of Ballinakill Bay.

From meeting a leading fashion designer, coastal picnics beside a shipwreck and private tours of hit film and TV show locations, travel designers such as Adams & Butler can provide luxury Irish experiences totally unique to you.

Information and some courtesy of Tourism Ireland  Other photos by Beverly Burmeier

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Uncruise Adventures sets summer sailings

Kayaking in Glacier Bay National Park

The American owned, U.S. flagged small-ship adventure company, UnCruise Adventures has confirmed that its 2020 Alaska sailings will commence August 1st.

 “As one of the first companies to restart service, this is a pivotal moment for the travel industry and Alaska,” states UnCruise Adventures Owner and CEO Dan Blanchard. “These initial departures represent a re-framing of what adventure travelers are increasingly looking for, small groups, inclusion, and human connection.”

Consider an Alaska UnCruise Adventure in August.

 The initial Alaska sailing will take guests round trip from Juneau to Juneau on its 7-night Glacier Bay National Park Adventure with an enhanced wilderness itinerary. Two days in Glacier Bay make this one of the company's most popular adventures and, free from a large-ship presence all season, offers a rare moment of Southeast Alaska solitude not experienced in decades. Eager guests can experience active adventures daily with remote wilderness hikes, shoreline kayaks, and their choice of nature-based activities.
Observe turtles and other friendly sea creatures.

UnCruise Adventures has taken strong measures to implement health safety standards with a Coronavirus protocol plan recently released on their website.There is a new normal in travel and the restart of summer sailings represent a dedication to supporting local partnerships such as UnCruise Adventures long-standing work with Alaska state officials.

Get up close and personal with the amazing landscape.
  “How we structure our recovery efforts with new health safety standards, establish partnerships and operate with a small footprint will continue to define our industry and the pristine environments we visit for decades to come,” says Blanchard about his commitment to the industry. “The market is showing a growing interest in off-the-beaten-path destinations and that is what we do best. We've been social distancing since 1996.”
Revel in Alaska's spectacular scenery. 

UnCruise Adventures operates boutique yachts and small boats that carry 22-86 guests on voyages in Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, Mexico's Sea of Cortés, Columbia & Snake Rivers, coastal Washington, Galápagos, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Guatemala, and Colombia. In 2019, UnCruise was picked as the top adventure cruise line by Cruise Critic. Travel & Leisure also named UnCruise Adventures in its World's Best Awards and its list of top 10 small ship ocean cruise lines.

Whale watching is a favorite activity in Alaska.

Information courtesy of Liz Galloway | UnCruise Adventures This article does not constitute an endorsement of Uncruise. Images from Uncruise website.

Monday, July 6, 2020

A new age of travel

This blog is all about travel experiences, and if you’re like me, you can’t help wondering what that will look like in the near future—and beyond. Just as happened after 9/11, when the TSA was established and we all had to go through security check points and abide by new regulations, the COVID-19 pandemic will result in numerous changes to procedures, especially for air travel.

What will the airport look like?

First of all, check in online to minimize contact at the airport and lessen the time it takes to get through new procedures. While each airport will establish its own timeline for instituting changes, there are certain procedures that most are working now to incorporate.

Some airports may restrict entry to ticketed passengers only. Counter agents will likely be positioned behind a plastic or plexiglass shield, and they want to minimize contact with your possessions, including passport or ID.

Inside the airport, you will be required to wear a mask and to abide by social distancing guidelines. Floor markings for distance and arrows for traffic flow will help ease congestion. When travelers pass through checkpoints, they will see TSA agents in masks and gloves; in some airports, agents will be wearing clear plastic face shields.

Instead of handing your documentation or boarding pass to the TSA agent, passengers will just show it for verification, or they may be asked to scan their own boarding pass—whether paper or electronic.

You’ll want to be vigilant about not putting prohibited items in carryon luggage, so as not to delay the security process. Liquids, gels, or aerosols larger than 3.4 ounces will still be tagged by the X-ray scanner, but instead of an agent opening your bag to search for the offending item, you will be asked to remove the item yourself and then put the bag back on the conveyor belt.

The exception to the 3.4 ounce rule now is that passengers may carry containers of hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces. But it must be removed from your luggage and placed in a baggie before X-ray screening. 

If you usually put personal items like phone, keys, wallet, or belt in a security tub, you are now asked to put these inside your bag or in a plastic bag, not directly on the tray. The same goes for food or snacks. Place these in a clear plastic bag in a separate tray from luggage to help eliminated cross-contamination.

New procedures

Some airlines add temperature monitoring as an additional security protection. TSA is reportedly planning to take passengers’ temperatures on a trial basis at certain airports and possibly deny travel or rebook people who register 100.4 F. If this practice becomes universal policy, it will probably last into the future just as the requirement to remove shoes has become ingrained in our travel psyche.

Cleaning in airports has been dramatically increased at all levels and conducted more frequently than in the past. Hand sanitizing stations are established throughout terminals. Gate areas and jet bridges may be cleaned with electrostatic sprayers using high-grade disinfectants.

At present many airlines and lounge operators have closed these facilities while they determine increased sanitizing protocols and changes to how they serve food and drinks. You will likely still be able to peruse airport retail stores, but don’t be surprised if water bottles hit $10. With limited or no in-flight food and beverage service, options will be available but probably pricier. 

Required ID

If your driver’s license expired after March 1, 2020, and you haven’t renewed it at  your local agency, it will be accepted for a year after the expiration date, plus 60 days after the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. Also, you have another year to obtain a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, the one with a star in the upper right hand corner. The new deadline is October 1, 2021.

If you choose to fly, be aware that you might need extra time at the airport. Plan for it—and no grumbling. All these changes (including masks during flight) are in the interest of health and safety, both for travelers and workers. Some may be temporary, but you can expect that some will be with us for a long time. 

Photos from free sources

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A story about kindness

Travel can be challenging under the best of circumstances, so kindness to others is paramount. While I always try to smile and be pleasant--the least I can do--I've been the recipient of someone else's kindness many times, including this incident from several years ago. 

Sometimes we don’t even realize that we need help. Then an angel appears in the most unlikely of places. For me it was Miami International Airport, a huge complex of terminals filled with masses of humanity from many nations, all trying to navigate through unfamiliar territory.
Familiar views in Old Havana
After the embargo on travel from the United States to Cuba was lifted, we embarked on a people-to-people tour to better understand a country that had been off limits for more than half a century. During nine days on the island our organized group traveled more than 1100 miles, learning about life in Cuba through various conversations and activities.

The trip was educational and enjoyable—until our arrival in Havana, our last stop before returning to the United States. There, my husband Larry was hit with a horrible bout of food poisoning. By the next day, half of our travel group had succumbed to the same malady.

A trip to a Cuban hospital confirmed that he had no serious medical problems, so he was dismissed without receiving any antibiotics or intravenous fluids that might have hastened his recovery. His stomach eventually settled, but he remained extremely weak, sleeping in our hotel room until departure day.

Square in Old Havana, Cuba
When we arrived at the Havana airport, I requested a wheelchair, but the only two available had already been given to other passengers. Our guide managed to move us to the front of the check-in line, and a couple of compassionate American tourists let us move ahead in the security line.
Getting through the required procedures was still an ordeal. The wait was long—flights originating in Cuba can be unpredictable—and the plane ride to Miami was noisy, stuffy, and bumpy.

As I watched Larry’s stamina evaporate, I realized that he wouldn’t be able to walk through the Miami airport, stand in a long line for immigration, and then fly back to Austin. I envisioned him passing out on the floor of the busy terminal and me hovering over him--useless.
So when the plane landed in Miami, I asked the flight attendant if we could get a wheelchair. Because I had not requested it prior to landing, we had to wait awhile. We disembarked and sat on an empty bench in the hallway.

Eventually a small, thin man arrived pushing an empty wheelchair. Although I expected him to drop it off and for us to take over, he had no intention of leaving. Quickly and expertly he positioned my husband and our small suitcases on the mobile chair and said, “Follow me.”

Tired and bedraggled, I did as told. Then we walked…and walked.

It’s a long way,” said the man I named Angel in my mind. That was an understatement, but fortunately he knew exactly which corridors to take and where the elevators were located. Even though he knew how to avoid long lines, the process was still arduous.

Maneuvering a wheelchair through an airport can be challenging.
Once through immigration, another ordeal began. Dehydrated and limp, it was clear that Larry simply couldn’t manage another flight that day, so we needed to change our return flight. Angel took us up and down elevators, helped us claim our baggage and wander through more terminals, and finally led us to the appropriate ticket counter. More waiting and checking schedules, but yes, there was a flight available the next day.

Our relief was short-lived as Angel then mentioned that it was Spring Break and a big concert was scheduled in Miami that evening. “Make sure you can get a room before changing your flight,” he warned.  Accommodations are really booked up.”

“Oh, really? How do we accomplish that?” I asked as a twitch worked its way across my face. Spending the night in the airport was simply unthinkable.

We went back to the baggage area where a kiosk was set up with phones and hotel numbers, so passengers could make reservations directly. At least that’s how it usually works.

I punched all the numbers, receiving one frustrating “Sorry, we’re filled,” response after another. When I finally found an available room—at a stiff price I’d never pay under other circumstances--I just said “Thank you” and sighed heavily. Even better, the hotel had a shuttle, so we didn’t have to search for transportation.

Miami International Airport is one of the busiest in the world.
And it is very large. 
But the flight change we inquired about earlier was never actually booked. Tired and thirsty, we trekked upstairs again to the ticket counter, hoping the original agent, who had offered to rebook without charge on medical basis, was still there.

By this time Angel had been maneuvering the wheelchair and our bags around the airport for more than two hours. Although I attempted to help, he took charge. Humbly, I followed.
Finally, with the new flight booked, we headed back downstairs, called for the hotel’s shuttle, and waited for the van to arrive.

During those few minutes of relative calm I realized how necessary Angel had been during this difficult situation. I was exhausted physically and emotionally and could never have managed without his help and patience, not to mention his knowledge of the airport’s layout and procedures. Angel’s capable, guiding presence was a kindness I’ll never forget.

Photos from Beverly Burmeier and free sources.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Another way to see Antelope Canyon

In addition to walking through Upperand Lower Antelope Canyon, which must be done on separate tours, visitors to Page, Arizona can take a pontoon boat ride on Lake Powell that goes through above-ground portions of the canyon.

Canyon walls on boat tour of Lake Powell
 Panoramic scenes of red rocks and white limestone fill the senses as the boat navigates deeper into the canyon, gliding between jagged sandstone and limestone precipices, outcroppings, and domes. It’s another way to appreciate the area’s fascinating geology.

Antelope Canyon widens as it approaches Lake Powell, the largest man-made lake in the United States, which was created when Glen Canyon Dam was built in 1966.

Rock formations are a study in geology on the water.
As the boat follows the lake, it eventually turns into numerous side canyons. Actually there are 94 canyons along the lake, which can be further explored by boat (your own or rental), kayak, or a tour such as we took. 

Most boat tours start at Antelope Point Marina, a destination filled with rental houseboats and surrounded by stunning scenery. You can ride a golf cart from the Visitor Center to the dock or walk a long ramp if you want more exercise. Most tours last about an hour and go to a turn-around point, which varies depending on water level.

Sheer cliffs reveal clear strata of rock from the ages.
In addition to a pleasant boat ride, you’ll experience Antelope Canyon from a different perspective—the water side. From the Marina, the boat goes down lake along the Colorado River’s original channel to the canyon opening surrounded by sheer red rock cliffs. In contrast to light streaming through narrow slots of Upper and Lower Canyons, you’ll enjoy the soaring Navajo sandstone rock walls on either side of Lake Powell.

A beautiful starting point for additional discovery of Antelope Canyon
While this can be a stand-alone tour, it’s possible to purchase a triple ticket that bundles both slot canyons and the boat ride—and, if you plan well, you can do it all in one day. This will certainly be a memorable visit to one of the most photographed places in the Southwest.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The magic of Antelope Canyon

Page, Arizona is known as home of the Navajo reservation, gateway to Grand Canyon National Park, and a houseboat haven with a variety of water activities on Lake Powell.  In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the region as people who love and appreciate nature’s magnificence have discovered Antelope Canyon.

Magnificent colors of Antelope Canyon 
A slot canyon located on Navajo land just a few miles east of Page, Antelope Canyon includes two separate, photogenic sections—Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. As a popular destination for sightseers, it has become a source of tourism business for the Navajo Nation. In fact, Antelope Canyon can only be visited on tours guided by Navajo-licensed guides.

A canyon is formed
Carved from the same sand and waters that flowed into the Colorado River and created the Grand Canyon, the walls of Antelope Canyon have been sculpted into clearly defined strata and graceful curves. These undulating formations provide the canvas where streaks of sunlight glow in kaleidoscopic patterns on the rocks.

Wave formations on rocks in Antelope Canyon
Erosion has worn the rock walls into beautiful and diverse sculptures, and every season offers different views according to the angle of the sun in the sky. When the sun is high in the sky—mostly during summer months--light beams shine through the narrow slots and radiate in brilliant colors. Yellow, orange, pink, blue, and purple hues gleam on canyon walls creating magnificent spectacles of varying shapes, textures, and colors. It looks as though a magician waved his magic wand around the canyon and splashed the walls with vibrant paint.

Upper Antelope Canyon
Entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon

Jagged slot formations in the Upper Canyon
A jeep ride through Antelope Basin, a dry creek bed that typically floods at least two times a year during monsoon season (June to late October) limiting access to the canyon, takes visitors to the canyon’s entrance. Of the two canyons, Upper Antelope is shorter and wider.

It seemed dark inside until our eyes adjusted to light filtering through the slots and illuminating geometric designs on the canyon’s walls. As we walked through many of these slots, the patterns changed constantly, almost overloading our senses with vibrant colors and shapes I would never have thought possible in such a canyon.

Horizontal and vertical layers of rock absorbed the sun’s rays and reflected them back in nature’s artistic handiwork. Our guide shared specific names given to certain rock formations. Blue-streaked rock walls curved against glimmering orange and yellow outcroppings begging for photos, and we obliged.

Walking through the Upper Canyon is a magical experience.
Because the Upper Canyon is so popular—and crowded--special photography tours that required a tripod were discontinued in December, 2019. But it is possible to take remarkable pictures with a hand-held DSLR or point-and-shoot camera, or even a smart phone.  Although we did the photography tour on our first visit, when we returned a few years later, I primarily used my phone to take pictures.

Lower Antelope Canyon

Visitors walk down ladders to enter Lower Antelope Canyon.
We also toured Lower Antelope Canyon, whose underground recesses are accessed by climbing down a ladder.  During the tour, five ladders enabled us to explore different levels of the canyon, which was filled with more natural light than the Upper Canyon. While it's slightly more difficult to maneuver in the Lower Canyon, it is still very accessible for most people.
Light illuminates the rock walls in
mysterious ways.

Numerous narrow passages required squeezing between canyon walls, but I did not feel any claustrophobia. We were also allowed to touch, even sit on the Navajo sandstone, either for picture ops or just curiosity. Many tours left a spaced-out intervals, so we had to keep a good pace, but we still had enough time to marvel at the sights and take hundreds of photos.

Exquisite beauty of the Lower Canyon 
Rock formations seemed even more craggy and light displays on canyon walls more vivid in the Lower Canyon. Every step was a “wow” moment as curves, lines, angles, and waves of rock created constantly changing backdrops.

Change where you stand, and the light-filled scene at a given spot changes as the sun moves. We had to remind ourselves often to turn around and look behind us as well as to look up. 

Be sure to book tours online in advance of your visit as they sell out quickly.
Beverly exiting the Lower Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a place you can visit many times—each bringing a new experience. And that's what makes it so magical.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier