To the rescue
Hmmm. This didn’t sound good. I should never answer the phone on a Sunday night.
It turned out to be a friend, stranded in Page with no money and a jeep that wouldn’t “jeep” anymore. Time for an impromptu road trip to save the day. I threw a sleeping bag in the back, grabbed some water and sped off for the Utah border.
I drove through the night to get there. Two hours to Flagstaff. Stop for gas and coffee. Another two hours to reach Page. It might’ve been quicker, but at that hour and with all the passing lunatics who never turn off their brights? It took sheer willpower to not crash through the guard railing over a cliff, hypnotized by that white border line.
I arrived at my destination with all four wheels safely on the ground and found her stargazing on top of her vehicle. After she crawled down, and we popped the roof back up, we went to look at nearby Glen Canyon Dam. Sleep wasn’t an option yet. I was too wired on emergency truck stop coffee. Her truck could wait until morning – it wasn’t going anywhere.
Below the bridge, a small speck of a human could be seen shining his flashlight around, inspecting the safety of the dam. The hum of generated electricity, and chirping bats was all we could hear. After we lost interest, we walked over to the visitor’s center. They were closed. How rude. It was only 2 … a.m.
So we threw off our shoes and dunked our feet in an icy fountain and engaged in small talk as diesel rigs sped by in the night, ferrying goods from town to town.
“What should we do tomorrow? We’re gonna have to wait while they look at your truck.”
We settled on checking out nearby Lake Powell seeing as how Page is not exactly a happening social scene. The town of 8,000 started in the 1950s as a work camp while the dam was being constructed. The oldest building around is probably a double wide trailer. No kidding.
The next day, after determining her alternator had become a paper weight, we tracked down a car repair shop that would tow the wounded vehicle to be fixed. Then we went to the lake. A small backpack full of water, and some food. A map. We were set.
A guided tour of Antelope Canyon seemed like a beautiful idea, with its world-famous slot canyons. Everyone has seen pictures of it because it’s so easy to blow an entire day of photographs there. But, after reading Antelope Canyon is also famous for a 1997 flash flood that killed 11 people, we decided we’d rather not tempt our fates that way. Instead, we decided to risk life and limb in Navajo Canyon. By floating up it in kayaks.
Supposedly there are dinosaur tracks and ruins there. We hoped to row our way up the narrow canyon, take pretty pictures, and go for a dip in the lake rather than wait for a grease monkey to fix her truck in the heat of the day.
On the dock of the marina, we picked out two kayaks and dropped them into the water. It was noon, and we had to be back by 5:30 or a search party would come looking for us and our possibly bruised egos.
Our first task was to spend five minutes trying to figure out how to get into our kayaks without drowning a mere foot from the dock. Finally we pushed off, paddled away and followed the shoreline south as we got the hang of what we were doing. We plodded our way through the wakes of passing boats too rude to slow down for man-powered plastic boats at the mercy of physics.
That’s when my friend looked down and saw she had three inches of water in her kayak.
“You’re not really having a very good couple days are you?”
She pulled out her backpack to have a smoke and found the watertight compartment … was not watertight. Soggy cigarettes everywhere.
Beaches are rare and tiny in the canyon, so we made use of some shallows to drag her boat up onto a sandstone slope and sat watching it pee water out a hole in its bow until it drained.
Finally we found Navajo Canyon, and drifted in to explore. We knew time was getting short, so we decided to find a place to pull the kayaks up out of the water and swim around. As the canyon narrowed, we saw a steep sandstone slope as the last chance to drain her boat. After sharing a can of peaches, we swam over to another ledge and climbed up the brittle sandstone to watch boats coming around the bend.
A couple speedboats skipped over the water. A house boat chugged along peacefully, its driver waving up at us.
One boat was a small orange kayak. It bobbed into view, with nobody in it – but a lot of water. Oh, wait. That’s one of ours … floating away.
We scrambled down the outcropping as sheets of sandstone broke free, kerplunking into the water as we went. She dove in before me, and reached the boat. Which is just as well; it was hers that had tried to escape.
Maybe it was time to return and give back these nuisance boats. Or we could sunbathe and let them come find us, pride be damned.
We chose to keep our pride, and began paddling back.
At one stop, on the way back, we found a small sand bar between a large rock outcropping. We could drain her boat, and then carry them over, to avoid rowing around the rock. “Yeah! It’s a real adventure now! We portaged our boats,” she said. I decided that was my cue to push off with one foot in my kayak, and jump in. You know, like they do in the movies.
It didn’t work. I fell into black, stinky mud, floundering around as my kayak went belly up. With her back pack in it. And my pants. Which held her car alarm clicker.
Stupid, stupid, stupid… but fun as hell. After five hours of rowing, and fighting the wake of several passing boats, we wanted to gnaw our arms off and wait for the search party to come.
Instead we started chanting to ourselves, “Steak. Steak. Steaaaaak.”
We made it back just after five o’clock and crawled up onto the docks like tired, legless sea creatures.
After pointing out which boat needed to be retired, we hit the highway home.
We stopped on the way back at the vintage 1916 Cameron Trading Post where Navajo nation residents still trade goods for food … after the sun had set. There we enjoyed quite possibly the most tender steaks I’ve ever eaten. I’m sure it’s their own free-range beef. We nearly choked on the meal, when we saw the prices of Navajo rugs for sale on the wall next to us. Let’s just say, I’d buy a new truck for my friend before splurging on a rug.
We wandered through the garden of this charming roadside stop, with a 1930s hotel and wonderful, quirky architecture overgrown with ivy. Next time, we’d go slow and stay here for the night, before driving to Page.
Oh, but of course we had decided to come back. Next time… scuba diving. With our luck at Lake Powell, I may have to tell that story from beyond the grave.
If you go
At the Antelope Point Marina, houseboat rentals start at $1,000 a day; kayak rental is at $5 an hour. The marina is also home to the “World’s largest floating restaurant.”
From Phoenix, take I-17 north to Flagstaff; continue north on Highway 89. Seven miles before Page, take Highway 98 to Antelope Marina Road.
Cameron Trading Post
The Cameron Trading Post is approximately 35 miles north of Flagstaff, just south of Highway 64 to the Grand Canyon. Average price for meals in the restaurant is $12; room rates $60-$150, depending on the season.