The final nostalgic breakfast at Bright Angel Lodge happens early on a cool and breezy morning before driving east on Desert View Drive, through Grand Canyon National Park to the east entrance, then west on Hwy 89A.
Near the village of Marble Canyon, the Navajo Bridge crosses a narrow river gorge near the beginning of the Grand Canyon in a sensible place to relax and stretch the legs within spectacular and historical surroundings.
In the 1870s, Mormon pioneers from Utah were discouraged from expanding their settlements into Arizona by nearly 600 miles of deep canyons along the Colorado River. Established in 1873, Lee's Ferry was the sole, important route for settlers and local traffic.
When automobiles began to use the ferry in the 1920's it became obvious a solution was desperately needed that was more reliable than relying on the unpredictable moods of the Colorado River.
A bridge site was selected five river miles south across Marble Canyon. Construction for the 800 foot (244 m) span, 467 feet (142 m) above the river, began in June of 1927. Lee's Ferry was used to transport workers and material whenever possible. On June 7, 1928 the ferry sank in an accident which killed 3 men. With the bridge nearing completion, the ferry was not replaced.
For many months there was no direct link between Utah and Arizona so people had to travel 800 miles (1,280 KM) around the canyon to get to the other side. On January 12, 1929 the historic bridge was opened to traffic.
At the time it was the highest, steel arch bridge in the world. On June 14 & 15, 1929, nearly 7,000 people and 1,217 cars attended the gala dedication in this isolated location. Reportedly, planes flew under the span. Since prohibition was in effect at that time, the Grand Canyon Bridge was christened with a bottle of ginger-ale.
In 1934, the name of the structure was changed to Navajo Bridge and it served the area for 66 years until the 18 foot wide bridge could no longer handle exponentially increasing loads. Safety was also an issue and over one 13 year period 72 accidents were recorded including 8 fatalities.
Construction of the new bridge, beside the old one, began in May, 1993. Great effort went into making them appear virtually identical. On May 2, 1995, traffic was diverted onto the new bridge and the historic bridge was allocated to pedestrian traffic. Again, the dedication was well attended on September 14, 1995 when the new Navajo Bridge was christened with a bucket of water from the Colorado River.
The old west-side rest area was expanded to include the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center opened in April, 1997. On the east side of the bridge, there is an area reserved for Native American craft vendors. The artistry is amazing and worth the time to investigate.
The next 20 miles of straight level highway parallel the rich, red cliffs of the southern edge of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument before climbing on twisting road west to Kanab, Utah.
Driving north on Hwy 9 will pass through Zion National Park, which like Red Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Glen Canyon, is through a land of ancient, desert sand dunes bordering the edge of prehistoric seas.
Over millions of years, the thousands of square miles of compressed sand have been carved by weather into fascinating and colorful formations. At least one layer of the Zion sandstone dunes was blown in from the northern Rocky Mountains as violent storms roared across newly forming continents. Many of the deposits were formed by volcanic activity as the earth cooled.
The 229 square mile Zion National Park was established in 1909 as the Mukuntuweap National Monument before expansion to become Zion National Park in 1919. This spectacular park is one of the best examples of the inheritance from this tumultuous period of time.
Zion, named by the Mormons in the 1860s, is interpreted as a place of safety or refuge. The north-west Kolob section was added in 1937. Kolob, in Mormon theology, is a heavenly place close to God.
Just past the Zion National Park east entrance, the Checker Board Mesa looms large overhead and subsequently travelers are immersed in spectacular desert sandstone terrain of mountains, valleys and red pavement.
A month of hiking in this incredible area might cover the highlights but a couple of hours will only provide a brief sight-seeing refresher to previous trips.
After travelling through a small, rock tunnel there is subsequent arrival at a great engineering achievement. The 5,607-foot-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, completed in 1930, is a narrow, snug tunnel carved through the base of a large mountain. The tunnel has the occasional small opening in the side for ventilation and light. The 1.1 mile (1¾ KM) tunnel links the east and west side of the park.
Exiting the tunnel begins the dizzying descent on 6 steep and severe switchbacks through awesome desert terrain where huge, sculpted rock formations coexist with hanging gardens, brilliantly colored mountains and rugged valleys. A rest break at the west, crowded entrance to Zion Canyon Visitor Center is over-shadowed by the 6,545 foot summit of the Watchman rising 2,555 feet above the canyon floor.
The Watchman in Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Passing Rockville and Virgin, a right turn at La Verkin onto highway 17 passes through Toquerville to I-15. Making quick time north on I-15, passes the Hurricane Cliffs and 10,365 ft Signal Peak.
At Cedar City, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Brian Head, where this adventure began nearly two weeks prior, are visible in the far distance.
At 3:30 PM, the day in ends in Beaver, near the birthplace of Robert Leroy Parker, aka the outlaw, Butch Cassidy.
The Drive Home to Calgary - Day 1
The drive continues north on I-15 past Salt Lake City , Fillmore, and Provo, home of Brigham Young University. Continuing past Ogden and Brigham City, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Dubois and Dillon, the Continental Divide is crossed twice before finishing the driving day in Butte, Montana. This historical mining city is a fascinating and comfortable destination.
The Drive Home to Calgary - Day 2 and Final
On an early morning start, the temperature is a chilly 4 deg C for the 7 AM start. There is a 45 minute line-up at Canadian Customs but by mid afternoon, this adventure ends in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This wilderness adventure through Red Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park is complete.
In the final two days, only two pictures of an early morning, clear-sky sunrise are captured. For the conclusion of this trip there is a self portrait in the surrounding and highly organized debris-field of the research material used to add history and commentary to places explored.
Hope you have enjoyed the journey. Perhaps a few will be inspired to visit some of these incredible places.