Oh remember? I wanted to tell you all about the roadtrip with my cousin B and his girlfriend in September when we visited all the National Parks? Right! So, let’s get back to it, shall we? Here are parts 1, 2, and 3.
As you might recall from my last post, we were heading over from Bryce Canyon National Park to Page, AZ.
First stop: Horseshoe Bend. This impressive horseshoe-shaped, 270-degree bend (hence the name) of the Colorado River located 5 miles (8.0 km) downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell is right outside the town of Page, AZ off of U.S. Route 89. Ok you guys, I know this isn’t a National Park, it’s just one measly (← [\sarcasm]) geologic site, but Horseshoe Bend is my FAVORITE.
I can’t even tell you why, maybe just for the fact that you don’t have to pay for access (wondering when this will change!?) and just drive up, park, and hike over there. Maybe because I was lucky enough to ‘work’ with 3D data of Horseshoe Bend in my line of work before. Maybe because it’s just an amazing natural experience to stand on the edge of this cliff and look down to the river below.
Whatever it is, promise me you’ll work in a stop at Horseshoe Bend if you’re ever anywhere close to this area. You will not regret it.
As you know, I am a geographer, so I look at these sites with awe not just because they’re so pretty, but also because I am fascinated by how these sites formed in the first place. So here’s the geek part, for those of you who are interested: Horseshoe Bend is what is called an incised meander. Most meanders are found “meandering” back and forth across the alluvium (loose, unconsolidated soil or sediments) of a river’s flood plain, an incised meander, however, is cut into the bedrock.
Before this plateau formed, the Colorado River flowed across flat land. The middle course – which is where you find meanders like Horseshoe Bend – is where the stream has the most energy and water. The fast-flowing water carries stones, sand and corrosive substances, which together create an erosive force. Like all meanders, the bends in the Colorado formed due to a cycle of erosion and deposition. First, the outside of the bend – where the water flows fastest – is worn away. This eroded rock and sediment is then deposited by the slower- flowing water inside of the bend. The continuous erosion and deposition causes the river to meander and migrate downstream. In this case, the gradual uplift of the Colorado Plateau caused the river to carve its path down through the ancient sandstone, instead of only eroding from side to side. This is because water will always follow the steepest route. Over millions of years, the banks of the river grew ever steeper, until eventually the river became entrenched at the base of the canyon.
Erosion is still happening along the bend and might eventually result in a meander cutoff. They occur when a meander bend in a river is breached by a chute channel that connects the two closest parts of the bend. This causes the flow to abandon the meander and to continue straight down-slope, but that will probably take many more millions of years in a case of an entrenched meander.
The overlook is accessible via a ¾ mile hike from U.S. Route 89 and it’s part of a state park. It is 4,200 feet (1,300 m) above sea level, and the Colorado River is at 3,200 feet (980 m) above sea level, making it a 1,000-foot (300 m) drop. Mind you, there are no guard rails or anything at the cliff’s edge. One thing about this place that is true: it gets crowded. I even noticed an increase in the number of people (and expanded parking lot space) from the last time I visited in 2015.
It has a little bit of a perturbing effect: on one hand, you’re out in nature and you expect – or hope for – a bit of solitude and the fact that there are so many people around somehow feels wrong. At the same time, you are one of these people and generally, you’d want people to to experience these natural wonders. I love the fact that this place is freely accessible and not regulated as a national monument or park, but how do you find a balance between making these places accessible without making them completely overrun tourist attractions? It seems like a difficult task.
Nonetheless, Horseshoe Bend is fascinating and beautiful and just awe-inspiring.
We were lucky to get the opportunity to see the meander twice during our stay. We drove over from Utah into Arizona and – due to AZ not honoring DST – we gained an extra hour and arrived in Page just in time to drop off our luggage at the hotel and then head out to Horseshoe Bend for a sunset experience. Of course, we were not the only people with the idea to watch the sunset, so it was pretty crowded. Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience to witness the sun dip behind the horizon while overlooking this majestic meander. The light and the colors were changing so quickly!
The next day, we had a scheduled tour for Lower Antelope Canyon (recap to come!), but had time afterwards to stop at Horseshoe Bend again for some daylight photos before continuing our roadtrip.
Look at the amazing sandstone colors by daylight. We spent two hours on the hunt for the perfect picture (although it is very hard to capture the enormity of this overlook in a photograph, but we still tried!).
I know we did a good job making it look like we were the only ones there, but believe me, the hardest trick was to make sure there were no other people in the pictures. Ha! I could have honestly sat there for a few more hours and would have been totally content and happy.
I’ll share some more travel tips for Page (where to stay, where to eat, what else to see etc.) in my upcoming recap about our visit to Lower Antelope Canyon. Stay tuned!