I’ve always wanted to go on a proper road trip (without your parents, no hotels, pounding coffee to stay awake on horribly long drives, you know the type) and this summer I finally had the opportunity because I needed to get my car from Santa Cruz to Boston for work. Cam and I spent a month driving through 14 states, two countries, 8 national parks and a national monument (the very underwhelming Mt. Rushmore). We camped outside for 20 nights, experienced some of the most amazing views, and only had a few things go wrong. Below are my favorite photos from the trip and a couple of stories of things not going according to plan.
It goes without saying, but the Grand Canyon is huge. It takes more than an hour to drive between one end of the southern wall and the other, and that drive is dotted with dozens of amazing overlooks and exhausting hikes. While at the visitor center when we first arrived we noticed that one of the “expert” level trails, titled Horseshoe Trail, led hikers 6 miles and thousands of feet down into the canyon to the Colorado River. I’ve seen countless photos of Horseshoe Bend and without a second thought decided that this was the hike we would do.
The next morning we woke up early (by our standards) and got to the trailhead at 8 am. As we laced up our hiking boots a ranger wandered past and made small talk.
“Are you two doing the Horseshoe Trail,” he asked.
“Getting a late start I see, good luck down there, it’s gonna be hot today!”
We looked at each other and swallowed anxiously, a late start?
I was committed to seeing Horseshoe Bend, though, so I insisted that we weren’t turning back now.
It was already in the high 80s an hour into the hike and suddenly a water bladder and two 40oz water bottles didn’t feel like a lot. It didn’t take long for us to question if we’d started the hike too late. Why weren’t we seeing more people on the trail? Do we have enough water? Should we turn back? We trudged on, though, my stubbornness getting the better of us. I had to see Horseshoe Bend.
It wasn't until we made it to the bottom of the canyon several hours later that I noticed nothing looked like the pictures of Horseshoe Bend that I'd seen before. I realized I’d forgotten to ask a crucial question: what if there’s more than one horseshoe shaped bend?
As we hiked the final mile towards the cliff’s edge in the bottom of the canyon I asked myself if this looked like any of the iconic photos I’d seen on Instagram. I hated to admit it to myself, let alone Cam, but it was completely different. The rock was the wrong color, there were too many plants, and not nearly enough tourists.
We spent five pissed-off minutes at the canyon edge thinking about our mistakes before turning around to hike the 6 miles back up to the car.
As we drove from the Grand Canyon to Antelope Canyon the next day Cam teased me about the mistake for the third time. I asked her to look up where the REAL Horseshoe Bend was and much to our surprise it was 30 minutes away on our way to Antelope Canyon.
A half-hour later we pulled into a large dirt parking lot at 7 am and hiked the ½ mile path to the real Horseshoe Bend. It was comically easy compared to our hike the day before. We joked about our mistakes as we watched the sunrise before we jumped back into the car and continued our drive.