RV Adventure to Vermilion Cliffs

by Nov 25, 20206 comments

This is a continuation of our recent RV trip to Arizona. This portion of the trip covers a small section of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near the Vermilion Cliffs.

This story was written by Karin. Besides contributing some great photos, Franz manned the GPS and kept us on track!

To recap: we did a two-week RV getaway in September. You can read about the first leg of the journey here, An RV Adventure Exploring Flagstaff, which covers the Flagstaff portion of the trip. This post covers the Vermilion Cliffs, while the last post will cover the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead.

The weather has done a 180 and the temperatures are supposed to be climbing into the 90’s! I am hoping it doesn’t get too hot to hike. But it is September, so we packed all our layers!

Starting RV adventure - view through windshield of Vermilion Cliffs

More RV Adventure at Vermilion Cliffs

You can see the Vermilion Cliffs long before you get to them. This route takes you through the Navajo Nation, and normally, this would be an opportunity to visit with the artists and food vendors along the road (who doesn’t like fry bread?). But because of the Covid virus everything was closed. I still can’t check Antelope Canyon off my adventure list (oh boy, a reason to return)!

Red Dahlia note card from Footprints and Photos nature set

12 Unique Note Card Gift Set Perfect for Holiday Gifting!

Unique nature images in an ivory organza fabric gift bag. Includes white A-2 envelopes. You will find them in the Footprints And Photos Etsy store.

Colorado River as seen from the Navajo Bridge
Navajo Bridge

Making connections

We drove over the historic Navajo Bridge and stopped to take a walk and check it out. The bridge opened January 12, 1929 and it was the only link from Arizona to Utah across the Colorado River for 600 miles! There is a visitor center and parking lots on both sides of the bridge, so you can pull over and walk onto the pedestrian bridge, to get a great view of the car bridge and the Colorado River.

Navajo Bridges
Do not throw rocks sign on Navajo Bridge on your RV adventure!
Danger of Lighting sign
Navajo Bridge dedication sign

Oh sure, that road is totally passable with your RV camper!

One of our goals was to do this whole trip using dispersed camping sites. We knew that the whole south side of 80 was BLM land open to dispersed camping, but the entrance is unmarked, and only obvious once you know where it is.

RV adventure starts at the Vermillion Cliffs camp site

We were assured that the road was passable by an RV like ours. The entrance was pretty twisted and the sand was getting deeper and deeper. We got nervous and pulled over into a pull out and decided maybe we should camp there (it appeared to be solid ground). It was approaching sunset and we wanted to be set up before dark. Unfortunately, it was not as solid as it looked, and as we backed up to reposition the camper, the tires just sank straight down into the ground.

It was easy to dig in the sand, and we used flat rocks to create a solid surface to get out. Surprisingly, we were out in 5 minutes! Now, do we go back to the road with nowhere to camp, or head further in and hope we don’t get stuck again? A short walk uphill showed the road becoming more solid and at the top of the rise — the perfect camp site!

Photos for Artists collections 1-3

Photos for Artists

Get creative with these nature and travel images in the Footprints And Photos Etsy store.

The trick to driving in the sand is to convince yourself that you should go a little faster, and not slow down when it gets deep. It seems counter intuitive, but it usually works. I’m glad we did not have any more sandy roads on this trip because that kind of driving is mentally exhausting!

Sunset at Vermilion Cliffs next to RV camper
RV adventure happy hour snack at campsite

What a view!

From here we had a raised front row seat to view the cliffs. And bonus, because we were basically sitting in the center of a horseshoe shape, we had a great view of the cliffs bathed in the sunset light in the evening, and another great view of the cliffs in the morning sunrise light on the other side. We liked this spot so much that we ended up coming back here again two more nights.

Camper under night sky

One of the reasons I like to camp in remote locations is the night sky — it is amazing! There are so many stars — and they fill every corner of your visual field. Even without a moon, the stars provide enough light to see at night. We experimented with some night photography. A passing car lit up the front of the camper for us in one shot. I like how you can see the milky way over the camper.

Night sky filled with stars adds to our RV adventure
Horseshoe Bend as seen from the viewpoint

Going round the bend on our RV adventure!

We wanted to hike to the famous Horseshoe Bend. I had seen this location photographed by so many people over the years and wanted to see it for myself.

Before we left we figured out it was a short hike, 1.5 miles, so we found a longer hike from the bend to explore further. Then, we discovered that while Horseshoe Bend is in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the parking lot, between the road and the trail head, are on land owned by the city of Page. It is a beautiful large lot with bathrooms and great RV parking. But, they don’t take the National Park pass. Remember that you are on vacation and just roll with it.

It is great that Horseshoe Bend is so accessible to everyone. There is a paved path that leads right up to the viewpoint. But it is crowded and once we’ve gotten our own photos, of one of the most photographed places in the world, it is time to move on.

Karin and Franz continure their RV adventure at Horseshoe Bend
Red Rock and Blue Sky
wave patterns in canyon walls and floor at Horseshoe Bend

Trails crossing trails

The day is hot and we are the only ones heading past the viewpoint. This is nice because we have the canyon to ourselves. The way in is well marked with cairns and mostly follows a very pretty canyon. The rock formations in here are really wonderful and some look like frozen waves. The sand is full of evidence of a variety of life — there are tiny footprints and trails all over the surface of the sand dunes. We assume that things are more active at night when it is cooler.

mouse tracks in the sand
Multi colored lichen on red rock
Franz and trail marker in desert

We enjoyed a wonderful picnic lunch in the shade of an overhang. It was so quiet out there compared to all the activity back at the trail head.

We took a meandering way back. Our chosen trail dried up and didn’t match the GPS any more. A good reminder to not rely on an app for your trail choices, and pay attention to where you are so you can get back. We were disappointed to not reach the river, but it was hot and a good time to head back to the RV.

Playing with Umbrella Rocks

The next day we went to another part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to hike Cathedral Wash. Before the hike we goofed around taking fun photos of these cool looking “umbrella” rocks. The sign says that they fell from the cliff you can see in the background, and compressed the ground underneath so hard it has taken thousands of years to erode.

Canyon at Horseshoe Bend
Karin holding up umbrella rock
Franz carries umbrella rock

Cathedral Canyon

Cathedral Canyon was an awesome hike. While the beginning of the hike looks like walls of dried mud, soon that changes. The rock walls start to get interesting with layers, twists, color and texture changes.

You need some scrambling skills and some puzzle solving to find the right path, but you are in a canyon — you can’t get lost! While some spots looked blocked, you can work your way down with some trial and error. It was worth the effort because this trail goes all the way to the Colorado River, and we were looking forward to cooling off down there.

Refelction in a puddle of Catheral Canyon rock wall
Karin in Cathedral Canyon
dried mud canyon walls
Dried red mud cracked and peeling up

We passed a few people who got an earlier start than we did. But we had the place to ourselves for our picnic lunch overlooking the river. There were a few protected shallow places where we could step into the water — you need to be careful of the fast current here.

Steep rock walls in Cathedral Canyon
Lower end of Cathedral Canyon where the canyon gets a bit wider

This leg of the trip was so much different than the first part — it was unseasonably hotter (this is why you pack layers when you travel)! The heat made some of the hiking more challenging, but no less worthwhile.

There will be one more post soon to finish up our RV adventure, which will include the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead. If you missed the Flagstaff portion and want to get caught up, you can read that post here. Please be sure to check back soon for new stories!

Karin taking a close up shot of dried mud
Karin and Franz posing in Cathedral Rock
Karin wading in the Colorado River

Make your own footprints…

Do small local things while you plan the next big adventure.

Here in San Diego the winter brings tide pooling season, which is a great experience for young and old. The tides are more extreme in winter exposing pockets of rocks, anemones, and if you are lucky, some sea critters, in the shallow pools left behind.

Whatever you do, remember to bring along good maps, good snacks and a sense of adventure.

Enjoy the journey!

Red Dahlia note card from Footprints and Photos nature set

12 Unique Note Card Gift Set Perfect for Holiday Gifting!

Unique nature images in an ivory organza fabric gift bag. Includes white A-2 envelopes. You will find them in the Footprints And Photos Etsy store.

Karin H Wilson

Karin H Wilson

Artist | Designer | Photographer | Traveler | Storyteller

I'm Karin and I just love to share a good story — preferably with snacks! I’m particularly interested in capturing the world’s beauty and wonder in photographs.

Recently I created Photos for Artists, packs of images for artists to use in their collage and art projects. You can find a detailed description and photos on my Footprints and Photos Etsy store.

Besides my blog, Footprints & Stories, you can also find my images on Zazzle products. I have two stores — one with Gifts for Travelers and Nature Lovers, the other with Gifts for Gardeners and Lovers of Flowers. Items include wedding invitations, tote bags, mugs, journals and more. Every product is backed by the Zazzle guarantee.

Please use the links provided as it helps me buy better snacks (and funds the website)!