American Southwest

American Southwest: Horseshoe Bend


I was walking through the mall a few weeks ago and stumbled upon a kiosk of large scale photographic prints. The first image that caught my eye was one of Horseshoe Bend. It’s one of those places that seem completely iconic but also strangely under the radar. I’d only learned of it a year or so ago, and quickly noted I had to see it the next time I was in Arizona. Seeing that photo at the mall, reminded me to share the photos from our visit…

For those who don’t know, Horseshoe Bend is a small, looped section of the Colorado River just outside of Page, Arizona. I had planned to shoot Antelope Canyon the next day and thought I’d try to squeeze in a quick viewing as soon as we arrived. Unfortunately, we’d gotten on the road a little later than I’d hoped, so we quickly checked into the hotel, left my husband and baby behind to take a nap and the bigger kids and I rushed off to catch the bend before the sun set. I hadn’t really done my research and ended up taking the wrong road, so we were truly racing the sun to make it in time. If there’s one thing I know for certain, my children will always remember the crazy adventures I take them on, especially those involving chasing light!

Once I’d found my way and pulled off at the right mile post, I was a little surprised to see nothing at all. I’d expected to see the river from the road! Instead, there’s a large parking lot, loads of other tourists and a trail leading into the desert. I prodded my children up and down the easy path, watching the sun vanish a little more every second. The funny thing is, it looks like nothing at all — just an expanse of desert. But eventually the trail stops and you see loads of people standing on the edge of rock looking down at a massive drop. And there it is. This incredible horseshoe-shaped loop of river, green grasses, orange rock, and a teeny, tiny, little campsite set up on the island. It’s kind of scary, jaw dropping and exhilarating all at the same time.

Looking back, I was wholly unprepared in more ways than one. Besides needing better directions and not arriving so late, I should’ve brought a wider lens to get everything in. I wanted to pull back further to get rid of that rock at the bottom but simply couldn’t. I also should’ve had my husband come with me to help with the children. It can be quite windy and there are no safety measures in place. In order to take photos, I had to force the kids to sit about 20 feet back so I could stop worrying about them careening to their death. It’s a long way down! But other than that, it’s a spectacular sight and definitely worth visiting if you are in the area.

Horseshoe Bend is located near Page, AZ, off of US Highway 89 between milepost 544 and 545. Park in the lot off of the highway and follow the easy trail until it ends. Arrive well before the sun sets! It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk there and then of course you’ll want time to take photos. 

180360_HorseshoeBend_ColoradoRiver 180360_HorseshoeBend_Sunset 180360_HorseshoeBend_LookingOver 180360_HorseshoeBend_Rock 180360_DesertbyHorseshoeBend 180360_HorseshoeBend_AZ

American Southwest: Monument Valley


I’m willing to bet that nearly every American could recall a movie or advertising image they’ve seen from Monument Valley. However, nothing quite beats driving around that bend on US-163 and seeing it in real life. It’s funny how well-known places tend to be different in person; sometimes for the worse, but in this case, for the better. There’s far more to it than those three iconic mounds.


Truthfully, I knew almost nothing about the area. For instance, I didn’t even realize Monument Valley is in both Arizona and Utah! (This can be a bit confusing with regard to time zones.) Nor did I know those recognizable buttes above are called “The Mittens.” And like most areas in the Southwest, a Navajo tour guide is pretty much a necessity in order to see anything off the beaten path.


Good thing I discovered Navajo Spirit Tours on TripAdvisor! I booked with them hoping they’d teach us all we needed to know. I’ve never been a big fan of guided tours, but they had so many amazing reviews, they won me over. The tours involve a 2-3 hour (or more) off-roading adventure with a Native American in an open air vehicle into the back country. The guides are locals that have been intrinsically connected to the area for generations. They explain the history of their people and culture, as well as the names and meanings behind the different rock formations.


As much as I would’ve liked to spend the day trekking around the valley, we needed an option that would accommodate our 2 children and baby. Luckily, Navajo Spirit Tours were more than willing to accommodate. We met up with our guide, “Will Cowboy,” in the lobby of our hotel and off we went riding into the red dust like John Wayne, or more likely like Clark Griswold and Beverly D’Angelo in National Lampoon’s Vacation, but in a 1980’s Suburban instead of a station wagon.


It was a wild and bumpy ride. The children happily bounced around the back seat. The baby fell asleep in my husband’s arms (!!) 30 seconds into the drive. Will Cowboy didn’t mind stopping whenever I wanted a photo. In fact, he encouraged it! We chased the sun until the full moon arose in the sky. It was my kind of adventure…


The Hand of the God


Arches Mesa

180360_MonumentValley_9Petroglyphs near the Sun’s Eye


The Sun’s Eye


Max and more petroglyphs




Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei



The Valley Drive and North Window


Sand Springs



The Three Sisters




It’s no wonder why Monument Valley is seared into our memory. It has starred in countless films, television shows, commercials, video games, and music videos. But none of those can compare to absorbing its expansive beauty in person. It is wild and yet austere. And although the different mesas, buttes and rock formations are all truly impressive, the underlying history of its people stands out the most. One can’t help but feel the ancestors in the land and the movie stars in the dust.