Above/featured: Vermilion Cliffs loom over the new and old Navajo Bridge at left and right, respectively.
The following takes place on the first half of day 9 (of 15) in our drive through the American Southwest. From Flagstaff, we’re heading north on highway US-89, past Cameron, through the northern limit of the Painted Desert, and next to the Echo Cliffs. At Bitter Springs, the highway splits, and we head northwest on US-89A to Marble Canyon, where Navajo Bridge crosses over the Colorado River. The highway continues west into the Arizona Strip, below Vermilion Cliffs, past Cliff Dwellers, and into House Rock Valley.
Along US-89 and US-89A
- Echo Cliffs
- Bitter Springs
- Navajo Bridge (Marble Canyon)
- Vermilion Cliffs
- House Rock Valley Overlook
About an hour outside of Flagstaff, Cameron is a convenient stop to stretch our legs, and, if necessary, to fuel up on snacks for the humans and gasoline for the vehicles. Now closed, we can still enjoy a view of the 1911 Tanner’s Crossing Bridge over the Little Colorado River; we encountered the river previously between Holbrook and Winslow. From Cameron, the stretch of land north towards Marble Canyon is entirely within the western border of the Navajo nation. Visitors to Cameron have many options: drive west into the Grand Canyon, northeast Arizona via Tuba City, east into Hopi lands, or north as we set out for Marble Canyon.
Continuing north past the turnoff for Tuba City, a vertical wall of rock starts approaching from the right until we’re hugging the cliffs at its feet. Highway US-89 parallels the old Honeymoon Historic Trail at the foot of Echo Cliffs. We can’t help ourselves, and stop at a couple of places along the road to enjoy the view; we imagine a time long before highways and travelling these trails between Utah and Arizona on horseback or by stagecoach, a time where seemingly immovable rock has witnessed people come and go. Echo Cliffs define the western limit of the Kaibito Plateau stretching up and beyond to the east. Between Cameron and Marble Canyon, one of the few places for fuel along US-89A is at the town of “The Gap” (US-89 mile marker 498) where Navajo Route N20 begins.
The small town of Bitter Springs is the junction of US-89 and US-89A. Near the junction is a Mormon church, highlighting the long history in the American Southwest of Mormon settlement and their travels along the Honeymoon Historic Trail, a long arduous route used by Mormon couples in Arizona from about the 1880s to 1930s to reach the nearest temple in St. George, Utah, and “seal” their marriage vows. The old trail runs parallel with the Fredonia-Vermilion Cliffs Scenic Road (ADOT) on US-89A, heading northwest towards Marble Canyon and ending at the town of Fredonia in north-central Arizona.
Just before arriving at Navajo Bridge, we came across this empty stand. I was attracted by the location and labeling; then subsequently mesmerized by the sense of scale and separation against the Vermilion Cliffs and the blue sky. We don’t find any signs of small hoops of indigenous origins, but this scene definitively encapsulates the culmination of a long-held desire to see this part of the world.
Navajo Bridge (Marble Canyon)
The 1929 bridge over the Colorado River at this location provided much faster travel connections between southern Utah with north and east Arizona through the Arizona Strip. Before construction, the area of land called the Arizona Strip was cut off by the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon, and travel between Utah and Arizona was either the “long way around” between Kanab and Page, or alternatively, one could follow the arduous Honeymoon Trail route and crossing the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry. Until the bridge’s construction, Lee’s Ferry was the only crossing over the Colorado River over a stretch of 960 kilometres (600 miles).
Arriving from the south on US-89A, Navajo Bridge provides the first sign for the town of Marble Canyon, and marks the boundary for the Glen Canyon Recreation Area to the northeast and the Grand Canyon National Park to the southwest. With the new bridge replacement opening in 1995, the old bridge is now pedestrian-only as historical monument and viewpoint over the Colorado River and to the surrounding cliffs. The accompanying Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center provides additional context to the area’s geography and history and the people who settled here.
Like a large red wall, the escarpment looms to heights over 600 metres (2000 feet) above the road surface. The Vermilion Cliffs define the edge of the Paria Plateau, a part of the Vermilion-Cliffs National Monument. These cliffs are located at the lower end of a gigantic geologic formation called “The Grand Staircase”, which begins roughly with the Grand Canyon to the south and ascending north to the steep cliffs in Utah. I think it’s best to view the deep reds of the Vermilion Cliffs against clear blue skies around midday with the cliffs under front-illumination by the sun almost due south.
House Rock Valley Overlook
Highway US-89A begins climbing the Kaibab Plateau with an increasing presence of trees, a stark contrast against the arid treeless landscape behind us. We stop at an overlook, providing a view of House Rock Valley and one last look at Vermilion Cliffs and Echo Cliffs. The cliffs emphasize the “edge” to a geographical formation that extends much farther than what we can see, sparking the obvious question: what is there over and beyond the edge?
For the remainder of the day’s drive, we continue to ascend the plateau towards Jacob Lake, where we turn south onto state highway AZ-67 towards the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
I made all pictures above on 13 October 2018 with a Canon EOS6D mark 1 (6D1) and a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime (X70). Thanks to AB for making this memorable trip possible. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-f2J.
PostScript: After driving the “southern” Fredonia-Vermilion Cliffs Scenic Road, I’m fascinated by the routes provided by US-89 and US-89A, which encircle the Paria Plateau between Kanab, UT and Bitter Springs, AZ. That is to say, I’m eager to complete this “circle route.”