As I have mentioned MANY times on this blog, I wear my planner’s cap with pride and love to research the heck out of destinations and draft up overly ambitious itineraries so as to maximize our time and get the most out of any place we should find ourselves. While I would love to say that when it came to our epic South West U.S. road trip that we simply set our eyes on the horizon and drove forth allowing serendipity to be our guide, the truth is that we sat down and meticulously planned out all the sights along the way that we just couldn’t miss, largely focusing on national parks that we wanted to visit. And yet, when I declared that following our trip to Zion, we would next drive to Page, Arizona it was for the Motel 6 alone.
I realize this reasoning is probably rather puzzling for many of you, so let me explain: Although our general route was guided by things we wanted to see, inevitably when it came to where we would actually stop and spend the night, that choice was always based on which city/town had an affordable and—after our first nightmare stop in Nebraska—well-reviewed Motel 6. Now, anyone who has traveled around the U.S. knows that Motel 6 has something of a seedy rather than sterling reputation, so why our fixation on this particular motel chain? Well, Motel 6 is one of the few lodging options in the U.S. that doesn’t charge an additional pet fee, something we greatly appreciated since many other places that proclaimed to be pet-friendly either charged such insultingly inflated pet fees that the cost for the dogs would often wind up being more than the base rate of the room itself, or they would put restrictions on the weights of dogs such that your pooch would only be welcome if you could tote it into your room in a handbag. Motel 6 does none of these things (ok, the one in Moab said they would only accept one dog, which obviously didn’t work for us, but they seemed to be an outlier) and thus we rewarded them with our loyalty, even when that meant staying in some town we had never heard of.
(Also, for the record, sketchy side-of-the-highway Motel 6 in Nebraska aside, all of the Motel 6s we stayed at during our trip were really nice and comfortable. And no, they aren’t paying us to say that!)
This is how we wound up in Page, Arizona, a town that, for whatever reason, I decided would have no charms or attractions of its own of which to boast. ‘Why else would hotel rates there be so much cheaper than everywhere else on our trip?’ I reasoned.
I actually have no good answer to that question, because as it turns out, Page, Arizona is really pretty awesome.
Driving into town, we pretty quickly realized that maybe there was a little bit more to the place than we had anticipated when, after miles of gorgeous—though, admittedly, par for the course in Arizona—scenery we arrived at a seriously impressive dam.
Let me be clear: I am not someone who gives a damn about dams. (No apologies… you knew I had to go there!) I know they serve their purpose and that’s great, but I have never understood the appeal in going to visit one. The Hoover Dam has never been on my radar and has always seemed as interesting to visit as the timber factory my parents once took us to in northern Ontario, which is to say, not at all.
And yet. Here I was in Page, Arizona demanding that Tony pull the car over so that we could go gawk at the huge dam and the massive canyon that surrounded it.
“Is this part of the Grand Canyon?!?” I asked excitedly, unable to consider the possibility that the largest canyon I had ever seen could be anything but THE Grand Canyon.
In fact, no, it was not. It turns out that although the river running through this mighty canyon was the one and the same Colorado river that runs through the Grand Canyon, this was actually Glen Canyon. Nomenclature aside, however, I have to say that as far as canyons go, Glen Canyon is still pretty darn grand. And while I was not converted sufficiently to wish to actually tour the dam or its associated museum, I did seriously consider extending our stay in Page by an extra day so we could blow our budget and go rafting through Glen Canyon. Alas, as a whole-day activity that was decidedly not pet-friendly, we decided we would have to earmark it as something to do on a future visit.
Checking into our room in what turned out to be the nicest Motel 6 of our entire trip, I was feeling pretty satisfied as Page had already offered up more excitement than either of us had anticipated. What was supposed to be a Podunk pit-stop had turned out to be quite impressive; even though I literally had nothing to do with this turn of events, the smug grin of someone who had perfectly orchestrated things was plastered across my face.
It was only mid-afternoon when we had fully settled into our room, and although we were planning to just kick back and relax and maybe watch some premium cable, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. ‘If Page has the unthinkably awesome Glen Canyon Dam on its outskirts, what other treasures might be lurking nearby?’ I wondered.
So I hopped on the internet and started doing some sleuthing to see what I could turn up.
Within minutes, I discovered that Page was anything but the “middle of nowhere” destination I had so blithely dismissed it as. Not only was it a base for visiting the aforementioned (and awesome!) Glen Canyon, but thanks to that crazy big dam, it’s also home to Lake Powell, North America’s largest man-made lake! And, as if that weren’t enough, it’s also the most popular base from which to visit the absolutely gorgeous Antelope Canyon, a place of Pinterest-perfect photography dreams. What makes this last attraction so embarrassing is that Tony and I had talked extensively about visiting Antelope Canyon when we were first planning our road trip (in the end, we decided to save it for another trip because—sing it with me—dogs aren’t allowed in the canyon, and the only way to visit is through a guided tour. Not knowing how hot it would be, we were concerned about leaving the dogs in the car for several hours, and some hotels won’t allow you to leave your dogs in the room unattended) and yet somehow I had failed to register where Antelope Canyon was actually located. And I call myself a researcher?!?
It also turns out that Page is very close to Horseshoe Bend… another place I had seen in photos before and thought, ‘Wow! That place looks magnificently beautiful! I wonder where you have to go to see that?’ and then proceeded to do zero follow-up. When I saw pictures of it begin to pop up in my searches of things to do around Page, my stomach gave a little flip of excitement and I raced to figure out whether it would be feasible to visit it during our afternoon in town.
Although there were several activities that Tony and I had to bench on this road trip because of dogs, happily, I learned that Horseshoe Bend would not be one of them. Although it is part of the National Park Service, it is one of the rare areas where dogs are welcome (provided they are on a leash)! Best of all, the easy hike was completely free AND not a 10-minute drive from our hotel. I excitedly told Tony that sunset was considered one of the best times to visit and if we left Right! Now! we could make it there in time to get some (hopefully) good shots.
So, we piled the pups into the car and drove out along Route 89 until we spotted a cluster of cars parked in a makeshift dirt lot. Deducing that this was the place, we pulled over and began our walk across the desert.
The silky, shifting sands made the half-mile hike across gently undulating dunes slightly more challenging than anticipated, but when we caught our first glimpse of the Colorado river and Horseshoe Bend, we knew the exertion was more than worth it.
Horseshoe Bend is one of those places that, even as you’re gawking at it, you have to keep reminding yourself is real. For one, it’s crazy gorgeous. Secondly, you’re allowed to get right up to the edge of the overlook and there are absolutely no safety rails or barriers to prevent you from plummeting 1000-feet down to your death. It’s the kind of cavalier disregard for safety that we would expect in Asia but certainly not in the United States, so that definitely added a level of exhilaration too.
Of course, this is when we learned that our big dog, Emmy Lou, has a fear of heights; after tiptoeing up to the edge, she bounded backwards and then stubbornly refused to go close to the lip of the canyon ever again. Rory didn’t seem phased by the drop, but was more content to be fawned over by a group of Chinese tourists who wound up being more interested in taking selfies with him than of the bend. I can’t say I totally blame them, since we also took more than our fair share of pictures with the pups perched up there too… but we also took plenty of photos where Horseshoe Bend was the rightful star.
The day was slightly overcast and we didn’t want to do the hike back to our car in a pitch black, so we didn’t get one of those stunning shots where the sky explodes into a rainbow of colors above Horseshoe Bend, but even without celestial pyrotechnics, it was still breathtaking and awe-inspiring.
It’s crazy to think that were it not for the Motel 6, we very likely would have skipped Page and its beautiful host of attractions. It’s just another reminder that often it’s the places we know the least about or have the lowest expectations for that wind up surprising us the most and leave the deepest impressions. Sometimes as travelers, we don’t know best, and a place to lay your head become so much more and provides us with a better adventure than the one we would choose for ourselves.
Now it’s your turn! Tell Us: What unassuming destination have you discovered in your own travels, somewhere that you only planned to spend the night, but then it turned out to be unexpectedly awesome? Would you want to visit Page, Arizona? Also, how do you feel about dams?!?