The Truth About Horseshoe Bend | Travel + Photography
For the thousandth time I thought.. What is it I am searching for?
My children were blessedly quiet in the back and the wind felt deliciously cool running over my sweat slick skin. My eyes were set on the mountains, my mind roamed far above them.
I was headed to the Grand Canyon.
Specifically, Horseshoe Bend. How many images had I seen featuring the renowned rock and river bend. And every time I was filled with that favorite pang in my chest. Awe and wonder. How would I feel when I saw the iconic landscape in person? Would I find the spark that ignites my blood and heightens all my senses.
I wasn’t sure if this barren land held what I longed for, but I let my intuition carry me and my family down this remote desert highway anyhow.
If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there
Roaming mountainside along HWY 89 is a daydreamers delight. The stretch of road is long and I saw nothing but dusty trailers dotting the brush filled desertscape for miles on end. I finally perked up as the flat beige land started turning soft shades of orange and red, climbing ever closer to the clouds.
The layers of the land were mesmerizing. Nearly hidden canyons played tricks on my eyes; while captured eras exposed in contrasting sands gave me new insights into the land. I found myself becoming more entranced with Arizona the closer we got to the infamous Horseshoe Bend.
Pulling into a place is never what I expect it to be and Horseshoe Bend parking lot was no different. Where I expected a dirt road and possibly a gravel lot was instead a large built up pay station. We pulled next to the glass and were greeted by a smiling face. “Aren’t you lucky! You will have the place all to yourself today!” the kindly older woman said through her mask.
Blissfully unaware of how jam-packed Horseshoe bend is on a typical day, I took this on a happy note. We were able to park quickly in what seemed an obscenely large, gleaming new parking lot for such a desolate place. Little had I known that my family had been living in our own little bubble and the world around us was shutting down due to a little virus we thought nothing of called Covid-19.
We got to enjoy the open expanse of land as if we had just stumbled across a new path to explore all on our own. And though I will always be grateful for that unknowingly prized opportunity, I would like to imagine that no amount of anxiety-inducing crowds could have taken from the thrill of the sight when standing at the edge of the Glen Canyon cliff.
The river was merciless and yet magical. A living force carving its way through the very earth itself. The exposed cliff stood exposed before its shaper showing the twos long history together. A history long enough to put one tiny life into perspective.
This is a place to feel small. A place where big ideas and suppressed dreams re-emerge and blossom. It is mystery and wonder. Flat and open land that offers a chance to let your guard down. Yes. Horseshoe Bend is definitely a place to feel small. Free. Untamed.
Bewitched by the grandness created by this single rivers purpose, I walked along the edge of the canyon rim discovering the sweetest glimpses of its waters.
With sunset came more photographers. My skin would tingle and stomach drop every time I looked up to see some brave/foolish soul brush there toes along the edge of the 1000ft precipice. I decided to keep my eyes on the land and kept to myself. When the light was gone I walked the short trail back to my family.
And it was done. Years of seeing, yearning, planning. A days drive and a 5 minute walk. Are you wondering if it was worth it?
Yes. It was. Horseshoe Bend, like so many amazing places I force the opportunity to see, gave me a new perspective. A different glimpse at life that seeps in and opens new doors.
This is a place to feel small. A place where big ideas and suppressed dreams re-emerge and blossom. It is mystery and wonder. Flat and open land that offers a chance to let your guard down. Yes. Horseshoe Bend is definitely a place to feel small. Free. Untamed..
But the sad truth about Horseshoe Bend is that it is very much not worth it to a lot of its visitors. For how can you open your self and let down your guard with 400 phones, 400 smiles, 400 voices chattering in excitement about you. And that is the truth about experiencing Horseshoe Bend for most these days.
With the rise of Geotagging and Social Media this tiny spot in the world went from seeing 400 spectators a year to 4000 a day in only a matter of weeks since going viral. Coming home to realize this stunning fact led me to a deeper search into responsible travel. It instantly connected with my own core values and I was happy to find that many travelers are already putting in place simple measurements to make travel more enjoyable and sustainable; like…
buying food and trinkets for souvenirs locally from farmers markets, street vendors and locally owned businesses.
practicing zero waste and limiting plastic consumption
researching the area and culture before visiting to be prepared on how to best protect local wildlife, flora, and cultural practices.
And so Horseshoe Bend changed me. As all the best places do.
Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind
And so I am grateful for the gift I was given to see this twist of river and rock in a way most people won’t have the opportunity to anymore. The space to feel a connection to the land, to let it seep in and open my mind a bit more. To forever change me.
So tell me.. Have you been to Horseshoe Bend? What was your experience? I want to know how it made you feel to see it for the first time. Do you plan on going soon? Share your part in Horseshoe Bends story!
Looking for a less crowded alternative to the Grand Canyon? Check out Bryce Canyon a few hours away which is every bit as jaw-dropping. Want the best times to visit Horseshoe Bend? Check out this awesome guide with real world pictures of Horseshoe Bend from sunrise to sunset that Brian Klimowski put together.
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