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Vermilion Cliffs

north-central Arizona

This story picks up where the Wide Open Ride to Page, Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend ends. Cruising south on US 89, a sharp right turn leads onto US 89A going back north. Aside from the stark yet vibrant landscape, the first noteworthy attraction is Navajo Bridge. Opened in 1929, it crosses the Colorado River. There are actually two similar-looking spans. In 1995, a wider and stronger bridge opened to more safely accommodate bigger vehicles and increasing traffic. The original span is now pedestrian-only, offering a great perspective of the new bridge. And 500 feet down is the Colorado River. This is the area where the Grand Canyon starts. Driving across the bridge, a right turn leads to Lees Ferry Road, also known as “Honeymoon Trail.” This short, spectacular and historic stretch gives the first up-close view of the Vermilion Cliffs. The cliffs are part of the Grand Staircase. Stretching from Utah’s Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks south to the Grand Canyon, the Grand Staircase is an enormous layer cake of sedimentary rock that has exquisitely eroded over time. Clarence Dutton, a 19th century geologist, came up with this idea and broke the steps into five vivid categories of cliffs: pink, gray, white, vermilion and chocolate. The Vermilion Cliffs are the second step up. Lees Ferry Road skirts the cliffs for six miles before dead ending at the Colorado River. While the Vermilion Cliffs are geologically significant, Lees Ferry was important historically because it was a natural passage critical to the exploration and settlement of the region. Ferryboats crossed here from 1872 until the Navajo Bridge was completed downstream. Today, Lees Ferry gives access to fisherman and other river enthusiasts. It also marks the start of the Grand Canyon and is a major launch point for rafting trips. Back on US 89A and continuing west, the highway provides more inspiring views of the Vermilion Cliffs. Soon a roadside oddity named Cliff Dwellers appears. It features gigantic boulders and an abandoned trading post built in the 1920s by a Ziegfeld Follies’ dancer and her husband. The cliffs are the southern boundary of the immense Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Largely undeveloped, there’s no visitor center and no paved roads. But there are incredible hiking trails, including one near the Utah border that leads to a world famous, multihued rock formation. However, to visit The Wave you have to apply for a permit through a lottery. At its western boundary, Vermilion Cliffs also has condors. At certain times of the year, a number of these huge, endangered birds soar and roost. There’s even a viewing site about three miles north of US 89A on unpaved House Rock Valley Road. From Vermilion Cliffs, US 89A climbs steeply from high desert into alpine forest, leading to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, the next Wide Open Ride in this journey.

Route & Map      

From Page, this ride heads south, north and then west. After crossing the Navajo Bridge, it goes to Lees Ferry and the first rapids of the Grand Canyon. Then it continues west along the southern boundary of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Length

In total, this ride is about 80 miles but that doesn’t include returning to Page or driving farther down US 89A to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim or the next major town: Kanab, Utah.

Best Time to Visit

The Vermilion Cliffs are gorgeous year-round but summer days are very hot. And don’t venture onto unpaved side roads during bad weather, in any season. They can quickly become impassable in the sandy earth.

Major Towns

On the east side, Page offers a multitude of lodging and dining options. To the west, Kanab is a smaller, quainter, quieter place with a fascinating history. Known as Utah’s “Little Hollywood,” numerous westerns were filmed here. In addition to movie memorabilia, the town also features some great food and nifty gift shops and art galleries.

Links

Click to learn more about Navajo Bridge, Lees Ferry and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The City of Page and Kanab can help with lodging, food and other attractions.

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