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Solo Travels #1: Part II - Wild West

While the SUV's eased over the rocky terrain at 15 mph, a spunky Fiat bounced and slid over the rocks with maniacal joy...

Back at the lodge, I consumed a heavy breakfast to last me until evening. I drove 10 minutes to the east of Page to Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is one of the those places that you probably wouldn't know about but will instantly recognize its pictures. Sunbeams shooting into narrow, colored canyon walls...paints a visual recognition, yes?

Light shafts through Antelope Canyon
Under the nose

Antelope Canyon is divided into Upper and Lower canyons. Both, are on Native American land. As a photographer, I had to take the photographer pass for Upper Antelope Canyon, which included a tour guide who facilitated photography with much needed crowd control. I was in a group of five other photographers who all had far superior equipment than I did. One of them even scoffed at my tripod. To be fair, I would too - It was a very modest tripod you could probably buy from Target (I bought mine from Amazon). It was a challenge for sure. I pushed my camera and tripod to their limits, squatted at various angles, and processed our surroundings while we were all rushed for time. Not only where the light shafts transient (though very punctual), but our group had to cooperate with other competing groups. I did manage to take some nice shots but it was learning experience...and I made a mental note to invest in a good tripod.

Antelope Canyon After Hours

However, my affair with Upper Antelope Canyon had not concluded yet. I returned after-hours for a night session inside the canyon walls. Another photographer and I were met by the night tour guide at the rendezvous point. He took us in his jeep to the canyon entrance where we spent the next couple of hours "painting" the walls with lights; a contrasting experience of Antelope Canyon!

Light Shafts in Lower Antelope Canyon

The following morning, I headed to Lower Antelope Canyon, which was a contrast from its counterpart in more ways than one. One, the canyon was wider and more "curvy." Two, it was more relaxed as you did not require a guide. Three, it was less-visited (which meant less human interruption). The one hour pass allowed for exploration and photography at my own pace.

The filtered light brings out the vibrant colors of the canyon wall

The previous day's experience helped in the Lower canyon. I exited right on the hour. I returned to the Fiat and munched down another chocolate bar as I set the coordinates for the next destination: Monument Valley.

Again, "Monument Valley" might not ring any bell. But if I were to show you a picture, all bells would. Almost every movie featuring the "Wild West" includes this iconic frame.

Wild West

The sun smiled down on Highway 98. A weekday of a random week in March - long stretches of vistas with no human in sight. I cherished it! I entered deeper into Navajo Nation, toward Utah. The southern approach to Monument Valley is epic. You mount an incline, and then you see a long stretch of straight road into the horizon that leads right into the iconic three buttes. Breathtaking. I entered the area and stopped for a quick bite. Then, I undertook the 17-mile Valley Drive. The road was not paved. Far from it. It was rocky. Clearly, the vehicle of choice would be an SUV or at least a 4WD. What did I do?

The Spunky Fiat

While the SUV's eased over the rocky terrain at 15 mph, a spunky Fiat bounced and slid over the rocks with maniacal joy. I stopped at every viewing area, wishing I had a cowboy hat and a pair of matching boots!

After completing the loop, I chilled at the elevated parking area. Perhaps "chilled" too much as the mercury dipped drastically toward day-end. I was positioning myself for the sunset shot when I realized the landscape in front looked even more familiar painted in orange and red hues. Another Windows XP wallpaper shot!

The shadows had encroached completely. The last rays of light were fading. I was short of a warm jacket but I waited inside the car. I wanted to witness the moon rise.

The hour leading into it was spectacular. The blue sky above turned midnight blue, dotted with starts. I lost count of the shooting stars. Suddenly, the horizon emitted a golden glow. The moment had arrived. A giant, golden orb ascended into the night. Never before had I seen such a brilliant moon. Monument Valley with a full moon is a sight to behold.

I enjoyed the nocturnal drive back as I turned up the heat on the windscreen. With some select tunes playing in the background and cool pictures appended to the memory card, I was looking forward to the next day - a new national park to explore!

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