Sky and stars peeking into Antelope Canyon

April 11, 2014

Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, near Page Arizona, get more visitors annually than just about any other canyon except the Grand Canyon.  They cover only a few miles.

You’re not familiar with Antelope Canyon?  You’ve seen the photos, even if you don’t know the name of the place — it’s a slot canyon, carved as with a wandering knife into the sandstone at the top of the cliffs leading to the Colorado River.

Over at EarthSky, I found a view you haven’t seen before.

Antelope Canyon at night by Sergio Garcia Rill. Stunning contrast of rock painted by light, and stars.  From  Visit Sergio’s website and read more about this adventure.

Antelope Canyon at night by Sergio Garcia Rill. Stunning contrast of rock painted by light, and stars. From Visit Sergio’s website and read more about this adventure.

Details from

Sergio Garcia Rill captured this beautiful image from within Upper Antelope Canyon in Arizona, which is the most visited slot canyon in the United States. A slot canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide. It’s formed by water rushing through rock. Sergio wrote:

During my recent trip to Arizona, I stopped by Page to get a chance at touring the now famous canyons (Upper and Lower Antelope) and I also had a chance to visit Upper Antelope at night.

I couldn’t really get too many shots with the sky (since the openings were very narrow and limited) but I liked this one in particular since I got a chance to set it up and do the light painting myself a couple of chambers behind from where my guide and another participant were working on another shot.

Thank you, Sergio.

Visit Sergio Garcia Rill’s Facebook page.

Click here for info about traveling to Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon.

Readers here may remember Page was the final destination of my late oldest brother, Jerry.  To his credit, he urged me to make a special trip to see Antelope Canyon, because most of the times I visited, it was closed, or impassable.  Alas, I have not yet been to the place.

This is one of the gems of the Diné, the Navajo Nation, and another good reason to get familiar with redrock country.

Outlaw flying in the American west

August 15, 2013

Old Jules tells a great story here about cranking up the old Cessna and climbing high enough to watch the vast powers of the U.S. military run training operations in the New Mexico Desert.

Pilots, bless ’em, tend toward the ornery end of the scale.  That’s what you want if something breaks on your airplane.  You want a guy at the stick who says, “Dagnab it, let’s see how to get out of this one safely.”  (Shades of Flight.  A great movie, really — did you see it?)

This is the place to insert the heroics of pilots in various times of stress, Wally Stewart and his crew bringing their B-24 bomber back over the Mediterrannean and dropping it perfectly on the runway, where it fell apart from the bullet holes [See KUED resources here].  That brave American Airlines crew in the DC-10 over Detroit, Flight 96, who lost hydraulic control when the rear cargo door blew out, and after a string of blue talking, brought the plane down safely (one flight attendant died in the explosion). Those United Airlines pilots who brought the DC-10 Flight 232 down in Sioux City, Iowa, after the rear engine flew apart and destroyed all control of the tail and rudder.  That brave U.S. Airways crew that executed a perfect landing in the Hudson River with Flight 1549.

I think if you talk with pilots much, you get the idea that they like things a little on the edge.  They don’t develop those cool, steely nerves that save lives by having nothing go wrong, ever, or by not pushing their aircraft where the wonks at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C., say aircraft should not be pushed.  We hope they do all this pushing in flight simulators; but we also know better.

Cessnas, and just violating some of the rules, don’t deserve those accolades, really.  These stories tell how pilots might develop the skills the brave guys use later.  But they are stories, nevertheless, and they deserve to be told.  They may not save your life flying, but they’ll enrich your life, and help you get through the stuff here on the ground.

So go read Old Jules’s tale.

Then come back here; here are a couple of stories, true as I remember them (a couple of which really should be tracked down; the American west of the latter-half the of 20th century is full of these stories, and they need to be told).

I told Old Jules:

What’s outlaw in flying?

Two observations.

Years ago, while I was staffing the Senate, my brother, Jerry Jones, who spent a good deal of time in his last 20 years in Page, Arizona, called to ask me to check in on a Senate hearing on some FAA issue or other.  Turns out someone — National Park Service, perhaps? — was asking FAA to significantly tighten rules on flying around NPS stuff, including around Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  Apart from the usual issues of air traffic congestion and safety around conflicts between “fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft” (airplanes and helicopters) in and around the Grand Canyon, there were complaints about small plane pilots flying under Rainbow bridge.  The thing really is massive, and you could put the dome of the U.S. Capitol under it, so it’s about 500 feet high . . . what barnstorming pilot could resist?

A somewhat skeptical group of senators quizzed the FAA and Park Service guys on what the problem was, other than noise and hubbub to hikers (who had hiked a mile from the marina on Lake Powell).  About that time Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, shuffled into the hearing.  Goldwater was very protective of grand things to see in Arizona, like Rainbow Bridge, and he was also a pilot.

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R)

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator, R-Arizona. Wikipedia image.

At some point, one of the officials making a case to yank licenses from pilots who pulled the illegal stunt made a comment that questioned the sanity of any pilot who would do such a thing.  Goldwater sat upright.  You mean any pilot who would do such a thing is crazy? Goldwater asked.  Well, yes — and we don’t want crazy people flying airplanes, the official said.  How about such crazy people representing the people of Arizona and passing judgment on your proposals? Goldwater asked.  Then he said he didn’t want an answer to that, that he had some grave reservations about the proposal, and he left the hearing.

I later caught a conversation with the senator in a hallway, in which someone asked him directly if he’d ever flown under Rainbow Bridge, and he said something like, not enough times that the FAA needs to worry about it.

Brother Jerry started a public service effort in his Page days, Page Attacks Trash, a project to clean up litter in and around Page, on the Navajo Reservation, and in the Lake Powell National Recreation Area (NRA) and Rainbow Bridge NM.  It was a great clean-up effort, got the support of the Salt River Project (who operate the Navajo Generating Station in Page); it was big time.  Iron Eyes Cody, who did the famous anti-littering ad featuring the tear in the eye of an American Indian, sometimes dropped in to help out.

Jerry arranged for some television Public Service Announcements (PSAs) filmed in and around Lake Powell, to fight littering.  One of the spots was shot at Rainbow Bridge.  Jerry’s health had been failing for years, but he’d get his cane and make the hike, just to watch the proceedings and keep it all going well.  They finished the spot, broke sticks (as they used to say in the filming biz), and were walking back to the boats at the marina, Jerry and his cane far in the rear.  Just before the film crew rounded the bend, they heard a small airplane buzzing around and the tell-tale cut of the engine, to lose altitude, before roaring the engine to pass under the stone formation.  One of the cameramen had some footage left, and had the presence of mind to turn on the camera and film the thing.

Well, the Park Service and FAA were outraged to hear of the event.  They subpoenaed the film footage, and blew up every frame to see if they could get the tail number on the airplane.  To be honest, I don’t know how that turned out.  I do know that on my wall I have a large photograph of my late brother, two by two-and-a-half feet, waving to the cameraman, with Rainbow Bridge in the background.  That frame didn’t have any useful information, and the law gave him the photo.

The Rainbow Brigde National Monument

Rainbow Bridge National Monument; no, I wouldn’t try to fly a plane under it, either. You could, if you had to, but the authorities would probably track you down like a woodpecker and yank your license. Wikipedia image


The West Utah Desert remains desolate. On the border between Nevada and Utah, there ain’t much of nothin’. A few roads connect a few ranches, but there’s a good reason U.S. 50 and 6 out there is known as “the loneliest highway in the world.” Bandits might be regarded as welcome company out there sometimes.

Anyway, it was expensive to run copper wires out there, say, 50 miles, to an isolated ranch house, or a lone gas station, or some other building said to be a business. So mostly, AT&T didn’t do it. People who lived and worked out there just had to get along without phone service. Enter a guy named Art Silver Brothers (I think; my memory fades, too), who figured out that radiophone service worked okay. Give people a radiophone — a device which existed then, but which required several pounds of gear and a lot of juice, relatively — and they could dial up the “local” grocery store to check to be sure the milk was good this week, before driving 50 miles to get some dairy whitener for the coffee.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing their service area.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing a part of their service area in Utah, or Nevada, or both. The company still exists!  On their website, they say:  “

Art strung wires where he could, using REA-installed power poles, or fence poles, or whatever he could, and thin, light copper wiring. His Beehive Phone Company was one of the last truly independent phone operations in the U.S., serving a grossly underserved area with patchy service. He didn’t get rich doing it.  He was the company’s only employee most of the time.

Stringing copper over 50 miles for one phone, a company can have difficulty maintaining such lines. Art had a pilot’s license, and he learned he could spot downed lines and other trouble from the air . . . and it was just one step to landing his small airplane on the local road, fixing the problem, and taking off again.

Well, that got the ire of the FAA. They said he shouldn’t do that. They argued that he was impeding traffic an imposing dangers. He said he was keeping lifelines open for people in far-flung places, and it was not a problem for traffic on roads where there might be two vehicles a week passing by. FAA paid for traffic studies on a bunch of those roads; and they enlisted the FCC to try to shut down Silver’s operations.

Remember, part of the system was wired, and part was radio. Turns out that in those pre-cellular days, the radio frequencies Silver used were in the “emergency” spectrum — radio frequencies used by cops and firefighters in places where cops and firefighters existed. FCC took to taping the “phone conversations” of Art’s customers, and in yet another hearing in the Senate, charged that Art was abusing emergency frequencies. The star audio was a tape recording of a woman ordering a significant amount of liquor from a liquor store that served probably six counties in eastern Nevada. FCC argued that obviously was not an emergency, and it amounted to an abuse of spectrum, and it was enough of an abuse to shut down the phone company.

Art finally got his chance to explain. Someone quizzed him about that liquor order, and whether that was appropriate use of emergency radio spectrum.

Well, Art started, the woman making the liquor order was the owning madam of [a] western Nevada brothel, set way in the hell in the middle of nowhere. “And I gotta tell you, if you run a whore house, and you run out of whiskey, that’s an emergency.”

Those were good days to attend hearings in Washington. The Tea Party has ruined all that.

That’s my story; the true facts are probably better.


Jerry Jones and Rainbow Bridge

A bad snapshot of the picture on my wall, Jerry Jones waving from the path in Rainbow Bridge National Monument, moments after a small aircraft flew under the Bridge.

In the Utah desert, a GPS is no substitute for common sense

August 10, 2008

A cardinal rule of driving the western U.S. is this: Don’t head off through the mountains or desert without knowing how you’re going to get back, or get to the next smattering of civilization.

Why? Old friend Peter B. Pope once trekked a chunk of Wyoming with another friend, and they had a bit of an altitude sickness scare. After three days above 9,000 feet, they realized they needed to get down, and that was a problem — miles of hiking. Help?

They picked that area of Wyoming to hike because the USGS topographical map showed no roads at all in that section. Real adventure territory. The only way to get help was to get out, and what they needed, really, was just to get out.

Or, consider the sign that used to greet travelers leaving Green River, Utah, going west on U.S. Highway 50: “No services for next 140 miles.” I once stopped to help a guy who had run out of gas 42 miles into that stretch. He confessed he’d seen the sign, but thought a bit less than a quarter-tank of gas in his old gas guzzler would do it. It hadn’t occurred to him it also meant no food or water, or towns, or telephones (I wonder if that road has cell coverage now). He was thinking of walking back for gas. 42 miles. It was well over 100°. I’m sure the highway patrol could have found him before he died.

Maps help. A compass is good. Having the skills of a First Class Boy Scout to use the map and compass together also benefits travelers.

If you have a compass, you still need a map; if you have a GPS, you still need to know whether the roads are passable. In short, you need to know where you’re going, how to get there, and whether you have the equipment to make the trip.

Comes this story from the Associated Press, in USA Today, about a “convoy” of people who thought they’d use a GPS to navigate the back country from Bryce Canyon National Park to the Grand Canyon. The only appropriate response is the one Will Smith’s character gave the woman whose husband had been killed so his skin could be used as a disguise by a giant interstellar cockroach in “Men In Black.” He said: “I mean . . . damn!”

Old friend, John Hollenhorst’s story of the incident on KSL-TV (Channel 5) carries pictures and maps that show just how foolish is the assumption that “a GPS and a cell phone are all they need to get by.”

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(KSL ought to let Hollenhorst play the expert on this story — he’s an Eagle Scout and once was an accomplished outdoorsman himself, perhaps still is.)

The group took off heading south from Grosvenor Arch, a natural arch south of the National Geographic-named Kodachrome Basin State Park. To get to Kodachrome Basin, you travel ten miles on unpaved roads. Going south out of Kodachrome Basin to Grosvenor Arch, you find the roads get less well-maintained. The maps show nothing but dirt roads, though some maps show a rather major dirt road that connects with Highway U.S. 89 east of Kanab, Utah, on the way to Page, Arizona. Most highway maps probably don’t convey the reality of the situation. This is the landscape you find:

White Cliffs in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument (BLM photo)

White Cliffs in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument (BLM photo)

It’s not exactly friendly to non-four-wheel-drive vehicles. It’s not friendly to any vehicle.

You don’t see a lot of roads in the 50 or 70 miles you can see, either. Roads that go through that area are unpaved, often unauthorized, and shouldn’t be on any map. Hollenhorst painted the scene:

The Californians ventured into one of the roughest and most remote landscapes in the United States. They believed their GPS unit would lead them back to a paved highway. They wound up desperately calling relatives in California in the middle of the night.

Yes, Virginia — and New York, and California — there really are places like that in America.

One relative, Esther Lahiji, said, “They ran out of gas and they lost their way. It was dark at night. And thank God they could charge their cell phones in their cars.”

The convoy of four vehicles, containing 13 adults and 10 children, had visited Bryce Canyon and Kodachrome Basin. But it left pavement to visit Grosvenor Arch. Using a GPS unit, they tried to reconnect to a paved road far to the south. But they got lost in a network of dirt roads, which Kane County Sheriff Lamont Smith says often lead nowhere.

“Those little spurs, those little dirt sandy spurs go out to the cliffs and dead-end,” he said.

With one vehicle stuck in sand and others running out of gas, they couldn’t go back. And heat was an issue, especially for the children.

The group stumbled into an area with cell phone coverage skipping from a distant tower — an area of accidental coverage (weather can change such coverage patterns — they are hit and miss, at best). They were able to phone for help.

After they called for help by cell phone, rescuers delivered food, water and gasoline and escorted them out.

Sheriff Smith says tourists just shouldn’t rely on a GPS unit in such rugged country.

“If you go off the pavement, you either need to ask the locals where the road goes or which roads to take, or else just stay on the paved roads, because a lot of these roads just don’t go anywhere,” he said.

Need we say it? Out there, one may not find locals to talk to. Last time Kathryn and I visited Kodachrome Basin, there were no other parties camping there — in August, at the height of the tourist season. South of the park? Are you serious? (We didn’t visit Kodachrome this summer.)

From Grosvenor Arch, to get to the Grand Canyon, go north back to Utah State Road 12; it’s about 20 miles. Then go east, through Tropic, Utah, and past the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park to U.S. Highway 89 (about 30 miles). Highway 89 south to Kanab is another of the most spectacular drives in America, through miles and miles of millions of years of petrified sand dunes — white, red, ochre, maroon, purple and chocolate cliffs, juniper-pinyon desert, pink sands, green cottonwoods, and nice paved roads.

You can stop for coffee in Kanab, in the afternoon at a book/outdoors outfitter/coffee shop, Willow Canyon Outdoor (we stopped three different days — it’s a great cup of good coffee in an area more than 200 miles from the nearest Starbucks; which Starbucks may have the New York Times, Willow Canyon will have the latest High Country News to read; we picked up a couple of CDs of Beethoven for the drive, and had I had more sense, I could have gotten some good trekking poles there).

From Willow Canyon Outdoor, it’s about 40 miles to where that dirt road from Bryce Canyon enters U.S 89, if you survive the drive. It’ll take you two to three hours to make the drive and get coffeed up on paved road if you take the long way — this group from California spent several times that amount of time, and risked their lives.

Paved roads, great scenery, good coffee, nice drive, or you can eat dust and threaten your life. You choose.


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