The unusual rock formations at Horseshoe Bend, near Page, in northern Arizona, make for great photo ops.(Sara Lessley)
Lees Ferry near Marble Canyon, long an important river crossing, today is a popular departure point for organized, multi-day raft trips down the Colorado River.(Sara Lessley)
Horseshoe Bend, just off Highway 89 south of Page, Ariz., boasts stunning views. A word of caution: There are no railings.(Sara Lessley)
The massive Glen Canyon Dam dominates the landscape near Page, Ariz.(Sara Lessley)
From the viewing point on House Rock Road below the condor release site on the Vermilion Cliffs, onlookers with binoculars can watch the soaring birds.(Sara Lessley)
When we sisters-in-law (one in California, the other in Nevada) agreed to a midway Western weekend for the brothers, we should have known better. The setting and scenery would be grand, the river inviting and the amenities, well, less so. Arizona’s Marble Canyon and the upper Colorado River near Glen Canyon Dam are jaw-droppingly beautiful in spring and fall. But for those wishing to stay close by and partake of the great outdoors in this Arizona Strip region, historically cut off by the river, with its renowned rafting, hiking, slot-canyon exploring, fly-fishing and bird watching — well, certain niceties go by the wayside. The tab: Each couple spent $275 for three nights in remote Marble Canyon (abandoning one motel for more comfortable lodging nearby), excluding taxes; $585 for fishing guides and rafting; and $200 for meals and lunch supplies.
The friendly personnel at Marble Canyon Lodge go above and beyond (Diabetes meds need refrigeration? No problem. Off-hours move-in? OK), but serene patio vistas, high-thread-count sheets or speedy Wi-Fi? Not so much. We voted Marble Canyon Lodge our favorite for comfort and service, and it has the best access to the river landing at Lees Ferry and historic Navajo Bridge. Nearby Cliff Dwellers Lodge caters to hard-core fishermen.
Our favorite: the bountiful one-stop breakfast buffet at Marble Canyon Lodge, with hefty portions of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit and yogurt. Mornings are crowded with rafting groups chowing down before departing for Lees Ferry. During our stay the restaurant shut down after breakfast and opened again for home-style dinner. Down the road, the Cliff Dwellers restaurant gets raves for its grilled fish tacos.
Colorado River Discovery offers numerous options for raft trips, including a raft/slot canyon tour, a raft/helicopter excursion and even a rowing trip. The best choice for us: a leisurely motorized raft ride on the Colorado River casting off from Page, Ariz., an hour north of Marble Canyon. Our guide regaled us with tales about adventurer-geologist John Wesley Powell and his band, exploring here in the 1860s and 1870s without a motor or knowing what lay ahead. We gazed at the sheer cliffs, odd rock formations and the tiny spectators waving from atop precarious Horseshoe Bend.
The lesson learned
Don’t miss the condor-watching at the old Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon or at the viewing site along House Rock Road in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. With a pair of good binoculars, the re-introduced California condors (down to a few dozen in the 1980s) came into view — either perched atop the cages at their release point high above or swooping rapturously by the dozen off the colorful cliffs.
If you go
Marble Canyon Lodge, U.S. Highway 89 A, Marble Canyon, Ariz.; (928) 355-2225. Some wheelchair-accessible rooms.
Cliff Dwellers Lodge, North U.S. Highway 89A, Marble Canyon, Ariz.; (928) 355-2231. One wheelchair-accessible room.
Colorado River Discovery, 130 6th Ave., Page, Ariz.; (888) 522-6644. Half-day rowing trips through Nov. 30, $93 for ages 13 and older; full-day motorized trips are through Nov. 13., $113 for ages 13 and older.