With summer slipping away, and a long weekend coming up, I asked my 19 year old grandson Andrew if he’d like to go to Utah with me to rockhound for topaz. He said, ‘Yes, if we can also visit the Grand Canyon.”
“But that’s 12 extra hours driving and will cost hundreds more!”
He shrugged. I frowned. “Alright, I’ve never been to the North Rim.”
And so we made flight reservations and hotel reservations and booked a dig pass for Topaz mountain. At the last minute Andrew said we should visit Antelope Canyon too. The upper Antelope Canyon tours were sold out but we managed to get reservations for the lower Antelope Canyon at the not ideal time of 4pm (more on that later :-).
TOPAZ MOUNTAIN, UTAH
We flew into Salt Lake City and drove down a couple hours to spend the night in Nephi. From there it was about 2 hours to Topaz Mountain and the Topaz Dome Quarry where Topaz Mountain Adventures has a tourist dig operation ($129 per person for access to fresh blasted stone). Using the travel app Waze that works even if you don’t have cell service, we arrived at 9am to watch the dynamiting of our fresh stone.
Rhonda and her husband bought the topaz claim in 2015, right next to a public topaz area. At first they set up the dig site on the honor system, hoping to make money while not having to be onsite. Of course that didn’t work, so they made the fee more formal and set up where she or her husband or one of their helpers was always onsite to check for payment and make sure us rockhound nuts found what we came for.
Champagne-colored topaz crystals grow in small circular holes and cracks in the hard sandstone. You break them out or break off stone with the crystals still in their matrix. And you keep them out of the sun because direct sunlight steals their champagne color, leaving them only clear like the quartz crystals we find in Arkansas.
Above is the haul we managed after 4 hours. Andrew took his chiseling very seriously – and made the best finds!
As we had to drive 6 hours or so to the North Rim, we packed up around two and hit the road. And what a road it was! Utah and Arizona have the most scenic driving you’ll find in the US, especially if you like high desert cliffs, valleys that go on forever, and lonely stretches graced with wild flowers.
NORTH RIM, GRAND CANYON, ARIZONA
The last two hours of the good road to the North Rim are forest. In a green pasture not far from the lodge, we spotted a herd of buffalo. I quickly parked the car and got out with my camera, and noticed a familiar, earthy odor. The buffalo? Couldn’t be. They were too far from the road. Then I looked down. Fresh buffalo poop! Smells like goat poop only stronger.
We hadn’t bothered to eat dinner because the North Rim Grand Canyon Lodge has a big restaurant. I had Andrew read me their menu as we got closer, my mouth watering.
Imagine you’re riding in the car with us. Which dinner entree would you choose? Made your choice? Can’t wait?
Well forget about it! The dining room is booked all week! I ended up at their “deli” where I got a hot dog. Andrew had to go to their bar to get a slice of pizza. Sooo disappointed.
At least our reserved cabin was spacious and the night air perfect for the windows to be open for a cool sleep.
The next morning we had a decent breakfast.
Then we hiked around and took pictures. And tried not to fall into the canyon to our deaths like some fellow a few days before.
BRYCE CANYON, UTAH
OK, we didn’t actually go to Bryce Canyon next, not until after our Antelope Canyon visit, but I want to end the post with the Antelope Canyon pictures, so please excuse my non-linear delivery.
There’s not much to do at Bryce Canyon except a little hiking (at 8,000 ft – you’ll be huffing) and a lot of gawking at the incredible whoodoos.
LOWER ANTELOPE CANYON, ARIZONA
We drove past the Vermillion Cliffs to get to Page, Arizona, near the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons.
We had a nice lunch at the Grand Canyon Brewery & Distillery restaurant. Neither of us could finish our Mac and Cheese bowls.
The Upper Antelope Canyon is the preferred canyon it appears, as they were sold out a month in advance. Even in advance the Lower Antelope Canyon tour was sold out for the best (mid-day) times – we had to accept the 4pm tour time. (The 11am sun will penetrate into the person-wide slot canyons and light up their normal reddish sandstone walls with fantastic color – later in the day the direct sunlight only clips the top but still gives some incredible color).
Our tour operator was Ken’s Tours, located on Indian land within walking distance to the slop canyon. About 12 of us were assigned a native guide named Jose. Informative and friendly, he told us the rules of the tour (masks on, no pictures while on stairs, etc). Then he led us down the gully to the entrance of Lower Antelope Canyon. An older Japanese woman looking a hot and tired and a bit scared, sat in the shade there, awaiting an atv ride back up as she had apparently been unable to complete (or even start) the tour. We continued past them to an opening where a series of narrow metal ladder-stairs led down. The last ladder-stair dropped steeply a good 30 feet to the bottom. I swayed a bit from vertigo, and tried not to look down. Facing forward, away from the steps, I progressed, concentrating on the next step. And the next. I held onto my camera with one hand and the guardrail with the other. finally I reached a sand floor and passed into a slightly larger opening where we gathered.
The next 40 minutes we wiggled our way single file through the narrow canyon, taking pictures at every other step, overwhelmed by the swirling patterns and fantastic shapes. I’ll let my pictures tell the rest of the story.
Yes, a feeling of rebirth, when you exit the canyon, knowing you’ve experienced something weighty. Something mysterious. And nice, like a trip with your grandson, or grandfather, to marvel at hills and cliffs and canyons, grand and small.