Taking a scenic drive in the Southwest is an entertaining venture because the panoramic landscapes can change dramatically every few dozen miles. All along the open country highways there are interesting odd things that pass by so quickly that they are easy to miss. Catching a glimpse of a hawk fighting a snake in the sagebrush or briefly seeing a work of native art painted on an old fence post is part of the open road experience.
There are quite a bit of unique experiences to be found when traveling north from Flagstaff to Page through the Navajo Nation on Highway 89. This area has been occupied by native tribes for thousands of years and there are plenty of signs that welcome visitors along the way. This section of old Highway 89 offers plenty of natural history to experience, unique geology and opportunities to learn from cultural exchange.
The trek north on Highway 89 from Flagstaff begins with climb over a high mountain pass. the Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument is located in this area. The Sunset Volcano Crater is the result of a violent eruption that occurred less than 1,000 years ago. This sky high volcanic cinder cone is in pristine condition and the jagged black lava flows that stretch into Ponderosa Pine forests create a surreal landscape that is like no other place on earth. Plenty of information can be found at the visitors center and Junior Ranger activities are available for children. Campsites are available just outside of the National Monument boundary, so spending a few days exploring the volcano is an option.
On the other side of the mountain range, the landscape changes from high altitude forests to rolling grassy hills that seem to stretch out forever. This is a good area to spot wild horses and Pronghorn Antelope. A few miles further down the highway is where the entrance to Wupatki National Monument can be found. The Wupatki access road actually does loop all the way around to the back entrance of Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument, so this is an alternative route for travelers of Highway 89. The Wupatki National Monument is located in a region of grassy plains next to the barren red rock desert. This area looks inhospitable, yet there are several ancient pueblos that housed thousands of people about 1,000 years ago. This ancient archaeological site offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of the native culture that lived here long ago.
While driving toward Cameron on Highway 89, a few remnants of old tourist traps from back in the golden age of Route 66 tourism can still be seen. A shuttered 1950s style resort motel, barren RV campgrounds and abandoned trading posts provide a view of businesses of the past that once prospered upon the station wagons full of tourists so long ago. Many of the old trading posts are boarded up, but occasionally they reopen, just like magic. Even if an old trading post building is abandoned it is still worth stopping to check these places out, because many Navajo artists use the old buildings and rusty water tanks as a canvas for painting unique works of art. Often the artwork is so intriguing, that one must simply stop to admire the message that is being conveyed.
Cameron is where the east entrance to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park can be found. The Historic Cameron Trading Post Hotel Resort is located next to the Little Colorado River and this place is well worth checking out! Cameron is a great place to fuel up and grab a good bite to eat. The restaurant in the Cameron Trading Post offers Navajo cuisine specialties and good dining value. Of course, the old historic Cameron Trading Post is also one of the best places to do some shopping for fine native silver and turquoise jewelry.
Just north of Cameron on Highway 89, the landscape changes into badlands that are part of the Painted Desert. In this area, the eroded colorful sandstone and ancient clay deposits look like they belong on another planet! This part of the drive moves along fast, because there are few places to stop before the signs for Tuba City appear on the horizon. The road to Tuba City is the gateway to Navajo Tourism and the Tuba City Dinosaur Tracks archaeological site is a great place to start.
North of the Tuba City exit on Highway 89 there are a few small outposts along the way to Marble Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The side road is the Highway 89-Alternate Route that goes to the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. It is well worth stopping to take a walk on the Navajo Bridge, which spans Marble Canyon while in this area. The views of the green Colorado River in Marble Canyon are simply spectacular to see, especially with the Vermilion Cliffs in the background.
From the Marble Canyon area it is a fairly easy drive to the town of Page near the Utah border. Page is a large city that offers all amenities. Campgrounds, RV parks and plenty of motels can be found in this city. There is a great old fashioned BBQ restaurant and a few other interesting places to get a bite to eat in this town too. For outdoorsmen, Page is where Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area are located. Lake Powell is so large that the shoreline actually is longer than the entire coast of California! Glen Canyon is a haven for campers and boaters year round. The majestic Antelope Canyon is also located next to Page and Navajo tours can be booked downtown.
On the other side of Page is where Highway 89 heads west to nearly every National Park in Utah. Driving from Flagstaff to Page only takes a couple hours, but with so many interesting sites to see and so much to do along the way, it is best to plan on spending a full day when doing just to get the most out of the experience. Highway 89 from Flagstaff to Page definitely is one of the most entertaining scenic drives in the entire west!
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