A common question I get is: “where is your favorite place you’ve camped?”. I’ve never had much of an answer because I’ve liked most of the places I camp so much that it’s not worth wondering which is my favorite. But now, I found a place I like so much that I can call it my favorite campsite.
I was planning to go this general direction, but wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go or where to camp. My brother solved that by finding this spot on Instagram. A guy with an account named @fiftyfivesquarefeet posted a drone video from when he camped there.
I drove up from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. So I drove about 100 miles through the Navajo Nation (A huge Indian Reservation that covers the northeast corner of Arizona). It was an interesting drive. A good deal of the land there looked odd and inhospitable. There were a lot of hills of odd colored dirt/sand/rock with absolutely no plants. There are a lot of very small homes in the reservation. Some people would call them shacks or shantys. There are also clearly no type of building code enforcement. If I had a house, that’d be about the size I want. So I’m not entirely sure whether these shacks are because that’s all they can afford, or if they have housing preferences similar to mine.
The Navajo Nation is a mysterious place for me. I don’t fully understand their rules related to camping there. It seems that you need to pay for a permit (maybe $15), and pay a nightly fee (Maybe $5). If I understand that right, I probably won’t camp at all on the reservation unless it’s to camp out at a specific place that I want to photograph. It’s not my style to pay money to sleep in my own van in the middle of nowhere when I can do it for free all over the place.
The campsite is on the west side of the Colorado river. In this area, the river is the border between U.S. and the Navajo Nation. The reservation is on the east side of the river. The campsite was on the west side, on some BLM land.
Crossing the river was cool. There are two bridges right next to each other. The newer one was built because the older bridge wasn’t designed to support the heavy loads that are common now. So now the older bridge is for pedestrian traffic. There’s a little visitor’s center on the U.S. side that you can part at and walk out on the bridge.
Boaters on the river
There are a lot of boaters floating down the Colorado, especially here. They get on the river at the old site of Lee’s Ferry. It’s the only place in hundreds of miles where it’s easy to get down to the river. Nearly all of the river passes through a canyon like in the picture above. The river cut this canyon out over millions of years. Lee’s Ferry was situated at the one place where there’s an easy and gradual hill down to the river instead of near vertical cliff walls.
People get on the river at Lee’s Ferry and float down for various lengths of trips. Some of them will go all the way to Lake Mead (the reservoir at the Hoover Dam). Getting permission is difficult. There are two options: go privately, or pay an outfitter. To go privately, you’re supposed to get a permit. The permits use to be given out using a waiting list. But, the waiting list got to be 20 years long. So they changed to a lottery. I think about 5% of the entrants get a permit. The other option is to pay an outfitter. This is really expensive – $300 per day on the cheap end. I learned this from a group of older guys that came to the campsite one day to have lunch. They set up a table and got out a cooler and a bunch of supply boxes. I went over to talk to them. They gave me a beer and lunch. They’re from Flagstaff and have done a ton of outdoors stuff around here over the years. I asked them about how to score myself a spot on a boat for free or really cheap, and it seemed an unlikely thing to accomplish unless I wanted to work on the trip cooking, cleaning, and carrying people’s poop.
Down below the campsite, there is a stretch of rapids (going over the rocks that got washed into the river from the offshoot canyons on each side), and then a large beach. Some of the boaters stop here for a break or to camp overnight.
Driving into the site
A highway passes along closer to the hills that are visible in the background. This road is gated (with a BLM sign that says to close the gate after you go through), and is about 2 miles from the highway to the end near the river.
The end of the dirt road is situated at the edges of both the river canyon and a big branch of the canyon shooting off at about 90 degrees. So – you get a lot of big views.
It was really windy the first couple of days there.
I stayed for about two weeks. Quite a lot of people came and went during that time. No one stayed more than two nights. Quite a few people drove the two miles to the end of the road, got out for only a few minutes, and drove off.
Every couple days, someone would come in and hold up an antenna connected to some kind of box. They were scanning for transmitters that have been placed in California Condors. There are only about 400 of these condors alive now. They’re dying off because they end up eating meat tainted with lead bullets/shot. The condors are huge – they have up to a 10 foot wingspan. They also have the ugliest head/face of nearly any animal in existence. A condor will travel up to 200 miles per day scanning for food. They eat mostly large animals like deer, sheep, elk, or cattle.
I saw one flying around and got out my binoculars to watch it closely. They are the most elegant and efficient birds you’ll ever see. The one I saw flew 10 miles without flapping it’s wings once.
I wanted to go down to the river. There’s a very nice looking beach down below the campsite. It’s about 500 feet down, with nearly vertical walls. But there are these other little canyons at 90 degree angles to the river – and the campsite is next to a big one. I’m sure these have a real name – what are they called? I’d walked along it a bit, looking down to see if it appeared walkable. Most of it looked good, but there was a section I was worried about. It looked like there were pretty big drop offs. But it’s hard to tell from a distance. Sometimes, once you’re there, you can find ways to walk or scramble down and up slopes that look impassable from a distance. (I easily made it about a third of the way down the cliff right next to the river, which you’ll get a look at in the drone video).
The day I tried to hike down, I walked most of the way back toward the road, to a place where I could walk down the edge into the offshoot canyon. But I didn’t make it very far after that. I hit the big drop offs. It would take someone with climbing gear to get down and up that with certainty.
So I waked back up the canyon a bit, and up the other side, and generally wherever it looked fun to go. I like this kind of no-trail hiking.
MORE OF THE AREA
I shot a lot of drone footage while I was there. The area is nearly perfect for it. The main challenge was that it was too windy much of the time. The other was waiting for clouds that make it look more interesting.
After a couple days of shooting, I realized the video was often shaky. I guessed that this was related to a weird noise and shaking that the gimbal made right after starting the drone. It would turn on, and the camera would move around, and then it would start shaking and making a pretty loud noise. I did some research online and found that this is fairly common, and the likely culprit was a set screw on an arm that holds the gimbal being too loose. It could be tightened with a 1.5mm hex key. I have a ton of hex keys. I had a 2mm. I had a 1mm. But no 1.5.
I’d just went into Page the day before to get food and water. A hundred mile round trip. Ugh. Normally, I’d wait until I was in town the next time to get something like this. But this was such a great place for drone shooting. So I drove to Page again, found a set of hex keys at Wal-Mart, and tightened the screw. And, it fixed the problem. YES!!
I’d told the old guys that I had lunch with about how I tried to hike down to the river. I’d seen a trail shown on Google maps on another offshoot a couple miles upstream, and asked them about it. It’s called Cathedral wash, and yep, you can walk right down. Problem is, there’s not a beach where that wash meets the river. But there is a nice beach another couple miles upstream at Lee’s Ferry. So instead of doing the hike to the river that I’d been imagining I just drove down to the beach 😀
Ok. That’s it. Do you have a favorite campsite? Tell me about it.