SLOWLY FLOAT IN THE ARIZONA DESERT
The route: From the Glen Canyon Dam, just outside Page, Ariz., hugging the Arizona/Utah border around the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument on U.S. 89 to U.S. 89A into Kanab, Utah. Miles: About 120 miles from Page to Kanab. Best time: Spring or fall; the road hits 7,925 feet in elevation at Jacob Lake, so snow may be an issue. Lower down, the summers can be hot. Why: Discover a scenic — and historic — route in this “Arizona Strip” country from the massive Glen Canyon Dam (good visitor
center for the water-use curious) and into Marble Canyon and its “balanced boulders” (also stopping at Navajo Bridge to walk across the old span and look for condors), then around the spectacular Vermilion Cliffs and up into the piney-green Kaibab National Forest.
Highlights: A bit south of the industrial-size dam, pull into the packed parking lot for Horseshoe Bend off U.S. 89. The vistas are faultless. Watch your footing; there are no railings. Up unpaved House Rock Valley Road, just off U.S. 89A, we gazed at a dozen endangered California condors swooping and soaring in circles above a reintroduction site on the Vermilion Cliffs. Memorable stay: The quirky Quail Park Lodge (www.quailpark lodge.com) in Kanab is bright and retro. Free bikes stand ready for a slow spin down the main street. Don’t miss the dozens of plaques commemorating the western movies and TV shows that were filmed here for decades. Memorable meal: A five-minute walk from the lodge puts you at Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fire Kitchen (peekabookitchen
.com), with quinoa-stuffed avocado for starters, followed by kale salad topped with honey-glazed walnuts, dates and red onions. Tourist treat or trap: Leave the car behind for old-fashioned travel on the river. Our slow float on Colorado River Discovery’s
(www.raftthecanyon.com) motorized pontoon boat took us past photogenic Horseshoe Bend and the tiny tourists on the rim 1,000 feet above. From Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, there are breathtaking views of the Navajo sandstone cliffs that iconoclastic environmental writer Edward Abbey described (before the dam he despised was built) as “tapering spires, balanced rocks on pillars, mushroom rocks, rocks shaped liked hamburgers, rocks like piles of melted pies.” Yup, exactly. Plan to spend: Most of a sightseeing day for the 120 miles of the sometimes windy, always scenic U.S. 89A. To augment the don’tmiss drive, overnight at either end: Page (float trip or slot canyons tour) or Kanab (hiking, biking and Hollywood).
The route: San Lucas to Gilroy, Calif., on California 25. Miles: About 75, one way. Best time: Spring, when the hills are green, though the area’s oat and alfalfa fields add greenery to the route year round.
Why: California 25 offers a scenic, leisurely and nearly traffic-free alternative to busy U.S. 101 between San Luis Obispo County and the Bay Area. Highlights: The highway runs through several narrow valleys carved into the mountains by the San Andreas Fault’s tantrums. In some years, you can see where the fault has twisted the highway’s asphalt in different directions — unless Caltrans has made the necessary repairs. After a wet winter, the hillsides bracketing the pleasantly winding highway turn Crayola green, punctuated in places by yellow and orange California buttercups and sticky monkey flowers. This is cowboy country — for visitors, a rare glimpse of what California looked like a century ago. Some of the barns along the highway are at least that old, complete with blacksmith-forged hinges and door latches. Also, check out the Victorian architecture in downtown Hollister. Memorable meal: The 19th Hole Booze & Food (19thholetres
pinos.com) in Tres Pinos isn’t so much about the food as the setting (but do try the oak-fired barbecue dishes). Dollar bills paper the ceiling of the 120-year-old tavern, antique rifles and cattle brands trim the walls, and the front porch is ideal for swilling beer on a lazy afternoon (but don’t drink and then drive, we hasten to add). Tourist trap or treat: The highway skirts Pinnacles National Park (www.nps.gov/pinn), California’s newest national park, a real treat. It’s not often that you can visit the multicolored remains of a volcano cleft in twain by the San Andreas Fault. (The other half has since migrated southward, inch by inch, toward Lancaster.) California 25 offers the only vehicular access to the park’s visitor center and campground. There are great picnic spots in the shade of the ubiquitous oak trees and miles of trails for all skill levels to work off that picnic lunch. Plan to spend: The one-way trip takes a little less than two hours driving straight through, but this isn’t that kind of drive. Allow at least three hours extra for Pinnacles and a few stops for photos or food along the way.
A PURPLE- AND ORANGE-TINGED SUNSET caps the craggy beauty of the Coyote Buttes wilderness area at Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona.
PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK can be accessed from either east (California 25 to California 146) or west, above, also by 146 — but you can’t drive straight through.