Bluff Hot Air Balloon Festival + Horseshoe Bend

Like 99.9% of people, I have a tough time adjusting back to reality after an epic vacation, especially when it involves coming home to a bleak desert winter.  I was craving color and miles, so Friday night I hopped in the car and drove down to Bluff, UT.  Bluff was having their annual hot air balloon festival, and the site of a clear sky filled with rainbow-colored balloons was exactly what I needed.  

By 9:30AM, their sunrise float was winding down, but I still felt the itch to keep going.  I gassed up the car and started driving south, with no particular destination in mind.  Usually, I'm a turbo-planner -- I get a nerdy kick out of researching all our weekend adventures, but I have to admit, sometimes it's liberating to just pick up and GO.  I crossed the boarder into Arizona, and started driving through the Navajo Reservation.

The Res is definitely an alternate universe.  It's a semi-autonomous nation within a nation, full of epic vistas, stray dogs, fry bread, colorful murals, and vendors selling gorgeous things off the side of the road.

Eventually, I made my way towards Page, AZ and the Horseshoe Bend of Lake Powell.  Obviously, I have mixed feelings about Lake Powell (AKA Lake Foul) but the bend is one of the most iconic sites in the southwest, and I wanted to see it.  The trailhead is 5 miles from the Carl Hayden Visitor Center, and the hike is only 1.5 miles round-trip.  Usually I think longer hikes make a viewpoint more satisfying -- there are fewer people and your anticipation has time to build  -- but Horseshoe Bend is undeniably stunning.  When you reach the end of the trail, you're greeted with a massive 270 degree bend in the Colorado River, where the blue-green water makes a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment.

For as famous as Horseshoe Bend is, it's weirdly tricky to photograph.  You need a wide-angle lens or lots of quality time with a photo-stitching program.  The hardest part is catching the very bottom of the river's loop -- you have to stand at the edge of the under-cut ledge to see it.  Heights don't usually bother me, but I did feel a little cliff-y trying to get this shot.  I think it's time to buy a wide angle lens ...

As afternoon rolled around, I started the migration back home.  On the way, I stopped in Bluff again to watch the 'Evening Glow-In' at the end of the Balloon Festival.  Beautiful.