Adapting to the Altitude

May 15-21, 2019  –  Kaibab Plateau and Page, Arizona

One thing we had paid little heed to in planning our trip west was our ability to adapt to the altitude.  Our winters in Melbourne Beach, Florida are spent at a whopping 10 feet above sea level.  So when we arrived in Santa Fe a mere 8 days after leaving the Florida coast, we found that were struggling with the 7000 foot-plus altitude gain.  Diana woke up with a terrible headache, and we were both having a difficult time breathing.  Throughout the trip we were up and down the mountains, so we drank plenty of fluids and tried to follow the advice for adjusting to altitude.  Bryce Canyon was tough at 7700 feet, but we dropped to 3200 feet at Hurricane, Utah and were OK again.  Our next stop was Jacob Lake, just north of the Grand Canyon.

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The sign on the front of the Jacob Lake Inn says it all.  We set up camp about 1/4 mile away, just shy of 8000 feet.  We figured we would go to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon the next day, so we took the advice of the volunteer at the Kaibab National Forest Visitor Center and went to see the nearby Vermilion Cliffs overlook.

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Our jaws dropped at the vista before us!  The wide open House Rock Valley stretched out for miles.  Highway 89-A angled across it, beckoning us to explore it…so that’s exactly what we did.  We ended up driving all the way to Marble Canyon, stopping at Navajo Bridge to see if we could finally see a California Condor.

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From the old bridge (now a pedestrian crossing), we finally were able to see what we were looking for.  Since these birds were so close to extinction, wildlife experts have put wing tags and radio transmitters on them to identify and keep track of them.  This one is labeled as H9, and she was sitting underneath the new bridge. We stayed as long as we could watching two adults and a juvenile, then headed back to Jacob Lake before sunset.

The next morning, I woke with a headache that was as bad as any migraine I had ever experienced.  Diana immediately knew what was going on, as she had felt the same way in Santa Fe. We knew we needed to get to a lower elevation, so we made some quick changes and headed to Page, Arizona two days earlier than planned.  A mere 43 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and we drove away from it. We took the long route running through Kanab and Big Water, as this would allow us to see the the last of four visitor centers for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  As we traveled at the lower altitude, I began to feel better.

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On the way into the Big Water Visitor Center, Diana spotted this beautiful bull snake.  We were first introduced to these amazing reptiles by Ranger Mariah in 2017 at Prineville, Oregon.  It’s always good to see them, as they have a tendency to keep the rattlesnakes away.

Once at Page, we readjusted the remainder of our trip to include campsites at lower altitudes.  For us, the trigger seemed to be sleeping, as less oxygen is taken in then.  Once we had that taken care of, we were off to see the sights!  First place we wanted to see was the much talked about Horseshoe Bend.  We’ve had many friends who have ventured to this place, parked at the trailhead, walked to the edge of Marble Canyon and peered into the abyss at the 270 degree bend of the Colorado River.

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Things have changed this year.  The City of Page owns the land people were parking on, so they built a paved parking lot, complete with fee booths.  The lot is already being doubled in size to accommodate the huge crowds.

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Look closely: that’s a huge parade of visitors! The idea of so many people being so close to the edge of a sheer drop off wasn’t comforting to us, as all it takes is one person to bump into another and send them on a free fall.  We had heard that the National Park Service, who oversees the rim of the canyon as part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, had made some changes of their own this year…so we decided to take a look for ourselves.

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Here is that change…an accessible viewing platform with railing.  Works for us!  There are still plenty of places available to stand along the unguarded rim and snap an Instagram selfie.  Just note that people have died here are a result of venturing too close to the unguarded edge.  And what is it that all these people are looking at?

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It’s Horseshoe Bend!  Those little white things on the river are boats. Definitely an amazing sight that was worth seeing, but the massive amounts of people are a detriment to this place…us included.  We are glad we saw it for ourselves this one time, but we will respectfully leave this unique feature for others to discover in the future.

Our next stop was Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell.

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As we walked through the exhibits in the visitor center, we saw a display about seepage.  Unlike Hoover Dam which is anchored to granite,  Glen Canyon dam is anchored to Navajo sandstone.

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That green line is vegetation growing in the seams that the lake water is leaking through.  Several of them extend down the canyon on both sides.

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They’ve even had to put long bolts in the sandstone to keep it in place.  This is an ongoing process.  The more I read about this dam, the less I wanted to be around it.  Meanwhile, the water level continues to drop in both Lake Powell and Lake Mead (behind Hoover Dam), due to ongoing drought conditions. If the water behind this dam drops another 90 feet, it stops generating power.  If by some miracle the lake fills to capacity, there is a chance it might give way, as it nearly did in 1983 (read about it HERE).  There are many people who are proponents of filling Lake Mead first and just bypassing Glen Canyon Dam.  It will be interesting to see what the future holds.  One thing is for sure: it won’t be status quo forever.  Mother Nature always has the last word.

Next thing up was a tour of Antelope Canyon.  We have a lot of friends who have toured the upper and lower sections of this beautiful place, so we were looking forward to going there.  The day of our reservations was windy and raining.  This tour requires sunlight to make it worthwhile, and thunderstorms are a no-no in a slot canyon.  We weren’t able to reschedule.

Oh my…so was Page a wash for us?  Absolutely not.  We found Big John’s Texas BBQ!  The place was far better than the two places we ate in Amarillo, so we visited there twice. 🙂  And with some time on our hands, we decided to take a little 150 mile one way day trip…

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…to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We figured that if we didn’t sleep there, we would be fine…and we were.  Our time was spent at the lodge and the nearby Bright Angel Point trail. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit many of the remote views off of the National Forest roads on that day, as many were still closed due to snow or winter damage.  We did, however, enjoy the meadows along Highway 67 on our trip in from Jacob Lake.  And our dinner at the Jacob Lake Inn was delicious! The Kaibab Plateau and North Rim deserve much more time.  Perhaps we will day trip from Kanab in the future, a much shorter distance than Page.

Speaking of that trip from Page, it had two awesome benefits.  We were able to traverse House Rock Valley again along the Vermilion Cliffs in both directions and…

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…we were able to visit our old friend H9 again.  This time, she was immediately below the pedestrian bridge deck, so I could photograph her much closer.  I keep my shutter on silent, as I learned in Oregon that the noise disturbs the wildlife.

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We even watched the juvenile fly a few times, which was a great thrill for us.  Adult condors have an outstanding 9-1/2 foot wingspan!

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As the sun set on the Vermilion Cliffs, we were happy that our visit to Northern Arizona ended so well.

Next up:  We head east and north to visit relatives and friends along the Front Range of Colorado.  There was even a couple of unexpected surprises. Be sure to stay tuned for that in our next post.  Until then, safe and happy travels to all!




38 thoughts on “Adapting to the Altitude”

  1. That is one of our favorite area, so much to see and do! We did not seek out or see any condors when we were there, something we will definitely have to do next time. It would also be fun to float the river through Horseshoe bend, we will have to look into that as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We camped one night on Grand Mesa which is over 10,000 feet. We did not like it at all. I could hardly breath let alone sleep. We love the southwest.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s one of our favourite areas…so much to do and see in the area. We stay at Lone Rock. Too bad you missed out on Antelope Canyon. Also recommend a boat tour of some of the canyons.
    Safe travels!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bummer about the altitude sickness. At least you could come back for a day trip. So lucky to see a condor! I’ve never seen one. We noticed they added the fee parking. Glad they put a rail up. So scary seeing how close people get to the edge. When we were there we didn’t stay too long as it really bothered me watching them at the edge like that!

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  5. So sorry to hear of your troubles with altitude! Sounds like you were able to make the best of it by getting in a day trip! Sorry you missed Antelope Canyon – it’s so cool! But, now you have something to look forward to on your return trip to the area! Where did you stay while in Page?

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  6. We have many guests that fly in to the Tetons and encounter altitude sickness. Doesn’t matter if you are young or old, in good shape or not, it can really knock people out. I guess we are glad it was raining when we went to Horseshoe Bend, as it kept the crowds away.

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  7. Sorry about the altitude sickness, but the change of plans took you to some cool places. We left Zion and went to Fredonia, south of Kanab, for 5 days, waiting for the snow to end in Bryce. Nice little campground there called Country Rose if you decide to spend more time in that area. We too visited the North Rim and took 89A down past Vermillion Cliffs and stopped at Navajo Bridge…AMAZING!! We saw Condor #54 the male mate to Condor #9!!! Actually saw him feeding the young Condor:o)))

    Safe Travels and Happy Trails…..

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  8. Sorry about the altitude sickness, it does take a while to adjust. The last few years we’ve gone from Tucson and stopped 1 or 2 times at 3500 and then 5000 ft before we get to 7000 feet, it seems to help acclimate us a bit. We understand the Horseshoe Bend comments, been there once, it was beautiful but probably won’t be going back. Glad you found Big John’s, hubby is from Texas and he thinks that’s about the best BBQ we’ve had outside of the Lone Star state. Next time you’re in the area add Paria Canyon to your list of places to visit!! Safe travels to Colorado, once of our favorite states!

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  9. I loved the Condor pictures. Such a rare treat. We saw one at Pinnacles NP in California. I spent much of my life in the Colorado mountains and have seen many people have trouble with the altitude. Some people can find a “system” that works for them to get acclimated and some never do. I have a plan every time I go back. Altitude sickness is certainly nothing to take lightly.

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    1. We were fortunate to be able to day trip and do ok. We will have a post in two weeks that we even went higher and were ok, Shawn. Just as long as we didn’t sleep above 7000 feet.


  10. Great post Jim and Diana! You sure covered a lot of ground. This region is so varied and amazing! I can empathize with getting hammered by altitude. I live at 3600 ft and was fine until I reached just over 12,000 ft. It wasn’t pretty. Like you noted, it’s not how high you get at any moment, it’s how high you sleep at!

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  11. Lucky you, you saw the Condors!
    I did not realize altitude has some weird effects. I got those headaches during our first hike back from Florida.
    You were just a two weeks ahead of us. We were on the same area 🙂
    Beautiful area for sure!

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the Vermilion Cliffs, MonaLiza! I was chicken to bring our rig down the twisty turns into House Rock Valley from the west, but I see Steve negotiated Betsy down there just fine. 😊


  12. It’s such a thrill to see the condors! We saw them once at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon soaring below us, and again at Pinnacles National Park last year. That’s fantastic that you saw a juvenile!
    So sorry to hear of your problems with the altitude. 😦

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  13. I’m glad you got to visit the North Rim and see Condors even if the altitude kicked butt. I do know about that. Took almost two weeks for me to adjust. But it is a shame that so many of these beautiful places are overrun making it not so much fun to visit.

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    1. The Horseshoe Bend crowds really surprised us, Gaelyn. They even had those huge orange construction signs along the road to try to get people to slow down. Once was enough.


  14. So, so happy you were able to travel the Vermillion Cliffs – it’s incredibly beautiful, and one we always enjoy when we’re in the area. Haven’t done Horseshoe Bend or Antelope Canyon because of the crowds, maybe some day. Bummer about the altitude illness. I get it too, struggled in Utah and Colorado. Glad you figured out what works for you both.

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  15. Sorry to hear about your difficulty with the sharp change in elevation. It’s amazing the way it affects everyone differently. That area of the country is one of my favorites. Lucky you got to see the condors!

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  16. Wow, we’ve never had altitude affect us that much! I guess we should count our lucky stars. You ran into one problem fulltimers run into, getting to sites too early in the season. A couple of years ago we kept arriving just after parks opened and many sights were not ready for visitors or still blocked with snow.

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    1. And while we were out of breath in the daytime, Bob, we were fine. It was the sleeping that brought on the headaches. On the snow: we have a tight schedule this year, so we saw what we could…which was most everything. Definitely a great trip!


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