Permit Persistance in Page, AZ Pays Off

By Heidi Shulz, Girls Who Hike Wisconsin Ambassador

On a recent road trip out west my daughter and I found ourselves in Page, AZ for a day longer than we had originally planned. Somehow I thought there would be more public hiking trails in the area than there were, so when we exhausted the few I could find I pulled up my AllTrails app and found a hike called Water Holes Canyon. The hike was on Navajo land and required a permit, so I figured how hard could it be to get a permit?

After reading through the comments on the trail reviews we headed to Adventure Tour company located behind the Burger King in Page which is where someone had said to go to get a permit. Apparently that’s not so in the off months, but the gentleman there was very helpful and tried to help me look the permit up online, when that didn’t work he told me that I would have to contact the Navajo Parks & Recreation Dept. I went to my car and pulled it up on my phone and it said their office was 229 miles away in Window Rock, AZ. How could this possibly be! I went back inside and talked to him further and he said I could try the Navajo Nation Lechee Chapter House in Lechee which ended up being about 5 miles away according to my GPS. He wasn’t very sure about this solution and said I might have problems but I wanted to try anyway. 

I followed the GPS directions to Lechee Chapter House and it dropped us at a parking lot full of massive potholes at the center of a circle of buildings, none of which were really marked with any signage. I picked the building that looked most like a place that would hold offices and walked up to the door. I had my hand on the door and was about to pull it open when I noticed no less that 4 signs posted in the door and on the window stating that “hiking permits are not issued here!” Ok, so where are hiking permits issued? Finally upon searching through a bunch of postings in the window I found a small paragraph indicating the permits were issued around the block at a small white building with green shutters. Now I’m making progress! So, through the potholes, around the block we go to a white trailer with green shutters that was surrounded by a tall fence. The sign on the building read “Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park”. On the door was yet another sign that this office was closed and you could go to 294 Cowboy Ray Rd. in Page to find them. I get back in my vehicle and head back towards Page. The address we arrived at was a building marked as the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Local 4. I felt like I was in the wrong place again, but not about to give up at this point. I went inside and saw one woman sitting at a table reading a book so I asked her if this was the correct place to get a hiking permit for Water Holes Canyon. She replied that yes it was, but she hadn’t brought any permits with her from the office in Lechee. I felt so defeated at this point. She yelled across the building to someone sitting at a desk in a corner and asked if they had any hiking permits, and someone that I couldn’t even see answered that they had one left, the last one in the building and it was going to be mine! $24 in cash and 5 minutes later I walked out with my permit and a map with instructions/restrictions to hike Water Holes Canyon for the following day!

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We spent the next morning on Navajo land with guided tours to Rattlesnake Canyon and Upper Antelope Canyon. The beauty of these areas is pretty indescribable and needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate it. After some lunch we headed over to the trailhead for Water Holes. There was only one other car parked at the side of the road so we knew we would have the place pretty much to ourselves, especially considering how difficult it was to get a permit.

We followed the cairns along the top of the canyon until there was a spot that we could drop down in. There we found one lone man, a Canadian, that was there exploring and enjoying the beauty of this spot. He discussed with us how he was going to disassemble a large cairn there, claiming it was of no use and disrupting the ecosystem. Little did we know how important this cairn really was for finding the way back up and out of the canyon!

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My daughter and I set off on our trek down the canyon. Our verbal and written directions were that we could only hike down the canyon until we reached the power lines, there we had to turn back. It was a beautiful hike through a sandy canyon, which at times narrowed down to the point where I had to take my backpack off to get through and there were a few spots where you had to climb up a bit but nothing terrible.

And then we got to the ladder... which was actually 2 sections of ladder strapped together, but not attached to anything. We contemplated the ladder before deciding to give it a try, but figured we had come this far, and how bad could it really be!

We made it up the ladder and continued through some beautiful sections of the canyon. It varied in height and widths which made it more interesting as we explored further down the canyon.

We hiked all the way to the power lines were we sadly had to turn around. The hike back went quickly, we were just getting to the sketchy ladder on the way back when the Canadian was arriving there and deciding whether he should go up. He was watching me trying to get the first foothold from the top to the first ladder rung, which was no graceful act for me. I’m not going to lie, I was a little shaken after making it down and we offered to hold the ladder for the man but he still hadn’t decided whether he was going to attempt it alone. We wished him good luck and headed on our way.

We missed our spot to exit the canyon because the Canadian man had followed through on his plan to disassemble the cairn. Missing our exit brought us further down the canyon the other way to the spot where the bridge crosses the road. Here there was a drop off and what looked the like the remains of a car or something that had gone over the bridge at some point. Scratched into the rock here was a dated message with an arrow pointing further down the canyon “the cow is really there”. On the AllTrails app I had read a review about a dead cow being in the canyon. Because of extreme curiosity, I sent my daughter down the 2 drop offs to go in search of the cow, while I stood and anxiously awaited her return. I was worried about not being able to make it back up the two drop offs and had no intention of getting stranded in a canyon. Mission accomplished, she came back with pictures on my phone of the poor cow that had obviously fallen over the side of the canyon some months back. I won’t include a photo because I wouldn’t want to upset anyone, it’s not gory or terrible, it just looks like a cow on it’s back taking a nap. If you really want to see it you can head over to my instagram post that has a bunch of awesome photos of Water Holes Canyon from our hike and our trip to Page (@heidi.is.out.hiking).

By this time there were numerous people at the top of the canyon trying to figure out how to get down to where we were, apparently they didn’t read the directions on the map to follow the cairns out far enough to drop down into the canyon. We headed back to where we entered and hiked back out above the canyon. Upon our return to the parking lot there were cars lined up along the road, sadly none of which had a hiking permit in their windows. We followed the rules, paid our fees and had a great time hiking Water Holes Canyon. If you ever get to Page, AZ it’s a great hike and I hope you have a much easier time obtaining a permit. And don’t forget to bring your water because there was none in Water Holes Canyon!


Heidi is the Ambassador for our Wisconsin chapter. You can follow her adventures at @Heidi.is.out.hiking. You can join her local meet ups and discussions through the Wisconsin chapter by clicking here. To become a member of Girls Who Hike, click here.

Sharron McBrideComment