The Valentine State, est. February 12, 1912
An American short documentary was released in 1958, nearly 30 years before my birth, set only to music with no narration, following wildlife through the desert wilderness of the Grand Canyon. Since seeing the documentary as a little girl, the natural world wonder, of seven, has been right at the top of my list of must-see places. Despite living in an Arizona border state my entire life, I’ve never made the trip… until now.
Traveling east on the I-40 along the southern edge of the Mojave National Preserve, seemingly endless desert landscape stretched from the highway on both sides- only yucca, cacti and sand for miles, with the occasional cargo train traveling through. Though barren, there’s something serene about a desert’s aridity, the outermost layer of earth sculpted along the horizon, gradually lifting into dunes and farther in the distance into mountain ranges, sands constantly shifting with time. Sometimes ‘nothing’ is very picturesque.
It was to be a whirlwind of a trip: we spent 8 near straight hours in the car from LA to the Grand Canyon, 2 hours from the Grand Canyon to Sedona, and another 8 hours from Sedona back to LA within a three day period, leaving us with less than 24 hours at the Grand Canyon’s southern rim and less than 24 hours in Sedona, with not a whole lot of time to sleep. After a third of the day spent in the car with Hendricks, his father, Steve, and Steve’s aunts visiting from Japan, we arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park.
The Grand Canyon
Arizona- land of green iced tea, lax firearms laws, and eleven species of rattlesnake. More notably, home to this impressive land feature…
Our hotel, the Yavapai Lodge, was fortunately located in the national park. Although not directly along the rim, our hotel room was surprisingly very nice, with the second-most comfortable hotel bed in which I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping, my bed at the Vdara in Las Vegas being first-most. The rate for our room for a Thursday night was $182.52 ($190.77 w/ tax), which is really not bad considering that all the kiddies had just been released for summer vacation. Having now stayed in the park, I couldn’t imagine commuting from Williams, as we had originally planned to do, which is 60 miles south of the rim. Other perks of staying in the park include savings on park entrance fees, as in only paying the $30 fee once rather than several times for each time you enter; the presence of quite a few restaurants and bars within the park; and ease of access to provisions within the park’s myriad General Stores, which have very impressive beer/wine/liquor selections, I might add.
Desert View Watchtower
On the way east through the national park, there is a 70 foot tall watchtower along the edge of the canyon rim. Its construction was completed in 1932, and though only four-stories tall, climbing its spiraling steps is a little unnerving, particularly keeping in mind that, on average, between two and three deaths occur per year from people falling over the rim.
I’m not exactly sure why, but I had always pictured Sedona as sand and buttes- that’s it. While it has buttes aplenty, it’s much more lush than I had ever imagined. I would actually consider it as a strange mixture of forest and desert, with a small town eclectic new-age vibe. Go figure. Taking the scenic route through the mountains along Oak Creek, we descended through the canyon into a valley surrounded by towering red rocks. Seated next to be in the back seat of the our truck’s cab, Hideko-san, one of Steve’s two present Japanese aunts, expressed to me how much it felt like a dream.
All being fairly tired, we grabbed sushi at a local restaurant, Takashi, came back to the hotel and parted ways for the evening. Hendricks and I grabbed a free shuttle ride at the hotel front desk and headed to Basha’s for some beer/liquor. Out of cash, we bought our driver an amber ale to tip him for the ride. Back at our hotel, we jumped in the pool for a quick night swim, then returned to our hotel room terrace to share drinks and conversation, gazing up at the sky on a warm near-summer’s night.
Off the I-17 is an 800-year old cliff dwelling named by formerly living natives the Place with Tall Ladders. Euro-Americans would later rename the dwelling Montezuma’s Castle, though it’s A) not a castle and B) not at all related to Montezuma, the Aztec emperor of Mexico who once lived about 1,590 miles south of Sedona. But, might makes right? Or, the weak suffer what they must? …Unjust justifications for ethnocide. But, at least the Place with Tall Ladders remains standing, continuing to impress.
After our glance at the past and ancient living, the five of us hopped into Steve’s truck and headed home for one last day with the aunts before they headed home to Japan. With what little time we had for the whirlwind tour, we definitely managed to get the most out of our visit. Perhaps in the future I will return to ride mules into the canyon, tent camp in the wilderness, ride in a helicopter past eroded mountain faces or raft down the Colorado River. Perhaps not, but this visit has only further sparked my interest in the great outdoors. What’s your favorite wilderness location that you’ve visited?by