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Arizona Road Trip

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…

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People travel from all over the world to see this “hole in the ground.” Now I understand why.
Wild elk roam free throughout the national park.
Wild elk roam freely throughout the national park, eating and eating and eating.
Sunset in the west. I see the earth still rotates counter-clockwise on its axis, even in state that's a little backwards. No offense, Arizonans.
Sunset in the west. I see the earth still rotates counter-clockwise on its axis, even in a state that’s a little backwards. No offense, Arizonans.
Hendricks pointing out that it's a very long way down.
Hendricks pointing out that it’s a very long way down.

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.

At 5:14 a.m., the sun peaked over the northern ridge of the canyon.
At 5:14 a.m., the sun peaked over the northern ridge of the canyon. Everything is so quiet here, uninterrupted by human activity.
I'm most definitely not a morning person, but I couldn't miss the chance to see the sunrise in one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
I’m most definitely not a morning person, but I couldn’t miss the chance to see the sunrise in one of the most beautiful environmental settings¬†I had ever seen.
There's something very special about soaking in the world's beauty with your best friend and person you love.
There’s something very special about soaking in the world’s beauty with your best friend and person you love.
A little post-breakfast father and son photo on the south rim walkway.
A little post-breakfast father and son photo on the south rim walkway. Aunt Hideko and Aunt Keiko had gone back to sleep after the sunrise. We were all operating on 4 hours of sleep or less.
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.

Hail to the guardians of the watchtower of the west. Hear us.
Hail to the guardian of the watchtower of the west. Hear us.
The view looking northeast through one of the windows from the highest floor of the watchtower.
The view looking northeast through one of the windows from the highest floor of the watchtower.
Sedona

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.

Steve's aunts, Steve and Hendricks after our arrival, on the terrace of our hotel in Sedona.
Steve’s aunts, Steve and Hendricks after our arrival, on the terrace of our hotel in Sedona. Kawaii!

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.

Complimentary breakfast is served at the Best Western in Sedona, and rather than dining inside, they give you paper plates so you can eat your pancakes from your room. And, this is the view!
Complimentary breakfast is served at the Best Western in Sedona, and rather than dining inside, they provide paper plates and disposable coffee cups so you can eat your pancakes from your hotel room terrace and gawk amorously at the mountains.
Driving to the airport in Sedona will land you on top of a mesa with this stunning lookout toward Oak Creek and Wilson Mountain.
Driving to the airport in Sedona will land you on top of a mesa with this stunning lookout toward Oak Creek and Wilson Mountain.
Montezuma’s Castle

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.

On a little nature walk along the base of the cliff dwelling.
On a little nature walk along the base of the cliff dwelling.
A closer view of the 20-room apartment structure. Evidently, the dwelling offers quite a nice view of a nearby creek and of potential invaders.
A closer view of the 20-room apartment structure. Evidently, the dwelling offers quite a nice view of a nearby creek and of potential invaders- just pull up your ladders, and you’re good to go. High ground wins out any day.

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?

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3 thoughts on “Arizona Road Trip

  1. Wow, what a big trip! It seemed indeed like a whirlwind adventure. I loved reliving my US adventures from last October through your story. Went to Sedona and Grand Canyon as well. Lovely photos!

  2. I love the images throughout this post. Especially the one with the sun over the red rocks. I’m planning a trip there this year. I’ll definitely be putting The Place With The Ladders on my list. Thanks for the tip.

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