Arizona Part One

It’s been a while since we’ve written a travel blog post because, well, it’s been a while since we’ve traveled. This time it’s just me and Linds – and even this trip was far from certain. There have been a lot of reasons NOT to travel just like there were a lot of reasons not to travel back in 2018 before we left for our year-long family adventure. But there are often more reasons just to bite the bullet and do it, get out there, explore – you just don’t know what all those reasons are until you do it.

So, here we go again. I booked our flights to Arizona without running it by Linds first. That’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like that but 1. I wanted to surprise her, and 2. I didn’t want her to talk us out of it. The truth is, with four teenagers in the house, there’s too much going on to enjoy a lot of excited anticipation leading up to our departure on February 27th and I certainly didn’t anticipate writing a blog post, but now that we’re here, we’re back in travel mode and I’m back in the mood to record and share what it’s like to explore Arizona.

By lunchtime of our first full day in Arizona Linds and I agreed that our trip could stop there and we’d be completely content.  For all the reasons we had to be conflicted about booking and embarking on this vacation, everything has gone so well we’re a little worried that the remainder of our week might be a bit of a letdown.  Then again, feeling a little let down in a sunny, warm place where we have no responsibilities other than to seek out great places to eat – could be worse.

OK, there was a minor stumble to start – our flight was delayed by a few hours.  No biggie.  Halfway through the flight, Linds turned to me to let me know that the captain had announced through the entertainment system that we’d have to land in Oklahoma due to a big thunderstorm temporarily.

“Oh, wow.  Never had to do that before.  Well, we have snacks,” I said. Then I popped my earbuds back in, unpaused my podcast and looked out the window for storm clouds.  An hour of clear skies later with no further updates on the storm detour, we pulled up the flight map.  The nice straight line of our path hadn’t changed and we were significantly north of Oklahoma.

When I pointed this out to Linds, she suddenly realized: “Oh my gosh, I was sleeping right before the announcement – I think I dreamt it!”  The woman in the aisle seat ignored us as we laughed our asses off for a few minutes.

Arriving in Phoenix was easy.  Following signs for the Rental Car Centre, we boarded a monorail which took us to an enormous complex where we picked up our Toyota Camry and hit the road for Sedona.  More than 50% of the billboards on our way out of the urban sprawl were for lawyers – clearly big business down here.  The fact that they were garnished with palm trees made it a little less icky.

Driving north, we were soon surrounded by rolling hills of rock, sand, and cacti.  So many cacti!  We marvelled at them like someone from Phoenix might gawk at snowbanks in Ontario.

Two hours later we crested a hill and saw the jaw-dropping red rock spires that Sedona is famous for.  It’s pretty much exactly like the Cars movie.  Mater and Lightning McQueen could drive around the corner at any second.  It’s like a Mount Everest-sized giant with an artistic flair took up sculpting with tan and red clay. 

That picture is taken right outside our hotel in Sedona.  A short walk brought us to Tortas y Fuegos – a “cheap but good” Mexican diner.  We can highly recommend the Chicken Flautas and Enchiladas Suizas – the perfect meal to celebrate our arrival in Arizona and the near-miss Oklahoma emergency landing. Ha ha.

The next morning (yesterday) we were up at 5am and on the road by 5:30, on our way to the northern border of Arizona, a stone’s throw from Utah.  The three hour drive took us up several thousand feet in elevation and, once the sun came up, treated us to a whole new set of landscapes to take in.  It reminded us of our driving tours through Iceland, Ireland, and New Zealand and how much we love exploring new places that way.

So, we got the pleasure of the journey AND the thrill of the destination.  The one thing we booked before leaving Canada was a walking tour of Lower Antelope Canyon.  You might not have heard the name, but you will definitely recognize it from the pictures.  Lower Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon on Navajo land.  Millenia of intermittent flash floods have carved a 50-foot-deep twisted labyrinth in the sandstone.  We went with an early tour to get the best light.  This place is magic.

Our guide, Ben B, was a wealth of information.  The short geological story is that, at one point, all of Arizona was a seabed.  Layers upon layers of sand were compressed, creating sandstone.  Every inch apparently equates to 1000 years.  And, as you can see, there are a lot of inches.  The red hue is from the iron content but sandstone is soft and prone to erosion from wind, rain, and, in the case of Antelope Canyon, floods.  It doesn’t rain much here, but when it does, there isn’t much soil to absorb it.  That means it all runs over the surface to the lowest point and, well, gravity takes over.  Flash floods of varying degrees still happen in the rainy season.  About twenty years ago eleven people died where we were hiking.

Ben told us that the worst part of their job as tour guides is the process of rebuilding the trail after the floods.  After they pump as much water out as they can, the rest has to come out by passing buckets along a human chain. After that, they have to remove all the debris from the canyon and re-grade the whole thing with sand from the surface.  And it all has to be done by hand because the canyon is too deep and narrow for machines.  We’re glad they do.  We’ve seen a lot of things on our travels, but this was up there with Angkor Wat (Cambodia), Pompeii (Italy), and Giant’s Causeway (Ireland) for us.

We were done the tour by lunch and feeling like we’d already won with this trip.  When we got back in the car to head back to Sedona, I pulled up the map and saw that a one or two-hour detour would take us to a little place I’d heard of before – The Grand Canyon!  

“Want to go?” I asked Linds.

“Let’s do it!”

Off we went.  One $35 park entry fee and we were able to drive the Desert View Highway which follows the south side of the canyon.  There are about ten lookouts that you can stop at and fill your phone’s memory capacity with photos that will never ever capture the scale of what you’re seeing.  The Grand Canyon averages about one mile (1.6km) deep and ten miles (16kms) wide.  We’ve all seen big open vistas before, but I think what makes the Grand Canyon so shockingly enormous and challenging to process is that it isn’t just a landscape, it’s a container.  Looking at it, you feel both vast openness and the sense that what you are seeing could be filled with something.  

Already jarred by the spectacle of this natural wonder, Linds jarred me a little more by dancing and posing at the edge.  I’m not sure what she finds more fun, being that close to the edge or my reaction to her being that close to the edge.

Here’s one of ​her more subdued spouse (who is less likely to fall into the canyon)

About two hours later we were back in Sedona, feeling like we’d packed way more than our fair share of amazing experiences into a single day.  The only thing that was missing was a meal; with all our driving and “experiencing” we’d been sustaining ourselves on water and snacks (and a crappy hotdog at the Grand Canyon Village).  Based on Google reviews, we drove across town to “The Hudson” where we split a Kale salad and their Hudson Mushroom Burger, both of which were phenomenal.  We even had dessert – “Eddy’s Peanut Butter Pie”, which was like a giant Reese’s peanut butter cup.  Damn.  Yes, we’re going back tonight.  ​

This spur-of-the-moment trip that almost didn’t happen is reminding us of the joys of exploring again, seeing amazing things, understanding our planet just a smidgen better, and how much we still like just hanging out with each other after twenty-two years no matter where we are.

It also feels good to be writing like this again, so there may be more coming . . .

1 Comment

  1. Both of you needed this trip. Hope you continue enjoying it and writing about it. Enjoyed your writing and pictures.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *