Traci and I were originally supposed to take this trip as a long weekend in September to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Our goal was to see the Grand Canyon. However, in the wake of the terror attacks of September 11th, there was still a lot of uncertainty as the airlines worked to put new security procedures in place. Therefore, we decided to postpone the this trip until November. Fortunately, American Airlines was allowing people to postpone their flights until as late as November 15 free of charge. It turned out early November is a great time to visit Arizona. The weather was beautiful.
Traci and I decided to celebrate our wedding anniversary by spending a long weekend in Arizona. We were interested in seeing the Grand Canyon.
We flew to Phoenix from Baltimore instead of flying from Philadelphia. This allowed us to save almost $300 per ticket! We had a 6:30 a.m. flight. Even though almost 2 months had passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was still recommended that passengers arrive 3 - 4 hours before their departure time. We got to the airport at 3:30 a.m. and stood in line for pretty much the whole 3 hours before the departure. No one seemed to complain, though. Given the horror we all witnessed 2 months ago, I think many people were glad to see the extra security measures.
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon runs along Northern Arizona. Phoenix is approximately 200 miles south of the canyon. Flying into Flagstaff, Arizona would have put us closer to the canyon; however, it is more expensive to fly there. We decided to rent a car in Phoenix and make the 2 hour drive north to Flagstaff, stopping in pictureque Sedona along the way. From Flagstaff, we would take a day tour of the south rim of the Grand Canyon, which is 80 miles from Flagstaff.
We landed in Phoenix around 11 a.m.. It was a sunny day with temperatures in the low 90's - in November! We had ordered a mid-sized 4-cylinder car. The lady at the counter seemed to be pressuring us to upgrade to a 6-cylinder car. She told us that we would need to turn the air condition off when driving uphill to avoid having the engine overheating. She said this would not be an issue if we got the 6-cylinder. Despite the sales pitch, we kept our 4-cylinder and headed north to Flagstaff.
We took Interstate 17 North towards Flagstaff. It was fascinating to see the tall cacti as we were traveling along the highway. We started to drive uphill and I began to think about the sales pitch the lady at the rental car counter gave us about turning off the air condition. Just then, I saw a sign that warned drivers to turn off their air condition before driving up the hill. Okay, maybe the lady was concerned about us and not just trying to make the company a few extra bucks. Anyway, I obeyed the signs and we had no problem making it up the hills.
We arrived in Sedona around 4 p.m.. We could see the huge red rock formations as we approached. It looked just like the scenery we've seen in countless car commercials, westerns, science fiction movies, and cartoons. The temperature was in the 70s here and the scenery was majestic. The first thing I noticed when we stepped out of the car at the visitor's center was how clean the air was. It's something, I can't really describe. You just have to experience it.
Visiting Arizona in November has it's positives and negatives. The positive is that there is no oppressive heat during this time of year. The negative is that the sun starts to set around 6 p.m.. This limited our site seeing time - especially since we arrived there around 4 p.m..
We asked the lady in the vistor center what we could see in an hour and a half. She told us to visit the Chapel Of The Holy Cross and then head to a scenic overlook to watch the sun go down. We found our way up to the church which was built into the red rocks by Marguerite Brunwige. It had already closed to visitors so we had to content ourselved with peering through the glass doors. We were up high enough that we were able get some panoramic views of the Sedona scenery. As the sun began to set over the rugged landscape. We headed to back to the car and set off to Flagstaff. We decided we would stop through Sedona again on our way back to Phoenix.
red rocks of Sedona
Chapel Of The Holy Cross
We rode by several souvenir shops as we were leaving Sedona, but it was getting dark and I still had to find my way to our hotel in Flagstaff. The road out of Sedona was very twisted and full of curves. To make matters worse, it was two lanes (single lane in each direction) and very dark! All the time, we were steadily climbing. I pulled over when I could to let the occasional speed demons who were familiar with the area pass me. For the most of the trip, however, I felt like Traci and I were in the only ones on the road. I take that back. I felt like I was the only one on the road. Traci was sound asleep through this whole crooked ride. After, about 45 minutes on this spaghetti maze, we emerged near Flagstaff on Interstate 17 once again. The ironic thing about the drive was that we came back this way during daylight on our return trip to Phoenix only to discover we were riding through a beautiful, lush, green canyon. The green was a sharp contrast between the landscape in Sedona which was pretty much yellowish, pale green desert vegetation accented by towering red rocks.
We arrived in Flagstaff around 8 in the evening. It was already dark and there was a bit of a chill in the air. We checked into our hotel, the Hampton Inn, and then called the tour company we had selected from our AAA Trip Tik booklet to schedule a tour the Grand Canyon. We had called Grey Line Tours a few weeks ago but they told us we could schedule the tour when we arrived in Flagstaff and they would pick us up and drop us off at our hotel. Unfortunately, no one answered the phone when we called from Flagstaff. We checked with the lady at the front desk of the hotel to find out if she was familiar with Grey Line. She informed us that Grey Line had gone out of business the day before. Yikes! I could always make the one and a half drive to the Grand Canyon and explore it on our own, but Traci and I had only allowed a day to look at this natural wonder which stretches across 3 states. I was hoping to go on a tour that could point out some highlights in our limited time.
Fortunately, the staff at Hampton Inn were very friendly and helpful. The lady at the front desk said she might know some tour companies that could help us out. She said she would make some calls and get back to us later that evening or early the next day. By the time Traci and I returned from dinner, the lady had found two tour companies that would be conducting Grand Canyon tours while we were staying in Flagstaff. We chose a company and she made the reservations for us. It was Thursday evening, our tour was booked for Saturday. This gave us Friday to do some exploring on our own.
We got an early start on Friday. My goal was to see Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forest, and the Painted Desert. All of these sites were reachable by traveling Interstate 40 East from Flagstaff.
We stopped by the front desk of our hotel to verify directions and drive times. The lady at the desk gave us a good map and recommended we add Walnut Canyon to our itinerary. It turned out to be a great recommendation. In addition to this she recommended a great breakfast diner called Mike and Rhonda's. It is located in the shopping center next to the hotel. If you like great breakfast food, excellent service, and reasonable prices, I suggest you visit Mike and Rhonda's. We ended up eating breakfast there on Friday and Sunday. Both days were crowded but we never had to wait longer than 10 minutes to be seated.
After breakfast, we headed east on Interstate 40 and made our first stop at Walnut Canyon. We spent about an hour here. The canyon is no where near as big as the Grand Canyon, but it is much greener. There were over 100 steps that lead down to the cliff dwelling ruins of the Sinagua Indians. The ruins were fascinating to look at. However, the real fun began for Traci and me as we started to walk back up the steps to the visitor center. We didn't realize that Flagstaff is almost 7000 feet above sea level. This meant the air was much thinner than the air we are used to breathing on the east coast. Traci and I would walk up a few steps and then feel totally exhausted. I measured my pulse at 180 bpm at one point. It looked like the visitor center was getting further and further away. We eventually made it to the top huffing and puffing. We had a ball.
Sinagua Indian cliff dwellings
Our next stop was Meteor Crater. This is the crater that was caused by a meteorite that slammed into the earth 49,000 years ago. I have always had an interest in astronomy. So, the opportunity to see a crater seemed like a real treat to me. Well, the novelty quickly wore off when we got there. We paid $10 per person to look at this hole in the ground. I'm not sure what else I was hoping to see, but it is what it is. Of course, there was a souvenir shop and a small museum. You could even sign up for the 3-mile perimiter tour of the crater. Traci and I did not sign up for any tours. We took a few pictures/video footage of the hole and then headed back to the car.
After a seemingly endless drive on I-40 and then former Route 66 through some small towns, we eventually arrived at our final stop for the day, the Petrified Forest. The Petrified Forest is a desert that contains petrified wood left over from the Mesozoic era 225 million years ago when the desert was a lush forest. We arrived there close to 4 p.m.. Unfortunately, the sun would set by 5:30. This did not leave us much time to explore the various stop off points along the 13 mile road through the desert. There was petrified wood of all sizes. For anyone thinking about taking a piece of petrified wood home as a souvenir, think again. It is against the law to remove any petrified wood from the park. The rangers will search your vehicle as you leave the park. The thing I will remember most about the Petrified Forest is the silence. This was the first time I have ever experienced this level of quiet outdoors. It was like I was wearing ear plugs. As the sun began to set, the scene started to get a little eerie. There were no other cars or people around at this point - just miles of desert and dead silence. Near the end of the park, we got a glimpse of the Painted Desert before it got totally dark. The colors were surreal. This relaxing view was the perfect end to a day of sightseeing. We got in the car and made the two hour drive back to Flagstaff.
rock formations in the Petrified Forest
Our tour guide picked us up from our hotel early Saturday morning as scheduled. He stopped at a few other hotels along the way to pick up the rest of the tour group. All together there were nine of us in the van including the driver/tour guide. Our tour consisted of a six hour tour of the south rim of the Grand Canyon and lunch.
As we entered Grand Canyon National Park all we saw were trees - no sign of the canyon. Then, suddenly, through a clearing in the trees, we got our first glimpse. It's really hard to describe how big and majestic this canyon is. Everyone in the van just said, "Wow" under their breath and then got silent. The tour guide drove us to our first overlook area. Each area had a name but I can't remember any of them. We got out of the van and stood their trying to take in the vastness of the humongous canyon.
Traci observing the canyon
One thing that caught my attention is that there are very few guard rails around the canyon. A person can easily fall over the edge and experience a 5000 foot freefall! Our guide said that someone falls over the edge about ever 2.5 weeks. After watching some of the other tourists in the area, I'm almost surprised accidents don't happen more often. I watched a guy walk out on a very narrow ledge and pose for a picture. One slip in either direction and this kid was history.
We spent the rest of the day riding from one scenic overlook to another. We stopped at a 70-foot stone watchtower. Inside, the walls were painted with replicas of Hopi Indian drawings. For $2, you could climb the stairs to the top of this structure. Traci and I made the climb but the thin air had us exhausted by the time we reached the top. Later we had lunch at a picnic area away from the canyon. There were ruins of a Hopi Indian village available to explore. After lunch, we saw a little more of the canyon before heading back to our hotels. I had finally seen the Grand Canyon!
We got up Sunday and had another fabulous breakfast a Mike and Rhonda's before heading to Phoenix. We stopped in Sedona again as we made our way south. While in Sedona, we marvelled at the red rock formations and browsed the souvenir shops.
Eventually we arrived in the Phonix area. We had reservations to stay at the Wig Wam Resort in Litchfied, AZ about 10 miles outside of Phoenix. The resort offers a huge discount (around 75% during my visit) to employees of my company. I had told the hotel staff that Traci and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary. Therefore, we were upgraded to a suite. A very nice suite I must add. It had a nice balcony, a huge bedroom, dining room, living room, a huge master bathroom with a big Jacuzzi tub and suana, terry cloth robes, and so much more. The resort had a golf course, several restaurants, several pools, a tennis court, work out facilities, and a whole list of amenities. If I had known the resort was offering so much, I would have booked another day.
Traci and I explored the property and went to dinner at the club house restaurant. The cool thing about the Wig Wam Resort is that the staff will pick you up in a golf cart and chauffeur you anywhere you wish to go on the campus. They will even offer you a ride if they see you walking. The Wig Wam staff made us feel like royalty. We chose to eat outside on the patio area of the restaurant. It was such a nice evening. Towards the end of our meal; however, it began to rain. Yes, rain in the desert!
Traci and I did a little more exploring after dinner and then headed back to our suite. We caught the last few innings of the last game of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the NY Yankees. Arizona won. We watched the celebration on TV. I thought I would be able to see fireworks or hear car horns from our balcony. However, I guess we were too far away from the excitement. There was just the tranquility of the Wig Wam Resort. We didn't complain though. We just sat back, enjoyed the luxury, and reflected on our trip that was coming to an end.
The next day, Traci and I checked out of the resort and headed to the airport. Expecting long check in and security lines, we got there 2.5 hours before our flight. However, it only took us 20 minutes to go through the process this time. We strolled through the airport for a little while and then boarded our flight home. And so ended our Arizona getaway. Main Page...
Magnet Purchased on this Trip: (click to enlarge)Entire fridge magnet collection...