2,500 Miles, Four States, Four National Parks
Upon landing in Phoenix, our road trip was officially underway. After working together in Alaska for the summer, my friend Liz and I met back up in Arizona to do some exploring. Being the planner that I am, I prepared for the trip by doing lots of research and creating a color-coded Google Map marking the route. Being the non-planner that she is, Liz kicked back with a beer and arrived fashionably late. But we made a nice team. And when we finally arrived, we were both ready to camp under the stars and check out some of the lovely naturaleza housed in the Southwest, including several National Parks.
Day 1: Phoenix
Following the internet’s suggestion, we set up camp in Peralta Canyon for the night. It is about an hour outside of Phoenix and filled with cacti, tumbleweeds, and dust – meaning that our brand new rental car (which only had 7 miles on it when we picked it up) was promptly filthy and covered in a film of desert particles. Despite the stars and almost full moon, it was quite dark.
But that just made waking up in the desert that much better.
We decided to start our trip off with a bang – skydiving. It was a big item on both of our bucket lists and we were filled with nervous excitement as we made our way to the skydive center. On the drive over, we passed through the desert and watched other skydivers parachute to the ground up ahead. Once we got into the plane it happened so quickly – we geared up, got in hopped in, and glided above the shrub-covered mountains. Ten minutes later, the door opened, and out we went – it felt like we were floating. Once the parachute was open, I took off my goggles and my nose ring immediately fell off inside. Having no free hands, I popped it into my mouth while I steered the parachute and learned some cool tricks. I couldn’t believe how quickly it was over, or how amazingly fun it was. Mark my words…there will be more dives in my future.
Once the adrenaline died down, we went back downtown and spent a few hours at the Arizona State Fair soaking up the sunshine and the amazing people watching. Who knew so many things could come deep fried and wrapped in bacon? Or that the poop-emoji turned into a hat would be such a hit? Apparently the Arizona carnies did. When we hit the point of sensory overload…we packed it in and headed to Sedona for the night.
Day 2: Sedona to Page
We didn’t realize how soon the altitude would kick in – gone were the warm Phoenix nights, 100 F days, and the cacti. Instead, we were surrounded by brisk, fall weather, beautiful red rocks and coniferous trees. Sedona was where we started two recurring phrases of the trip: “Wow, I didn’t expect it to be this cold!” and “Wow, I didn’t expect the altitude to be this high!” But it was gorgeous. After a little exploration, we hopped onto the scenic route up to Page, traveling along precarious cliffs with amazing views.
Page was the city which spurred the entire road trip – I signed up for a half marathon in Lake Powell National Park, part of the National Parks Anniversary series, which was taking place the following day. I was really looking forward to checking out the beautiful views and beating my time. After checking in for the race, we drove over to Horseshoe Bend to watch the sunset. It was really gorgeous, but unfortunately about 500 other people had the exact same idea. Even a bride and groom were taking wedding photos along the edge. After escaping the crowds and grabbing some dinner, we headed back to Lake Powell and camped out at Lone Rock on the beach.
Day 3: Page to Monument Valley
This was it: D-Day. Liz was volunteering at the finish line while I ran, so we both got an early start. After a gorgeous sunrise and lots of waiting for the race to begin, it was finally time to run. I quickly discovered that I was not yet acclimated to the altitude…apparently living at sea level for the past six months hasn’t done me any favors. And I was extremely distracted by the gorgeous views along the way. After about five miles, I decided I would prefer to enjoy the scenery and take pictures along the way instead of hitting my time goal. My runner/photographer combo got me to the finish line in 2 hours and 30 minutes instead of my goal of 2:10…but I really enjoyed the course and the stunning views. Added bonus: I wasn’t even sore the next day.
Afterwards, we got out of town reallllly quickly – the tiny town of Page was over-saturated with the 2,200 runners and all of their respective families, so it wasn’t a hard decision to hop back on the road and head out to Monument Valley.
Day 4: Monument Valley to Moab
We passed through Monument Valley just as the sun was setting – we even pulled off of the road to wait for the glare to subside…it was intense. Monument Valley is solidly inside Navajo Nation, meaning no off-the-path exploring. There wasn’t really much around, so after taking lots of rock pictures we decided to grab some groceries and beers and hang out at our campsite. An hour and 20 minutes later, we were back with groceries from the nearest store, and with the knowledge that Navajo Nation is dry. Good to know. The man running the campsite was just as disappointed as we were when we came back without booze – apparently he saw tourists and had plans for a party. So…maybe it was for the better 🙂
The next morning, I witnessed the most amazing sunrise that I’ve ever seen – the clouds were simply stunning. Liz slept through sunrise because she had been awake the entire night fearing a potential coyote encounter. She huddled in her sleeping bag with her knitting needles ready to attack. But…she managed to catch some shut eye before we headed out to visit Four Corners. We stopped to check out Mexican Hat along the way – it really does look like a guy in a sombrero. Pretty cool.
Next stop: Four Corners. Who says you can’t be in more than one place at once? We took a brief tour of the site and hopped back into the car towards Moab, Utah. The past two days, we bounced back and forth across the Arizona and Utah border (it cut through Lake Powell and Monument Valley) so it was nice to be in only one time zone. Arizona doesn’t participate in daylight savings time, meaning that we were an hour different each time we crossed the boarder.
Moab is a cute little adventure-ready town which acts as a gateway to Arches National Park. After a some fun long-exposure photography and a little exploration, we found the perfect campsite. But our plan of camping in Arches was dashed by the wind – the 60 MPH gusts blew me right off of my inflatable sleeping mat and filled all of our possessions with sand. We eventually sought out refuge and slept in the car, which shook like an airplane going through turbulence for the entire night.
Day 5: Moab to Page
We got up early and semi-rested to go hike up to Delicate Arch, which was listed as the best sunrise spot in the park. It is also the picturesque arch on the Utah license plate. We drowsily joined the parade of tourists with DSLR cameras and tripods climbing up the rocks. To our dismay, the wind was even worse on this side – when we got up to the top, we were almost knocked over. It felt as if we were sitting in a skydiving training center…which is not a good place to be when you’re sitting on top of a cliff. After each snapping a photo and tying our hoods tighter, we looked at each other and quickly decided that the sunrise wasn’t worth the miserable wind and quickly headed back down to the refuge of the lower altitude and canyon walls. Plenty of other arches to see in the park. We spent a little more time exploring and then took off to Bryce Canyon National Park.
It was about a five hour drive, so we were quite excited when we came into Dixie National Forest and found some scenic points to stretch our legs. The Red Canyon inside the National Forest was one of the highlights of our trip; we spent a good chunk of time climbing the red hills and exploring the cliffs. The beautiful contrast between the rocks, the blue sky and the green trees was simply stunning.
After some more exploration in Bryce Canyon National Park, we were back on the road.
Google Maps had told us that it was only a 20 minute drive to our next stop, which ended up being completely untrue. 2.5 hours later, we ended up back in Page to camp at our lovely Lone Rock beach in Lake Powell. It was wind-free and lovely, and we both got a good night’s sleep.
Day 6: Page to The Grand Canyon
After more Google Maps confusion, we ended up having to skip our visit to the Grand Staircase National Monument. I was sad, but I quickly got over it because today was finally the day we were headed to the Grand Canyon. We were planning to go to the South Rim, but a guy in Page gushed about how great the North Rim was and even printed us a map. We had seen signs for both the North and South Rim on our initial drive, so we figured we could hit both. We excitedly drove off through beautiful country in search of one of the World’s Seven Wonders.
Today’s lesson: Despite the fact that they’re both inside the Grand Canyon National Park, there’s no road between the North and South Rim…they’re about 5 hours apart. So after driving about 3 hours to get there, we backtracked our route about 2.5 hours to get back to the highway. Essentially, it was a 5 hour detour for a 20 minute walk, but it was uncrowded and beautiful so it was totally worth it.
In addition, we got up close and personal with a few herds of deer…and an extremely perturbed park ranger who was not pleased about our proximity to the animals. There were about six other cars in front of us which had pulled off of the road to take pictures. After a few screams and an angry march in our direction, we joined the rest of the fleeing tourists and escaped in our car before she could catch us…but not before we got a few nice pics of Bambi’s friends.
We couldn’t quite make it all the way to the South Rim that night…sleep was catching up. We stopped and camped for the night outside of Flagstaff. We ended up sleeping in the car again because we could hear coyotes howling and yipping nearby – we were too afraid to sleep outside. Because of the coyotes and the chilly 40 F weather, this was the only night we didn’t get a picture of our camping spot.
Day 7: The Grand Canyon to Phoenix
Finally, we were headed into the Grand Canyon South Rim. After overcoming some major traffic – we arrived at National Park number four. And Oh My God…it was gorgeous. I couldn’t believe that the Colorado River created that entire canyon – it is amazing to think about. Our initial plan of hiking down into the canyon for the night didn’t quite pan out. Instead we spent the day hiking around the park, even seeing some herds of deer and elk along the way which we photographed in peace. When we grew cold and tired, we headed down to our favorite camping spot in Peralta Canyon outside of Phoenix, ready for the lower altitude and warmer weather.
Day 8: Phoenix
Final day. After spending the morning at a cafe to organize our lives and prepare for the next stages of our respective trips, we headed out to Papago State Park to hang out in rock holes among cacti and palm trees. And there was a picturesque lake I could dip my feet in while we hung out in the shade, because we finally found the heat – it was 100 F in the shade. Ahhh…exactly how I like it. I am certainly ready for Mexico – bring on the sunshine.
All in all it was pretty amazing. And, I found so many more places that I either want to visit for the first time, or places that I want to revisit and better explore. Eight days isn’t a lot of time, but it was a fun and fantastic taste of what the Southwest has to offer. I cannot wait to return. But now…off to Mexico! The next post will be coming to you from Tulum.