Monday, February 06, 2023

3 Days in Arizona: 3 Seasons in 3 Hours (Drive)

With the COVID-19 restrictions now behind us, it is time to dust off our backpacks, and head out into the world again!  

Last weekend, we have decided to do a quick trip to Arizona, to enjoy the much-needed warmth. Since Sedona and Grand Canyon are only a short drive from Phoenix, which is serviced by direct flight from Canada, we have planned to spend a day exploring each. This quick excursion exceeded all expectations, and I felt that others will benefit from our 3-day itinerary in Arizona.

After spending the first night in Phoenix, we rented a car and drove to Sedona Desert. Sedona is only an hour or so away from Phoenix, and it is a beautiful and easy drive. While Phoenix treated us to a balmy 18C, the temperatures were climbing down as we were climbing (driving) up nearer to Sedona. Our first stop was Bell Rock Vista, where we planned to hike/climb up the Bell Rock and walk around the Courthouse Butte. After paying 5 USD for the daily parking, which is valid for other Red Rock Country trails, we headed up. 

The climb up Bell Rock was somewhat tricky as we did not bring proper highking shoes, and the melting snow (yes! snow in the desert!) made the rock a little slippery.
The trail around the Courthouse Butte is easy to follow and has some of the best views! As we walked by, there were many people who were meditating, praying, etc. Not surprising, as the energy around the Bell Rock, which has a number of healing vortexes drawing people from all over the world, is out of this world (pun intended)! 

While the walk is not challenging, it takes about two and a half to three hours to complete. Even though the temperatures were very comfortable - around 12C, it was clear skies and the sun was beating down mercilessly! It is important to have enough water, and drink often! Plus, we took a few packs of dry fruits and nuts, which were very handy.
After completing the loop around the Courthouse Butte, we headed to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It is a chapel located atop the red rock buttes, which has incredible views of the Sedona area. We were lucky to arrive during the service and enjoyed the spiritual singing and the scenery.
The town of Sedona has many options to eat and drink, and is very pleasant to walk around for an hour or so. As the evening was drawing in, we had to leave this stunning place, and drive to Flagstaff where we planned to stay overnight. The 89A highway takes you through Coconino National Forest and is absolutely beautiful. With better planning, we could have stopped at Slide Rock State Park, but alas, it was getting dark.

After having a fix of tacos and margaritas at Salsa Brava (highly recommended to make reservations!) on the famous Route 66, and a good night's sleep and hearty breakfast in Country Inn by Radisson, we headed to Grand Canyon. Coming here in winter gives it a different vibe!  Maybe it is the snow-covered tree tops and the cliffs, or maybe it is the lack of crowds, or maybe it is the French onion soup after a high at the legendary El Tovar hotel. Regardless of what it is, it was magical!
The Grand Canyon park provides a number of options for hiking, climbing, canyoning, backcountry camping, snow-shooing, eating, drinking, shopping, lodging, etc. It is possible to explore the pack using your own car, however, the park operates free shuttle buses that are clean, heated, and run very frequently (plus, reduce CO2 emission). The entry fee of 35 USD is valid for a week, and there are unquestionably enough activities. There are numerous signs that suggest 2-hour, half-day, full-day, and multiple-day itineraries, or the park rangers can suggest a customized plan.

We have decided to follow the suggested half-day itinerary, have a meal at the legendary El Tovar hotel dining room, explore the village, and head back afterward. With temperatures barely above 0C and 5ft of snow a few days before, the less traveled trails were covered with snow and ice. It made the experience even more spectacular!

The original plan was to return to Flagstaff for the overnight stay, but we wanted to soak up the heat before heading back. Therefore, the decision was to change the hotel reservations and drive straight to Phoenix. On the way, we stopped at Valle Luna for another "fix" of good quality Mexican food.

On the last day, we wanted to see as many cactuses as we humanly could, and South Mountain Park and Preserve aaa