Grand Canyon Road Trip

“Do nothing to mar its grandeur, for the ages have been at work upon it and man cannot improve it. Keep it for your children, your children’s children and all who come after you.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

My husband, Adam, and I woke up to a chilly morning in Flagstaff. The Grand Canyon was our destination and we both were eager with anticipation to get on the road headed north, but first we needed breakfast. And coffee.

We enjoyed La Quinta’s continental breakfast then packed up and hit the road. After a few wrong turns, from lack of solid navigation skills on my part, we found the start of our route on 180 N. We were only 80 miles from one of the few named natural Wonders of the World.

The drive was less than exciting, as the landscape left much to yearn for. Scarce trees and scrub brush were all the eye could see. I searched hard, hoping for a glimpse of the canyon, but it remained elusive.

The Grand Canyon National Park is very easy to navigate. We pulled through the tolls to pay our $25 entry fee (the pass is good for a week) and parked in a well equipped parking lot. At this point I had yet to see a sneak preview of the canyon. I thought “it must not be too grand if I can’t even find it!”. I was wrong. We headed down a walking trail that sounded promising and came face to face with the huge, magnificent Grand Canyon.

I stood in awe. My first words were

“holy…canyon…”

I had seen photos, I had heard stories of its beauty, but until I stood at its edge, I never understood the true grandeur of The Grand Canyon. We hiked along the rim and took time for both gazing and contemplation. The true reason for the canyon’s existence is somewhat of a mystery, and I find that intriguing. Every twist and turn along the path revealed a new perspective. It seemed to go on forever. If I didn’t know better, I would think that beyond the canyon’s rim lays the edge of the world.

Aside from just phenomenal views, Grand Canyon National Park offers visitors a welcoming experience. Lodging, restaurants, shops, and tourist information were all readily available and accessible. Shuttles loop around the park taking visitors to all amenities and to hiking trails not accessible by car. We utilized the park’s shuttles to take us to the west side of the south rim and to lunch at the Maswik Lodge Cafeteria. Many of the park’s restaurants, including the cafeteria, offer great gluten free options.

We spent the night with friends of ours from Scottsdale at Mather Campground. I was apprehensive about tent camping in October (the forecast was 30 degrees overnight) yet I have no regrets as the experience was priceless. The facilities were immaculate and the campsites were beautiful. We camped quite comfortably thanks to our friends who turned out to be professional campers. They packed and planned for all things camping and even pitched our tent for us. All we had to bring was wood for the fire and a bottle of whisky, both of which kept us warm through the cold night.

Grand Canyon National Park had been on our “must see” list for years and was well worth the wait. The views were unbelievable and I felt energized by the pure grandeur of the canyon. The true greatness of the Grand Canyon cannot be described with words or comprehended from a photo. I feel lucky to have access to the beauty of the Grand Canyon, and all of our National Parks. I hope to revisit the canyon again.

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Exploring Flagstaff

In September my husband and I began planning an idyllic week long trip to Hawaii. As we grew more realistic, our trip quickly evolved to a 3 day trip through northern Arizona. Not as cool as Hawaii.

None the less, I was still very excited to have time away from home. We started our trip in Flagstaff, AZ, which is a college/mountain/ski resort town between Phoenix-Metro and The Grand Canyon, our final destination. I booked a room at La Quinta because we had rewards points to cover most of the cost. We frequent La Quinta because dogs stay free (even though Sunny did not accompany us on this trip) and the morning breakfast has a decent selection for gluten-free needs (hard boiled egg, yogurt, apple, perfect). I then planned a simple itinerary that allowed us to taste local, yet semi-famous, foods, and explore the historic downtown.

I found Brandy’s Restaurant by doing a search for gluten-free friendly restaurants in Flagstaff. We decided to check it out because Guy Fieri featured it on his show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. One of our favorites. The food was fresh and tasty and the restaurant had a great small town vibe.  We shared a Cafe Aloha, which is espresso with coconut milk and whipped cream. It was delicious and momentarily satisfied our appetite for Hawaii. After lunch we shared our adventure plans with some locals and they filled us in on a short-cut to The Grand Canyon. Good food, good directions.

With full bellies we drove into downtown Flagstaff to walk off our lunch and explore local shops. As we walked the streets I marveled at the unique architecture of the historic building. We strolled through a gourmet kitchen store and a well stocked sporting good store, but my favorite stop was at Winter Sun Trading Company. It was a funky shop filled with safe beauty products, herbal remedies and local art. I snatched up truly all-natural lip balm, sun screen and a cocunut face wash (my second attempt to bring a taste of HI to our Flagstaff trip) and Adam picked up yerba mate tea, his new addiction.  With our local treasured collected, we headed to the hotel to rest before dinner. Our dinner plans were set for Beaver Street Brewery. They featured a full gf menu for me and local beer for my WI husband. The evening air was cool and crisp as we walked into the brewpub. We grabbed a seat at the bar and watched the Green Bay Packers dominate the Houston Texans. The evening coddled us with many comforts of our midwest home.

The bartender informed me that they worked with the local Celiac Support Group to create their gf menu. The food selection was abundant and I appreciated their sincere efforts to make safe food for Celiacs. We devoured beer, pizza, burgers, and chicken pot pie (not gf). Perfect food for a Sunday Night Football game on a chilly night.

We ended the evening in our cozy room with a nightcap of whisky in plastic hotel cups. Our Grand Canyon adventure was to begin bright and early and we both needed a good night’s sleep. I drifted off, satisfied with the day’s tastes, sights, and treasures.

Hiking the Sunrise Trail

On most Sunday mornings I wake up ready for an adventure. I’m a die-hard morning person so I’m up at sunrise, hungry for excitement and breakfast. In our first few months as Scottsdalians (is that the right name?) my husband, Adam, and I explored new hiking trails every weekend. We hiked Camelback, Pinnacle Peak, Piestewa Peak, Lost Dog Trail, and the McDowell Sonoran Preserve (to learn more check out PHX Trail Dude’s Blog). In our journey to find great hikes we came across a hidden gem, named the Sunrise Trail.

On our first trip there I was skeptical that I would like it.  I didn’t like Lost Dog Trail and according to the map, Sunrise connected to Lost Dog. We pulled into the tiny parking lot and easily found a spot. The trailhead was well maintained and featured running water, recycling and trash cans, and doggy clean-up stations. There was even an equestrian parking lot and trail (something I will never have a need for due to my fear of horses). We got out of our trusty SUV and headed for the trail. I was already losing my skepticism.

I love hiking for two reasons, the workout and the scenic views. On the hike we faced steep inclines in some spots and leisurely jaunts in others. The trail was a rusty-red color that contrasted beautifully with the green cacti that surrounded us. As we climed we were rewarded with views of the valley down below. This trail seemed to know my desires and knew how to deliver. We climbed on as the temperature became noticably cooler. We had exceeding expecations to make it to the top, but when we faced the steep incline of the last leg of the hike, we were satisfied to turn around. The trip down gave me opportunity to enjoy the view from a new angle and I appreciated what I could see. We exited the trail and both agreed to return.

We still hike on most weekends and we made good on our promise to return to the Sunrise Trail. We have even brought another hiker with us a few times, our dog Sunny. It’s a great trail for dogs because it’s not too busy and the trail, at most points, is wide enough to comfortably pass other hikers.

Arizona offers amazing hiking experiences and many trails are located in the Phoenix-Metro Area. Questions about where to hike? Just ask me!