I Am A Big Fan Of Road Trips

This is a guest post from Regina Atwood- her twitter feed is @lovepeacecanoe

I am a big fan of road trips. When one of my best girlfriends agreed to my crazy plan of five days of camping, hiking, and driving through AZ. I was downright ecstatic.

 

Coming fresh off a pharmacy conference in Las Vegas, Amanda flew into Phoenix Airport where I picked her up. We began our road trip by frantically repacking the car and heading to Flagstaff for the night.  We woke up the next morning and headed to the Grand Canyon by way of Cameron, AZ on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

If you have never driven this route to the Grand Canyon or you are deciding which route to take, drive this stretch. It introduces you to a plethora of western scenery. The pinkish blue cliffs in the distance, set behind red rock and soil of the desert make you realize why this land is both destitute and breath taking. Approaching Cameron and beyond, you will see road side stands selling everything from jerky, to jewelry, to Navajo Tacos. I say the only thing worth stopping for is the Taco.

Amanda and I stopped for lunch at a roadside stand gas station-adjacent. I asked the older Navajo woman what consisted of a “Navajo Taco”. The base is a plate size round disc of fried bread, the topping consists of ground beef, pinto beans, lettuce, diced tomatoes and cheese. We sat down and ate this feast on the side of a cold windy road, near the intersection of Rt. 89 and Rt. 64. After finishing off, pretty much the best food ever, we turned on Rt. 64 to finish up the last leg of our drive to the Grand Canyon.

On this stretch you will see more roadside stands and more beautiful scenery. There is a small canyon on a dirt turn off which you will see signs for. Stop and walk around, its a really nice place to stretch your legs.

 

We approached the GCNP at Desert View, you have to drive about 25 miles to reach Grand Canyon Village from this entrance but again the views are much better then taking Rt. 64 through Williams. Grab a map of the park at any desk/lodge/store in the whole village or the grocery store. The map also gives you a schedule of park activities and a shuttle schedule. TAKE THE SHUTTLE, it’s awesome, runs every 15 min or fewer.

Really the park is a lot of fun. Camping in Mather Campground gives you cheap lodging you bring the tent! After bunking in our Big Agnes Emerald Mountain 3P, we had sunrise coffee at El Tovar Lodge, and moseyed on to the shuttle to hike the South Kaibab Trail. You have to take a shuttle to this trailhead but the 2.7 miles offers a moderate hike and big pay off in terms of scenery. You have a good chance of seeing a line of mules bringing up/down supplies from Phantom Ranch, and friendly fellow hikers who are willing to take your picture at “Ohh Ahh” point.

Let’s skip the rest of this excursion and move on to Sedona, AZ….Oh Sedona, vortexes abound and so do weird people who want to tell you about them.

 

In any case we two punch drunk 20 something women drove through Flagstaff, veered right and took 89A, the scenic route, through Oak Creek Canyon. Make sure you have good breaks because although beautiful, this road twists and turns through a gorgeous canyon, dumping you out, tossed and awed into downtown touristy Sedona. We camped at Manzanita Campground, also ridiculously cheap. Prior reservations are necessary. The campground sits right beside Oak Creek, nearly every site is water side and very clean.

 

We had girly-margarita time at Oaxaca Restaurant on Main Street. They have a balcony with a great view, killer margaritas and insanely delicious nachos. The shops in this part of town offer aura readers, all sorts of crystals and some pretty awesome jewelry. You can have a girly shop-gasm for hours and buy absolutely nothing.

 

We returned to our campsite, started a raging fire and laughed about college, talked about our relationships, families and ate marshmallows and deserts shared with us from our neighboring tent sites.

 

Although I have spent probably hundreds of nights outside this was Amanda’s first camping trip. So far we had eaten till we popped, slept in freezing temps and almost peed ourselves laughing driving from town to town. But I diverge.

 

The next day we woke up, made some pretty awesome pancake fruity scramble, and set off to try and find a vortex. After stopping at the The Hike House we decided to hike West Fork Canyon. This hike boasts plenty of stream crossings, beautiful scenery, and ruins of house/barn/ some sort of hotel or something. It’s cool and creepy at the same time. The hike is 6 truly mild miles out and back, we finished around sunset, having decided to go back to Phoenix, and started the drive back to the city.

After spending the evening with my two wild dogs and fiancé, Amanda and I took much-needed showers and ate much-needed hot non-freeze dried food. The next day we set off to Tonto National Monument, a Native American ruin monument with paid guided tours (3$/person reserve in advance) and near total access to archeological sites. These ruins are located near Roosevelt Lake, Apache Lake, Saguaro Lake, the Snake River, and the Apache Trail, a 25-mile dirt road that will make your car cry.

 

The ruins at Tonto National Monument are very cool. There are both upper and lower ruins. The lower being a large dwelling you can see from the parking lot. A Park Ranger takes you on a guided tour to the upper dwellings where they stop often and tell you about flora, fauna and history. Much of the hike is sun exposed. My fiancé, Amanda and I had a great time walking among the ruins and taking pictures. My fiancé Brad is over 6’5”, I am 6’1”, we estimate average height of the Native Americans who built this site to be 5’5”…we bonked our heads more then a few times.

 

Visitors have near total access to the site, where you can still find, over 800 yr old, pottery fragments, cotton string, and roasted corn cobs. Now vultures use the site to roost and safely raise their young, who leave rodent bones everywhere. It’s pretty awesome. If that sort of stuff doesn’t gross you out.  We left the site to head back to Phoenix and decided to take a “short cut”.

 

You can access Tonto National Monument from multiple directions, you can go through Tonto Basin or you can take the Apache Trail through Apache Junction and cut mileage, but not time, off your trip. I suggest doing both which offer completely different scenery.

 

The Apache Trail is nearly all dirt, rocky, and not well maintained: You have been warned. You do have a chance to see beautiful water views, tarantulas, and towering saguaro so really it’s worth it. This also offers you access to Apache Lake, and gorgeous, cheap campsites.

When my fiancé and I moved to Phoenix we did this road in our 2005 Scion XA, our “jelly-bean” as we called it. Before we did the road again we had purchased a 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander, a much better car to explore this road on. It took us well over an hour to complete the road and hit Apache Junction. Leave yourself plenty of time, especially if you don’t have experience driving this type of road. We landed in Phoenix and the next day Amanda left to return to our home state of Maryland.

 

I’m sure you can surmise how our trip went emotionally, you’ve seen the movies, read the books. We weren’t going to go all “Into the Wild” or “On The Road” but we certainly had fun, and were able to shed a bit of the pressures of home for a few days. Arizona can be both lush and desiccated within minutes walking distance; you have to lose yourself for even a few moments to truly appreciate this landscape.

 

In our few day excursions we were snowed on in Flagstaff, experienced icy cold in the Grand Canyon, had warmer days in Sedona, and got a tan in Tonto National Forest. Two girls conquered a chunk of the Wild West and ate tons of marshmallows doing it.

 

 

 

 

 

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