Thanks everyone for all of your help and advice. It was a really wonderfull trip and I hope this report helps someone else! Sorry for the length and any typos.
Arrived at PHX and picked up the rental car. Everything went very smoothly despite what I heard about the rental car center at the airport. We headed on 17N towards Sedona and immediately hit bumper to bumper traffic! Obviously everyone was heading north to escape the heat of Phoenix. Stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up a Styrofoam cooler and supplies and got back on 17. Luckily the traffic had disappeared. We were planning on stopping at Montezuma’s castle, but there was a storm and we decided to go straight to Sedona. We checked in to the Days Inn in West Sedona. What a nice hotel for the price! This was the cheapest hotel that we stayed in on the trip, and probably the best value in Sedona! Clean, nice bed, and great view! We unpacked and since it was still kind of stormy looking, headed out for a short drive around the Red Rock loop. Had dinner at Relics (used to be Rainbow’s End), and had very good ribs.
What a beautiful day! Put the top down on the convertible and headed to Tuzigoot, an ancient Sinagua pueblo. The pueblo was interesting but I really liked the indoor museum that had the artifacts that were excavated at the site. We purchased our national park pass here, and then headed on to Jerome. I thought the town was quaint, but wouldn’t want to spend more than an hour or so here. Let me say that I am not a shopper and there didn’t seem to be much else to do here. We did stop at the mining museum, which was very interesting and worth the cost ($5/person).
The next stop was the Verde Canyon Railroad. This was a great train ride and I would highly recommend it as a very relaxing way to see a lot of beautiful scenery. We had booked 1st class, and for $80 a person you get comfy seating, free appetizers (ok), and the ability to purchase alcohol. I don’t know if I would do fist class again since we spent most of the time on the open air car, but the cold beers were good! I believe it was $25 cheaper for adult coach tickets. We had a lot of fun.
That night we stopped at Airport Mesa for the sunrise, which was spectacular. The atmosphere is like being in the Keys where people gather to watch and applaud the sunset. We then went to a Mexican restaurant called Casa Rincon which was near our hotel for dinner. Good margaritas, decent food, but the worst service I can ever recall. The waiter took our drink orders immediately, but then it took forever to place the food order, get our meals and get our check. We saw people leave after waiting 20 minutes with no service. The place was not crowded, but seemed understaffed.
We saw a clip on the Red Rocks TV channel about the bell rock pathway and decided to do an early morning hike starting there. We either parked at the wrong place or we are total idiots but we ended up on the Little Horse Trail. Oh well, it was a great hike, very easy until the very end, and it got hot fast. It was wonderful being in the middle of all of the beautiful red rocks at the beginning and then getting to what is called Chicken Point for some spectacular views. What was really funny is we saw pink jeeps at the end and found out that this one of the stops on the Broken Arrow tour which we had booked for later that day! This hike took us about 3 hours but we had a long break at the point and took our time along the way. This trail also had good views of the Church of the Holy Cross.
We stopped at the Safeway for sandwiches to take back to the hotel for lunch (they were surprisingly good) and had a quick swim and got ready for the jeep tour.
I would recommend the Jeep tour for anyone who can’t hike the trails themselves or just wants a fun experience. Our driver was Jim, and he was full of a lot of interesting information, mostly about the plants and animals of the area. The ride was very bumpy but not painful, and there were a couple of stops at Submarine Rock and of course Chicken Point.
We then went to the Cowboy Club for dinner at the recommendation of Jim. I will admit that I thought this would be gimmicky and not worth the price, but it was very good. We had the cactus fries, my guy had the duck and I had the buffalo steak salad. All of our food was very good. The meal was around $60 and I had a glass of wine and he had a beer so I didn’t think that was too bad. The shops around the area were expensive and there were the timeshare guys that I was warned about.
Overall, Sedona was as beautiful as expected, and I would definitely return. I was very happy that I stayed in West Sedona, as the main section, “the Y” was very crowded and hectic feeling. We were there on a holiday weekend so that may have had a lot to do with it.
We left Sedona early and headed to the Grand Canyon. 89A through Oak Creek Canyon was spectacular (I used this word a lot to describe this trip). We stopped at the overlook and there were Navaho’s setting up stands (We thought at first they were having a picnic.) Now this is my kind of shopping, outdoors and some really cool stuff. I ended up buying two bracelets at very reasonable prices, and a beautiful hand painted Christmas ornament. The pottery was beautiful, but I wasn’t sure how to get anything home. I would recommend stopping here also if you wanted to get a cheap necklace or bracelet as they had some really inexpensive things (looked like liquid silver and turquoise and other semi-precious stones, but maybe not real). We got on 40 I think in Flagstaff, and then on 64. This was all a pretty drive.
At some point on 64 we kept thinking we could see the Grand Canyon in the distance, but we were 30-40 miles away. Sure enough you can see the North Rim! Entering the park they give you a copy of the guide. At this point we were following the map in the guide and we made a couple of wrong turns. I think this was more us than signage problems as we were a little too excited. We were lucky enough to get parking in front of the Bright Angel Lodge, and we were staying at the Thunderbird next door. We checked in but our room wasn’t ready. We headed through the lodge and WOW! The Grand Canyon is right there! I really can’t explain how cool the feeling was to see it for the first time. It was really kind of overwhelming and we just sat and stared for a while. We were able to see several condors which was also very cool! Then we kind of eves-dropped on a ranger program in progress but it was a kind of silly game show type of thing, so we decided to hop on the shuttle bus.
We took the bus to Maricopa Point and walked the rim to Mohave Point, stopping at all of the overlooks. The views are just fantastic, amazing, and incredible!!! Two words though – No Guardrails! I was a little freaked out that along the rim path there were no railings! (This would be a good time to admit to a little fear of heights on my part) We started to go further towards the Abyss, but there was a storm brewing so we caught the bus and headed back. Word of warning; get a seat on the bus, not the little trailer they sometimes pull. This was a far bumpier ride than the Pink Jeep tour, and free!
We went back to the lodge and the room still wasn’t ready so we had a beer in the bar. Checked back in a half an hour and the room was ready. I will say that the Thunderbird was better than I expected nice toiletries and bathroom, small refrigerator and coffee. It was clean but the beds were just ok. But the view! Now that’s what I’m talking about! When you book, ask if you can have a 2nd floor room as the view is better. They won’t guarantee it but it is worth asking.
Dinner was at the Arizona room and again I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. I had the blackened pork chop and the Arizona Cesar salad and he had the prime rib and southwest corn chowder. It was a really good meal I thought and what a view! I did keep running out to take pictures of the sunset!
We walked around a little at night since there was almost a full moon and it was really neat seeing the canyon in moonlight. Unfortunately, my camera could not capture it.
We got up early for our hike down the South Kaibab trail. We decided to go with the ranger and I would also recommend this at least for first timers. The only downfall was we were following the Guide that ended on the 5th and we thought the hike started at 7:00 but actually the time changed to 7:30 effective September 6th! We ended up waiting an hour but what a beautiful place to wait. Ranger Bob stopped several times along the way to talk about the geological history of the canyon, and also gave us a lot of tips on hiking the canyon. The hike went 1.5 miles to Cedar Ridge and then you were on your own. Let me say that my knees were shaking and my heart was pounding the entire way down. For some reason it is not as scary coming back up! We were going to continue on after Cedar Ridge, but we kept running into people on their way up that were red-faced, panting and warning us about how hard it was. These were people that looked to be 20 years younger than us. So after a long rest at Cedar Ridge enjoying the majesty of the canyon we headed back. Now I don’t know if it was because we hiked a lot at home prior to our trip, or if it was because we paced ourselves, but the return trip was not that difficult. Now I wish we had gone on further. I will agree with everyone who said you have to go at least a little way into the canyon to really experience it. Unless you have a disability or a severe fear of heights, anyone in reasonably good shape can do this. If we are fortunate to make it back, we will defiantly hike all the way down.
We took the bus to Yaki Point and then headed back to the lodge. At this point a storm hit so after showering we decided on an early dinner at the Bright Angel Room. This is more of a casual restaurant and the food was just ok, but we were starving so it hit the spot.
We spent the rest of the evening wandering around the village area; there was a wonderful photo exhibit at Kolb Studio. We bought some things at the Hopi House, at what I thought were reasonable prices, and checked out El Tovar. I wanted to check out Verkamps, but it closes early. At this point, there was no hope for a sunset as it was very cloudy and suddenly very windy. We were hoping to do a full moon walk with a ranger, but there was no moon, so that was off. Ended up back in the room and we were asleep by 9:00!
We checked out early the next day and headed out towards the east entrance. It was still a little rainy so no sunrise. We took our time and stopped at all of the overlooks along the way to Desert View. We saw a number of mule deer which was great, but my biggest disappointment was that we didn’t get to see any elk!
Overall it was a great experience. The Grand Canyon is the Grand Canyon and words and pictures can not adequately describe it. I thought that the facilities were very well run, and all of the people who worked there were friendly and helpful. The shuttle bus system is great and some of the drivers are as good as tour guides. I just wish I saw an elk!
The drive to Page was rainy and uneventful. We were unable to check in early at the Holiday Inn express so we had lunch at a forgettable restaurant and took a drive to Glen Canyon Recreation center near the Wahweep marina. I don’t know if it was the weather or what but I was very unimpressed. I definitely think this lake really needs to be experienced by boat. By the way, the smokestacks from the power plant were very jarring and out-of-place. Oddly enough, the cover on my next issue of National Geographic had the smokestacks behind Navajo Mountain and the title “Places We Must Save”!
We were finally able to check in and do laundry before heading to the Dam Bar and Grill for some good sandwiches and a Steeler victory!
We started off the day with the a.m. float trip. This goes from the base of the dam to Lees Ferry. It is a smooth water float trip and you will not get wet. We chose the morning since it would be cooler and it was. Shorts, T-shirt and light jacket was fine. The trip was beautiful and Jim our guide was very funny and informative. We stopped partway down to see some petroglyphs which was interesting. What I thought was amazing was how the walls of the canyon rise straight up. You are in shade a lot in the morning. I would recommend this trip.
We then decided to go to Antelope Canyon. We drove to the entrance and paid $6 to get into the parking lot and $15 for the tour (per person). I thought this was strange since who would want to park there and not see the canyon. They should just charge $21 per person and be done with it.
Antelope Canyon was beautiful and like nothing I have ever seen. The only problem was that it was very crowded, I suspect because the lower canyon was closed because of flooding the previous evening. The guides seemed a bit disorganized in controlling the number of people going through the canyon, but our guide, Daisy was very sweet. I was annoyed by the few people with large tripods that tried to get the perfect shots and as such made it more difficult for the rest of us. It was a great experience and if I ever make it back I would definitely like to visit the lower canyon also.
We then headed to Horseshoe Bend to see where we had floated earlier that day. It is a pretty easy walk and unbelievable view. The winds however kicked up and the sand was blowing and stinging so we hurried back to the car.
Dinner that night was at Fiesta Mexicana and it was a great meal with great margaritas! It is a family run operation and the people are friendly, the décor is colorful and the food is good and inexpensive! Yum! Over dinner we discussed what we wanted to do the last two days of our trip and we decided that we wanted to do a little more hiking. Since we ultimately needed to end up back in Phoenix we decided to head south to Flagstaff, thinking if the weather turned bad, at least there would be some indoor things to see.
First stop was the Cameron Trading Post. It’s a great store, with both authentic native pottery, art, rugs and jewelry and also the more typical souvenirs. I ended up buying a few nice pieces of jewelry at reasonable prices, and my guy splurged on a baseball hat! We had a good, very filling lunch, and headed on.
Next stop was the Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano. Since we were going north to south it was a little confusing. We didn’t have the park guide since coming from this direction you don’t pay at the entrance. We first stopped at a couple of smaller pueblo ruins and climbed the Dooney Mountain (it’s really a big hill) where we watched a storm with a lot of lightning that appeared to be heading our way! We climbed down and made it to the Wupatki pueblo. I thought this was most interesting of all of the archeological sites we visited. They give you a guide to do a walking tour of the pueblo and it was so well done. It really gave you a sense of the people who lived there. The Sunset Volcano also had a walking tour over the lava field. This was beautiful in a very surreal way. The ground is black and if you trip and fall you would be severely cut up on the lava. I would absolutely recommend these national monuments.
It was around six when we arrived at Flagstaff with no place to stay. We decided to try the Days Inn since we had such a good experience in Sedona. This was the one stop that I did not do any research on and all I could remember was warnings about train noise. We ended up at the Days Inn on Route 66. This was the worst hotel we stayed at on the trip. The room was dirty and really old, in severe need of updating. Hideous pink tile on the bathroom walls and floor. The nicest thing about the room was the shower curtain which was the same as the one in Sedona. Unfortunately the tangerine shower curtain clashed with the pink tile! Even worse, the room was $20 more than what we paid in Sedona. Oh well, we were tired and didn’t want to drive around and look for another room, so we stayed.
Dinner was at the Galaxy Diner down the street since we didn’t feel like driving. Good move on our part, the food was good and the atmosphere was fun and lively with a number of people swing dancing. Fun place!
Oh and the hotel was right by the train tracks! At least not near a crossing so there were no horns blowing.
Our last day we decided to head down to Oak Creek Canyon to hike the West Fork trail. I had heard that this was a beautiful hike and good in the summer with lots of shade. It was perfect. It’s a very easy hike with little change in elevation, and a number of stream crossings.
We then headed to Walnut Canyon. Again it began to storm (Honestly I had no idea there was a monsoon season in Arizona when I began planning this trip!) We decided to walk the rim trail to see the cliff dwellings even though it was raining, since the rim walk closes at 4:00. For anyone with bad knees, there are about 200 steps to get down to the rim. This was a beautiful place even in the rain, and I would love to see it in the sunlight someday. We were rewarded with a rainbow at the top.
Dinner was at Strombolli’s a good Italian place near by. We both ordered seafood dishes and were surprised at the quality of the seafood for the price. We had good bottle of wine to toast a successful trip.
We headed back to Phoenix for the flight home. Everything went smoothly, from security checks to the flight. Overall it was an incredible trip. Fantastic scenery, really nice people, and a lot wonderful experiences. I don’t have any regrets with any part of the trip (other than not seeing an elk), just a lot of great memories and some nice jewelry! Can’t wait to go back!
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Thanks everyone for all of your help and advice. It was a really wonderfull trip and I hope this report helps someone else! Sorry for the length and any typos.