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Trip Report Zion, Grand Canyon, Sedona, & a little LV

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Here's the first part of my SW trip; I'm still trying to condense the second half!

Facts first! Stop here for the nitty-gritty, or skip forward if you have no need of information.

Background: I’m a mid-50s Canadian woman, a rural high school principal, who has gotten old enough that if none of my friends/family want to go to the place I’m dreaming of, I go it alone.

Route: I flew into and out of Las Vegas, the cheapest airfare available from Newfoundland, and the cheapest source of rental cars. You may now suspect that I have a limited budget? From there I drove to Zion National Park (1 night), the Grand Canyon (2 nights) and Sedona (2 nights) before returning to LV and flying home.

Hotels: My Las Vegas hotels were Hotwire purchases, which was the cheapest way of getting a nice hotel that I found. I stayed at the Tropicana on arrival, was quite pleased. For under $100 I had a comfortable bed, lovely bathroom, spacious and clean room. I didn’t care for the long trek from the entry, through the casino, to the Club Tower, but I soon found that this is a Vegas standard. The night before my return I stayed at the Trump; that was really a superior hotel, fabulous bathroom, great heated pool, friendly staff, and no casino.
At ZNP I stayed in Springdale at the Montclair Quality Inn. It was dark and dated, but clean, cheap, and on the shuttle route. It also provided a decent free breakfast; they called it continental, but there were eggs as well as the usual offerings. The “splurge” of my trip was the Yavapai Lodge in Grand Canyon Village. Ideally it would have been Maswik, which is closer to the rim, but I was hardly in the room during daylight, so the view was not a big deal. I was paying (this was the most expensive room of the trip) to be able to see the sunset/sunrise without a drive in the dark, and it worked very well for that goal. However, what you read about the rooms is true: the quality was on par with the Montclair, which charged just over half the price of Xanterra. In Sedona, I stayed at The Views in the Village of Oak Creek. This was a good deal: the room was spotless, large, included a fridge & microwave, red rock views from the window, and the price was great. There were several restaurants in the neighbourhood, although the highly recommended spots were further afield.

And, there are pictures here: http://s560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/American%20Southwest/

Excelsior!

April 6: Arrived a bit late and tired after 16-hr. trip, but since I had never seen Las Vegas, I decided to wash up and go have a look. Discovery: walking the Strip is the reverse of relaxing, especially with swollen “airplane” legs, since it involves a series of two-storey overhead walkways to cross the streets. However, I checked out the Miracle Mile shops, including the hourly indoor rainstorm, and the Bellagio fountains and conservatory. The fountain show is quite cool and impressive. I marveled at the strolling girls in “showgirl” outfits carrying quart-sized cocktails in plastic containers—I guess maybe this is the latest in stagette ideas?? I marveled a bit more at the people with 10-year-olds—or babies—in tow. Anyway, by that point I gave in to exhaustion.

April 7: Trusty GPS in hand, I headed north about 8:30. It was startling how quickly and totally the glitzy city was replaced by brown desert, with a view of distant mountains. I drove until I saw the signs for St. George, Utah. Needing a break, I decided to take a look at the 19th century Mormon tabernacle I had read about in guidebooks. Although St. George is not a large town, I encountered heavy traffic as I approached the historic town centre. My timing was (unintentionally) superb! St. George was hosting an annual Art Fair. There were displays of professional art from a wide area, plenty of people-watching, and a local taco stand to support while I strolled. I only got a glimpse of the inside of the tabernacle, since a concert was starting there shortly. I stopped to take a picture of the current Mormon temple (very photogenic in gleaming white against the blue sky), then headed off again.
The road narrowed and wound its way into the small town of Springdale, now a tourist gateway, with numerous motel. Its setting is marvelous, with the rust and beige canyon walls soaring up all around. I checked in to my room, and jumped on one of the shuttle buses which come every 15 minutes in peak season, and the drivers I encountered were friendly and informative. It was Easter weekend, so the parking lots were full, and driving into the park wasn’t an option. After changing from the town to the park shuttle at the visitor centre, I dismounted at the Grotto picnic stop and headed up the Angel’s Landing Trail. I knew I would not make it to the top, as I have a fear of heights and had read the descriptions of the last half mile. There were also large signs advising that children and those with a fear of heights should NOT go to the top. I stopped after 1 ¼ hours uphill, (just past Refrigerator Canyon, for the knowledgeable) as I began to doubt that my knees would hold up to the downhill grind. In fact, they were fine (either the dryness or the altitude is great for arthritis, btw), and I love looking at my photos of the views and the frolicking chipmunks. After a short rest, I rejoined the shuttle bus, stopped for a look at the Court of the Patriarchs, and walked the Pa’rus Trail from Canyon Junction to the Visitor Centre, checking out the campsite (filled for the weekend) as I passed it. I ate at the often-mentioned Zion Pizza and Noodle; the pizza looked decent, but only came in 12” size, so I had some rather bland chicken and pasta. However, the Jamaican lager was delicious.

April 8: After breakfast, I took an early shuttle to the Weeping Rock Trail. I really enjoyed this geological feature, up a short paved trail, but my pictures of it are totally uninspiring. There were wonderful views of the morning sun hitting the canyon walls, and several wild turkey sitings. Back on the shuttle, I rode to the Temple of Shinwava at the top of the canyon, and walked the Riverside Trail to the beginning of the Narrows. It was not at all busy, so I appreciated the quiet, admired a preening duck, and stretched my legs on the hour-long, level trail.
Back at the hotel by 11, I checked out and drove east onto Hwy 89. This is an amazing piece of road-making, and not just for the 1-mile tunnel built in the ‘30s. My GPS route resembled a skein of yarn—in fact, I even took a picture of the screen. When stopped for some oversize vehicles to pass through the tunnel, I saw my second rock climber of the day: amazing hobby! The Canyon Overlook Trail, my last hike in the park (fortunately I had read about the parking lot IMMEDIATELY after the tunnel exit) was perfect: 1-hr. long, steep at the beginning but not exhausting, and an absolutely stunning view at the top. It was fairly busy—I heard Japanese, French, and German (or maybe Dutch?) at the top. When driving out of the park, the Checkerboard Mesa is a jaw-dropping geological sight with a well-marked viewpoint. For an easterner like me, a buffalo ranch was also a photo op.
It was nearly 2 p.m. when I reached tiny Mt. Carmel Junction, and the largest restaurant was filled by a bus tour, so I ventured on the salad at a seedy spot across the road (an error) and drove south towards Kanab.
I had decided on the 89Alt route to the Grand Canyon. I had read many raves about Page, but lakes are not a rarity for me; deserts are. So I drove through Freedonia (a very rusted and desolate-looking town) and was rewarded with the amazing expanse of the Vermillion Cliffs. I stopped at the Cliff Dwellers (which is not a native village but a location of early settlers), and walked across the Navajo Bridge for a view of the Colorado River—a bright, bilious, and unbelievable green at this point. Once I rejoined 89S, I found myself passing dozens of Navajo homesteads, each well separated from the others. I have to reread Tony Hillerman—I had thought of Navajo lands as being further east. Around 6 p.m. I reached the entrance to GCNP. I intended to drive on in, but couldn’t resist the “first sight of the Canyon” sign, so stopped to goggle at Desert View Overlook.
Drove on, passing a fair-sized elk, and eventually found my room (the signage for Yavapai is pathetic). I took a short walk along the rim near the visitor centre (by this time the sun was down), and survived a cafeteria supper at Yavapai. That was the main disadvantage of the Yavapai, actually—away from the rim, with the limited parking and shuttles that stop one hour after sunset, it’s tricky to dine elsewhere.

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    I congratulate you for taking this trip on your own. This is one of our favorite areas to vacation in and it is fun hearing from another adventurer. Hopefully after you show your pictures around you will have plenty of folks to join you in the future. Hit Arches and Canyonlands next, or head to New Mexico and do up Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Bandelier , Chaco Canyon etc.

    Thanks for reporting, keep it coming, I relive trips every time I read a TR.

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    Thanks for the kind words, MichelleY. emalloy, New Mexico is definitely on my "list". Well, the report is done, so here it goes:

    April 9: A group of mule deer were grazing placidly beside the Visitor Center when I took the shuttle to the start of the South Kaibab trail. I am not remotely in shape for long, vertical hikes, but I wanted to experience something of the canyon, and guidebooks claimed that the beginning of this trail was more scenic than the rival Bright Angel Trail. I walked 30 minutes down to well-named Ooh-Aah point—and 70 minutes back up. My 7:30 start meant that it was fairly peaceful, as tour groups were just appearing as I left. I’ve had the Grand Canyon on my “list” for nearly 20 years, so at times I was tempted to pinch myself. It truly surpassed all my expectations, and photographs—I took dozens—fail to recreate the gigantic scale.
    For the rest of the morning, I admired Yaki Point via the shuttle, walked past Lookout Cottage, investigated the souvenirs in the Hopi House (and fell for some Zuni earrings), and read the displays about early tourism in the Verkamp Visitor Center, which I found interesting. I lunched in the Arizona Room at Bright Angel Lodge, with such an attention-grabbing view, between the canyon and the parade of visitors, that it was hard to notice the delicious corn chowder.
    After lunch I took the Hermit’s Rest Shuttle westward. I stopped at Powell Point and walked to Hopi Point from there. I think this is the viewpoint from which the lower part of Bright Angel Trail is visible, and I enjoyed watching a mule train climb a succession of switchbacks far below (through binoculars). I couldn’t resist stopping at The Abyss—just to say I’ve stood on the edge of it! Hermit’s Rest is the last westward shuttle stop. I walked from there back to Pima Point (about 30 min), and took the shuttle eastward to Mohave Point for a sunset view. There were a lot of people—if summer at Hopi Point is more crowded, as I have read, it must be a mob scene. However, you only had to look at the scenery to be totally distracted from the crowds. And my walk to Pima Point showed that GCNP is one of those places where huge numbers of tourists tend to congregate in a few spots, leaving many other gorgeous sites nearly empty.

    April 10: I The sunrise-watchers at Yavapai Point were ¼ the crowd that sunset had produced! It was amazing as the rocks changed colour below us. There was also entertainment provided, as an onlooker noted the sun rising: “6:53, just like the schedule. You could set your watch by it!”
    I checked out and returned along Rte. 64, stopping at Grandview, and then went to see the Tusayen ruins. There are only some small foundations remaining, but there is an informative exhibit about the various pre-historic native groups and their successors. I intended to head on from there, but I couldn’t resist “one more look” at Navajo Point. Very bittersweet—all the years I’ve dreamed of seeing this, and now I’m leaving.
    Ok, girl, get over yourself, this isn’t a farewell from Madame Butterfly!
    Then I drove east, past the Little Colorado River, dozens of empty stands which I assume contain native (?) craft stalls in the summer. Going down the 89S, I took the loop road around the Wupatki National Monument and Sunset Crater. This was definitely worth the extra few miles. Wupatki is a large, well-preserved 12th c. Indian settlement, complete with a stone ball court, a number of nearly intact dwellings, and an amazing “blow hole”—a place with a narrow vertical shaft which naturally “exhales” a constant cool draft. The visitor centre provides an excellent introduction/ explanation. The lava-covered hillsides around the extinct volcano of Sunset Crater were also a surprising sight.
    I made another detour near Flagstaff, as I’ve long wanted to see cliff-dwellings. Walnut Canyon, just outside the city, was amazing. The 11th c. stone and mortar houses which circled the canyon involve 240 steps down for the modern tourist, and signs advise visitors to be aware that the path is strenuous. Yet the original inhabitants must have gone down to the canyon floor (for water) and up to the plateau (to farm) several times daily. I had an enjoyable chat with a park ranger who’s worked there for 20 years, and who grew up in a Hopi village in southern Arizona.
    Finally, I headed down to Sedona. The red rocks are amazing, especially when you realize how totally “invisible” the town seems to be. Somehow they change your scale, so that houses (and most are designed to blend with the landscape) seem invisible. I checked in and drove up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Honestly, this was the only underwhelming experience of my trip. It looked impressive from a distance, but from inside, it was…a modern church. My spiritual side must have fallen down the blow hole! So I drove back into Oak Creek Village and walked around Big Park Loop (45 minutes), which had an endless supply of unfamiliar wildflowers on its level trail, and fabulous views of Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte as the sun set.

    April 11: I thoroughly enjoyed the morning’s Pink Jeep tour. As well as up-close vistas of the rocks, and geological commentary, the Broken Arrow tour gave an awesome off-road experience: up over rock faces and down at a 45o angle. I took pictures, but they don’t show the expressions of disbelief on the passengers’ faces.
    Boynton Vista trail, in the city’s NW, was recommended in several discussions, but there was no parking nearby, so instead I turned into the parking lot for Fay Canyon (about a mile away) which had a pleasant mile-long stroll. I lunched at a Mexican restaurant the jeep guide had mentioned, Javelina’s Cantina, somewhere near the “Y” which is the major direction marker in Sedona.
    In the afternoon I drove up to the airport for a view overlooking the city, then went back into town to window-shop around the faux-Mexican, and very pretty, shopping venue called Tlaquepaque.
    My intent was to end the day with the Devil’s Bridge hike, but I discovered that the trailhead is actually 1.2 mile in from the parking lot, on a road passable only by SUVs. There wouldn’t be time before sunset to cover the full distance, so instead I went back to Boynton Vista. The views were excellent, and the short trail not very demanding.

    April 12: I think I did something wrong looking for Red Rock Crossing. According to the city guide in the motel, it was found by taking the Upper Loop Road to the state park. Well, the park wasn’t open yet, and there was no parking available, so I ended up on a trail which went off a side road—pleasant if not spectacular, with a view of Cathedral Rock. It came out on a dirt road, sporting the memorable warning sign: “Do Not Enter When Flooded” No, I guess probably you shouldn’t! I had breakfast at the Coffeepot on Hwy 89W, apparently a local landmark, with 101 types of omelettes; the biscuit and hash browns were good, but the omlette was quite ordinary.
    I left Sedona by driving up Scenic Route 89 through Oak Creek Canyon; I think it would be nicer in summer with all the trees in leaf.
    I stopped, randomly, in Seligman AZ for lunch—and couldn’t resist trying the buffalo burger at the Roadkill Café on Historic Rte 66—none of which I had heard of previously! It made for a quick and entertaining stop. The countryside from Kingman north to the Hoover Dam was absolutely unnerving, with giant brown piles of bare earth like a moonscape, and Lake Mead looked bizarre to me, surrounded by dark bare hills, but according to the sign it has beaches and marinas.
    I reached the city around 4:30, and did a little shopping in the Fashion Show Mall (which was terrific, if only I’d had more time) across the street. As darkness fell, I strolled back to the Strip, and went into the Venetian (copies of all the landmarks except St. Mark’s, crammed together—very weird), had dinner at the Café de Luxe in the Palazzo, and people-watched. After some hassle with the ticket vending machine, which rejected the new $5s, I took the express bus downtown to see the Freemont Street Experience. It’s a 2-3 block area with a “screen” arched overhead, and there are hourly sound and light shows. All around are casinos, neon, and girly shows. Oh, and a zip line overhead. Loud, drunk, and boisterous—a mistake for a solo trip. Anyway, I was tired by then, so took the bus back to collapse for a few hours before my 7:45 flight back to reality.

    Conclusions: Zion National Park was well worth the drive: lovely hiking trails, friendly surroundings, great views.
    The Grand Canyon was amazing, and I really appreciated seeing the differences in colour as the light changed throughout the day. The shuttle bus is a great option for anyone who doesn’t/can’t hike.
    Sedona was very pretty, but not in the same class as the other two, for me.
    And, I’ve heard there are Vegas people, and not-Vegas people. Apparently I’m a not. This is ok, as there are plenty of wonderful places I haven’t seen yet.

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    Half a day in Vegas is enough for me. Maybe a show and something good to eat.

    Zion and GC are very stunning. I like Zion better, but it sounded like you perhaps enjoyed the GC a bit more. You did two vertical hikes. We saw a condor right near Refridge Canyon on our way to the top of AL.

    I think you had a very full trip. Nice Report.

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    Your impression of the Chapel of the Holy Cross was the same as ours, at first. Then we "got it". I think it was designed to be very simple inside so to not take away from the natural beauty on the outside, showing thru the huge windows. The beauty created by God outside can not compare with anything made by man inside the church, so your attention is to stay with what is outside, made by God.

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    Thank you for the trip report. Sounds like a great trip. I would have tried to talk you out of going to Sedona and instead hitting Bryce Canyon, which is an easy drive from Zion. But now you have a reason to go back! I need to get out there again soon.....

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