2021-04-23 Arizona Adventure Day 5: Flagstaff Friday Funday

Day 5. Friday. Much ado about nothing. 

Much of our vacation to this point had been go-go-go. Lots of activity—tours, hiking, navigating, driving, stopping, starting, and exploring. We had nothing planned for Friday and when we got to Friday, there wasn’t anything in particular we wanted to do. 

We talked about going to the Grand Canyon again but decided it wouldn’t be worth the drive to see what we have already seen. The same held true for Sedona. 

In truth I think we were just over driving more, so the decision to stick around Flagstaff and explore what it had to offer was a good one. Being mindful that this was the direction we were leaning even before we got to Friday, we had made early dinner reservations at a nicer Flagstaff restaurant. Early because by the time we were making the reservation, 5:15 was the only time left for Friday night. 

Having all day to cruise around and do a whole lot of nothing was delightful. 

We hunted antique shops for signs or Route 66 memorabilia and had a leisurely lunch at Fat Olives (I refused to eat at the same Mexican restaurant a third time in the same trip even though it was the best Mexican food I’ve had in a long time). 

In the afternoon we decided to see what we could discover in the forest that surrounds Flagstaff and did some google searches for a good spot. We came up with a few options including a cave. However, navigating to the trailhead that would lead to the cave, we ran into a bit of difficulty. It wasn’t the first time google maps had failed us on the trip. 

We ended up on private property in a little rural community and then crossed to the other side of the highway and found a campground. Neither was correct. We then followed some road signs to a different trailhead and gave up on the cave exploration idea. 

The trail we ended up on was completely ordinary compared to the one we were on the day before in Sedona. We hiked for about 2 hours and I wasn’t compelled to take any pictures. And that’s saying something since I had taken hundreds of pictures the previous 4 days. 

We saw some neat lizards, birds, and ground squirrels… but nothing as exciting as the coyote, elk, and deer on previous days. 

To be fair… I was also sort of tired of hiking. I was thinking the entire time about getting back to home base, getting ready for dinner, and having a lovely relaxing evening with drinks, hot-tubbing, and settling into a movie. 

Which is exactly how the rest of the day went as soon as we arrived back at our car. 

The highlight of the day was dinner. The restaurant was called Tinderbox and it was a somewhat fancy gourmet place. The atmosphere was a little upscale yet casual and the menu was limited to a single page of about 25 unique appetizers and entrees. 

We each selected a small plate to share. I chose salmon with crackers and Jim ordered the foie gras. The salmon was really good and I tried the foie gras and found it disgusting. 

For my main course I ordered the beef shoulder and it was quite possibly the most delicious dish I’ve ever eaten. The presentation was pleasing and the sauce and accompaniments were perfect.. enhancing the flavor of the beef without being overpowering. 

Normally I would only be able to eat half an entire but I could not stop eating it was so good. I ate the entire plate! Then our server offered us dessert and I simply could not refuse. If the main was that good.. how much better would dessert be?? 

The answer is pretty freaking great. I ordered the cinnamon donuts served with coffee ice cream, drizzled with chocolate. Again, I ate the entire thing. Well, Jim had a bite or two but I had the rest. 

Feeling very satisfied, we made our way back to the car and back to theAirbnb. We made a couple of drinks and cranked up the hot tub. It was a super relaxing night and a good way to spend our last evening on vacation. We both agreed we were ready to go home. 

That’s pretty much it for day 5. 

And the beat goes on, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-04-22 Arizona Adventure Day 4: Doing Sedona Take 2

Day 4. Thursday. Thirsty Thursday. 

Thursday is what happens when something doesn’t go according to plan. Sometimes, it’s all wrong, but sometimes it turns out alright.

My big plan for the day was a hot air balloon ride over Sedona. It was one of the things that Jim and I talked about after the big reveal about the destination for our vacation, which remained a surprise to him until about 1 or 2 days before our departure. Neither one of us had done a balloon ride before and I wanted to, but recalled a conversation we had early in our relationship where he said he would never do it. 

My friend Rebecca went on one with her then boyfriend Jeremy when they had their first big vacation together which just happened to be in Arizona. She recommended it and said it was an incredible experience. So I asked Jim about it again. He did a few google searches to see how safe it was and gave me the green light to book it. 

The catch with this sort of thing is that there are no guarantees and the best time of day for calm winds and weather is early am. They kick off around sunrise and since it was in Sedona, we had an hour to drive to make it to our pick-up spot. With a 5:20am pick up, we had to wake up at 4am to make it. Somehow with the anticipation of it.. that was not a problem. 

The unpredictability of the weather means things can also go awry. We rode out to the launch spot with a bunch of other folks. It looked like about 6 balloons going up based on the trucks and trailers pulling gear. When we arrived we got out and proceeded to stand around with these other folks in 40 degree temps, shivering and waiting for something to happen. 

All the dudes working for the company huddled around as well, periodically sending up little black balloons and watching their lift and direction. We could hear them talking and laughing and pointing. After about 25 minutes the guy who drove 6 of us walked over to deliver the bad news. The winds were not favorable and they were scrubbing the launch. 

The driver told us it was less about safety and more about quality of experience. He said that because of the winds, we couldn’t get very far before coming back down or be at risk for going way off course and end up hiking half a day back to civilization. Good to know. 

Well… you win some and you lose some but sometimes when you lose, you actually win. 

He dropped us back off at about 6:15am and gave us a few recommendations for places to get coffee, breakfast, and find good hiking. We went to the breakfast place he recommended, had a lovely meal, and talked about alternate plans for the day. 

After breakfast we drove to a popular trailhead and found the parking lot completely full already. Damn.. these people are serious about their hiking. I then navigated us to an alternate trail close by and found a virtually empty lot. Perfect.

The trail was called the “Airport Trail” which sounds very unappealing. The Sedona airport is situated on top of a large hill and the trail runs along the outside on the side of the hill. But, for 90% of the trail, you can’t even see the fence that surrounds the airport property. And since the trail goes all the way around, you get incredible views of the area the entire 365 degrees.

At the start of the hike we went to the right and headed to a place called “The Summit” first. It was a short hike to get to an area with steps up to the top of a large rock formation. You know when you see pics of people sitting or laying on top of a giant rock at the top of a mountain? That’s exactly what it was like. A great way to start.

After climbing back down, we continued on the main trail which was a lot longer than I thought it would be. I thought I read that the hike was a 1.5 mile loop but that just has to be wrong considering how large the airport has to be for planes to take off and land. Still, we were committed to doing the whole loop so as it got long, we pressed on.

The other great thing about the hike is that we were already up on the side of a sizable hill so the trail did not have a lot of elevation change. You could basically walk the trail and not get too winded. Great for those of us who live in the flatlands and are not acclimated to the elevation.

Noteworthy is that when we arrived back at the parking lot, it was practically full and there were tons of people everywhere. I guess that’s the bonus of going super early.

When the hike was over, we were sweaty, kind of jazzed up, and not sure what to do with the rest of our day. I had been dressed in long pants and layers for the balloon ride and quickly peeled everything off to try and cool down. Jim drove as we talked about where to go.

Renting ATVs was an option folks had been talking about at the balloon launch site so we went to one of the places on 89A and did just that.

There was an area just outside of town called Red Rock State Park and I had wanted to visit. What better way to get up close and personal with the rock formations without another long hike?!

The trail we opted for was a pretty tame one as were just beginners. Actually, after riding the terrain for about 5 minutes, I had no desire to drive at all. Riding was stressful enough. And bumpy as hell.

The scenery was amazing… again… and we rode to some cliffside ruins; dwellings constructed by native peoples hundreds of years ago. That was pretty cool. The ATV was a 4 hour rental but we were done after just that one trail. As it turns out, Jim didn’t think it was that fun either.

By the time that little adventure was over, we were exhausted, filthy, hungry, and seriously parched. It was also reaching the time of day when all the spots to eat got super busy in Sedona and we weren’t really in any shape for finding parking, waiting, or sitting down for a nice meal. We decided just to drive back to flagstaff and cook our own late day lunch. 

It feels like the day ended there. I suppose, in a way, it did. That’s the other thing that happens when you wake up at 4am… you’re ready for bed by like 7pm. 😜

What day am I writing about again? Oh yeah… thirsty Thursday. It was a very thirsty day indeed. 

Rolling Dice and Taking Chances,

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-04-21 Arizona Adventure Day 3: Deep Impact

Day 3. Wednesday. Hump Day. Free Skate. 

Wednesday I didn’t have anything planned but did think we would end up having a longer visit to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. However, we also wanted to visit the Impact Crater near Winslow Arizona at some point too. And since we were still not adjusted to the time difference and waking up early, we decided to do both.

The Impact Crater is the largest crater in North America. The fact that it’s a desert with very little variation in weather, it’s very well preserved. Only a small amount of sand debris is swept into the crater by wind each year so it looks just about the same as it did when people began studying it in the late 1800’s.

They actually thought it was a volcano vent for the longest time until Science stepped in and proved otherwise. Now, the site has a visitor center with tours running on the hour 8am-5pm every day. Because charging money to see something like that is the American way.

The winds at the rim are fierce and as our guide told us, the current visitor center is the 3rd building to be constructed on site for tourism. The first two were literally blown away in wind storms. Yikes!! 

Aside from fighting the wind, it was a really cool thing to see and hear about and I’m glad we took a half a day to do that.

Returning to Flagstaff, it was lunchtime and we made our second visit to El Tapatio, as the food and margaritas there were some of the best we’ve had anywhere.

Once we were full of fajitas, enchiladas, and silliness… we hit the road again for the South Rim. 

This time we had a little more time to walk the paved trail that runs several miles along the south rim. We also picked a different spot to see the sunset which could only be accessed by shuttle bus.

With a half hour to spare, we made our way to Hopi Point and found a nice quiet pair of rocks to sit on and wait. I suppose the fact that it’s still pretty early in the season, the crowds were at a minimum, which I very much appreciate.

The sunset itself was hazy and you couldn’t really get a good shot of the canyon, but I know what I saw and it was pretty incredible.

We didn’t stay long after that. 

Noteworthy here is that sometime during the Crater Tour, our guide mentioned that before Americans settled in the area, native people migrated through at different times of the year hunting and gathering. One of the main food sources was the pine nut from the Pinion tree which is high in protein and micronutrients.

So,,, walking the south rim trail, I decided to pick a few pinion cones and pluck the nuts out and eat them. 

Fast forward to just after sunset, and I began having horrible cramps. This was followed by an extended visit to the restroom at Hopi point. And I continued to have cramps the entire ride home and into the night. Shame on me for doing something so dumb. 

Dumber still is that I didn’t even connect the dots until the next day. I had been wrecking my brain trying to think of what I had eaten that Jim had not. We both had a little of each other’s meals at both lunch and dinner. Oh well… guess I learned my lesson on that one. 🙄

And that’s how my Wednesday ended… with a whimper AND a bang. 

So much for free skating, 

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-04-20 Arizona Adventure Day 2: Sedona Escape

Day 2. Tuesday.

On my “Grand” trip itinerary Tuesday was tagged as the day we would explore Sedona. In truth, all I really had planned was a late day (4pm-ish) couples massage followed by dinner at a nice restaurant.

The scenery and slightly warmer temperatures are probably at the top of the list of reasons why the city seems so busy and is also quite a bit more expensive to find a place to stay. I had considered booking a place in Sedona originally and the extra cost and extra drive time to the Grand Canyon are why I opted for Flagstaff.

When I booked the massage, the woman who took my call gave me some suggestions of areas to explore as we made our way from Flagstaff to Sedona down through the canyon on route 89A. The drive was amazingly beautiful, albeit a dizzying one. The switchbacks were some of the more intense I’ve experienced.

We stopped at Slide Rock State Park which is a paid spot. The guy at the gate made sure we knew the main activity there was a “swimming” one and not hiking. Swimming in quotes because very few people were actually in the water. Why? Because the water is a natural mountain stream flowing down over the rocks and it is COLD.

It’s called slide rock because the rocks are smoothed over boulders and you can actually slide down like a waterslide. I watched some kids doing it, and even an older woman who brought her own inner-tube. Classy. 😉

The entire park was cool to explore with some great vistas, but we definitely had the most fun walking into the water and taking some fun pics among the rocks. 

After we exhausted that bit of excitement, we made our way the rest of the way to Sedona to explore and have some lunch.

The place we ate was called the Hudson and it was a flight or two of stairs up, nestled on the side of a hill. Actually everything in Sedona is situated on a hill and the view in just about every direction is amazing.

We had a drink or two and ate at the bar. Jim had steak and I had a cheeseburger of course. It might have been the euphoria of the moment, but it was one of the best cheeseburgers I’ve had in my life.

It was actually a bison burger with white cheddar, bacon, and some sort of sauce, served with barbeque sauce and fries on the side. When Jim asked, I told him it was a 4.75. High marks indeed. I followed that by making sure he knew nobody gets a perfect 5. If it’s out there, I haven’t had it yet. 

Finishing lunch, it was time to make our way to the massage parlor across town. The tourist part of town runs all along 89A and is a hot mess of traffic all the time. Despite wonky directions from Google, we were able to find the place and find a place to park. 

The massage, as compared to the fun of Slide Rock and deliciousness of Hudsons, paled in comparison. But…. even a mediocre massage is a good massage! 

We were supposed to get dinner after that but we were both still full from lunch and a little too relaxed for fighting through traffic and crowds to find a place to eat so we basically got in our car and drove back up through the canyon to Flagstaff.

It was a pretty chill evening after that. A quick dip in the hot tub and we were both ready to call it a night. I think that’s it for Day 2. Another very satisfying day.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner,

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-04-19 Arizona Adventure Day 1: Everything

Day 1.
The question for day 1 isn’t what we did on day 1.

The question for day 1 is what we didn’t do on day 1. 

The answer is nothing… there is nothing we didn’t do

which, as double negatives go, is the same as saying

everything. 

We did everything. 

From the top to the bottom to the top,

and round the outside. 

We woke up in Flagstaff, which for the love of all the cheese in the universe I can’t call to the front of my mind when I need to. I keep thinking, Tucson, Tallahassee, Taledega, Toronto. (JK on that last one.. I haven’t once thought I was staying in Canada). But for whatever reason, I keep thinking we’re staying in a place that begins with a “T.”

Anyway, we woke up relatively early but with the time difference, we were both wide awake at 6AM and not feeling like sleeping more. We therefore had plenty of time to start scheming. Before I knew it, we were committing ourselves to driving to see the sunset at the Grand Canyon. Pretty Grand right?! But hold up… I just said we woke before 6am, so that would mean a monster long day. Add to that the plan to take an 8 hour tour to the bottom of said Canyon during the day (a guided tour, not driving ourselves). But when you go to the Canyon, you go big or you go home… I guess. 

That tour started at Williams Arizona and we traveled by a vehicle that was bigger than a van but smaller than an actual bus along interstate 40 to the old historic Route 66.

It’s the longest stretch of that old highway still operational and much of the pre-recorded tour info we had on that part of the route included details about the highway and history of tourism in the area. It was fun to hear that and also passed the time as it took a little over an hour to get to Peach Springs which is where the descent into the Canyon begins.

Peach Springs as well as all the surrounding land we traveled on from there into and to the bottom is Haulapai land. The two most prevalent tribes that reside on reservations at the Grand Canyon today are the Havasupai and the Hualapai. The canyon is also described as the place of emergence for the Navajo, Hopi, Paiute and Zuni.

From Peach Springs (and arguably the worst maintained porta-potty I’ve ever visited) we began the long dirt/rock road down to the bottom of the Canyon. This is a little known access point apparently because most visitors of the Grand Canyon opt for views at the rim looking down at the majestic cliffs and geologic wonders.

This slow and bumpy ride took just about 2 hours and as we rode, the walls of the canyon consumed us. The terrain and temperature changes are so drastic that different plant life exist at various points along the way.

Ponderosa pine trees give way to pinon trees/bushes. The endless shallow hills of desert brush turn almost instantaneously into steep hills full of different varieties of cactus and low brush. Prickly Pear, Jumping, and other varieties whose actual names I can’t recall.

It was a rough-ish ride but after about 2 hours of historic stories and a brief stop to say hi to some wild donkeys, we arrived at our drop point, one mile from the Colorado River.

We walked the last mile, just the two of us, marveling at the oasis that diamond head creek has created in this otherwise unforgiving terrain. We walked in the cold water and took some pictures and I’ll never admit to peeing there, so don’t bother to ask.

Rejoining our small tour party at the river, we were handed our brown sack lunches and were given a quick overview of the area. This included several suggested “do’s” and a number of soft “don’ts.” We took it as a singular list of items that all begged to be done.

This included walking into the river near the rapids instead of from the beach area where the water was smooth as glass. Well… Jim walked in… I’m too much of a chicken shit when it comes to rapids. That’s what a near-death experience does to a person. I digress.

The rest of our time there was spent eating our sammiches, walking to different parts of the river, and taking lots of pics. I was a little jelly of the rafters. If I ever do this trip again I’ll have to get over my fear and just do it. 

This was the highlight of our day. We both agree. And when our time was up we had to retrace our steps and make the 3 hour journey back to Williams. To best represent how bumpy the ride was, I’ll just say that we likely walked less than 3K steps on the day as a whole yet my FitBit recorded 17k on the day. That’s bumpy! 

Our big plan to catch the sunset hinged in timing. Arriving back to Williams, we needed to get dinner and high tail it back north with a quickness. Trouble was, nothing was happening very quickly. 

First.. the restaurant we planned to order takeout from was closed on Mondays. Second, the only fast food option I was ok with was Taco Bell and after 10 minutes in line with little movement we peeled outto hit the gas station instead. Third.. the gas station was packed and the line there was no joke either. 

Third was the gas station stop to fuel up and grab a quick bite. For me, that was a gas station hot dog. As I stood at the rollers I tried to think of a time in my life I’ve eaten a gas station hot dog. I could not think of one. So I thought to myself, why not.

I’ll be damned if I didn’t even know where they were hiding the buns. Like the last person on the planet to be let in on a grand secret. Not labeled because even an idiot knows where they keep the buns. Good gravy!

The hot dog was a good decision for about 20 minutes until the last few bites when it became a bad decision. But I finished it anyway.

Part of our navigation challenge came when hunting for a sunset spot. It was not something I had researched at all so we were googling as we drove from Jim’s phone (my service is really quite abysmal out here).

We picked #1 on the list and that is where we went but because of our timing, we sort of missed the bit where the sun was lighting up the cliffs on the south and east walls.

We did catch the sun dipping behind the trees on the horizon (no clear shot of the sun from across the canyon at Mather Point and watched the shadows creep up and consume the entire void. Still very cool.

When the sun was completely set, we left that vista behind us and drove back to Taledega (or Tulsa or Texarkana or Tuscaloosa).

As Jim drove, the sky became a shade of dark that only the great wilderness, free from light pollution, can provide. The stars came out and I watched them from my passenger window, eyes scanning for Orien’s belt. It took a little over an hour to get back to our AirBnb.

A full day of “everything” indeed. Or at least it felt like everything. Little did I know that we were just getting started…

With peace and love,

~Miss SugarCookie

2021-04-18 Arizona Adventure Day 0: Just Getting Started 🌵

When writing about my travels, I tend to call travel day, “Day 0.” Then the first full day on the trip is officially “Day 1.” At the moment, it is early (5:45am) on “Day 2” so I’m playing rapid catch up to capture everything from the past two days. Let me tell you, it’s a lot.

Since we had such an early start in Sunday, day 0 felt like a full day anyhow.

Where I left off last time was landing in Phoenix after a super early rise and feeling a little sick and disoriented because of that. However, the first thing we did after getting our rental car was find a brunch place to have some food. The place we found was called Snoozers and the place was hopping. There was a bit of a wait to get a table, but somehow when the temp is 75 degrees and the sun is shining, it doesn’t seem all that terrible to wait. We sat on the edge of a planter full of annuals and let the sun hit our faces.

The restaurant was a good experience. I had brunch tacos, with a southwest kick and a pom-a-licious mimosa (orange juice, champagne, and pomegranate liquor). All of that was exactly what my body needed. After that we drove around Phoenix for a bit looking for a few trip essentials we did not bring with us and didn’t mind wandering about a little as check in at our Air-Bnb was 4PM and the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff is only two hours.

We tried to go to the botanical gardens but they were all sold out for the day, so we made a mental note to hit it on the way back and buy tickets in advance. The drive to the gardens was actually good enough for the moment as palm trees and cacti aren’t something g we see a lot of in Nebraska.

When we left there, we didn’t have other things we wanted to see in that area so we headed north on the highway. It was a fairly lackluster drive, and despite the landscape being vastly different that Nebraska, nothing stuck out as particularly noteworthy on the highway. I mean, mountains in the distance but just lots of brown everywhere.

In a few short hours, we had made it to Flagstaff but were still super early for check in.

We weren’t  really that hungry yet but we had nothing else to do so we stopped into a cute little Mexican restaurant, El Tapatio, for lunch. I ordered a very small ceviche tostada with a blue margarita and Jim had mixed meat fajitas and a corona light. With the free chips and salsa, it ended up being a LOT of food but it was all delicious. Jim’s commented several times since then that he definitely wants to go back there at least once before we leave. This is high praise indeed! 

After lunch we around a little bit to get our bearings and also hit the Whole Foods to buy our groceries for the week.  Whenever we travel, we try and stay at a place where we can cook our own food if we need to, which saves on planning, dollars, and also ensures we have enough stuff that Jim can have with his dietary restrictions. 

Satisfied with our purchases and nearing 4PM check-in, we wound our way back south of town to find our home away from home for the week. A cute little house just out of town, nestled in the hills and pine trees. I would describe it as cozy and friendly. It’s not swanky and definitely the right amount of space for the two of us. Plus it has a hot tub so that’s a bonus (though we have not gotten to enjoy that yet).

We spent quite a bit of time just getting settled in and frankly, after the super early wake up and considering the time difference between Nebraska and Arizona (2 hours), I was ready to go to sleep by 9PM. And that is exactly what I did. 

Plus, I knew we had another early morning wake-up the next day because of what I had planned for our first full day in Arizona. More on that coming very soon!

This is Sure to Be the Start of Something Beautiful!

~Miss SugarCookie