In order to keep my Gold Medallion status with Delta, I needed to somehow get about 3,000 more flight miles. Since I was so close and the advantages of having Gold from Silver are pretty great, I decided that I would find somewhere to go for a long weekend to keep it! I searched on google flights to see what flights were cheapest for the time I could go and also for flights that were far enough away that would give me the miles that I needed. I’ve been wanting to go to Arizona for a while now, and with a flight just over $200 and 3 National Parks, I decided that would be my destination.
The flight to Phoenix went by much faster than trans-continental flights typically do and the airport there was relatively easy to navigate. I left late on a Friday so arrived in Phoenix around 10pm. My first stop was going to be Tucson so I drove the hour and a half there to spend the night. Upon unpacking, I realized I forgot the most important thing – hiking shoes, so I made a quick Target run and found some tennis shoes that would be sufficient enough.
I woke up the next morning around 6 so that I could get to Saguaro National Park and watch the sunrise. I had no clue what to expect – I’d gotten to Arizona in the dark and just wanted everything to unfold there. It was a fast half hour drive to the park and I just waited for the first glimpse of daylight. I was absolutely stunned with how beautiful it was as the sun slowly rose over the mountains casting a bright pink gleam on the mountains to the west. I also saw my first cactus (as in one that wasn’t in a pot), which probably isn’t as exciting for you as it was for me. I really picked a cool place to see them for the first time because the Saguaro’s are like as tall as a tractor trailer. The pictures that I took do not even show the magnitude of these giants. They really are incredible to see. I also found out that they don’t grow their arms until they are about 80 years old! I drove the loop of the park and took a few small trails but being alone in the desert is a little scary (rattlesnakes) so I didn’t venture as far out as I would have liked to. I will say that this place far exceeded my expectations. I was kind of just obligatory stopping there to knock it off of my National Parks list, but little did I know how much I would love it there.
After finishing up, I grabbed some coffee and started my drive to Petrified Forest National Park in Holbrook, Arizona. It was quite a long drive thru some pretty intense mountain roads and Native American Reservations but it was absolutely beautiful. One thing I noticed throughout the entire trip is how incredibly diverse the landscape of Arizona is. One minute you’re in a desert, the next in mountains and then red rocks and canyons. It’s pretty amazing.
I got the park a few hours before it closed and went to the welcome center to try and prioritize what I should do in the amount of time I had there. I went on a few trails and it is pretty cool to see the amount and scale of the petrified wood. They really are stunning and I wanted to take all of them home with me (very frowned upon). I did a couple trails here as well as the loop road which took me to Route 66 and I headed to Flagstaff for the night. Overall, the park was OK, definitely wouldn’t go back but it was kind of neat to see. It was really out of the way for me to get to and I kind of wish I had done something else with that time instead.
The ride to Flagstaff was pretty short – but before I forget to mention, Arizona drivers were BY FAR the worst out of anywhere I’ve ever driven (and that’s a lot, especially in the last year). Everyone goes like 10-15 UNDER the speed limit and it’s extremely frustrating, but I digress…
Flagstaff blew me away. The town is adorable. Kind of reminded me of Athens but with giant beautiful mountains in the background. I didn’t really have any expectations for it, kinda just figured it would be a place to sleep and that was that. Speaking of place to sleep…I stayed at a motel (which is not typically my thing) just about a half mile from town, it wasn’t in a sketchy area or anything and the people there seemed normal. I went and grabbed some dinner next door then came back and went right to bed (because I really wanted to get up and drive to the Grand Canyon and watch the sunrise there). Around 2 in the morning, my “neighbors” decided that it was time to have a drunken (I am assuming) domestic dispute. It started out as a little entertaining. The girl was jealous that her boyfriend was talking to someone else while they were out (this is all being SCREAMED by the way). It was quite Jerry Springer…he was crying, she was telling him to leave and that she hated them, etc. Finally after about 30 minutes he decides that he is going to “leave and drive far away,” so I’m pumped that I can go back to bed. A mere 10 minutes later the dude comes back (obviously he didn’t drive far enough) to profess his love and try to straighten things out. She is having none of it. Things get way worse and he decides to leave again by saying “I HATE YOU AND I HOPE YOU DIE” before driving away. I decided that this bad juju wasn’t for me and that I might as well just go ahead and start my drive to the Grand Canyon.
A little less than two hours later I got to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. It was PITCH BLACK. Maybe the darkest place I’ve ever been (maybe tied with Acadia in Maine). It’s kind of terrifying. I parked at the visitor center and was going to try and get out and walk around. Unfortunately I had no flashlight, and my iPhone light was basically worthless so I had to relax for another hour when things started to kind of start lighting up. I had found places to watch the sunrise there and walked to one of those overlooks. Never having been to the Grand Canyon, I was pretty stoked to see it appear as the sun rose. I was not disappointed. I don’t think that pictures really do the canyon’s magnitude justice. It really is incredible how giant this thing is. After the sunset I drove all the way up to Hermit’s rest and stopped at several other overlooks on my way there, walked a good bit of the rim trail and then drove down to Desert View and walked around.
Overall, it was pretty cool, definitely a must see, but I still think that Yosemite, Tetons, Yellowstone, Acadia and Saguaro are my top parks thus far. From the Grand Canyon, I headed to Sedona, which I was BEYOND excited to go to. It did not disappoint, it is absolutely breathtaking. The red rocks are everywhere and the landscape could not be more beautiful. I went to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is a Catholic church basically stuck on the side of a mountain. Pretty awesome. I stayed the night at the cutest little hotel within walking distance to some shops and restaurants which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The next morning I had to head back to Phoenix for my flight but on the way took a little detour to Montezuma’s Castle…basically a really cool Native American cliff dwelling. I think living inside a hollowed cliff would be pretty awesome!
Arizona definitely exceeded my expectations and I got to go to most of the places that I wanted to – I think next time I go I will explore more of Sedona and also make it up to Page and see Antelope Canyon!