Posts Tagged ‘Arizona’

The Trip

Ok so we did go on a trip. We were in the land of saguaro cacti!

Steve and saguaro cacti

Remember my friend Mary who we visited in Phoenix on our road trip?  Well she got married!  So we made the trip to Phoenix again, this time by plane.  We went down a week early so that we could visit with the happy couple before they started to get busy with wedding stuff.  Then we rented a car and did a mini road trip.  We had two specific spots we wanted to see – Zion National Park (yup! we loved it so much the first time we had to go back!) and Antelope Canyon.  Photos to come as I process them!



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We decided to hike the North Kaibab Trail, which is the trail that will take you all the way down to the river (the bottom), and to Phantom Ranch, where you can stay the night.  Not having tents, nor having booked a spot at the Ranch a year in advance (!), we couldn’t stay the night at the bottom.  This is probably a good thing, since if there had been an opportunity to stay down there, I would have wanted to hike that far and neither of us is really in shape for hiking the whole day down into a canyon – a Grand one at that! – and the whole day back up again the next day.

Us at the top of the trail

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the North rim side of the Grand Canyon didn’t fit what I had in my mind.  We decided on the North rim of the Grand Canyon because we were heading North in any case to go to Zion National Park.  We’d heard that the South rim is a lot more touristy (the Grand Canyon literature says 90% of people go to the South rim and 10% the North), and that there is a glass plateau that you can walk out on at the North rim.  Neither of these things appeared to be true, as far as we could tell.  The North rim was packed – all of the parking lots were full or almost full, and there were people all over the place.  And we didn’t find a glass plateau.  We later saw a sign for the “Skywalk” of Grand Canyon as we headed past Las Vegas – so it must be near there.

But don’t get me wrong – it was beautiful at the North rim.  Just, somehow it didn’t have the vastness that I envisioned, and I wasn’t struck with awe and wonder at the sight.

Before you close your browser and write me off as a heartless, jaded, shell of a human being, please know that I was struck with awe and wonder at Zion National Park.  It is not that I am incapable…it was just that…well….the Grand Canyon at the North rim, was not what I had imagined.

Me at the top of the North Kaibab trail


All the same, our lack of profound sentiment did not stop us from hiking down the canyon 2000 feet and then back up again – a 4 hour hike.

Steve on the North Kaibab Trail

I say 2000 feet because it sounds much more impressive than the 5.2 miles we covered there and back.  4 hours of steady hiking, except for occasional stops in the shade, and we got 5.2 miles.  Sounds like nothing – but you just try it yourself and then come talk to me 😛

Steve at a look-out

Me at a look-out

The further down we got, the more it started to look like what we’d envisioned.  The trees thinned out, the canyon opened up, and we could appreciate a bit more the layers of time captured in the rock and the miles that it stretched out in space.


The layers of time

Me and the layers

Steve halfway down

We saw a landmark off in the distance that we could aim for – a bridge over the river – and decided that we would hike that far and then turn back.  At this point the other people on the path were few and far between.  Also few and far between were the mounds of mule poop covered in flies.  We never came across any mules, but we sure felt their presence for that first mile.


Looking up

As usual, I was much enamored with the flora and fauna and captured everything I could with the camera.

Purple flower Cactus flower

White flower

Bell flowers


Funky aloe

Stellar Jay Stellar Jay


We may or may not have seen a condor too.  I don’t know.  I have a hard time distinguishing between big-winged, soaring birds.


That guy bit me.

Well, ok, I was tired and I lost my balance and I ran into his spiky bits.  Either way, ouch!

Steve at the bridge

Me at the bridge

Finally we reached our destination, the bridge.  I think this was about a third of the way to the ranch where you can spend the night.  We still had to hike all the way back up, but we were feeling pretty good.  On the way back up we played tag with a woman who was at first behind us, then we’d take a break and she’d be in front, and then she’d take a break and we’d get ahead, and so on.  We stopped to chat at one point and she told us that she lives in Phoenix and has been hiking the canyon for 20 years.  In the past she has hiked from the South rim to the North rim.  She said she never gets sick of the view, and we could appreciate why.

Grand canyon - North rim

Even though the North rim proved to be not quite what we were expecting, it was nonetheless amazing to see.  It is hard to capture in words, and hard as well to capture in photos.

Next we headed further North towards Zion National Park – another beautiful and hard-to-capture experience!

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I’m actually writing this post as we retrace our tire tracks back towards the Grand Canyon.  Why? you ask.  Well, I guess you’ll just have to read my next post to find out!

The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon is the most picturesque drive we’ve had yet.  Yes, the Skyline Drive/Blueridge Parkway was spectacular, but it’s the type of scenery that we’ve both seen many times before.  Neither of us has ever driven through the desert.

The town of Sedona is nestled into the Red Rock mountains, blending into its surroundings with homes and buildings the colour of the sand and rock.  These were the first mountains of this kind that we’d seen, and the view was captivating.


Sedona and Red Rock mountainsSedona and Red Rock mountains

I tried my hand at some panoramic shots and put them together later using Photoshop.  Next time I will use my tripod and make sure the exposure is the same for each panel!

Red rock mountain panorama

Red rock mountain panorama

We didn’t stop to walk around Sedona, feeling that it was more the mountains surrounding it that make this town appealing, but we did stop at this one touristy shop/art gallery that caught our eye.



And no stop is complete unless we get a picture of Amelia there too (actually we didn’t even get a picture of ourselves here!).

Amelia in Sedona

The drive between Sedona and Flagstaff goes along Oak Creek Canyon and it is quite beautiful.   It is also quite steep and felt even more precarious than when we did the Blueridge Parkway.  Sure there were guardrails, and Steve assured me that they could very well save your life, but my feeling was that they were more for show, and perhaps to give you a sense that you weren’t really a couple feet away from careening around a corner and rolling down the several miles to the bottom. It was here I learned the term “switchback.”  And here’s a good example of what that is:

GPS - switchback

Edge of the road


In case we were going to plummet to our deaths shortly, we took some happy photos of ourselves for posterity (and I guess we also needed to stretch our legs), on the edge of the canyon with Amelia.

Steve at Oak Creek Canyon

Me and Amelia at Oak Creek Canyon

But we didn’t take the plunge and arrived safely in Flagstaff.  We didn’t really know what to do in Flagstaff, but I remembered from Mary’s photos that you can access Route 66 from there.  So we sought it out and didn’t have to look very far because it started up right off the highway we were on.  And then it started to veer away from the direction we wanted to go, so we got right back off.

Route 66

Route 66 neon sign

So you may have noticed that we’d already experienced a variety of terrain on the drive so far.  From Phoenix to Sedona it was cacti and shrubs and the desert we’d gotten used to in Phoenix.  Then we hit Sedona and everything was covered in red sand and rock, with pockets of green shrubbery.  Between Sedona and Flagstaff we traveled along the Oak Creek Canyon and the scenery started incorporating trees.  After Flagstaff, we hit a section of desert that was positively yellow.

Yellow is the colour

Bright, pale, yellow.

Bright yellow

And then pink.



And then yellow, pink, and grey.

Pink, yellow, grey

And then it was back to red rock again.

Navajo bridge

We stopped here, at the Navajo bridge, and took in the landscape all at once.

Old Navajo bridge

Looking down

Colorado river

Us at the Navajo bridge

Me at the Navajo bridge

We were in a great big valley, and all around were rocky, red mountains.  Steve remarked that you could see how the valley could have been an ocean floor millions of years earlier.  You could see the layers and layers of rock and sediment in the hills.  We got to look out above the valley miles later when we drove up one of the mountains.  We stopped and had a snack, and enjoyed the view.

View of the Valley

As we neared the North rim of the Grand Canyon, the scenery again changed to trees and green grass and we entered the Kaibab National Forest.

Kaibab National Forest

A lot of the trees were no longer green.  A forest fire must have swept through a lot of the forest a year or two earlier.  There were miles of burnt trees.

Burnt forest

But thankfully lots of the forest was still there.  We stopped for the night in a campground in the far right of this picture:

Kaibab National Forest

You can’t actually see it there – I just thought you might like to know.  The campground was a short drive from the entrance into the park, and had no amenities except for an outhouse-type toilet.  We got one of the last spots and the other two were taken while we were setting up.  We have been very fortunate on this trip with campgrounds – we never make a reservation and often show up after the office has closed.  So we get our pick of whatever spots are leftover and usually check in the next day at the same time as we check out.

The drive from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon was my favourite drive of the trip so far.  That’s saying a lot because we’ve seen some amazing scenery along the way!  I could drive it again and again, and as I alluded to above, we did do a lot of the drive again 🙂

Please be patient with me as I write up a post about the Grand Canyon.  There are a lot of photos to go through and I like to tweak them before posting 🙂  Also, there tends to be no internet connection in the long stretches of desert we’ve been driving through.  I get annoyed at first, and then I pause and realize that it’s pretty amazing that we get internet on the road at all.  And then I watch the scenery go by and I don’t think about the internet again for awhile.

What’s your favourite drive in North America?

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You’re shaking my confidence, baby.
Amelia, I’m down on my knees.
I’m begging you please,
don’t break down. Oh oh oh

On our epic drive from Austin to Phoenix, 16 hours and 1000 miles, it won’t surprise you to hear that Amelia was a little upset. So upset that at some points on our drive, she just flat out refused to accelerate. She also stalled a couple times.

So when Steve came back from Las Vegas, we debated whether to push on through and wait until our next long stay somewhere to have her looked at, or stay another day (or more, with our luck!) to have her looked at in Phoenix. We decided on the latter when Mary made us feel more than welcome to stay longer if we needed to.

Mary recommended a mechanic to us, and we headed there with Amelia. She was showered with praises once again, for her aesthetics as well as for how great of shape she is in considering her age. The mechanic was going to perform a free inspection and then based on that, we would decide how to proceed. So we stuck around at the auto shop while they checked her out. Once they’d figured out part of the problem – a tricky piece of the throttle and a clogged up fuel filter, they brought us on back to show us exactly what was going on with Amelia. It was great to look at the engine with the mechanic and go over exactly what was going on. While they searched for the parts (a specific part of the throttle and a new fuel filter), we headed for lunch somewhere nearby. When we got back, it was not looking good. The throttle part was now obsolete and they couldn’t find it anywhere. We knew of a few sources but none of those panned out either. As for the fuel filter, no one had exactly the right fit. We found a place where we could order one online, but it could take days to get to us. The mechanic did his best to clear out the clog in our existing one, to get us by for now until we can get the new one. All in all, he spent three hours working on Amelia and then insisted on not getting a cent because he hadn’t really fixed anything. This trip has convinced us that we absolutely must find a private mechanic back home whom we can trust with Amelia and our other car – we have been so fortunate on this trip to have met some great ones!

So, once again, there is nothing major that is wrong with Amelia and we will be able to keep driving without worrying about breaking down in the middle of the interstate. Phew!  But it’s definitely something we have to look into more because doing 45 mph in a 75 mph zone just isn’t cutting it.

On a side note, each mechanic leaves a tiny trace of himself on Amelia. When we had an oil change, the overweight mechanic doing it must have hauled himself out of the driver’s seat using the steering wheel, because it was slightly cracked when we got it back. In Austin, the European Expert left greasy finger prints all over the a/c housing. And now in Phoenix, our mud flaps seem to have lost the fight with the hoist when they clamped it on beside the wheels. Don’t they know that our Amelia is a lady?!

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Day three of our girly extravaganza, we woke up early and headed to a nearby mountain for some hiking – Piestewa Peak. Like the just-21-girl, we came prepared with lots of water in a camel backpack. Hiking in the desert is not like any hiking I’ve done before. The landscape is so completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been.

bottom of Piestewa Peak

Piestewa Peak and Phoenix

The hike itself was just challenging enough for my out-of-practice out-of-shape muscles, with its constant incline and rocky steps. There were pockets of shade where we could get out of the blazing sun, but really it wasn’t unbearably hot because of the mild temperatures that weekend and also because up on the mountain there is a refreshing cool breeze that you can catch now and again coming around a corner.

Hiking trail

Mary in the shadows

Me in the shadowsClimbing up, we passed a pouty young boy climbing down with his parents, bemoaning the fact that he had not seen a lizard. A couple minutes late we saw this guy, struggling to leap up a rock.

Lizard close-up

Once he made it up there, he seemed quite content, looking out over the landscape. I felt very fortunate to have seen him, because Mary said she’d never seen one before on her many hikes in Phoenix. We actually ended up seeing three of these guys!

Lizard lookout

When we reached the top, we also caught sight of an agile squirrel, leaping from rock to rock and weaving his way between them, not fazed at all by the height at which he so carelessly leapt. We were quite confident standing on the peak as well, but with sure-footing.

Mary and I at the top

Me at the top

We had another relaxing afternoon by the pool, cooling off and resting our tired muscles. That evening we decided to go see the second Sex In the City movie, which didn’t occur to us until the last minute. I had been saying how I’d probably drag Steve out to watch it with me, since he’d gone to see the first one with me (none of my girlfriends in Ottawa watch the show) – he was one of a handful of other men, and probably the only straight one! So Mary and I rushed off to the movie and it finished just in time for me to make it out to the airport to pick up Steve.

The three of us had one last evening together (Luke was still on his fishing trip). Mary took us to Old Town Scotsdale – another suburb of Phoenix which has been designed to look like an old country-Western town, with saloon-type front entrances on a lot of the buildings and lots of country-Western themed tourist shops. It was night-time so we only snapped these shots, mostly because it was just too good to resist:



We also went for dinner at this amazing restaurant:


The highlight, by far, of this restaurant is it’s famous dessert – the pizookie. It’s a pizza cookie made of fudge, cookie dough, and ice cream, with chocolate chips sprinkled on top. Sooooo good. Definitely a must-try if you come to Phoenix!

We are definitely sad to leave Phoenix. It was wonderful spending time with Mary again and I’m so happy that she and Steve have finally met each other. It is with heavy hearts and feet that we head to the Grand Canyon today. We are still undecided about whether to check out the South Rim or the North Rim. We are thinking the North Rim since we heard it was better and less touristy, and also because we are planning to head North anyway to check out Zion National Park as well. Then on the way West, we are going to check out the Hoover Dam – definitely a must-see for Steve. That’s as far as we’ve gotten…from there – West! 🙂

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Mary had to go into work early the next morning, just for an hour. I went with her so that I could see her office, and also so that we could go to a morning yoga class, which her sister Carrie was leading at The Bungalow. It was fun seeing where Mary works – she works for Arizona State University as a student advisor to MBA students.

Mary at work

She had lots of fun stuff to look at in her office, including this huge map of the world with little sticky dots of all the places she’s visited…

Mary's Map

…and this paper voodoo doll (I’m sure there’s all kinds of invisible names on that).

Voodoo paper doll

The yoga class was awesome. I hadn’t done yoga in years, and when I did it was just a small beginner’s class. The class Mary and I went to was an all-levels class and while I had no clue what I was doing, Carrie was very good at making it accessible for novices as well as challenging for the more-experienced. I’m definitely inspired to do yoga again. I think I will try and get into a class once we get home again.

After our early morning of work and yoga, we had a relaxing afternoon by the pool. Mary had been living in her house since January, but hadn’t yet tried out the pool – shocking to me who would be in it every day if we had a pool in our condo complex! Despite what I said earlier about the heat, we actually had amazing weather over the weekend – not too hot, but still sunny blue skies. Perfect for a day by the pool 🙂

Mary and I at the pool

Mary had mentioned a dueling piano bar as an option for a night out, and when she found out that I had never been to a dueling piano bar, there was no question what we were going to do on Saturday night. This particular piano bar, The Big Bang, has numerous musicians, all of whom can play several instruments besides the piano (drums, bass guitar), as well as sing. Needless to say, there was a lot of musical talent flying around.

Dueling pianos

Equally entertaining, the audience participates! Everyone dances and sings at their tables and gets right into the show. The music was a good mix of classic sing-a-longs and top 40 hits. Mary scored us front row seats in the packed bar when she caught sight of a couple leaving a table right in front of one of the big grand pianos.

Mary and I at the piano barDueling pianist

We belted out the tunes with the rest of the bar and chair danced (danced in our chairs) and just generally had a ball. When the music started to turn to mostly top 40 dance music and people encroached closer and closer into our space, dancing – holding their beers over our heads as they danced – we decided it was time to move on.

Mary was finally able to take me to her favourite pub and as we stood at a table on the patio chatting away, a young couple approached and asked if they could join us. These two were hilarious. It was just after midnight and we found out that the girl had just turned 21, ten minutes earlier. We were a couple minutes into the conversation before we realized that she was wearing a camel backpack – one of those backpacks that holds water and has a drinking spout coming out of it. She had biked there and wanted to make sure that she had enough water for the evening. She also informed us that she came prepared with “horizontal i.d.” – apparently Phoenix driver’s licenses have a vertical, or portrait layout until you are of age, then you get a horizontal one. So just in case they would turn her away at the door for having a vertical i.d., she brought along her passport. Hilarious! We were not worried for her at all. Her drinking partner, however, had already fallen on his butt once during our conversation, so we weren’t too sure about him. They left us shortly after and headed to another bar, and we headed home to indulge in some Sex In the City watching, a show we had watched together while living in China 🙂

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Mary and I became instant friends forever when we met in Changchun, China, where we were both living and teaching for a year. So it was crazy to us that we hadn’t seen each other since then – three years ago! Here is a picture of us, from our last hurrah together – a five week backpacking trip across Southeast Asia:

Mary & I, Angkor Wat

And here is a picture of us from just a few days ago, with our Chinese beers in Phoenix, reminiscing of old times.

Mary & I

We picked up as if it had only been 3 days since we’d last seen each other.

Crazier than us not seeing each other for so long was the fact that Mary hadn’t met Steve! And I was anxious to meet the man in Mary’s life, Luke. Before we sent the boys off on their own travels – Steve to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, and Luke to Ontario (!) for a fishing trip – we had a night of hanging out and getting to know each other.

One thing I learned very quickly in Phoenix – bring your i.d. everywhere! The legal drinking age in Ontario is 19, and being 28 years of age, I don’t worry about getting carded back home because it never happens – it’s usually only needed for going clubbing, and then everyone’s getting carded to get in the door. So when Mary said she wanted to take us to her favourite pub after dinner that evening, it didn’t even occur to me that I’d decided to go sans-purse for the evening (that’s what happens when you get married and can count on your husband to have his wallet 😉 ). But we were determined to relax over a pint and so persisted and got my i.d. and ended up compromising on an Irish pub near Mary’s – they had Guinness, so I was happy!

The next day the guys headed their separate ways and when Mary got home from work, it was just us girls! The timing of both their trips couldn’t have been more perfect. We got to spend hours reminiscing about China and our travels through Southeast Asia – literally hours. We got out Mary’s journal (we both kept one while travelling) and went through every single entry from Southeast Asia. It started out innocently enough, just wanting to look over the entry from this time three years ago and then we couldn’t stop ourselves and we were reading them all. We also spent several hours going through my wedding photos. Mary was not able to make it to the wedding, and we were both crushed. So it was great to share the day with her and walk her through all the little details that made it so special.

Mary was able to take Friday off, so we had the whole day together. One of the things I wanted to see most here in Phoenix, was her mom and sister’s coffee shop/yoga studio. I’ve heard about Inside the Bungalow from Mary for years and I was so excited to finally see it, and to meet her family. It is such a cute and cozy place – I wish I could transplant it, and Mary, to Ottawa – I’d be going there for iced coffees and yoga regularly if it were in my neighbourhood! It’s located in a gorgeous old house in downtown Mesa and each room has a different theme/feel to it. My two favourites were the Alice In Wonderland Room…

Alice In Wonderland room

Alice In Wonderland room

Alice In Wonderland room…and the Travel Room

Inside the Bungalow

Back patio

Side patio


After enjoying a delicious and healthy lunch, and a lovely chat with Mary’s mom and sister, we headed to the street of cute shops and boutiques of downtown Mesa (a suburb of Phoenix).

Mary and I in the big pink chair

Mary in the big pink chair Me in the big pink chair

The rest of the day was full of girly-ness. Not only did we check out those boutiques and shops, we also drove to two different scrapbooking stores. For dinner we met up with one of Mary’s girlfriends, Sam, and the three of us went out for some great Mexican food and then gelato for dessert. All in all it was a fabulous day of girly fun 🙂 While Steve was hours away having a decidedly manly day and evening of fun, gambling and drinking at the bachelor party.

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