Southwest Roadtrip (Part I): Scottsdale, Sedona and the Grand Canyon
With COVID we wanted to find a safe way to vacation and traveling to the Southwest made the most sense for being able to do activities outdoors in the winter. We began in Phoenix and traveled north through Arizona visiting Scottsdale, Sedona and the Grand Canyon before making our way to Utah.
While Scottsdale is known to be a great golf destination and a party scene for college kids, we were visiting because it was warm, sunny and has great hiking.
We got up super early on our first morning and went straight to Camelback Mountain. The route via Echo Canyon was a fun, steep scramble to the top, a 2,680 foot summit. Not only was it a great route up but the views from the top were stunning – you could see all of Phoenix.
Flatiron via Siphon Draw
I’ve done a lot of hiking in my life and this is one of my all time favourites. This hike was located in Apache Junction, about an hour east of Scottsdale. As we got close to the park, it felt like we were in the wild west. There were people on horseback along the way and we even encountered an old ghost town!
Once in the park, the first mile was basically a walk to the trailhead and then from there it got exciting. It was a steep climb up the mountain, but such a fun scramble up terrain that felt like we were walking on the moon and everywhere you turned, there were amazing views. We hiked 5.8 miles with over 2,000 foot in elevation gain – pretty exhausting but really fun at the same time.
We walked around downtown Scottsdale to briefly check out the area but given COVID, we spent most of our evenings at the W (and were fortunate to be upgraded to an enormous suite with a living room, balcony, rain shower and tub). We did however have some good late night street tacos, an amazing outdoor breakfast in the Arcadia Farms patio and a lovely outdoor dinner at The Canal Club.
Seeing all those people riding horses through the desert on our way to the Siphon Draw hike made us want to try it ourselves. We stopped at Wild Western Horseback Rides, a ranch on the way to Sedona, for a short tour of the desert and rode Dusty and Rusty along some desert trails. Our ride was only an hour but it was enough – despite it being December, the desert sun made it pretty hot and my knees were hurting from sitting on the horse!
It’s really easy to know when you get to Sedona as you are immediately surrounded by striking red rocks on all sides. It’s stunning. We arrived right on Winter Solstice which was pretty cool as Sedona, with many of the rocks being known as energy vortexes, is a destination for this type of stuff. We were excited to watch the sunset that evening and take in a bunch of the scenery while hiking.
We were headed to Cathedral Rock for sunset but with the parking lot already full and the clock ticking, we made our way to this trail instead. It was super short and even though it didn’t have a clear view of sunset, it provided some amazing lightning for sunset photos – the light was radiating off the rock, creating a golden glow.
This is a famous hike in the area known for its seven sacred pools and hidden caves. While the photos of the pools were stunning, they were pretty dried out this time of year. We continued passed them to the fork in the trail to check out the hidden caves though. Despite the crowds, they were fun to climb up into.
Given the small parking lot and our experience on the first evening, we decided to get to Cathedral Rock several hours before sunset to ensure we would be able to fit this hike in.
Cathedral Rock is one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. The hike may be only 1.2 miles, but its 652 foot in elevation gain making it steep and somewhat challenging. The steep climb is extremely rewarding through – once at the summit you are greeted with a spectacular view and several different photo spots. On the right, there is “the edge” (as seen below). To the left, there is a mini trail up a giant pile of rocks to a hidden pillar and a stone directly in front of it, often visited as it is known to be a “fertility stone”.
On the food front, we had nice meals at Mariposa and The Hudson but also had a lot of quicker / to go meals, primarily from Wildflower Bread Company, in order to maximise our hiking time and stay COVID safe.
The Grand Canyon
I had not been to the Grand Canyon since I was a little kid and at that time, we only saw the canyon from the rim. I had always wanted to go below the rim and check out the canyon itself so I was excited to come back to this spot.
The South Rim
Upon arrival, we walked the South Rim trail to check out the canyon from above and then drove up to Navajo Point for sunset. Given 90% of the Grand Canyon’s visitors never leave the rim these were the more travelled spots. We did manage to experience the South Rim at a quieter time though – following dinner at El Tovar Hotel, we went for a short walk along the canyon rim to check out the stars. The moonlight was so strong that we did not need headlamps and besides a gorgeous night, we spotted some reindeer on our way out which helped get us in the Christmas spirit!
Into the Canyon: South Kaibab Trail
After seeing the sunrise at Desert View Watchtower, we decided to experience the canyon from below the rim. Everything I had read suggested that the trail was steep, we needed to be prepared for adverse conditions (e.g. ice on the trail) and that we should not go further than Skeleton Point for a day trip (and unfortunately, we were not able to get a reservation at Phantom Ranch in the canyon).
Therefore we decided to start the hike around 10am in order to allow for the trail to warm up a bit. We found the trail to be steep but not technically difficult and as we got closer and closer to the bottom, it seemed so close to the canyon floor and the Colorado River that we wanted to keep going. We ended up at Tipoff, the last stop before descending to the canyon floor before turning around. From a fitness perspective, we could have made it down and back but we were running out of daylight — in hindsight, we should have started earlier. That said, we ended up doing 11 miles roundtrip and about 30,000 steps that day, and got a great feel of what it is like to be in the canyon.
Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
On our way from the Grand Canyon to Zion National Park, we stopped at Glen Canyon National Park and Horseshoe Bend to break up the journey. Our first stop was Lees Ferry, the only place that you can drive up to the Colorado River in over 700 miles of canyon country. Since we didn’t make it all the way to the Colorado River on our Grand Canyon hike this was a quick way to visit the river. Following that, we took a short walk on Navajo Bridge to cross the river and finally, we made our way to the Horseshoe Bend overlook to check out this geologic masterpiece.