Exploring Northern Arizona

This trip snowballed, what started as an idea for me and my bestie to go somewhere local soon became and adventure of a lifetime. Originally we had discussed trips to the Biltmore, then to Tenessee, maybe a trip to Disney...nah too expensive. Then we got on the topic of the REAL places we would love to see, the bucket list dreams of going out west and exploring what felt like to us a different world. As we sat across the table from each other discussing ideas and dreams over dinner one thing was clear, after a year of living in a pandemic both my best friend and I were in dire need of getting the heck out of town. Despite the potential risk of travel we both decided adventure was what we needed and what our souls longed for, so we booked the trip and packed our bags for ARIZONA!

One of the benefits to traveling during COVID was the prices and the flexibility, we were so pleased to find that we could make it happen for lower prices on flights and hotels and that we had the ability to cancel even up to a few days before should something crazy happen.

I spent days searching for all of the things that we could do, knowing nothing really about the area aside from the amazing photos we had seen online. The first thing that stood out to me was how spread apart everything was. Being from North Carolina I think we are used to things being within a relatively short drive. We can get from our Piedmont home to the mountains in 2 hours and to the beach in about the same time, and there are sights to see even closer than that. In Northern AZ everything is so spread out and you can see for miles, literally. There was only one road between Flagstaff and Page, AZ, where we stayed, so at least there was no getting lost!

I knew that if we wanted to see as much as possible it was going to require a lot of driving and a lot of forethought into how to strategically make the most of the time we had. Looking back I think we did a pretty great job of seeing as much as we could in such a short trip, and we made memories that will last a lifetime.

Our trip started at 4:00 in the morning on Friday, January 15th. We booked an early flight so we could get to AZ relatively early and still enjoy some of the day. Our first flight from RDU to DFW was probably the hardest of them all simply because we knew we were going to have to mask-up for a while and surprisingly the flight was packed and stuffy. Luckily, the next flight was shorter and there were less people, and boy was the view from the air amazing as we landed in Flagstaff (forgive the iPhone photos). The Flagstaff airport was the cutest thing we had ever seen, literally one terminal and such a nice change of pace from the Dallas airport which was sprawling. We landed and quickly got our bags and rental car and hit the road for Sedona!

We drove literally 15 minutes down the road and descended into a Canyon that was the most beautiful place I had seen up until that moment. We winded down into the canyon on a curvy road and took in all of the views. We made a few pit stops on the way and read a couple of historical markers about settlers to the area and how they traveled by wagon to get there, and we quickly arrived in the beautiful adventure town of Sedona. The views were amazing, I could only describe it as a quaint little area similar to Boone's King Street, but with breathtaking views in every direction (not that Boone isn't breathtaking too). The little shops and restaurants lined the street and made for an enjoyable afternoon while we waited for our Jeep Tour to start. We were pretty hungry, seeing as how it was dinnertime back at home and our bodies didn't quite understand our new schedule yet, so we stopped for some food at Canyon Breezes. The food here was great and the views were even better from the patio out back.

Our last stop in Sedona was a tour that we had booked with Pink Jeep Tours. I would highly recommend them because they were friendly, professional, and what's not to like about a pink jeep! It was an excellent tour, they took us on a rugged backroad that was originally an old wagon trail between Flagstaff and Sedona, the terrain was rocky and made for an enjoyable ride up the canyon. We booked the sunset tour to get the best views and prettiest light, at that time of day the red rock just glows and it was absolutely beautiful. I would highly recommend their tours for anyone traveling to Sedona or the Grand Canyon area.

It was almost dark as we left Sedona and so we had to hit the road and head towards Page, AZ where we were staying. Seeing as how this was 3 hours away we figured might as well do most of our driving at night so we made the most of our daytime. We even made the most of the nighttime drive, with almost no way to get lost (again, literally only one road between Flagstaff and Page) we knew the area would be rural, although surprisingly there were plenty of cars every minute or so which made us feel a little more secure. The drive out that way is in a dark sky territory, meaning there is very little light pollution. I so hoped to get some photos of the night sky but didn't have my tripod with me which is really needed for long shutter speeds and I was kicking myself for not packing it. This was one of those moments that we soaked up in our memory because the night sky was breathtaking, Milky Way and all! Luckily we made it to Page safe and sound and hit the hay since we were utterly exhausted from a full day.

The next morning we woke up to the most spectacular views from our hotel window, to say we felt like we were on a different planet was an understatement. Page, AZ and the surrounding area was absolutely beautiful. We left pretty early to head out to our planned activities for the day. We knew we wanted to explore a slot canyon, and while we would have loved to have gone to Antelope Canyon it was unfortunately closed due to COVID and being on the Navajo reservation. Luckily this area has no shortage of slot canyons and amazing sights, so we drove about an hour West towards Kanab, Utah to hike Buckskin Gulch. This is the longest slot canyon in the United States at approximately 15 miles, although we only hiked a small part of it, it was breathtaking and easily one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. We drove to the Wire Pass Trailhead that was down a long 8 mile (very bumpy) dirt road, there was a good amount of people at the trail and it was a beautiful 60 degree day, perfect for our hike. We were extremely blessed with good weather because at this time of the year many places would be covered in snow, so it was unusually warm for our trip...God's good like that! One of the good things about this time of the year was less crowds and NO SNAKES! Arizona has 13 types of rattlesnakes, one of which our tour guide from the jeep tour said would put you in the funeral home in less than 2 hours, YIKES! We were happy to report no snakes were sighted on this trip. We hiked through wire pass which was fairly open at first, we saw some cows, and the terrain was so different with each turn, we went through a few narrow slots, down a ladder and eventually came to a large open space. This was where Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch converged. This part alone of the hike was stunning, there was a large archway that was massive, huge canyon walls, some even complete with petroglyphs that were around 1000 years old. We continued up through Buckskin Gulch and were in awe as the 400 foot walls towered above us with only about 3-5 feet of space to walk through, it was nothing short of a God-moment for us. Buckskin Gulch is a must do if you are in this part of the country and I would go back a thousand times if I could. If you visit, do be careful, make sure you have lots of water, you are with others around you, and that you check the forecast for the day. Any chance of rain can turn into flash flooding in this area since it is so narrow so you always want to be cautious. As a photographer, getting to explore this place was magical, the way the light played off of the walls and the colors surrounded us from every angle was life changing. Lots of pictures follow because I just couldn't stop myself from taking so many of this beautiful place.

After our hike, we drove back through the Grand Staircase Escalante area of southern Utah, the views on all of our drives were amazing and made the long drives feel short. Even just driving we were so content getting to see the scenery. We ended up stopping off of the road at another trailhead that was a short hike to the Toadstool Hoodoos. These are rock formations that look like mushrooms. Even this terrain (just 20 minutes down the road from where we were on our previous hike) was so different, the dirt was a little sandier and less red, almost a beige color. We described this area as if we were on Mars because it was sandy rock and what we would imagine Mars would look like. After our short hike here we headed straight for Horseshoe Bend which was back near our hotel in Page because we didn't want to miss the sunset.

Horseshoe Bend was my second favorite sight of this trip, it was sooo much larger in person than I had ever anticipated and made me feel so small. I love that feeling, like being in an airplane and being reminded of just how big my God is and how small my problems really are in comparison, and this is what this place made me feel as well. It's no wonder this is one of the most photographed spots in Arizona. The people down below on the Colorado River were such tiny specks that I didn't even realize they were there camping on the shoreline until someone next to us pointed them out. The cliffs were so tall and just straight drop offs to the deep river below which was so turquoise-blue that it almost looked unreal. This place was phenomenal and no trip to Page, AZ is complete without it! I'd love to see it at sunrise as well because the direction of the sun shining straight on the rocks at dawn would be beautiful.

After this we grabbed some dinner at a local Mexican restaurant (which had the largest plates we had ever seen, they were half the size of the table, no joke), and then we again went straight to bed. I don't think we watched any TV the whole trip, which I told bestie was a sign that we were on a grand adventure!

The next morning we decided to drive to the Grand Canyon so we could have plenty of time to explore. On the way we saw many beautiful sights, including bestie's favorite where we drove through these canyon walls as we headed South from Page to the Grand Canyon. On one of the scenic overlooks there were some people from the Navajo Nation selling handmade jewelry. We stopped and spoke with them for a good 20-30 minutes and bought several items. Their handmade jewelry was absolutely beautiful. It was so special to have items to remember Arizona from that were handmade, and we got to hear the meaning behind the different stones and patterns used on their handicrafts, which made it that much more special. After our short stop we hit the road again.

It was a good thing we decided to do use this day for the Grand Canyon instead of cramming it into the day our flight left, because the road between Page and the Southern entrance was actually closed and so we had to drive on a very rough dirt backroad for 18 miles to pass the road block. Luckily, the detour became another scenic route for us and so we were just along for the ride through the Kaibab National Forest. Interestingly enough we passed maybe 3-4 cars the whole 18 miles and then randomly saw a guy in the back of his truck in the middle of nowhere standing up in the bed doing what appeared to be some sort of TikTok dance, it gave us a good laugh and we kept trekking. We finally made it back to Highway 64 and quickly came to an overlook of the Grand Canyon, our first sight of it, and it did not disappoint! We also got our favorite photo of the trip that made us laugh so hard, you can see it below, your welcome (LOL). The sun was so bright and in our eyes and this is what we ended up with, notice me stupidly wearing my sunglasses on my head while squinting in pain.

We finally made it to the South Entrance to the park and we had such a great time, the Grand Canyon was so vast that it was hard to even comprehend how large it really was. Although it was so beautiful it was quite the touristy area, but we really enjoyed the views and learning about this amazing place, it was a bucket list item for sure. We would love to go back and maybe do a tour to hike down into the canyon.

We ended up driving back to Flagstaff for dinner and then heading back to Page since the road was closed and we didn't want to drive down the deserted (no pun intended) 18 miles of backroad again. The next morning we packed up and headed out for one last adventure before we had to return our rental car and board our flight. We drove to Tuba City, about halfway between Flagstaff and Page, which is on Navajo territory, and there were some dinosaur tracks just off of the road that we stopped to look at. This was pretty awesome for just a short pit stop because we had never seen anything quite like that before. These tracks apparently likely belong to what is called a dilophosaurus which is related to the thing in Jurassic Park with the fanned neck, creepy.

After this short detour we drove a little East of Flagstaff to Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, right outside of Winslow, AZ. This is a place where a ginormous meteor struck the earth and left a crater 700 feet deep in the ground. This was just mind-boggling to see, and we were happy to cram it in just before we had to catch our flight. We snapped some photos and read up on the site some and then headed for the airport.

Our trip had come to an end, 830 miles of driving later and we were happily exhausted. Leaving was bittersweet, we've missed this place ever since we left and am already planning to make it to this part of the country again!