From Red Rocks to Slot Canyons: Astounding Arizona

Stunning Sedona.
Stunning Sedona.

Recommended Time: 5-7+ Days

Earlier this year, I got to visit one of my favorite places on earth for the very first time. Arizona is completely and utterly amazing. The week we spent in the desert was one of the most profound of my life. I’d never seen anything like it—the red rocks that seemingly rose out of nowhere. The canyons carved out of the ground by mighty rivers. It’s an extraordinarily beautiful place.

We started our trip by flying into Phoenix International, renting a car, and immediately heading out of the city. We wanted to stop at a few national monuments en route to Sedona. The first was Montezuma Castle, which was pretty remarkable. To think that people chiseled out the side of that mountain centuries ago is pretty amazing. It’s definitely worth a stop, as is nearby Tuzigoot National Monument, offering scenic views of the surrounding desert landscape.

Road winding through the red rocks of Sedona.

But it was the drive from Tuzigoot to Sedona that had me literally gasping at the views. The colors of the earth shift, becoming deeper—richer. The red rocks start to poke out of the ground, reaching skyward. And then you’re there—in Sedona—where it’s as if God took a paintbrush and dotted the landscape with colors you’d only expect to see in some exquisitely detailed watercolor.

Make sure to spend a few days in Sedona. You don’t want to plan to stay for an evening, then drive away the next morning, watching the red rocks in your rear-view, knowing there’s so much you left unexplored. From scenic hikes to off-roading adventures, Sedona has an adventurous side that you’ll want to take some time to delve into. Check out my city guide for the best activities, restaurants, and places to stay.

Next, make your way to the Grand Canyon, a mere two hours north. Perfect for a day trip, or a week-long camping adventure, the Grand Canyon offers an experience for every type of traveler. We spent the afternoon gazing over the rim, marveling at the layers of rock formations, and the tens of thousands of years of history held within them. It’s an incredible place—something that often tops the bucket lists of amateur travelers everywhere—and as well it should! No picture could ever do it justice. You need to stand in its presence to truly appreciate its magnitude. Just go there. Trust me.

You can see for miles.

You can see for miles.

A fun side jaunt is Page, Arizona. A ridiculously small town in the upper northeast corner of the state, Page is about a 2-hour drive from the Grand Canyon, via one of the most isolated stretches of road you’ll ever come across. It’s all on Native American land. You’ll go miles and miles without seeing anything. We wondered to ourselves who in the world would ever stop at the roadside stands you’d see set up occasionally—but somehow they were always deserted. There’s one town about halfway down this road between Page and Flagstaff—and it’s still about 20 miles from that exit. I don’t remember ever feeling that isolated.

Page boasts several natural wonders that make the journey well worth the trip. We reached Horseshoe Bend at sunset. This is the place where the Colorado River makes a 270-degree turn, forming the shape of a horseshoe. It’s one of the most tragically beautiful places I’ve been. (I read a fun fact that it has the highest suicide rate in Arizona because people think it’s the perfect spot from which to pass into the next life). It’s a hike from the road, but the dramatic views make up for that. Sit and marvel at the beauty before you.

The main reason people make the trek to Page is to visit Antelope Canyon, just outside the town. It is the most photographed slot canyon in the world. Unlike the Grand Canyon carved into the earth and witnessed from above, visitors walk into Antelope Canyon, and light dances on the canyon walls. At high noon during the summer months, light beams travel to the floor, creating an environment straight out of photographers’ dreams. It’s a remarkable place, and luckily because all the natural beauty is above your head, you are hardly bothered by the hordes of tourists surrounding you—and your images are virtually people-free!

Arizona is truly an incredible place worth some exploration. We would have loved to have had time to continue on to Las Vegas, or more National Parks in Utah. If you have the time, make the multi-day drive from Phoenix to Salt Lake City, stopping at every National Park along the way. When we mapped it out, our possible route would take us to eight!

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte.

Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte, Sedona.

Have you been astounded by Arizona? What other stops would you include a road trip?

Check out our other road trips: Maine, Maui, Florida, California, and the Finger Lakes.

Places

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, East Sky Harbor Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ, United States

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde, AZ, United States

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States

Sedona

Sedona, AZ, United States

Grand Canyon, South Rim

Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon Village, AZ, United States

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend Parking, Page, AZ, United States

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ, United States

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, East Sky Harbor Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ, United States

Montezuma Castle

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Camp Verde, AZ, United States

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot National Monument, Tuzigoot Road, Clarkdale, AZ, United States

Sedona

Sedona, AZ, United States

Grand Canyon, South Rim

Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon Village, AZ, United States

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend Parking, Page, AZ, United States

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon, Page, AZ, United States

Best Viewpoints Along Grand Canyon’s South Rim

Viewpoint along the South Rim.
Viewpoint along the South Rim.

As you know from my post a couple of weeks ago, we loved our recent trip to the Grand Canyon. To stand in its presence and soak up its beauty was really something special. But where—exactly—is the best place to stand to witness all the wonder that is the Grand Canyon?

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is by far the most visited part of the canyon, attracting more than 5 million visitors each year. It is the easiest part of the canyon to reach, and it provides lots of great hiking and photo opportunities. Here are our favorite vantage points from an afternoon spent looking over the edge.

Mather’s Point

Viewing at Mather Point.

For many people, this is their first glimpse of the Grand Canyon—the place they’ve seen in movies; the place that’s been at the top of their bucket lists for years. It’s the first vantage point along the Rim Trail, and as you might expect, it’s also one of the most crowded. It has insanely beautiful views, and is the perfect introduction to one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.

Yavapai Point

Stunning vista along the Rim Trail (South).

Near Yavapai

How did the Grand Canyon form? How many years ago did it all happen? What types of rocks are out there? Those are all questions that can be answered at the Yavapai Geology Museum and Observation Station. Browse the 3-D displays and exhibits to get a better picture of the geology of the region. Enjoy unobstructed panoramic views from the large glass window, providing views of the Colorado River, deep down in the gorge.

Walking the Trail of Time at the Grand Canyon.

From here, pick up the Trail of Time, a walking trail that further takes you on a journey through the Grand Canyon’s geologic history. Over the course of the 1.3-mile, hour-long hike, you’ll transition from the most recent rocks (all of which you can touch) to rocks that are literally billions of years old. The trail ends at Grand Canyon Village.

Desert View Watchtower

The beautiful Grand Canyon.

A four-story tower stands high above the point where the Colorado River takes a turn to the north towards the Navaho and Hopi Indian Reservations. Moe than 20 miles to the east of Grand Canyon Village, this point offers fantastic views—on a clear day, you can see for 100+ miles! Several viewpoints on the ground offer panoramas of some beautiful land—and you can see the site of the final resting place of 128 lost when two planes collided over the Grand Canyon back in 1956. Climb the watchtower to see the murals inside, and to enjoy the bird’s eye view from your perch in the sky.

Are there viewpoints you’d add to our list?

Raw Beauty: Grand Canyon National Park

The beautiful Grand Canyon.
The beautiful Grand Canyon.

It’s at the top of every bucket list. The sheer vastness of it is incomprehensible. And, it’s been said that standing in its presence will make you believe in God.

I have to be honest. The Grand Canyon was always one of those places I knew I’d see one day, but it was never going to be the sole purpose of a trip for me. Arizona started calling to me the moment I saw pictures of the red rocks of Sedona, and it only made sense to venture a few hours north to the Grand Canyon.

The beautiful Grand Canyon.

The beautiful Grand Canyon.

It’s all true what they say. The Grand Canyon has to be one of the most remarkable places on earth. It has the power to change you. There are very few words to describe the way you feel standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, staring out for eternity. On a clear day, you can see for 50+ miles. It’s incomprehensible, truly. The way the light plays off the rocks, the clouds creating magical colors as they pass beneath the sun—it’s indescribably beautiful. And you can’t help but feel incredibly, unfathomably small.

You’d be insane not to appreciate the sheer power that the Grand Canyon holds. The fact that a river wended its way to form the deep canyon walls is extraordinary, to say the least. It’s almost like visiting Pompeii and seeing Vesuvius looming in the background. Only here, the Colorado River meanders along the canyon floor—seemingly miles away from your perch high above.

But for me, it was almost too much to take in.

The vastness of the Grand Canyon is mind blowing!

The vastness of the Grand Canyon is mind blowing!

What I’ll Do Differently Next Time

I’ve always been one who needs to taste, touch, and experience in order to appreciate something. I need to be completely immersed in it. And for me, standing at the top of the Grand Canyon, looking over, I felt removed. I felt as though I was looking at some insanely beautiful painting, in which the artist keenly understood how to capture the essence of light. You’ve seen those paintings—they’re vibrant and alive. That’s how this felt. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredible to witness, but it left me wanting more.

I need to stand at the bottom and gaze up. I should know this about myself. It happened in Switzerland when I took the most phenomenal train ride through the Alps. It happened again when I found myself on a boat in Alaska gazing up at the rock-solid wall of a glacier. Still once more in Hawaii when I sailed past the towering cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. And, of course, my heart absolutely sang when I stood at the foot of Sedona’s red rocks.

I naively thought it would be easy to walk down a trail into the Grand Canyon. I knew I wasn’t going far in an afternoon, but I wanted to go just far enough to be able to look back up and marvel at the canyon walls. There are plenty of tours that will take you into the Grand Canyon—probably most famously on a mule. I’m not a huge fan of horseback riding, so I was pretty sure this wouldn’t be for me either, but it’s definitely an option if you want to go beneath the surface of the canyon. Book well in advance, though!

I went white water rafting for the first time last December in Costa Rica and had an absolute blast! There are one-day rafting opportunities in the Grand Canyon—and, in fact, there’s basically any kind of rafting experience you want to have, up to 18 days! And if you’re really adventurous (which I am not at this point in my life), you can hike into the Grand Canyon with a guide, and stay a while—really digging into all the beauty that lies beyond what the eye can see from above.

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Mark Lellouch.

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Mark Lellouch.

Photo: Grand Canyon National Park’s photostream

Do Everything Within Your Power to Avoid Frustration

There’s nothing worse than setting yourself up for a miserable day. We arrived at the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park around noon on a late-May day. Mistake No. 1. The line just to pay to get in the park ($30) was teeming with cars, and took the better part of an hour. Once in the park, I was beyond frustrated to discover how incredibly few parking spots there are for the general, non-camping, public. We drove around and around for over an hour, and finally had to move further down the rim, away from the Visitor’s Center, to find parking.

If you don’t arrive first thing in the morning, just bypass the craziness that is the main parking lot and move on to a secondary lot. Trust me, it will be OK. There is a free shuttle bus that has pick-ups at each parking lot along the rim, and stops every 15 minutes or so. We were able to get up to the Visitor’s Center with no problem. We could have saved ourselves plenty of frustration, tears (yes, tears!) and about a zillion curse words if we’d just moved along in the first place. There is very poor signage for the lots, which doesn’t help.

There are few things that make me as crazy as knowing how near I am to something incredibly beautiful and not being able to find a parking spot so I can get out of the car to go see it!

Make sure to bring lots of sunscreen and water. And I’d suggest packing a picnic instead of trying to buy food. You are in a park, after all.

You can see for miles.

You can see for miles.

Luckily All That Fades Away

There aren’t many places with the kind of profound, all-encompassing beauty that can make all those little frustrations disappear completely. As soon as we walked up to the rim at Mather Point—the first glimpse of the canyon for so many—everything that had been bothering us no longer seemed so important.

There, you are merely a fraction of a part of a much larger whole. And I’d venture to say there are few other places on earth were you are as keenly aware of that fact. It’s scary. It’s humbling. And it’s insanely powerful.

Taking it all in.

Taking it all in.

“True beauty cannot be expressed in words – something man created. True and utter beauty surpasses what’s tangible – it goes straight to the heart.”

Look for my next post where I’ll give you a glimpse at the best Grand Canyon lookouts!

Places

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon Village, AZ, United States

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon Village, AZ, United States
http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
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