I hope you’re enjoying the cooler weather and had a nice Thanksgiving! We were on our own this year, but we had a nice quiet fall day starting at our local park. We prepared an early Thanksgiving feast and played games while everything was in the oven. After eating, we took a scenic drive, walked Stevie in the park (again), and then watched movies and ate pie.
I promised to give an Arizona trip summary last time, so here goes…
I turned 40 in late October (yay!! milestone birthdays!). We initially weren’t going to go anywhere at all, but Andy wasn’t letting this birthday slide without a celebratory trip, so I chose Arizona. I was mainly interested in taking a hot air balloon ride, hiking, red rock scenery, visiting Sedona, and checking Antelope Canyon off my bucket list. We decided to add the Grand Canyon into the mix since Andy had never experienced it, and I had only briefly visited in 2008.
*For photos of our trip, click here for my Instagram account. There’s also a little birthday cake icon on the profile that says ‘Forty’, and there are more photos and videos there.
Since we had a late afternoon flight, we had a nice casual departure from home. We dropped Stevie off at her doggie camp a couple hours before our flight, and then headed to the airport. We had a connecting flight at BWI, our former home airport. It was a bit strange to land there and not immediately make a beeline to baggage claim. As we waiting to board our connecting flight, there was a bit of excitement when all of the security alarms started blaring. Apparently, a woman decided to bypass airport security by running through the TSA checkpoint and into the airport terminal. Officials closed all gates (inbound and departing), shutting the entire airport down for about 25 minutes until they found her. Yes, the alarms were going off that entire time. We landed in Phoenix pretty late, picked up the rental car, and headed to the Courtyard Marriott to get some rest after a very long day in transit. By the time our heads hit our pillows, it was about 1 am EST.
The next morning, we popped over to First Watch next door to the hotel for a late breakfast. Afterwards, we started our trek up to Sedona. It got much more scenic the further Phoenix melted away behind us. I loved looking at the red rocks and cacti as we went north. For someone who hasn’t spent much time in the desert, it felt like being on another planet.
After we checked into our hotel and got settled, we made our way to downtown Sedona to get a lay of the land. While there, we popped into a gallery full of Navajo art, jewelry, and rugs. We ended up purchasing a small piece of sand art that’s now hanging in our entryway. We also visited a new age crystal shop. It’s a very different world out there for sure.
Since I was hungry (surprise!), and we were in-between lunch and dinner, we decided to backtrack closer to city center for a snack and a drink. We happened upon Sedona Beer Co, and were not disappointed. After a beer and a quick snack, we went to the main grocery store in town and picked up a case of water, as well as breakfast and lunch groceries. We had an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and then sat outside in the hot tub. We enjoyed looking up at the stars and talking about what we planned to do in the upcoming days.
Since we were still on east coast time, we got up early to catch the sunrise from the 3rd floor deck of the hotel. It was absolutely beautiful, and worth seeing at least once if you’re visiting Sedona. We decided to do a mini hike and some touristy shopping. For dinner, Andy found a tasty Korean food truck, Momo’s Kitchen, that was a bit off the beaten path. We enjoyed sharing a picnic table with some folks from Pennsylvania that had relocated to Vegas earlier in the year.
This was one of my favorite days of the trip. We rented a RZR for 8-hours and went off-roading. The rental included a cooler full of ice, so we packed lunch, water, and snacks for the trip. I wish we had purchased some bandanas for our faces. We were covered head-to-toe in red dust and sand by the end of the day, but what a blast! I highly recommend it! My favorite stop was the Palatki Heritage Site, where we saw ancient cliff dwellings and pictographs.
Shortly after returning to the hotel and getting cleaned up, I received a message from a former colleague, who is newly retired. It just so happened that he and his wife were in Sedona, and they were enjoying their last evening in town at Vino di Sedona – just a few minutes from our hotel. We had a really nice evening catching up, swapping stories, reminiscing about our careers, and talking about future plans and adventures. It was such a fantastic and unexpected surprise to see familiar, friendly faces so far from home!
Day 5, My Birthday!
My birthday began with breakfast at the Mesa Grill located at the Sedona Oak Creek Airport. Sitting there looking at the planes really made us miss ours. From there, we walked to the overlook, which is a Vortex site. If you’re wondering what a vortex is, don’t worry–so are we. We went to a number of these sites around Sedona, and neither of us felt anything except awe and appreciation for the beauty of our surroundings.
After breakfast, we wandered the shops and galleries at the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village. Built over 40 years ago, the village was created to bring the “sights and sounds of Old México alive”. Traditional fiestas and festivals are celebrated at Tlaquepaque. When we were there, they were preparing for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). I loved looking at the architecture, fountains, trees, and greenery inside the village. We went into the The Chai Spot for hot tea. They have a covered outdoor patio with lots of seating and colorful cushions. I adore small businesses that actively do good for communities (click the link to read the owners’ incredible story).
Before our trip, Andy had arranged a (surprise) couples massage for us at Uptown Massage, which was wonderful. They were able to accommodate my last minute request for hot stones. We walked out of there feeling really relaxed and mellow. Afterwards we had a nice lunch at Sedona Beer Co., which was right across the street from the massage place.
While at lunch, Andy learned that the second birthday surprise he had planned for the following day, a sunrise hot air balloon ride, was cancelled due to weather. Huge bummer, but we’ll do it some other time. We drove around, checking out sites. The Chapel of the Holy Cross sticks out in my mind when I think of this day. If you’re interested in architecture, it’s a must-see. The chapel is perched high on red rocks, and the long walkway winds upward from behind the building in the shape of a ‘j’. The vision of local rancher and sculptor, Marguerite Brunswig Staude, it was completed in 1956. The original plan was to construct it in Budapest, but WWII scrapped those plans.
Before heading out of town for the Grand Canyon, we had breakfast at the legendary Coffee Pot Restaurant. The first thing you notice when walking in the door are all of the autographed celebrity photos hanging on the walls from famous patrons. Apparently Elvis was a frequent customer, and is the reason Omelette #101 (PB&J and banana) is featured on their menu. Yes, they have 101 omelettes! There’s also a cute gift shop with unique gifts in their lobby.
It took us a couple hours to drive to the Grand Canyon from Sedona. Since we were unable to check into the lodge early, we drove the south rim so Andy could see the view for the first time. I think his response was, “oh WOW… holy cow.. that’s DOWN there.” We popped back to the car, made a sandwich (thankfully we had stopped along the way for a cooler and ice), and walked around for a little bit. Once we were able to check in, we got settled in the room, and then went back to the south rim to view the sunset from the geological museum. We had a nice dinner inside the lodge–thankfully beating the crowd. Since it was the off-season, there were limited dining options inside the park.
The next day we packed a lunch and snacks, and visited many of the lookout points along Desert View Drive that you really need a car to be able to see, such as: Moran Point, Lipan Point, Navajo Point, Desert View Watchtower, and Navajo Point. Afterwards, we parked in lot 4 and started walking the rim trail, following along the “Trail of Time” from the geological museum. We really took our time looking at all of the scenery and markers along the way. For lunch, we walked out to a secluded spot off the trail overlooking the canyon. We also visited Verkamp’s Visitor Center, the Hopi House, and Kolb Studios. By the time we got to the Bright Angel trailhead, the sun was starting to get low in the sky. We walked down probably a half mile or so, dodging mule poop, and then turned around. If we had had another day, I would have wanted to hike down into the canyon for few miles and then back up.
This was my absolute favorite day of the trip! We had breakfast, loaded our car up, and headed to Page, AZ, which is also home to Lake Powell and Horseshoe Bend. The drive is pretty flat and desolate; reservation land flanks the highway from the Grand Canyon up to Page.
Since seeing slot canyons was on my bucket list, I had done some research and booked a tour for Lower Antelope Canyon through Ken’s Tours in advance. They had just reopened tours after a year closure due to Covid. Antelope Canyon is on Navajo land, so you need a guide to access the area. I chose the lower canyon because it’s not as famously photographed as the upper canyon, and it promised to be a bit more interesting because we had to climb ladders and stairs throughout the tour. Our tour was scheduled for 2 pm (Arizona time), but they were able to accommodate us going an hour early. I’m only making note of the time, in case you plan on visiting because the the light changes within the canyon as the sun moves across the sky. It was also a beautiful, blue-sky, cloudless day.
Inside the canyon was nothing short of amazing and breathtaking. If you get a chance to look at my pictures on Instagram, they’re true to color. I didn’t alter any of them. The tour and beauty surpassed all of our expectations. Our guide was also absolutely phenomenal! He taught us how to best photograph the canyon walls, often taking our phones to make sure we got the best shot. He also made sure to take pictures of us inside the canyon.
For dinner, we found a lovely new restaurant called Sunset 89. We sat outside and watched the sky change as we ate dinner. We were absolutely stuffed after dinner (even after splitting a rice/noodle bowl). I wish this place was next to my house; it was so good! Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to pack and reorganize our suitcases for our trip back. Side note, if you plan to go to Page, we both had the most restful sleep during our entire trip at the Baymont. It was quiet, and the bed was so comfy. I actually might contact them to find out what kind of mattress pad they use.
We left the hotel and started to make our way back to Phoenix. Since we had an early flight back the next day and the hotel had an airport shuttle, we decided to return the rental car after checking into the hotel. It was kind of annoying, but definitely paid off the next morning. We drove the car to the rental center, caught the shuttle to the airport, and then waited for our hotel shuttle. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were starving because it was getting late. We had dinner in the hotel to save time, and then relaxed for the rest of the evening.
We caught a 6 am shuttle from the hotel to the airport. We actually saw a large coyote in a parking lot on our way. Our flight was late departing Phoenix; thankfully our connection in Houston was also running behind. We got home in the late afternoon, which was nice because we were able to fully unpack and have a nice evening before we picked Stevie Mix up the next day.
Over the next few months, we will have a bunch of visitors between family and friends. We’re both really excited for that. Early next year, Andy will be going on a guys ski trip, and then he and I will be heading out to Colorado to ski together. We need to start planning our 2022 spring and summer road trips as well. I’m hoping we can drive out west. We also have more projects to do around the house. Next year, I anticipate us spending a lot of time planting, landscaping, and designing our back patio. I also filled out a volunteer application late last week, so I am waiting to hear back on that.
Stevie seems really happy. After a disheartening experience at a local vet, we found a seemingly better place that is only 5-minutes from our house. Stevie’s favorite place is our local park, but she’s also happy to explore any wooded trail. She’s still taking her job in Security very seriously; all of the delivery carriers are used to seeing her lose her mind while we rush to grab her. It’s probably pretty entertaining to them.
** Anyhow, if you’ve made it this far, Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Festivus! Wishing you a healthy and happy holiday season and new year! **
P.S. I also wrote this entire post, published it, and then realized we just hit our two-year retired milestone. 🎉