I did not to do a lot of traveling growing up. We did do a few trips when I was a kid, but there was never the epic family road trip as much as it was traveling from point A to point B to see family. I think my first real vacation in my mind was going out to see a friend in AZ when I was around 19. I got so hooked on that weird alien landscape that I went back a few more summers in a row.
Unfortunately I had to take a break from those hot Phoenix summers for a few years. After our first year in Japan, some of our dearest friends moved back to the desert and we promised to visit them someday. When I went home last Christmas, I decided I needed a break from a long Oklahoma winter and made the trek down to Phoenix. I asked them if we could head up to the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is central to so many road trip movies. National Lampoon Vacation has the Griswolds blundering across the US to get there. It almost seemed like Disney World to me. Everyone I knew had been there at some point or another in their life. And like Disney World, I was going to have to make that trip happen myself.
We woke up incredibly early. Like 2 am early. We were rushing to catch the sunrise. The desert that early is a dark place. At times there's nothing but you and the road. No lights...just nothing.
We pulled off the road to see the stars. I thought I knew what stars looked like in Oklahoma, but this put those skies to shame. Hours away from any town, there was little light pollution. We could see shooting stars and satellites. Even though my fingers were frozen, I did my best to try to capture the sky. If we had stopped right there, the sky would have been worth the trip. We spent the rest of that dark drive talking about weird ghost stories and I remembered a few scary stories an old Navajo friend of mine had told me years before.
We managed to get to the park moments before the sun rose. There's a huge parking lot behind this view so at least we could run out to the viewing points. At 7 in the morning, it was still crowded, but not as bad as the sunset according to my friend. We stood there and cracked jokes and listened to all the other languages flowing around us. It was freezing there in December and all my extremities slowly went numb watching that sky turn every shade in the rainbow before it finally settled on clear brilliant blue.
I don't remember the different look out points we went to or directions on how to get to anything. I mostly felt overwhelmed by all the beauty that was around me. This place might be a big tourist destination but it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth. My little sister told me she was underwhelmed when she went and I kept thinking while we were driving around "If this doesn't impress her what would?" Imagine how those first settlers felt when they came across this? I had an idea of what would be there. The canyon was a complete surprise for them.
I would have loved to do some hiking around the area, but winter isn't the time for it. There were a lot of ice patches and, with some view sites not having any railing, that could be dangerous. If you have even a slight fear of heights, this place will trigger that fear. I had to calm myself down a few times. I will never be that tiny cute figure sitting on the edge of a rock wall.
We were out of there around 12:30. It felt bittersweet to leave so much unexplored, but I knew I'd come back with Josh eventually.
The way back had me wondering why I don't live in the Southwest. I wish I had snapped pictures of the mountains zooming by me. We stopped at a Navajo taco food truck. It was great, but I wish we had gotten them to go because the food got cold really quickly out there. We made a quick pit stop in Flagstaff to go to a coffee shop my friend raved about. Macy's European Coffee House and Bakery was a dream to this girl who has barely seen anything but white bread for 5 years. It has a lot of GF and Vegan options for those with diet restrictions, but it all looked great. This place was bumping around lunch time that Saturday. It wasn't just full of hippies and millenials. There were families, business people, and older couples just getting their coffee fix. If you're around Flagstaff, definitely make a stop for a quick coffee and dessert.
I love the Southwest so much that Josh and I are heading there for a 10 day road trip. We're still trying to figure out a few places to fit in our plans. Where are your favorite places in the Southwest? Do you have any tips for a great road trip? If so, let me know in the comments!