My trip took me to nearly half of the state of Arizona. My path was a counter clockwise one starting in Tempe and taking me as far north as the South rim of the Grand Canyon. Whenever possible I strayed from America’s Interstate system in hopes of finding America. What follows is my recount, a better trip report than I shall ever submit for work, of my eight days in Arizona.
Keep in mind that I am writing most of this after-the-fact in Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport sipping a Sam Adams (no Fat Tire at this establishment) at 10:30am MT and in the plane headed to Atlanta. Even though I ate an hour only three hours ago I am considering ordering food because my flight will get me in to Atlanta 7:30pm EDT. [edit: I did and it was nothing to scream about]
I am no Jack Keurowac, but then again Jack Kuerowac was no Paulie either.
Day One: Dropping Out Of The Sky
Flying First Class was kick ass. I mentioned this the other day and I got to thinking this morning that I’d gladly pay $50 more to sit in a business class with no food or free drinks but with wider seats and more leg room. I can provide my own entertainment, so there is also no need to provide satellite radio or tv (blasphemy, I know).
“Jill” rocked the Casbah getting me to my hotel, a Comfort Inn, in Tempe. Tempe was the town in which I probably spent the most time, and of the ones in which I stayed the one I learned the least about.
Day Two: 4am Seems So Late
My hotel was near Arizona State University. With the exception of young’ins bouncing across streets as if they owned the world it was a perfect location. I’d like to revisit Tempe in the future when their light-rail project is complete. If you happen to find yourself in Tempe I highly suggest you seek out Four Peaks Brewery (on 8th Street)
With my body still clocked in to Eastern Daylight Savings Time it was amazingly easy to get up before the sun (something that I wish stayed true all week). Thursday was filled with walking trough Downtown Mesa, taking the three-hour tour at Taliesin West, driving around Tempe looking for things I forgot to pack, and then discovering Four Peaks.
Day Three: From The Desert To The Mountains To The Desert
I was finally ready to travel. Off slightly after daybreak (pattern starts) my mission was to make it to Holbrook, Arizona which is located along Historic Route 66 and near the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest.
The drive was absolutely fantastic if not highly uneventful. I intentionally took back roads in hopes of taking me through small town America, which I did, but found out that this small town America, was nothing special. I had hoped to stay in the Wig-Wam Motel, a historic site on Route 66, but upon finding out that their office didn’t open until 3pm (it was noon when I arrived) I decided a change of plans was necessary and I sought out an alternative. While driving around I found another Comfort Inn but balked at their $79 price when I knew that a Motel 6 one hundred yards away was only $30. After taking a major nap I headed out to see the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Three hours passed and I returned to Holbrook at night to eat a rather unspectacular catfish dinner before passing out in my internet-free Motel 6 room.
Day Four: Getting My Kicks Along Route 66 (At Least What Still Remains)
When I was awaken at 4am by a drunken girl who mistook my room for someone else’s I wondered if I had made the proper choice by saving $49.
I took the drunken unintentional wake up call as sign to wake up so I packed up my shit and headed back to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest even though I knew that the park didn’t open until 7am (which was too bad since I could have had an awesome sunrise shot there). I waited patiently at the park’s entrance and took a few shots of flora and fauna.
After spending another few hours in the park I headed toward Flagstaff along as much of Route 66 that still exists.
Let me now make a few asides…..
Even though I am a child of the 1960’s I have a romantic notion of Route 66 thanks to my parents who were a generation older than most people’s parents. I am sure that that we took Route 66 more when we drove from New York to California in 1972. And, as I drove around this day I realized that I am just about the same age as my mother was when we took our trip back then.
Route 66, once one of America’s much-traveled pathways from Illinois to California, has seen much better days. It saddened me greatly to see these once proud establishments so abandoned and downtrodden.
And back from the asides…
The plan was to head to Flagstaff, a city not far from the Grand Canyon, through the towns of Winslow (think of the Eagles’ song “Take It Easy”) and “Twin Arrow”.
With any luck I was planning to grab a hotel in Flagstaff, head to the Grand Canyon for the sunset, and return in the dark. Jonesin’ for some internets I stopped into the Devil’s Playground and quickly found out that hotels in the area, though plentiful, were either booked solid or very expensive. While sipping some sort of cold, caramel machiatto drink I managed to use the Dark Star’s internet to line up hotels for Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights, but could not line up anything for Saturday night. I drove around Flagstaff a little rejecting the roadside motels which appeared to appeal to the hourly-rental crowd, and when one man told me his shithole was going to cost $159 I bid him good luck and headed out of Flagstaff. I had no plan at this point other than to find a hotel.
I pulled into another Route 66 town called Williams. Time has been much kinder to this small town, and as I cruised for a room I wound up in a place called the Route 66 Inn, which was run by a friendly Indian family (red-dot, not woo-woo). I was able to score a tiny room for $66 (no correlation to it being on Route 66). This motel is the type of motel that time has forgotten; also forgotten in this motel was modernization, de-smokification, new linens, etc. It was the only time along this trip that I was afraid to sleep in the bed, but I was relieved since I at least didn’t have to sleep in my car.
The town of Williams, at least for this weekend, was incredible. I walked up and down the main street taking pictures before ducking into a bar to have a Fat Tire and a Four Peaks 8th Street Ale. On the night I was there, there was a small (and I mean small) family-run carnival and a small-time rodeo in town. Want to guess who went to his first rodeo? I wanted to eat at the steakhouse in Williams, but it was unnaturally warm inside the restaurant and there appeared to be a long wait to get a table, so I passed.
Day Five: Did Someone Say Grand Canyon? Canyon? Canyon?…
Alternate titles for this day
– “Nothing Like A $25 Rim Job”
– “Where’s The Worst Place A Person Who Fears Heights Should Go?”
– “Rethinking Flagstaff”
I thought Williams would provide me with a quick drive to the Grand Canyon. I was partially correct. After paying $3.59 a gallon for gas (the highest price I have ever paid, and not in line with the prices in the rest of the state) I headed out for the fifty- mile drive. I missed sunrise again. However, the park was open by arrived so I drove to the South Rim, paid the $25 entrance fee (good for seven days), parked the car, and headed out for a hike.
With the exception of some deer photos I will have the worst Grand Canyon pictures ever. My fear of heights made it impossible for me to get good downward photos of the canyon, so instead I morphed in to Panorama Paulie. Thankfully I made the decision to bring my fancy-pants tripod on the trip, although the head I bought is not ideal for panorama shots.
After getting fed up with the other tourists I headed back into my car and drove the South Rim (where I encountered the Red Squirrel and Coyote) stopping to take pictures along the way.
The plan was to do the South Rim all day and night, return to Flagstaff where I was able to get a hotel room for Sunday night and then return to see the North Rim on Monday. After realizing this plan was bunk because of my fear of heights, I decided to head to downtown Flagstaff and kick around town for the evening.
While I had written off Flagstaff the day before, this return convinced me that Flagstaff was the type of town in which I would be satisfied. I could actually see myself moving to Flagstaff; it possess a fantastically revitalized small-town downtown complete with two microbreweries and an incredible pizza place called Fratelli’s. There are times I think that I should embrace my inner-granola and take in a change of scenery.
Day Six: Sedona — Arizona’s Answer To Breckenridge, Colorado
Using Go Arizona I mapped out a scenic path from Flagstaff to Sedona which took me past dried-up lakes and down an unpaved forest road. Even more miraculously it took me into the middle of an organized bike ride which was happening that day. Because I was all about being loose with my plans, I even stopped and took some pictures of the riders as they headed out from the starting line.
When I stopped in Breckenridge last year I was incredibly unimpressed. I am not much for small resort cities filled with well-to-do people who are shopping, and high-priced housing. My initial impression of Sedona was just like that of Breckenridge.
As I drove around I was amazed to see how much housing existed near the fantastic scenery, and how much more was currently under construction. When I stopped to get a National Forest Parking Pass the woman kindly pointed out some of the trails that I should see. Unfortunately, some of these required a little more rugged a vehicle than the Hyundai Sonata that I rented.
The evening ended early as I was actually staying in a Quality Inn located a good twenty miles away from Sedona. It was Memorial Day so the hotel restaurant was closed. I opted to find Safeway where I picked up a six-pack of New Belgium Brewery’s 1554 Enlightened Black Ale (Safeway had sold out of cold Fat Tire) and some bagels.
Day Seven: It’s Like South Georgia With Gorgeous Mountains
Determined to take in some Sedona scenery I started out around 6am on a scenic drive. At some point during the drive I made the decision to step out for a hike. I was smart enough to carry water and a bagel left over from the night before as I set out on my hike. Little did I know that my hike would comprise of eight miles of hiking taking me about four hours (stopping to take photographs of course). Along the way back I had a nice conversation with a woman and her husband who hailed from Edmonton, Canada. They seemed equally surprised when I told them that I would be visiting their hometown in July.
Tired of traipsing through red dust and ready to make my way out of Sedona I headed back to my rental.
Here’s a helpful consumer tip. You may not want to put unopened bottles of 1554 into a car that is going to sit in the heat of Arizona. I am not going to incriminate myself of having a bottle semi-explode in the back of my rental car, I’m just saying…..
Hellbent on staying away from the Interstate and nothing but time to kill I chose to take a somewhat circuitous route from Sedona to Tempe. I took route 89A toward Prescott (which was actually a neat little town), a hard left to US Highways 93 and 60 which took me through Sun City to Phoenix and then Tempe.
Along the way I drove through the most amazing little city I have ever been through. It was called Jerome and it was built entirely on the side of a mountain (just look at the Google Map of the road I took). The street through Jerome was reminded me of Lombard Street in San Francisco, and all of the buildings were right on top of you as you drove. Why people decided to move there and why the town still exists today confuses me. [edit: I have since found out that it was a copper mining town and today is an artistic community] As the road climbed to over 7000 feet I also passed one incredible grey-haired man who was riding a bike up the mountain; to say that I was impressed is an understatement.
The road to Tempe wound up and down mountain sides. At one point I started to fear running out of gas in the middle of nowhere Arizona. Luckily I saw a small station in one “town” (Peeples Valley?) and was able to get some gas. Running out of gas really would have sucked.
Day Eight: (“today” as in “yesterday”) Damn You American Airlines!
According to Delta this mid-afternoon flight from Phoenix to Atlanta was half-filled until American canceled one of their flights, placing their passengers on my flight. Now I really wish that I was that I was in First Class.
A half-damning goes to Delta as well. I don’t know the “Magic Formula” for Zone assignments, but even though I booked this flight months ago and selected an Exit Row seat I was still assigned Zone 9, the last to board the plane. My disgust was reduced dramatically when I found out that no one was going to occupy the middle seat of the row in which I was seated. Even better, when I turned around an saw that the seat I had originally chosen was next to two humongous people I was even more pleased with my seating choice.
Observational Stream Of Conscience…
– Arizona, at least the southern portion, has cheaper gas prices than Georgia. Why is it again that we pay an enormous ad valorem tax for our vehicle? I was always under the impression that we did so in order to keep our gas taxes low.
– In the Choice Hotels version of Rock-Paper-Scissors Comfort Inn wins hands down. Not only was the Comfort Inn in Tempe $30 cheaper per night than the Sleep Inn in Flagstaff and Quality Inn in Cottonwood, it also provided rock-sold wireless internet access and was the only one to provide the waffle-maker at the breakfast bar.
– As a whole Arizona was a rugged, depressing state to me. With the exception of Flagstaff, or if I could overcome my fear of heights Jerome, I could never see myself moving to any of the other cities I visited. How some of these towns have existed for over a hundred years still baffles me.
– I was disturbed how many times I had to pay to get into state and national parks or monuments. I once even had to pay $2 to get into a scenic view run by the Navajo Nation (and then they made you walk through their flea market to get to the view).
– Give me a ‘C’; give me a ‘J’; give me a ‘P’. What do you have? The letters found on mountain sides on the way from Sedona to Tempe. C is for Cottonwood, J is for Jerome, and P is for Prescott.
– I caught up on a lot of podcasts on this trip. One downer was that the car I rented had no cassette deck (why would it?) and no audio input jack, so I had to listen using headphones. Lesson learned — get car with audio input jack. I nearly bought an FM transmitter for my iPod but didn’t want to spend that much on another unnecessary purchase.
– I was stunned how many restaurant signs said things like “We Serve Mexican And American Food” even in the more northern parts of Arizona.
– I still think that current-day airline “security” is a fucking joke. With the way things are today the terrorists have really won. If I was a terrorist I’d laugh every time I though about all of the hoops through which we must now jump just to board a plane.
– Knowing that I didn’t need to buy shit I resisted the urge to stop in to thrift stores. However, in Williams I did and was rewarded. In that thrift store I found a Toenut CD! Toenut, an obscure mid-1990’s band! I didn’t even know that they had more than one CD in their catalog. Niplets, you might be the only other person I know who owns a Toenut CD. I suppose that it could be another band named Toenut, but what are the odds of that? Oh, and the CD cost me $2.50.
– I should have bought stock in Nestle because I bought many liters of Nestle drinking water.
– I didn’t get to eat at Whataburger, Jack In The Box, or Wienieschnitzel. Apparently you have all alerted me to my incorrect notion that Whataburger and Jack In The Box have not made it east. Also I thought that I had, but I didn’t actually see an In-And-Out Burger in Arizone so I may have been wrong about them being there.
– I was bummed to see that the Waffle House has come this far West.
– Items packed that proved to be unnecessary:
— my monopod, the tripod did all of the work
— macro lens (it’s a big sky, panoramic world in AZ)
— second pair of jeans (I was in shorts most of the time)
— fleece (almost used it one morning in Holbrook)
— running shoes (need I explain?)
— a book (need I explain further?)
— compact umbrella (hey, it could rain in the desert)
– Items packed that proved to be invaluable:
— Jill, aka Garmin Nuvi 350 (with the exception of the Quality Inn in Cottonwood she was spot-on with her directions)
— Garmin Forerunner 201 GPS (helped me figure out how far I hiked)
— 60GB iPod (on the road entertainment)
— 12″ iBook with LaCie external hard drive (for in-hotel entertainment because I could)
— chargers for the above-mentioned electronics
Sure this was long, but I bet it was better than sitting through a slide show of the hundreds of photos I took. Was it not?