26.05.2017 - 29.05.2017
In January, I decided I needed to plan a Memorial Day weekend vacation. I created an itinerary and then was faced with the question of “with whom would I like to travel?” It had been a few months since I had seen my group of college friends affectionately known as the “Girls Group Text.” I pitched the plan to them. Usually when we coordinate a trip, there is a lot of back and forth about which dates and times work best for everyone and which destination is most appealing. Surprisingly on that January day, 5 of the 6 members of the Girls Group Text had no conflicts with the proposed itinerary. Thus, we decided that Memorial Day weekend would be our friend trip of 2017.
Memorial Day finally rolled around, and we departed from our respective hometowns, arriving by 9 am in Phoenix, Arizona. The guy at the National rental car counter tried to convince us to upgrade our minivan to an SUV for barely any price increase. We were firm and rejected his offer. Who doesn’t love sliding doors, bucket seats, and the chance to pretend to be a soccer mom without having to be a mom? We loaded up our minivan which we later dubbed Mini Minnie (I’ll tell you that story later), and we headed north.
We drove 2.5 hours north to Flagstaff. Emerging from the barren dessert into the Coconino National Forest where Flagstaff if located was the first example of the varied landscape in Arizona. The Coconino National Forest is the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the USA. Allegedly, Ponderosa Pine smells like vanilla. In our opinion, they smelled like pine as they should since they are pine trees. The weather in Flagstaff was chilly and delightful since Flagstaff is at approximately 7,000 feet of elevation.
We ate lunch at Tourist Home Urban Market which we deemed our favorite lunch of the trip. First of all, it is an adorably decorated restaurant. Secondly, the food was delicious. We all scarfed our food down with no regrets. Lastly, the baked goods are well worth the price and the calories! After lunch, we wandered around the cute downtown area on an unsuccessful quest to find Jenny a hat from one of the many outdoor retailers in the downtown.
We drove to the northern edge of the town to hike Fat Man’s Loop. The name alluded that an out of shape person could handle this trail. What the online reviews failed to mention was the elevation gains on the trail which were a little drastic for the 4 girls who live at very low elevation the other 360 days of the year. We leisurely hiked the loop in about an hour. We think they should rename the trail to Skinny Man’s Loop to clear up any confusion.
After the hike, we continued our journey north to Page which is 2 hours north of Flagstaff and about 15 minutes from the Utah border. Page is possibly the largest town in northern Arizona which is not saying much. We rented an Airbnb which turned out to be a double wide trailer. Albeit, it was the most charming and spacious, nicest double wide I have ever seen. Caveat: I have not seen the interior of any double wide trailers, so I am not an expert.
Page’s culinary scene is not what attracts tourists to the area. We decided to dine at the #1 restaurant in Page per TripAdvisor. Likely, if you looked up top tourists traps on TripAdvisor, this place, Into the Grand, would show up as #1 on that list too. If Baby and her family from Dirty Dancing went to a Navajo reservation instead of a fancy family resort in Virginia, they would have had an Into the Grand type of event. Into the Grand is owned by a proud Page lifetime resident named Hoss. Due to the windy weather, we had to sit in the Grand Canyon Rafting Museum (at least, that is what Hoss is advertising the warehouse that stores old river rafts and features a painted mural of the Grand Canyon as). We had Navajo fry bread topped with our choice of meat and vegetables. Ryan, a local musician whom Hoss poached from a competing restaurant in town, serenaded us as we ate our fry bread. Truthfully, Ryan and the fry bread were awesome. I would pay money to listen to Ryan again.
At the end of the meal, Hoss surprised us by joining Ryan on stage to do a duet. Hoss is a man of many skills- a restaurateur, an entrepreneur, a museum curator, and a singer. After Hoss’ moment in the spotlight, he introduced Wally, a local member of the Navajo tribe. Wally kind of reminded me of Willy Nelson. He told us some long-winded stories and some interesting historical tidbits about the Navajo Nation. He also introduced all the Navajo dances that were performed for us. Well, I should clarify. The Navajo only perform their dances for ceremonial purposes. Thus, they performed dances from other tribes. The hoop dance was our favorite where two boys jumped in and out of five small hoops.
While we would have preferred the abbreviated history of the Navajo Nation, we did learn some fun facts. For instance, did you the Navajo have many names? They call themselves the Di’ne usually. Another fun fact: the Navajo follow Day Light Savings time, but Arizona does not. While driving in northern Arizona, you will go in and out of time zones within a few miles. As if time zones were not already confusing enough… At the end of the performance, Hoss invited people to come up and take pictures. He meant pictures of the dancers. Erin interpreted it as pictures with the dancers, so she bounded on up to the stage and stood in between the dancers for a photo opportunity. Meanwhile, the other tourists stared wondering why this girl was ruining their shot of the dancers.
Sun rises way too early in Arizona. We’re talking 5 am kind of early. We all woke up early and waited around for our Lower Antelope Canyon tour. Antelope Canyon was the primary reason for this trip. We had all seen pictures of it before, and we all wanted to see the slot canyon in person. You have to take a tour in order to enter the canyon since it is on Navajo property. The two main tour companies for the lower canyon are owned by a brother and a sister. Talk about sibling rivalry. Ignore the reviews because they do the exact same thing. So just go with whichever one is cheaper or has your available time. You can tour the lower or upper canyon or both. The lower canyon has a lot of steep ladders and stairs and of course some narrow passageways. We heard the upper canyon is a little bit easier to move through, so if you have mobility issues, maybe consider the upper canyon tour.
We went with Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon tour. We made reservations in advance, but we did not realize the tour does not actually start at the time of your reservation. That is the time you line up in the hot dessert sun to enter the canyon. We waited an hour in line. Luckily, it was not too warm yet, and we got to wait in the shade for part of it. The people in front of us were nice, and one lady reminded me of my mom especially when she chastised her adult children for not moving up quickly enough when the line moved.
Nike, our Navajo tour guide, led us through the canyon and pointed out various rock structures that look like animals, cartoons, and even Donald Trump. It took us 40 minutes to walk through the canyon. The tour companies keep you moving the entire time which hinders your group photo taking abilities, but we still got a good shot. Also, Jenny learned this lesson the hard way: beware of the low rock formations. It is easy to hit your head on them. Britney Spears shot her “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” music video here. I wonder how she got to spend so much time in the canyon without a tour guide moving her along.
We grabbed lunch at the Rivers End Café before picking up our three kayak rentals. The two guys who worked at the rental company helped us strap them to the roof of the Mini Minnie. We took pictures of the set up and had them repeat the directions to ensure we understood. The last thing we wanted was a kayak catapulting off the top of our car into a neighboring car. The guys told us we could probably handle strapping them back on the car after we finished kayaking, and then one guy said, “but you are also 5 attractive young women who could easily sway some guys to assist you.” The same thought ran through all of our minds, and we knew without even speaking to each other that we were on the same page. We were bound and determined to defy this guy and strap the kayaks on the roof ourselves. Girl power.
We went to the Antelope Canyon launch ramp on Lake Powell. Lake Powell is one of the dammed lakes on the Colorado River (no, not the Colorado River in Texas. The Colorado River that runs through 5 states in the western part of the USA and into Mexico). Lake Powell is gorgeous and huge. It is 186 miles long and 25 miles wide. It was not very busy for Memorial Day Weekend at the Antelope Canyon launch ramp which was nice. We kayaked for a couple of hours and stopped to cliff jump at one point. We decided we would only jump off a cliff after a third-party person jumped off to ensure the water was deep enough. We found a mom and her two young sons jumping off some rocks that were about 15 feet high. They assured us the water was deep enough, and Sam volunteered as tribute and was the first from our group to jump. Next on deck was Megan. She was taking a little time to mentally prepare for her jump, so she let the little boy go in front of us. He smacked his butt on the water and started crying uncontrollably- just what Megan needed to boost her confidence before the jump. She decided to jump from a lower rock instead. I jumped from the higher one, and half way through the fall, I remembered I was afraid of heights and hate the feeling of free falling. So of course, I ended up doing it again despite my fears.
We kayaked back to the launch ramp for the real test of the day: strapping the kayaks to the roof. Guess what, silly men at the rental shop, we heaved those three kayaks on to the roof of the Mini Minnie and secured them in 10 minutes. Good work, girls! Yes, we made someone take a picture of us in front of the car with the kayaks strapped on to them. In my former life as an auditor, I learned you can never have too much documentation.
The other main attraction in Page is Horseshoe Bend. Reviews said you park in the parking lot and just walk up a short hill to see Horseshoe Bend. We decided to visit at sunset, and we got there right as the sun was setting expecting a five minute jaunt up a hill. Always be skeptical of online reviews. That short walk to the top of the hill was only the first part of the journey to the bend. Then we walked about 20 minutes on a very sandy, slightly uphill path. Luckily, we still made it with daylight left to spare, unlike some of the tourists we saw running to catch the last rays of light later in the evening. It turns out that sunset is the most popular time of day to photograph Horseshoe Bend. I have never seen so many tripods in my life. They were all set up on flimsy edges of sandstone with the camera owner barely on the ledge as well, giving me anxiety. FYI there are no guardrails at Horseshoe Bend so if you bring a young kid with you, put them on a leash.
We then headed to one of the other top 5 eating establishments in Page. We ate at State 48 Tavern which inspired us to confirm that Arizona was indeed the 48th state admitted to the USA. We learned that Page is notorious for slow service. We waited forever for food in an empty restaurant. We were all so tired after our full day and long dinner that we decided to forego finishing the puzzle we had started earlier in the day. This might have marked the first time we have ever decided to quit a puzzle.
On day 3, we got ready early and stopped again at Horseshoe Bend to get better pictures. At 8 am, the place is nearly deserted which was perfect for us. We took our pictures, enjoyed the view, and we left an hour later, but first we stopped at the compost toilets. Miscreants must be visiting Horseshoe Bend because those bathrooms were disgusting. We drove 3.5 hours south through the muted dessert landscape of the north through the Coconino Forest and into the pink sandstone surrounding Sedona. Note, the drive took an extra hour because of awful traffic near Slide Rock State Park which is something I experienced the last time I drove from Flagstaff to Sedona on a weekend.
On our way down, we followed a miniature Winnebago which is nicknamed the Mini Winnie. The Mini Winnie was going slower than our desired speed, and since it was a two-lane road, we had very few opportunities to pass it. Eventually, Erin passed the Mini Winnie, and we thought we would never see it again. The Mini Winnie was the inspiration for the Mini Minnie name of our minivan. Two days later, Erin was in Tucson visiting her brother and saw a Mini Winnie on the road. They stopped at the same park, and Erin inquired the driver about his route. She confirmed this Mini Winnie was the one we followed. The next day, Erin spotted the Mini Winnie again but did not confront the driver again out of fear of being considered a stalker.
Our friend David texted us with a question for us. Our pictures of Antelope Canyon reminded him of the movie 127 Hours where a guy is pinned by a boulder and cuts his arm off to survive. His question to us was if we were all simultaneously pinned by a boulder, who would cut their arm off to free themselves and get the rest of us help. He expected us to simply respond with one of our names. Instead we over analyzed the question and came up with a list of factors to consider before making this decision. For instance, who has the highest pay out from their accidental death and dismemberment insurance? Where is each person’s arm pinned? If you must cut your arm off, you need to have enough arm to tie a tourniquet on so you don’t lose too much blood and can still seek help. Who is carrying a knife with them, and who can access that person’s knife from their position under the boulder? Whose non-dominant arm is pinned under the rock? Who would save us all but hold it over our heads for the rest of our lives? Wait, have we tried all of our cell phones yet? Jenny has Sprint which only worked in remote locations on our trip. Surely, she could call someone to save us. Later in the trip, Megan commented the she was so hungry she could eat her arm which made our final decision for us. Megan would volunteer to save the group.
We arrived in Sedona at lunch time and ate at the Pump House. Sam ordered a sandwich without cheese. A sandwich comes out, and the waiter tells us what it is. He says there is no cheese on it, so Sam took it. From miles away, we could see that there was a thick piece of melted cheddar cheese on this sandwich, but the guy swore there was no cheese on it. Lies. It was mid-afternoon, and Sedona is noticeably hotter than Page. We originally had plans to hike Devil’s Bridge or Cathedral Rock, two of the most popular trails in Sedona. Upon further review, we opted to go for an easier hike due to the weather and our personal fatigue. We went to Red Rock Crossing/Crescent Moon Ranch. We drove up to the park, and the ranger informed us we had just passed a line full of cars waiting to get into the fully occupied park. We looked behind us and saw only one car waiting to get in, but we decided to turn around and find another hike without a wait. Luckily, there are trailheads all over Sedona. However, cell phone service is spotty throughout so it is difficult to look up the hike before you start it. We chanced it and hiked part of the Scorpion and Pyramid trails. They ended up being an excellent choice because they offered great views of Sedona’s red rock.
We checked into another Airbnb. This one was owned by Estella who is 93 years old and was formerly the post master in Sedona. We wished we could have met Estella because she looked adorable, but Estella lives in Scottsdale with her kids now. Estella’s place was yet another great Airbnb option. We ate at the Hudson which was our favorite dinner of the trip. It was delicious, and the service, unlike Page’s service, was impeccable. The Hudson has great views of the red rock, and reservations are highly recommended. If possible, request to sit on the patio. Unfortunately, we had to sit inside, but the restaurant has floor to ceiling windows so we could still enjoy the view. Tim, our waiter, was a clean-cut guy, but very soft spoken and seemed shy. I noticed his arms were covered in tattoos, including one that said, “established in 1988” and the whole time I wanted to confirm if that was his birth year but didn’t know the protocol for asking strangers about their tattoos.
After a dance party to pop punk music from the 2000s, we went to bed and woke up early to try Red Rock Crossing/Crescent Moon Ranch again. At 8 am, there is no wait to get in. We were very disappointed to find out that these hikes were paved sidewalks. It was more of a family recreational area than a hiking type of park. However, we did get a nice view of Cathedral Rock from the park, and we had time afterwards to stop at a random trailhead and do some more hiking. We hiked parts of Old Post Trail and Ramshead which had a dry river bed through it. We headed to Estella’s, showered, and then went to lunch at Hideaway House. Hideaway House has two levels of patios overlooking the beautiful red rocks. It was a great lunch time destination, and the service was great again. Sedona definitely caters to resort goers which probably explains the great service. Also, Hideaway House was the only place that carded us the entire trip. We started to come to terms with the fact that age 27 is when you look too old to be carded, but we were very pleased when the waitress requested to see our IDs.
We walked around town for a little while before driving 2 hours to Phoenix. On our way into Phoenix, we stopped at Churn for ice cream since the ice cream in Sedona was ridiculously priced at $7 for one scoop. We returned the Mini Minnie which had developed an odd odor from our adventures and headed back to our respective hometowns. It was yet another rockin' friend trip (get it, because of all the Arizona rocks)!