Sedona or the Grand Canyon; why not both?

After Scottsdale, our next destination, Sedona, AZ, was a short drive away if you take the interstate. But of course, we’re not taking interstates for this trip. If you follow highway 87 northeast out of Scottsdale, you will find some awesome views as you gain elevation. We encountered several snow squalls that briefly threatened to make the day much worse, but it really wasn’t bad, and we rolled into our Airbnb in Sedona with no issues. The clouds were very low, so we did not experience the spectacular views you associate with the area upon our arrival; those would come later.

I honestly don’t know where to start with Sedona; it was spectacular. There aren’t enough words in the thesaurus to describe how beautiful the place is. Do yourself a favor, plan the trip and pack your bags; you will not be disappointed.

Bell Rock, Sedona

Our Airbnb was on the east side of town, which we thought would mean we were too far from the main street to explore; we were wrong. The truth is, we never even went on what would be considered the main drag in Sedona, 89A, and that was fine with us. I am sure there are some great shops there, but we will have to explore them on a subsequent visit.

The Eastside of town is dominated by the Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village and Uptown Sedona. These areas are home to more art galleries and unique shops than I could count, and we thoroughly enjoyed walking around there. You can find about anything you are looking for, whether your budget is $20 or $20,000 (or $500,000 if you want the giant bear sculpture outside Exposures International Gallery of Fine Art). We arrived late in the day, so most shops were closed when we first walked the area, but it gave us a plan after our hike the next day.

Our hiking gameplan was to tackle the Cathedral Rock trail first and then make our way over to the Bell Rock Loop for a short hike around the Bell Rock and Courthouse Butte. We proved our amateur status by arriving at the Cathedral Rock trail parking area at 9 am, to find a line of cars waiting for zero open parking spots. No biggie, we flipped the plan and went straight to Bell Rock. The nice thing about that area is numerous trails go around the two formations, so options abound. You can hike as little as 1.5 miles or over 15 miles; it’s up to you. We decided to hit the 3.6 mile Bell Rock Pathway and then combine other trails as we went along. After about 8.5 miles of hiking around the rock formations and a brief excursion to attempt to find the Bell Rock Vortex, we were back at the Boxster feeling good (and tired) but ready to get cleaned up and eat some food.

Courthouse Butte, Sedona AZ
Courthouse Butte, Sedona

If you’re hungry in Sedona, do yourself a favor, hit the Hideaway House and order the Meatball Parm; you’re welcome. After a fantastic late lunch, we hit all the stores we saw the night before but weren’t open. I was skeptical about walking a few miles around town after hiking all morning, but the sandwich and a craft beer or two changed my outlook. We had a great time and managed to avoid the many kitschy tourist trap stores that only sell cheap crap you regret the second you swipe your credit card.

Because we missed out on Cathedral Rock that morning, we decided our last day in Sedona would begin with a pre-dawn hike of the trail so we could watch the sunrise from the top of the rock. Thankfully first light wasn’t too long after we started because the trail is not easy. I had to steal several moves from American Ninja Warrior to get up some of the rocks, but it worked out. Some more daring individuals on the trail ahead of us could only be seen by their headlamps bobbing about on the rocks. The hike was worth every bit of exertion.

Sunrise viewed from Cathedral Rock in Sedona AZ
Sunrise from Cathedral Rock, Sedona

We reached the rock plateau between the larger Cathedral Rock formations well before sunrise and were able to soak in all the color changes as the sun approached the rim of a rock formation directly across from us. I love a good sunrise, and while there weren’t many clouds around to magnify the spectacle, it was still the best way to start the day. As much as I hate a super early morning alarm, I never regret it when I see the sunrise knowing my day has begun in such a beautiful, peaceful manner.

Our visit to Sedona was brief, but it was designed to whet the appetite, not for us to explore everything it has to offer. The strategy worked; I am already mentally planning the next visit (or move?). There were so many times when my internal dialogue debated my plan’s merits to be an automotive journalist/photographer while I was in Sedona. I began crafting a scheme to permanently move and focus on landscape photography and a part-time tour guide or something to make ends meet. The place is that magical; you want to know you’re coming back before you leave.

Next up was the Grand Canyon, another “easy” drive that became an adventure. First, as we drove along old Route 66 in Flagstaff, AZ, the Boxster had a mechanical malfunction as a shift cable became disconnected (photos on my Instagram account). Thankfully, I coasted into a parking spot, got to a nearby Harbor Freight to procure the required tools, and fixed it. While temporarily exciting/terrifying, the whole ordeal only delayed us about an hour and a half.

With the Boxster roadworthy again, we made our way north out of Flagstaff on Highway 180 to ensure we stayed away from I-40. We started gaining altitude almost immediately, and with that came the white stuff. With our brief foray into snow flurries en route to Sedona, I didn’t think much of this at first. After steady snow was falling for about 30 minutes, I realized our situation was not the same as the other day, this snow was accumulating.

Soon we were cresting a mountain pass at 8,000 feet and passing the turn off for one of the largest ski areas in Arizona; things were getting interesting. The temps were in the low 20s, and snow was flying sideways, but the Boxster and the Z06 were doing just fine. That is until we hit an open stretch where the wind had blown snow over the road, and we found ourselves driving through 5 inches of wet snow. Lucky for us, there was not much traffic to deal with, so we gingerly made our way through the thick stuff. I’m pretty sure the flat underside of our cars helped cut the snow down for people behind us.

Snow flying in the mountains north of Flagstaff, AZ

After about 45 minutes, we were rewarded with a descent in elevation and corresponding warmer temperatures which made conditions much more conducive for sports car travel. Other than steady 40 mile-an-hour winds, the rest of our drive to the Grand Canyon was unremarkable.

Staying in the Grand Canyon village instead of outside the park in the town of Tusayan was one of the best decisions we’ve made on the trip thus far. Parking inside the Grand Canyon park is complicated, it took us 20 minutes to find a spot, and we were hotel guests! Once we parked the cars, they didn’t move for a few days, and we never had to deal with the sometimes hours-long lines to get into the park each day. You pay more for what you get when you stay at these Xanterra-owned and operated properties; not having to get into the park each day is so worth it.

The forecast for our first full day in the park wasn’t great, but we were hopeful. We awoke to a few inches of fresh snow on the ground and clouds filling the canyon. There were zero views, and it was rather chilly, a perfect day for a late breakfast and an early nap.

The majestic Grand Canyon, it’s there somewhere…

We made up for this lack of activity on the second day with over 15 miles of hiking. Before the hiking began, we were shivering in the pre-dawn wind at Powell Point to catch a canyon sunrise. It was frigid and a little windy, but it was beautiful. As soon as the sun was up, which coincided with when we could no longer feel our fingers, we made it back to the hotel for a big breakfast and some hot coffee to prepare for our hike.

Sunrise over the Grand Canyon from Powell Point
Sunrise at Powell Point, Grand Canyon

Our goal was to hike the South Kaibab trail all the way to Skeleton Point and back, which is a little over 6 miles and covers a descent into the canyon over 2,000 feet. What wasn’t part of that plan was the shuttle system the park operates to transport you to the trailheads not running. To be fair, one line was running, but it was so overcrowded it was quicker to walk to your destination. Literally, the people behind us when we bailed on the line arrived at the trailhead the same time we did. The result was covering over 5 miles of walking before we started our hike. We decided to shorten the hike and turn around at Cedar Ridge, knowing we would have to walk at least three miles back to the lodge when we were done, assuming we could catch a shuttle.

Even with that annoying development, we had a blast hiking, down the trail at least. Hiking back to the top is not enjoyable; there isn’t any way to sugar coat it; the way up sucks! After that adventure, we were ready for dinner and a cocktail. Thankfully, the Bright Angel Lodge restaurant served up one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten and some delicious Arizona craft beer. After that, we caught a shuttle to the Westside of the canyon rim (those shuttles were operating as advertised) to catch the sunset at Mohave Point. It wasn’t the most spectacular sunset, but it was a nice way to cap the day.

Sunset from Mohave Point, Grand Canyon

Even with a loss of a hiking day due to the snow, our visit to the Grand Canyon was everything we hoped for. It may just be a “big hole in the ground” to some, but it is something to behold. Next time we visit, an overnight backpacking trip to the river is in order. But that’s the next time; for now, we’re ready for our next stop on this road trip adventure, and what a stop it is!

Author: Ryan Carignan

I am an automotive enthusiast, writer, and photographer; welcome to my blog!

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