Monday, November 4, 2013

Go West, Young Man

When we first arrived in Phoenix, I kept anxiously checking new sources, hoping that the government shutdown had ended.  The main attraction to come to Arizona for was to see the Grand Canyon, but as our trip coincided with the government shutdown, it was closed along with all the other National Parks.  Once we arrived in Sedona though, we realized the shutdown was somewhat of a blessing in disguise.

If Phoenix had me wanting to be a cowboy, Sedona made the quote by Horace Greeley ring with truth, as not much has changed since 1865 except maybe the food: "Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country."

Sedona is beautiful.  It's beautiful in a way that's different than the Grand Canyon.  Known as "Red Rock Country," the mountains are a rusty red.  Rock formations rise up in all directions dotted with yellow flowers and green valleys.  With hiking trails are all over the place, wine country only 20 minutes away, and a beautiful resort to relax at, spending the day in Sedona instead of driving two hours each way to and from the Grand Canyon didn't seem like much of an inconvenience.  Without the shutdown forcing us to stay in Sedona, we wouldn't have had the chance to experience such a beautiful part of the country.  We've both seen the Grand Canyon before, so missing out on it this time wasn't too crushing.  I did feel pretty bad for travelers at our hotel from Europe who had their once-in-a-lifetime plans derailed.

We took the scenic route, SR 179, from Phoenix, and it certainly lived up to it's name. On the way we stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument, which had some ancient dwellings carved into a cliff face.  Well, at least that's what the guide book said because it was also closed as part of the shutdown, and we were never able to see it from the road like we had been hoping.  We also stopped at Chapel of the Holy Cross, the church built into the rocks pictured above.

The town itself is a little touristy, but there's a section where 179 and 89A meet that's got a bunch of art shops that looked like they'd be fun to poke through.  Also, I'm not going to be the best person to explain this, but there's a lot of New Age belief in "vortexes" in Sedona, which from my understanding are places of spiritual energy.

One of the fun things we did the first night was go on a star-gazing tour.  We drove about 20 minutes from the town to where the tour group, Sedona Star Gazing, met, then walked into a field where chairs, blankets and telescopes were set up.  When we first got out of the car that night and looked up into the cloudless night sky, the stars were brilliant enough to see the Milk Way.  The woman who got out of her car next to us audibly gasped and the tour operator commented, "You must live in the city."  That's exactly how I felt.  Even growing up in the suburbs, there is way too much light pollution to see the stars like we could out there.  The tour guides had some powerful laser pointers with which they were able to trace out the constellations before giving us glimpses into the telescopes.

Armed with new knowledge about navigating by star and leftover airplane pretzels as rations, I felt like Lewis and Clark exploring uncharted wilderness on our hike the next day. Or maybe Jason was whomever was the cooler of the two, and I was Sacagewea.  Of course, Sacagewea probably didn't forget to bring a backpack for the water and camera, or use her Banana Republic purse with one strap over each shoulder as a substitute back pack when two hands were needed to climb up and down the rocks.  Also, Sacagewea probably didn't ask other hikers to take their picture, just not too close up because she forgot her makeup bag at home.

There are so many hiking trails in the area, but I thought the ones we did provided a good sampling of scenery and views.  Most of them are state run, so remained open during the shutdown.  The first was Cathedral Rock Trail, a short but pretty steep 3/4 mile hike up to the top of what's known as Cathedral Rock, a unique rock formation with nice views. We also went to Red Rock Crossing, where a few feet from the parking lot the river runs in front of a beautiful view of Cathedral Rock, said to be the most photographed view in the state.  We did walk along the river a little here, but as it was pretty flat and forested, so none of the other views were very spectacular.  I think you can access the spot from a few different directions too if you want to hike more (and not pay the entrance fee).

The Cathedral Rock Trail took us to the gap in the rocks on the left

The view of Cathedral Rock from Red Rock Crossing

The last hike we did was called Devil's Bridge.  Because we had a tiny compact, our car wouldn't make it up the road that lead to the trail head, so it was about a mile and a half from the parking lot off the main road to the trail head, and another mile and a half to the main attraction of the hike, a large natural rock arch, although the scenery on the way was pretty nice.

We picked up some more "wilderness survival tips" at one of the more themey restaurants in town, the Cowboy Club, where they served deep fried prickly pear cactus.  So I figured if we got lost, I could navigate by the starts, and if we found a deep fryer, we could eat cacti.  As far as eating goes, I think the best meal we had was at our hotel restaurant, Hundred Rox (Kimpton restaurants FTW again).  We didn't have time, but if you are going and need a recommendation, the Elote Cafe is supposed to be good too. A hot sauce shop in town, the Jerome Ghost Pepper Company had some great fresh salsas.

The day we drove back to Phoenix, we thought about hiking the Airport Mesa trail, which is supposed to have good views, but we decided stopping along the way for wine tastings sounded better.  So good thing we actually weren't Lewis and Clark because the maps would have only gone as far as one day's worth of hiking.  And without a way to fry the cactus, who know what we would have eaten.

We didn't take the scenic route on the way back, but we did take the wine route!  Go south on 89A to Page Springs Road, where at least three different wineries are all clustered in the middle of the road.  We did a wine tasting and got lunch at our first stop at Javelina Leap Winery.  The guide book mentioned they had tours, which we thought would be fun, especially since we made it right in the middle of the harvesting season.  We were directed to where the owner was sitting at a table in the middle of the outdoor work area and invited to take a seat for the introduction of the tour.  After explaining some background about agriculture, he started pointing to the vats that held the fermenting grapes, the presses on the other side of the patio and the barrels just visible in the room across from us, and then the tour was done.  Mind you, we were sitting in the same place the whole time.  Jason and I thought it was pretty funny, and probably the only one-stop "tour" we've ever been on.

At least we didn't have to go far on the tour at Javelina Leap Winery.  The view from Page Springs Cellars.

The next stop, Oak Creek Vineyards was right next door.  Good thing too, since we were pretty wiped out from that intense tour!  Our favorite vineyard was the last stop, at Page Springs Cellars.  The wines were less expensive and tasted better least to our unsophisticated pallets, plus a shady deck out back overlooked the scenic grape fields.  The guys pouring the tasting were extremely knowledgeable and chatty, which might have been more appreciated if we weren't ready to head back to Phoenix.

So even though we didn't get to see the Grand Canyon, we hope to come back for that in the future.  We both were glad for the unexpected chance to see more of Sedona, and also that we didn't actually have to blaze a wildness trail ourselves.

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