At the start of September I took a solo trip to Arizona, this was my first time visiting Arizona and it exceeded all expectations – I only had 3 days and managed to see Phoenix, Sedona and the Grand Canyon, drive through Flagstaff and accidentally get onto route 66. Below is my trip itinerary outlining how I fit it all in:
Day 1: Phoenix
Arrive to Phoenix International airport.
I rented a car for the duration of my trip and I would highly recommend doing so if you want to see as much as possible in a short space of time. You can get an easy 15 minute, free shuttle from the airport to the car rental center. Beware, the Phoenix highways are not for the faint hearted, they were some of the fastest I have experienced in the US so far.
I rented a car from Thirty Car Rental for $50 for the 3 days. I always book my car rentals from Hotwire as they generally have the lowest prices and best deals.
Desert Botanical Gardens
First stop was the desert botanical gardens which was a short 16 minute drive away from the car rental center. As I arrived to the gardens in the afternoon, I would recommend anyone wanting to visit to go earlier to beat the scorching heat. I was literally sweating profusely in the Arizonian desert when I arrived. I paid around $25 for the entry ticket to the gardens which goes towards its maintenance. The gardens themselves are amazing sight, with different types of desert plants, catcuses and even caught a glimpse of the Arizonian wildlife, with lizards scurrying across my feet.
Camel back Mountain
I went to Camel back mountain in the evening as I wanted to catch the sunset – one of the highly rated hikes in Phoenix. I put the location into Google Maps and drove. I arrived to the bottom of the Cholla trail to realise it was a residential area with a bunch of signs indicating no parking sunset to sunrise, so the race was on to find an alternative parking area before the sun went down – I could see the sun disappearing behind the mountain as I drove looking for a parking spot. Thankfully, I found an alternative parking area before it was too late called Echo Canyon Trail as it was towards the end of the day there were spaces available but I can imagine during the day it very limited. I parked up and walked up to the start of the hike to get some photos. I just had enough time to catch the sunset before the hiking trail closed.
I stayed at The Quality Inn Phoenix Airport. I booked a private room which included 2 single queen beds, poolside view so I was very happy to pay the $48.79 for one night as it was convenient to everything I wanted to see.
Day 2: Sedona & The Grand Canyon
I hit the road at 5 am to get to Sedona which was a 2 hour drive from Phoenix. I would definitely recommend the drive as it is super scenic. I drove through all sorts of terrain, catching the sunrise as I drove through the Phoenix highway, through to more mountainous green areas, to what looked like complete desert, derelict areas to the most beautiful and most unique to my irish eyes, the redrocks approaching the town of Sedona.
I had read a lot about Sedona prior to the trip, about the hikes and trails to experience and that was right up my alley. I reached Sedona around 8am, early enough to beat any other tourists for my first hike of the trip. The desert town of Sedona is quaint and it is quite literally in the middle of redrock buttes and canyon walls which can be viewed in every direction you look – something like bedrock from the Flinestones is how I would best describe it.
From Sedona, I drove to Cathedral Rock a meer 5 minute drive from the town. I got there just after 8 am, which I would highly recommend doing as once again I noticed the limited parking but luckily I found a space, paid the $5 fee for space from the machine and I was on my way up the rock face. Little to my knowledge upon beginning I found that this trail was more of a rock climb than a walking hike – I began to question in my head how this was an official trail – but my worry was eased when I could see other hikers up ahead coming back down on the same path – they survived – so can I! As I reached what I presumed must be half way I was suddenly extremely out of breath and for someone who I thought had a very active summer I knew the sudden struggle for breath was not normal. I came to the conclusion that it was either the altitude or the adrenaline rushing through me as I turned my head to look back at the stunning red rocked landscape. I continued my ascent where I came across a group of people doing yoga on the rock face (I thought to myself as yogi, this is my kind of heaven!). They asked me to take their photo incorporating the view and I went on my way further up the rock. I finally reached the top point where I met other hikers taking in the view, which was of course a stunning array of red rock formations. I spent about 20 mins up there, absorbing it all before making my decent back to the parking lot.
After making it back down Cathedral rock, it was time to find my hotel. It happened to be situated in the very centre of Sedona which was an easy find given the town of Sedona is pretty quaint.
I stayed overnight in Sedona at Cedars Resort – this was the most pricey booking of the trip but worthwhile given the hotels location and its amenities, check out that pool with view below. I paid $158 for 1 night.
Upon, check in I went to find lunch – the hotel receptionist recommended a place called the Secret garden cafe which I found a convenient 5 minute walk from the hotel – located in an ancient looking arts & crafts village called Tlaquepaque in the town center of Sedona.
Following my early lunch, next of the agenda was a place that had been on my bucket list of as long as I can remember – The Grand Canyon. The drive was 2 hours from Sedona and I needed to leave directly after lunch in order to make it there in time for the tour I had booked. Upon booking, the tour director informed me that the drive was easy from Sedona to the Grand Canyon – I can now say that that is not entirely true given that a stretch of the drive was twisting around a cliff face, including some of the sharpest corners I’ve ever had navigate, but nonetheless an adventure – if I was unsure of the adrenaline earlier in the day I was sure as hell experiencing it now due to the drive and what I was heading for. Off to see one of the seven wonders of the natural world – I could not wait.
I arrived to the Grand Canyon with time to spare before meeting my tour guide and the group I would be joining. It turned out that the tour was departing from the National Geographic Center located in the Grand Canyon Village – The first thing I noticed about this village was the amount of Elk statues and signs.
The time for the tour arrived and we all climbed into the open air pink jeep that was taking us around the Canyon. Our tour guide was amazingly informative and friendly, enroute to the park he told us a bunch of facts about the Grand Canyon that I had no idea about prior like how about 90 wildlife species call the Canyon home, including mountain lions, it is one of the top places for suicides in the world, so many cars have gone over the edge that they had to resort to spray painting the cars the color of the rock to conceal and 60 years ago, 2 planes collided head on in the middle of it.
As we got closer, we were able to see our first snippets of the Canyon through the trees. Itching to get out of jeep, we pulled up at our first stop, Moran Point and got some shots next to a rock shaped like a duck overlooking the Canyon. Luckily for me as a solo traveller, our guide offered to double as a photographer. The tour was about 3 hours in duration and an amazing experience, it hard to put into words how beautiful the canyon is. On our way back to the center we got up close and peronal to an Elk on the side of the road.
Here is a link to the tour company I went with: Pink Jeep Tours
Day 3: Airport Mesa, & return to Phoenix
Sunrise at Airport Mesa
This was my last day and once again I got up at the crack of dawn (4:45 am) to make the most of the day and catch the sunset at Airport Mesa, an amazing view point overlooking Sedona. It was no surprise due to the beauty of this place that other hikers had the same idea and as I got the top of the view point in the darkness I could see about a dozen others waiting for the sun to make an appearance, some equipped with expensive looking camera material perched ready to catch the best shot. I looked up the time of sunrise and google told me it was at approx. 6:57 am. So we waited, but while we did the clouds started to the darken and the next thing we knew we could see a storm unfold in the distance. The thunder and lightening rolled through and performed a spectacle in the distance. Suddenly, there was clap of thunder so loud that it almost shook the rock area we stood on, everyone looked around nervously worrying that the lightening might in fact hit us. Finally the sun started to come up, so I got a few shots including the below shot of the lightening hitting the rock in the distance which I thought was pretty good timing. Not long after there was a downpour of rain and everyone raced down to take shelter in their cars. I had seen enough and decided to drive to Oak Creek Canyon ( a 10 minute drive away) and wait for the rain to stop. Thankfully the rain stopped and I hopped out to take in the views, it was substantially cooler to the previous day with on and off rain showers which put an end to my plans for doing some other hikes in the area. I decided to head back to Phoenix early as I knew I would catch the remainder of the good Arizona heat there and I had to catch a flight back to Chicago from Phoenix that day anyway.
Hole in the Rock
Once I got back to Phoenix, I went to check out some of the sights I didn’t have time to see on my first day there, one being the Hole in the rock located at the Phoenix Zoo and also walked around Payago Park – it was sweltering again and stark contrast from the storm I experienced at the start of the day in Sedona.
Royal Palms Resort & Spa – Resort Pass
Due to the heat, I decided to buy a resort pass to cool off by the pool at Royal Palms Resort & Spa – the pass was $65 well spent as I would have paid anything at that point just to cool off from the desert heat. Coincidentally, the resort was conveniently located not even a 5 minute drive from where I was. I hopped back in the car, turned the A/C on full blast and arrived to what was the most majestic hotel I have ever experienced. I was greeted by the hotel staff ready to valet my car and I spent the remainder of my day before the airport on a pool float with a Pina Colada – heaven!