Arizona in June

My previous experience with Arizona has been limited to the brief encounters on 15 heading west into the Las Vegas area or on 93 crossing the Hoover Dam out of Nevada just to turn back around. This year we made Scottsdale our base of operations, had amazing weather at the early part of June, and took three great detours to see other parts of Arizona while staying there. It is not meant to be a travel guide for the area but perhaps it could spark some ideas for planning your own visit.

First Detour: Sedona

We were all up and out just a little past our target time of 8:00 AM to leave for Sedona. It was pretty close to a two hour drive from Scottsdale to get there and one of the first things you notice after getting on 17 going north is your not anywhere near the East Coast anymore with a speed limit of 75 miles an hour. Though we certainly have our share of crazy drivers who think this is the norm it feels strange to be pushing the rental this fast just to get up to the limit!

The trip itself is interesting as you see all of the saguaro cacti as you start out change into grass lands as you reach higher elevations. If you have an external temperature sensor in your car you will see that start to swing lower as well. The most striking change, however, is when you reach those final miles getting into Sedona as the red rocks appear out of no where in the distant ‘mountains’. You truly enter a different world by the time you park your car in Sedona to begin your adventure.

Our ‘Sedona Moment’ was having our guide get to our meeting point at exactly the same time we did. Meeting at the Hilton Sedona, Näthan Gangadean from Sedona Private Guides was our adventure guide charged with taking us around all that is Sedona. Soon we were off in his car to our first stop of Bell Rock. With this being a bit of a whirlwind orientation tour we only walked the path to just the base of the rock and our moment of reflection began. People seem to approach the feeling of Sedona from many different angles; energy meridians, vortexes, and so on. I believe the trouble with finding the right description is we simply have not evolved enough to be able to measure why this place is different. Do read the books, do listen to the experts, and above all find what works for you. Besides the physical dangers of doing something stupid climbing the sandstone there are certainly no bad vortexes to steer away from. The best explanation I have heard of the so called bad vortexes are areas of the land that promote introspection. It would seem that this could be interpreted as a negative experience by some yet quiet introspection can be extremely valuable, so again, find what works for you.

View From the Chapel of the Holy Cross

As we traveled about we saw many sights. The Chapel of the Holy Cross is a must visit and while you are up there you will have an overhead view of one of the most interesting pieces of over the top architecture in Sedona – be sure to take the time to scratch your head wondering how they got that one past the town planners. For lunch we packed a wonderful meal from New Frontiers Natural Martketplace (and for me it was a Vortex Veggie Sandwich plus GT’s Raw Organic Kombucha #9) and ate in the park near Oak Creak. After eating we dipped our feet in the cool waters and had probably the best view of Cathedral Rock you could ever hope for. One of the last stops we made before doing some shopping was to visit the Airport Mesa. The view was simply tremendous and no matter how wide of a lens I tried there was no way to capture the feel of the land before us.

Leaving Sedona I had a true sense of being cleansed. I felt lighter and was looking even more forward to life ahead. Perhaps it could have been just being outside and walking around all day but sleep for some of us was more deep and fulfilling than it has been in recent memories. I am already looking forward to returning at some point and next time I want to go deep into the experience of Sedona with a long hike and meditation and end the day seeing the sun set from the Airport Mesa.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

On the way back from Sedona we made a quick stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument. An amazing site and even more amazing to hear that the structure home to a mere 35 people. For a virtual tour of the inside (which is no longer accessible by the public) go to the National Park Service’s site.

Second Detour: A Balloon Ride

Getting up super early we actually made it out of the house near on time at 4:50 AM and met up with Hot Air Expeditions at the Deer Valley airport parking lot. There we met another couple going on the same ride with the four of us and got into the van to be driven over to the launch site maybe 20 minutes away. As soon as we got to the site the crew trucks came in right behind us and started to set up. The baskets moved into position, the balloons were unrolled, and soon the fans started inflating them on their sides as much as possible before firing up the propane. With people that obviously do this very often the process is smooth and goes by in the blink of an eye. It is amazing how very little time it takes when the fire is turned on before the balloons lift to their vertical positions and you need to climb into the baskets to give weight for a controlled takeoff.

Hot Air Expeditions

The transition between the ground and liftoff was almost non-existent. At one moment you see the crew still hanging around the basket on the ground and the next moment you look around you see the other balloons still inflating from an ever growing distance. It has been probably 30 years since my first and last balloon experience and it truly is something you will never forget in your lifetime. The peace of the flight is only interrupted by the extreme heat of the propane blast into the balloon to either gain or maintain altitude.

For those who have never been in a balloon before the wind tells the balloon where to go and the only control a pilot has is to change altitude in hope of catching a different direction. If there are balloons up ahead of you they are a great source of information and if you are the lead balloon (as we were) then you are on your own.

Ballooning in Arizona

For the trip we flew at different altitudes taking in both close views of the beauty of the desert, including the wildlife, and tremendous vistas of the surrounding area. Flying over a desert makes for an interesting landing challenge. As barren as a desert might seem it is truly hard to find a place large enough, flat enough, and especially free enough from saguaro to make a landing. Oh, and did I mention the rocks? When we did come down they were doing their best to keep the basket in one place as the balloon still had a different idea with the gentle wind of the morning. Though it seemed like we would tip over that moment never came and touch down was complete!

The crew van was minutes away and soon a breakfast table of celebration was prepared at our landing site. It was a wonderful experience in all ways possible – from the weather of the morning, to the crew and pilots, to all that we saw during the flight, and of course what it feels like to be in a balloon to begin with. Be it in Arizona, or somewhere else in your travels, find a way to make this experience a part of your life.

Third Detour: West Rim of the Grand Canyon

At 7:00 AM and were driven to the Deer Valley Airport for our Grand Canyon West Rim Adventure Tour by Westwind Air Service. After checking in and waiting for some other people to arrive we soon boarded our eight seater plane and headed out to the canyon. It was about a one hour flight that took us over an ever changing landscape until we reached our destination.

Upon landing we got weighed in for our helicopter ride and I managed to get front seat status! Cool! From there it was not long before we headed over to the helicopter pads and boarded for an amazing ten minute flight down to the bottom of the canyon. Thus far I am surprised at the pace of the tour as everything is moving very fast for, as we touched down and got out, we walked straight down a hundred stone steps or so to a pontoon boat waiting to for a fifteen minute ride on the Colorado river. The water at this point in the river is about 18 feet deep and though the white water is probably 40 to 50 miles away from here the current is still noticeably fast moving somewhere above 10 miles an hour. The boat trip was smooth and peaceful and of course the fifteen minutes pasted in the blink of an eye. Our boat captain brought a bucket of the river water on deck for us to feel the cool temperature and splash some on our foreheads for good luck and offered answers to any questions we could think of in the short period of time we had with him.

Getting off the boat we walked back up the stairs and almost immediately boarded a helicopter for the ten minute journey back to where we started. Yes, our trip to visit the bottom of the canyon was indeed quick but was is more amazing is seeing just how many trips were being made. The helicopters were literally on the ground for perhaps three of four minutes total. It was a constant shuffle back and forth and the tour we were on was obviously not the only one taking place in the area either.

Back up at the airport we had some down time to poke around the gift shop while waiting for the bus to be ready that would take us on the next leg of our adventure. The trip to Eagle Point was only about ten minutes and of course the big attraction there was the Skywalk. Our pilot, who would be following us for the rest of the trip as well, informed us no cameras were allowed on the Skywalk anymore. It seems that at some point someone dropped one and chipped the glass surface. This would not be a safety hazard but given the cost of the glass panes  it would be a maintenance nightmare so I guess it is understandable. The good news is that our pilot offered to hold our camera for a photo from afar and photos where available for purchase from the skywalk itself.

Upon entering the building we headed to the Skywalk where we lockered the rest of our belongings, past through the metal detector, donned our disposable booties, and finally walked out above the canyon. It is truly an amazing experience but not scary at all. Despite the extreme height of the walk there is no reference point for anything familiar so the perception of depth is almost impossible. We did get photos taken when we were on the walk and our photographer said that during the winter they collected a trash bin of snow and dumped it over the edge. It took a full ten seconds to hit the bottom and when it did it looked like a dot and sounded like a shotgun blast.

Leaving the walk we took some of our own photos overlooking the eagle formation in the canyon across the way and soon boarded the bus to our next stop – Guano Point. Here we had lunch sitting at a table outside where maybe thirty feet away was a drop to the bottom of the canyon. Being on an Indian Reservation there are no safety fences or such and the view is 100% available to be taken in. It was truly a one in a life time experience sitting down to eat with that kind of view.

Guano Point

After lunch we walked out to the edge of Guano Point where our pilot became our personal tour guide cluing us in on some great photo spots, telling us interesting facts he knew about the area, and probably most importantly –showing us the best ways to climb on the rocks. He told us the story of the car wreck (that dark brown dot at the bottom of the ‘V’ shaped out crop of rock you see in the middle of the photo above) you can see at the bottom of the canyon at one point – how it was part of a film shoot and of course I forget what the name of the movie was – and various other points of interest. The tour in general was spectacular, however, the way the pilot seemed to go out of his way to always keep track of us (which must be a huge challenge in itself given both the enormity of the areas and the other people visiting from various tours and self guided trips) and to guide us to special areas we simply would not have experienced just wondering on our own made the whole experience over the top.

The bus took us back to the airport and soon our pilot collected all eight people that were on the tour together and we were off. With an early start it was a tiring day already and though it was sad to leave the amazing sights we saw we were ready for our flight back. I would definitely use the tour service again and perhaps next time take advantage of seeing a different part of the Grand Canyon.

Fourth Detour: Food

If you are in the Scottsdale or Phoenix areas look up my reviews on Yelp to see some great places to try. The surprise of Scottsdale was the Pinnacle Grill. Of all the places we tried this will be the most missed and a certain return whenever back in the area. For Phoenix, yes, I did have The Big Unit at Alice Cooperstown!

The Big Unit