After our Fiesta Bowl shenanigans on New Year's Day, we took it easy on Jan 2 and spent the day exploring Tempe! We hit up ASU, spent some time exploring my mom's old collegiate stomping grounds, and passed several hours at the fantastic Four Peaks Brewery. (I also had my first In'N'Out burger and oh man, the hype is deserved.) After margaritas and more football in Old Town Scottsdale, we called it a night fairly early before the other big adventure of our trip...a road trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona!
After using my sweet corporate discount to get ourselves in a nice mid-sized SUV, we struck out for northern AZ. The terrain quickly went from arid desert/cactuses to this...
...and the temperature plunged accordingly. We stopped at Walmart for snacks and a bathroom break, and before too long (about a 3 hour drive all in), we were pulling into the Grand Canyon National Park!
Let it be noted: I was woefully unprepared for this excursion. I had my work coat on (um, hi, Italian tweed and six-inch fur cuffs?) and this was my sensible footwear...
Please note, that is snow/ice surrounding my (sock-free) feet in ballet flats, to explore the effing GRAND CANYON. What can I say? I packed too quickly and didn't check the weather report. Ultimately, no big deal...it worked out fine for the way we did the day...but just a classic "Lizzie-is-an-idiot" moment.
Our route was pretty simple: we started at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, where we read a tiny bit about the canyon's early exploration and where David decided his goal for the day was to catch a falcon (Kelli: not amused). From there we struck out to Mather Point for our first peek at the canyon, walked the rim trail to Yavapai Point and the Geology Museum (about a .75 mile loop), shuttled back to the Visitor Center, and explored the rest of the South Rim in our car, stopping whenever we felt like it to explore. We ended up spending about four and a half hours in the park, and I could have easily spent longer!
I'll keep it pretty light, text-wise, for the rest of the post, but I have to say up-front: 90% of the (amazing) photos in this post are courtesy of Andrew, who in addition to being a genius engineer grad student is also an avid hiker and photographer. These photos blew me away when he put them up on Facebook earlier this week, and I will make sure to call out which (crappy) photos are mine so as to avoid embarrassing him. Thanks for letting me share, Andrew!
Our first breathtaking peek at the canyon at Mather Point. Photos can't do it justice...I thought I knew what to expect and was utterly dumbfounded.
The contrast of the snow on the rocks made for some pretty epic shots. Snow under my ballet flats, on the other hand, made for a pretty nervous explorer.
Mather Point, above, was all nice and fenced-in and had great guard railings, so yours truly didn't panic at all, short of holding the railing extra-tight. Once we headed toward Yavapai, though, the railings went away, and those hundreds-of-feet drops seemed a bit too close for comfort when paired with icy/snowy ground and hideously inappropriate footwear. Add to that my phobia-level fear of the sensation of falling, and I was a dithery wreck for the first fifteen minutes or so. Thankfully Kelli was pretty much on the same page as me on the whole "let's not plunge to a rocky canyon death to start off 2016" thing. David and Andrew coaxed us out for a few heart-stopping views, though, and I like to think the photo below makes me look all bad-ass and intrepid. Sort of. In my ballet flats.
You can see the fear in my eyes.
Our fearless experienced Boy-Scout-hiker-nature-wilderness men hopped out with no fear for a few selfies. At this point I think my rictus grin speaks for itself. (It says GET ME OFF THIS SCARY ROCK AND BACK ON THE PATH NOW PLEASE.) A few yards up the trail, David, having no such fears, decided to scare us half to death and take a little break...
...chilling over a mile-deep drop. This is why I love him...that utterly derpy look of glee as he, in my eyes, risks his life. Just whatever.
Total creeper shot courtesy of my iPhone of our photographer in action! Watching him all day made me want to invest in a high-quality camera and either take lessons or spend A LOT of time teaching myself. Who wouldn't want to be able to produce photos like this one, below?
I spent a lot of the trip thinking to myself (and pontificating to anyone who would listen) about how the magnitude of the Grand Canyon almost steals any sense of perspective. It's just SO incredibly massive and overwhelming that any ability to see scale just disappears. I would find myself looking down at the canyon, or across to the other side, and not being able to gauge how far away things were...a quarter-mile seemed like a football field, the river was the thinnest little ribbon of water when, in actuality it was over 300 yards across, and everything seemed so enormous that all I could really comprehend was just how infinitesimally small I was in the scheme of things.
Okay this requires a story. First of all, please appreciate Andrew's National Geographic-quality shot of this here elk, which we encountered as we left the visitor center in our trusty SUV. I immediately, completely irrationally freaked the fuck out with excitement, because we had been talking all morning about close encounters with wildlife and being all "nah, won't happen." This little (well, big) guy was hanging out about ten feet off the road just munching. So I died and went to heaven, essentially.
While Andrew's shot makes it look like we were alone with him, there were actually about twenty idiot tourists just to his right, out of the frame. And while we kept a respectable, safe distance from the wild animal in the wild, these tourists were like five feet away from him, taking selfies, and in one case holding up a toddler/small child like basically ON the animal's antlers. I had visions of rampages, but was also (as mentioned) completely spazzing like a child myself with excitement.
David was our driver/"trip dad" for the day, and stopped the truck every time we saw anything remotely interesting. At first, this was like every ten minutes, until he put his trip dad foot down and was like "We will never make it to the Desert View Overlook if we keep stopping every ten minutes!" So we were all "Thanks trip dad!" and behaved ourselves. These gorgeous overlook views were worth it, though.
The photo above is mine. Thanks Instagram for a: making it look like I can handle a camera and b: making the Grand Canyon look like something off a Candyland board. #allthefilters, #allthetime.
More elk! This time it was a herd of like...ten of them, and while we stopped for pictures, we were all "oh, blah, more elk, how dull, get us a mountain lion next time." Ha!
Emboldened by my close encounters with wildlife, I also overcame (sort of) my fear of falling to a canyon-y death, and Andrew made me look appropriately epic. Thank you, Andrew. :)
Again with the "snow and trees and rocks and sky being all perfect" thing. I think this is my favorite of the day.
We finally got to Desert View, the other big overlook point, and parked the car. Kelli and I immediately started trying to guess what this little guy on the snack bar sign was supposed to be. I landed on "tribal Ewok." Thoughts?
The overlook had a fancy tower that was designed to incorporate all kinds of Native American symbols and heritage, which I enjoyed reading about way too much and will refrain from regurgitating here to spare you all a history lesson. You can thank me later.
This overlook was particularly cool because the canyon was far more open on this end. We could see a lot more of the river, and beyond the canyon, the expanse of the Colorado Plateau and more arid desert. It just made the anomaly of the canyon seem even more dramatic.
^^having a tiny dork-out moment because I have always loved that Psalm. Done now.
We took the obligatory tourist picture with the park sign thanks to two girls who were also headed out, one of whom apparently needed to take as many ridiculous pictures of herself as possible. It was wonderful; you had to be there. From the Grand Canyon, we drove through miles and miles of desert to reach Sedona for sunset! Our drive was like two hours of uneventful and then all of a sudden we hit a hairpin turn atop a canyon. Kelli looked at the map on her phone and goes, "Um, David? We're going to have a lot more of these." Take a look:
Absolute insanity. By David's estimation, we dropped over 1000 feet in less than a mile, in one of the most stunning, raw-power-of-nature beautiful drives I've ever experienced. Think red rock canyons, snowy rivers and waterfall gullies, scrub trees and cacti, and sunset just starting to gather above the canyon. Although he was a hangry beast by this point, he fulfilled Trip Dad duties and got us to the Sedona Airport Overlook in one piece in time for this:
The cloudy skies prevented the usual sunset drama spectacular, but we still enjoyed the view. At this point, we were all starving and hangry, though...so we headed out shortly before the sun actually set (invisibly behind the clouds) and grabbed an amazing Italian dinner at the Hideaway House in the town. (If you're ever in Sedona, highly recommended!)
Such an awesome day trip and truly an amazing way to wrap up our Fiesta Bowl vacation!