During the lockdown, my roommate and I randomly picked a destination from her world travel book, and we landed on a 2 page spread of the Grand Canyon. In January 2021, her boyfriend drove us to Newark from Queens and we were off on a plane for Flagstaff, Arizona.
As our plane descended, the first thing I noticed outside my little window were the tall trees. And I was surprised to see how cold it was in January. For some reason I imagined it was warm all the time, but I thought wrong. Anyway Flagstaff’s airport was super tiny and quaint with just one carousel, one terminal, and one booth for rental cars. We picked up our car which was essentially this gigantic box of an SUV. I just found it funny that two small Asian girls would be driving this thing around Arizona. After I got myself situated with the car’s features, we headed straight to Walmart to pick up some food and water to prepare our next few breakfasts at our Airbnb. It was at the Walmart parking lot that we discovered how macho the birds were in Arizona. They were pretty brolic compared to New York’s pigeons.
We drove maybe 30-45 minutes more to get to our Airbnb. The GPS took us on a main road driving through a neighborhood with large plots of land for each home, and we had to go through a dirt road to get to our place. The Airbnb we booked was actually a small guest home right outside of a main house that had a backyard of chickens! They were so cute and round, and our Airbnb space was just as cute as well! It had one queen/king sized bed (I can’t remember which) and another small room with a bunk bed. I loved how small, cozy, and colorful it was, and I especially appreciated all the essential amenities it came with, like a little stove, pots and pans, utensils, a toaster oven, and cute plates! The owners even left little chocolates for us on the pillows, and a bowl of eggs straight from their chickens. And behind this big sliding barn door was a bathroom with his and hers sinks, a spacious shower with excellent water pressure, and amazing lighting that made me feel like I was in a Hollywood dressing room. I was in love with that Airbnb and def recommend it for small groups (no more than 4 people).
Anyway after we had our stuff settled in, we went out exploring, but not too far from the Airbnb because it was getting dark outside. Being born and raised from New York, we weren’t used to seeing how dark it could be at night without any streetlights or buildings. We wandered through a nearby forest with a hiking trail until the sun went down, then headed to town to pick up some pizza for dinner. The evening hours outside were so cold, calm, quiet, and magnificent all at once. It was a sweet experience– just watching the stars above us. We never get to see that many stars above Queens.
The Grand Canyon
The following morning we woke up really early because we wanted to catch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. It was still dark out when we woke up around 4-5am, and we stepped outside to see our rental’s windshield was completely covered in frost. We didn’t have a windshield cleaning brush to scrape it off, so we turned on the heat, threw some hot water on the windshield, and turned on the wipers. Once we were able to see through clearly, we set out on our 2-3 hour journey to one of America’s most beautiful landmarks. It was a dark and peaceful ride to the canyon, and a ranger greeted us at the entrance. If I remember correctly, he gave us a ticket and a map, and informed us that the only area of the Canyon available to the public was the South Rim.
Using the map, we found a small hiking trail and parked at its designated lot, brushing off the signs warning us about coyotes and mountain cats. Icy snow was scattered along our trail but it was still walkable. The trail was empty for the most part, and the only people we came across was this one small family that were just leaving the scenic view by the edge of the cliff. At the end of our trail, we met the moment we’ve been waiting for since we booked our flight. Right in front of us was a gorgeous sun peeking behind a massive land of cliffs and rocks. It was Nicole’s first time visiting, and it was my second time, but I was still amazed to be standing there in person, sniffing the freshest air I’ve ever breathed.
After admiring the view and taking pictures, we started making our way back to the car. While walking, Nicole and I got into an exciting conversation planning our next big trip out of the country, but were immediately silenced when we heard a growl from above us in the tall trees. I’m not even lying when I tell you that we stopped at our tracks and looked at each other terrified. The hair on my skin shot up and Nicole suddenly bolted, trying to make a run for it. I ran to keep up with her. In between breaths I told her that running might stir the animal to chase us. I almost thought to myself maybe it wasn’t really a growl we heard, and maybe there was nothing to be afraid of. We couldn’t find an animal in sight. And just then, we heard another growl from above, and we power-walked the hell out of there in silence. As we got closer to the lot, we slowed to a regular walk and laughed nervously, keeping our eyes out on the trees and bushes until we safely made it back to the car. Later when we had service we learned that it was most likely a mountain lion trying to get some sleep. We were probably disturbing its rest and we made the right choice by walking rather than running away.
It was still pretty early in the morning after that hike, so we drove around as much of the Grand Canyon as we could, but only the South Rim area. We still had fun taking pictures and videos and checking out the giftshop. At a certain point we started to get tired and hungry so we looked for a place to eat but there weren’t many options available in the Canyon. So we left the area and back on the main streets where our only options were a steakhouse and a McDonald’s. We ended up eating at McDonald’s, trying Starbucks’ new pistachio flavors, and checking out the souvenir shops.
Then we were on the road again, checking out random stops on the way back to the Airbnb. We came across this Flintstones type attraction called Bedrock City in the middle of the desert. I think the admission was $5 or $8. It was really just an outdoor attraction with a bunch of tall sculptures of cartoon dinosaurs and Flintstones-type homes. In a way it was actually a little creepy; we were the only people visiting, and the sculptures looked a little worn and weathered, and not very well maintained. Other visitors had tagged up and taken random props from the fake houses. I guess it’s a pretty cute attraction for any Flintstones fans and children who enjoy imagining themselves in a real life Bedrock City. Apparently they also put on bird shows once in a while, but it wasn’t available at the time of our visit. Nonetheless we enjoyed taking pictures and videos at that interesting place.
We also went across the road to check out this rock store that held a lot of pretty stones and gems. I think after that Nicole suggested we see what was up with this abandoned ghost town called Belmont. On our way there we imagined it to be like a place with no people at all. But when we arrived, we pulled into the lot of this active resto-bar, and we saw a freight train running not too far away. So it didn’t seem like much of a ghost town aside from the empty highway, that we ended up having a mini photo shoot on. Afterwards, I think we went to Target to buy more polaroid film and bought ice cream? Back in our Airbnb we watched The Truman Show and planned our agenda for the following day.
The following morning we set out for our journey to Sedona, where we were excited to visit the popular vortexes, steal a red rock from the Red Rocks, and go on an ATV ride through the desert. As soon as we got to Sedona the first thing we did was visit Cathedral Rock. We needed to use the bathroom but all they had was this one stall, which was probably the most foul smelling stall I have stepped in my entire life. After sanitizing the crap out of our hands and belongings, Nicole and I followed other hikers up the path toward the top of Cathedral Rock. At first it was like walking up ragged rocks like stairs, it was no big deal. But I grew more concerned about my safety as the path grew more steep, and we were crawling on our hands and knees. We looked up and watched other hikers turn around and safely make their way to the leveled ground, so we followed suit and stopped climbing the hill. We found a spot on the side to take some cute pictures with the view, when we realized that there was another, much safer route to the top of Cathedral Rock. We were following all those people up the wrong path 🙃
Anyway we climbed back down and made it to our car to head over to The Chapel of Holy Cross, which was just a 5-10 min drive away. The chapel sat on a steep hill, but had a stunning view of Sedona. Many tourists were sitting and standing around outside the chapel, and there were more sitting inside, praying silently to themselves. The view inside was just as gorgeous, with a large statue of Christ on the cross and the view of Sedona behind him through the windows. The chapel also had a gift shop downstairs for people to buy sacramentals, postcards, and more. Afterwards, we visited some cute craft stores close by and stopped by a doughnut place called Sedonuts before our ATV appointment. Unfortunately Sedonuts completely sold out of donuts just an hour or so before their closing time. So we went across the street to eat some hotdogs for lunch.
The ATV meet up place was just a few blocks away from Sedonuts. The people there had us all geared up with bandanas, helmets, and protective goggles. Then, they had all the drivers go through a practice round at a small mound outside the office, so that we would get the hang of driving over rough terrain and making wide turns to prevent tilting over. When we all passed the practice test, it was time for us to head out to the desert. Everyone got in their cars to follow the ATV people out to the desert, but others opted to get a ride with the ATV people and leave their cars parked in the lot. In the desert, we parked our cars and hopped on our ATVs. Nicole and I got ourselves situated in the same car, with her as my passenger. The ATV had handles behind us for her to hold on to during the ride. They put us in a group of about 8 or 9 people, and together our group drove in a line following a guide (also on an ATV) through the desert. Driving on the paved roads was pretty easy until we drove on the really rocky terrain. Nicole and I were bouncing up and down and I was terrified one or both of us would soon go flying off the ATV, or if I would accidentally drive us into a ditch. Luckily our guide stopped once in a while to check on us, and he gave me this tip to use more speed over the rough areas instead of slowing down. This tip was incredibly helpful because we ended up smoothly sailing the rest of the drive through the desert, and even going up the hills. I did so well that by the end of the tour, the guide called me the Master of Rocks! Halfway through the journey, we were led to a location for us to take a break and take scenic photos with our ATVs. The other group of people we met back at the office meet up place were there too with their guide. When we stepped off our ATVs and removed our goggles, we realized that we were just covered from head to toe with desert dust. After our rest, both groups were led back to our parked cars, and we used up a bunch of wipes trying to clean off all the dust. After our ATV exploration we visited Bell Rock and then headed back to Flagstaff.
The following morning we cleaned up our quarters, refilled the gas, returned the car rental, and waited for our 7am flight at 4:30am. I knew something was weird when I saw only one person waiting at the gate in the airport. We looked at the departure screens and noticed our flight wasn’t on there. When we looked at our online boarding passes, United Airlines had changed our 7am flight to a 2:45pm flight. I was extremely annoyed, especially because it was very early in the morning with no one even working in the airport. It had also gotten really cold because their fans were running for some reason. I messaged my dad and explained to him that I would be arriving home to New York later than expected because of our flight change. He felt bad that we had to wait, and was worried that I would catch a cold from sitting in that airport. With all that time to kill before our flight, he suggested we rent another car just for a few hours so that we could at least go out and hang around town. So I took his advice and asked the person behind the desk if I could rent a car for a few hours. The available car they lent me that day was a beautiful black 2019 Camaro. My frown turned upside down immediately! I’ve always wanted to drive one! So we rolled the top down and enjoyed our last day in Arizona with the wind in our hair, and spent a few hours in the downtown area of Flagstaff, window shopping and eating fudge. Eventually we went back to the airport and took a plane back home to New York. The end.
Although our trip was pretty short, I feel like we really made the best of our time, visiting the places we wanted to see, and experiencing new things like running away from a mountain cat and driving with the top down on an Arizona highway. Let me know in the comments below if you enjoyed reading about my trip, and if you’d like me to write more about my vacations.