Arizona


Anytime I get to drive east from Las Vegas and don’t have to dip down into Phoenix, it’s going to be a good drive. I don’t know how half of one state can be so gorgeous while the other half is basically hell on earth. Of course anywhere in New Mexico is sure to be awesome. If you are ever taking the twelve hour Las Vegas, Nevada to Las Vegas, New Mexico drive, make sure you stop a lot along the way.

It used to be that you’d get 40 minutes out of Vegas and you’d find yourself in a two hour Hoover Dam traffic jam. Not anymore, as the new bridge whisks you over the top. Of course, you are missing driving across the New Deal Monument (sorry…teaching American history now – we are just getting past the Depression), but if you’ve seen it a million times, be happy for the bridge. Before you get to the Arizona-Nevada state line, be sure to pull over and check out Lake Mead. It’s not much to swim in, but the surrounding mountains always look cool. There is plenty of space to pull over, read plaques, and take pictures. The Lake Mead Visitors Center is closed for some pretty major renovations, so snap your picture and move onward.

Flagstaff is a next good stop. This pine-tree and university town is lucky enough to get great weather in the summer and enough snow for skiing in the winter. Drive down the historic Route 66 and do some shopping and/or drinking in the streets just east of N Humphreys and north of E Santa Fe. If it’s summer and you are doing things leisurely (which I hope you are!), dip down highway 89A and check out Slide Rock State Park and Sedona.

Forty five minutes down I-40 is Winslow, Arizona. Pull out your “Hell Freezes Over” CD and drive down to E. 2nd street to check out the Standin’ on the Corner Park. If you are in the mood for gourmet southwestern cuisine, The Turquoise Room at La Posada Hotel is a rare shining spot in this depressed little town.

I crossed the Arizona-New Mexico border at nighttime, which is sad. The slabs of red rock are an appropriate welcome to the state, even though they are decorated with statues of Native warriors and teepees. The whole scene is about as authentic as a dreamcatcher (um, that would be not very), but the scenery is so striking, I usually don’t care.

When you hit Gallup stop at Blake’s Lotaburger for a green chile cheeseburger. Or anywhere really, they are deliciously addicting. If you will be in this corner of New Mexico for more than a day or two, give The Blue Desert Guide Company a call for an authentic New Mexico experience. Amanda and Vino (former Navajo Reservation teachers) LOVE to show off their favorite part of the world. If you are only here for a few hours, make sure the sun is either going up or down. Southwest sunsets and rises are the best here.

Albuquerque gets a bad rap, which is good for cheap hotel rooms (usually less than $50 by the airport. I mean “Sunport”), but the Sandia Mountains are nice, as is the area around the University. Luckily, Santa Fe is on the way to Las Vegas. Santa Fe is not as cool as most people say it is, but the central plaza is pretty cute. Do some window shopping, (but if you are serious about buying Native goods, head back to Gallup where they are half the price), take a picture of the missions and the adobde buildings. Just don’t lose you pictures when your computer crashes (it’s been a fun week).

The quick drive between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, NM is really nice. I did it when the sun was rising in the morning, which I highly recommend. The Santa Fe National Forest, the low mountain passes, the mountian homes in the hills and the tiny little towns make for a nice drive.

As you coast off the exit and head down into Las Vegas, you won’t find any half-naked dancers, Elvi, or screaming blackjack tables. This Las Vegas is a great place to spend a couple hours though. Grab some posole and poke around the parks, shops, and museum on Grand Ave. Revel in the quiet and be glad you aren’t down $500.    

 

 

This post may sound a little weird unless you are intimately acquainted with the words to The Eagles song “Take it Easy.” You can read them here. Alternatively, you can attend the Standin’ on the Corner 10K which begins and ends at the Standin’ on the Corner Park, next to the Standin’ on the Corner store, during the Standin’ on the Corner annual festival. The Eagles are pretty much played non-stop here.

Take it Easy lyrics that I AM embracing:

  • “Running down the road”: I was all about running down the road. And up the road. The 10K course took us from the famed corner, down the new sidewalks along the railroad tracks, through the festival site, and down 3rd Street. It was an out-and-back course, which I love because it allows me to size up the competition at they run past me (or I run past them) on the way back to the finish.
  • “Trying to loosen my load”: Although any calories obliterated by my 6.2 mile jaunt were quickly replaced by the free cookies distributed at the finish line.
  • “Just find a place to make your stand”: I guess that’s what this whole quitting-my-job-and-traveling is all about.  

Take it Easy lyrics that I AM NOT embodying:

    • “Standing on a corner”: Although I suppose at some point I might have stood still on a corner, most of my trip to Winslow was of an active, non-standing-around nature.   
    • “I’ve got seven women on my mind”: At the ½ way point, I only had three women on my mind: The three females in front of me. As a small town race, I figured that this was my best shot at winning. By mile five I had only two women on my mind. At mile six, I had just one. As I turned that final corner the only thing on my mind was keeping that lead.
    • “Take it Ea-e-e-easy”: Obviously I was not doing this. My initial goal of running at a 9:10 pace went out the window when I was still feeling good after three miles at 8:30 pace. I opted to speed it up instead of taking it easy.
    • “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy:” So this doesn’t have to do with the race, but my tire situation is getting dire. I had to get new ones in Las Vegas AGAIN. My new-tire count is currently six. I’m really hoping I don’t blow out another tire on the New Jersey Turnpike or some other god-awful place on the East Coast next month.  
    • “It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford slowing down to take a look at me”: Nobody (girl or boy) slowed down to take any looks at me. I don’t look good running. If you don’t believe me, check out this post-race picture:

     

  • “We will never be here again”: Of course I’ll be in Winslow again! I’ve already been here twice this month.
  • “Looking for a lover who won’t blow my cover:” What was Don Henley even talking about? I don’t think I have a cover, and the last thing I need is a lover, whether he will blow my non-existent cover or not. Unless, of course, his “sweet love is gonna save me-e-e-e.” Then I might reconsider.   

But for now, I’ll just keep driving and running. This race was a pretty good one. It was the first of its kind, organized by Kim Henling and her sister Larissa. You can read Larissa’s blog about the race here. Kim and her husband always traveled to other cities to race and lamented the fact that their hometown didn’t have a race of its own.

Pretty soon she was mapping out race routes, meeting with the police department, and shelling out her own money to make this 10K/2 mile race a reality. Hopefully it will become an annual event. The race took place at 8:00am during the Standin’ on the Corner festival in Winslow, which is held during the last weekend of September. The race was $15, which is very cheap. Proceeds (if there are any) will go towards future Winslow races. Check out the Standin’ on the Corner facebook page here.

So I’m training for this ½ marathon in Inner Mongolia. I have the VERY lofty notion that I might be able to complete the 13.1 miles in less than two hours. This assumes that…

  • I can breathe through the China smog
  • I don’t get lost on the course and end up in some random yurt village
  • Inner Mongolian aide stations feature bottled water
  • A yak doesn’t eat me

 I’m not too hopeful, especially as I’ve just noticed that the race is advertised as an “extreme” marathon. I hope that’s just a random adjective and doesn’t mean I’ll be running up mountain slopes or anything.

Anyways, my training has been going well, but the three weeks before the race I’m traveling, which really gets in the way of training. For the first leg of this vacation I headed to Tucson (average temperature during my stay: 110 degrees) to take care of some family stuff. After two days I ditched my mom and uncle and hightailed it up to Sedona where it was a noticeably cooler 100 degrees. I sought out the longest, flattest trail in the area and woke up for my run at 5:30am to beat the heat.

 

My flat, long trail of choice was the West Fork Trail, about three miles north of Slide Rock State Park on highway 89A. The trailhead is on the west side of the road and is well marked. You do need a $9 trail pass to park at the trail head which can be purchased in the parking lot near the trailhead…unless you arrive at 6am. Despite the sign that indicated that the trail was open from dawn to dusk, the parking lot was gated shut. I guess I was up earlier then the park people. Luckily there was a place to pull off the side of the road and park about ¼ mile north of the trailhead on highway 89A.

 West Fork Trail was indeed long and relatively flat. The trail runs 3-4 miles (depending on which signs you believe) into the woods, creating a 6-8 mile round trip. There were some hills and inclines, but nothing too strenuous. It’s a perfect trail to run on except for the numerous times (over ten) you are required to cross Oak Creek. Sometimes this was accomplished by teetering on logs and rocks and sometimes my shoes and socks just had to get wet. However this year was one of high rivers and Oak Creek was pretty shallow in mid-June. By August of this year and probably the whole of next summer the creek will be mostly dried up.

 

The West Fork Trail is gorgeous. The clear water, blue sky, red rocks and green vegetation provided numerous excuses for me to stop running and take pictures. However, I wasn’t the only one enjoying West Fork Trail that morning. Every spider in the southwest decided to spin webs across the trail exactly at face level. After spitting out the first dozen cobwebs, I took to running through the forest whilst waving my arms in front of my face to knock down the webs.

If a runner looks like an idiot in the forest but no one is there to see her, did she really look like an idiot at all? Hmmm.

To avoid this problem, I’d suggest that you aren’t the first person on the trail in the morning. Let someone else knock down the webs for you.   

In addition to spider-clearing duties, The West Fork Trail requires that you pay attention. (not my strongest skill!) Before crossing Oak Creek each time, look ahead to where the trail continues on the other side. Sometimes it’s hard to pick it up once you’re on the opposite bank. In at least one instance, I thought I had to cross the river but the trail continued on the same side of the river. A few times I thought that the trail ended, only to climb over a boulder or cross another bend in the creek only to discover more trail ahead of me. This is where I decided the end must be:

 

By nine o’clock I emerged back onto highway 89A. I had not gotten lost in the woods, bitten by a poisonous spider, nor passed out from heat stroke. I celebrated my successful run with a burger and chocolate milk shake (available at the Dairy Queen four miles south of the trailhead towards Sedona) before heading back to Tucson.

“And you’ll be in room number seven, just down the way,” the hotel clerk says, smiling and handing me an old brass key.

I hear an exasperated sigh behind me. 

“Is she the one that reserved room number seven last week?” Exasperated lady asks. She and the cat she’s clinging to both eye me suspiciously.

“Um, I did reserve last week,” I say apologetically. “But I really don’t care about the room number.”

“Great.” Cat lady says. “You don’t mind if we switch then? It’s just that seven is my lucky number, and there’s a full moon tonight, and rooms on the end are my favorite.”

I turn, roll my eyes at the hotel clerk who just checked me in and tell her to go ahead and switch us. Cat lady immediately becomes my new best friend, informing me that room number nine is a great room too, that I’ll love it here, and the jacuzzi tubs are great. She then suggests that I light candles and soak in the tub for three hours as she did last night.

I will SO not be doing that.

I wheel my trusty cooler into room number nine. It’s cute. A little romantic for my single self (and Lord knows I won’t meet a man to my liking in Sedona), but whatever.

I made my way through the Oak Creek Terrace compound, where the other guests all seem to be normal. The porch overlooking the mountains is perfect for writing. The grassy courtyard is adorable, complete with kids playing hide and go seek. Down several sets of stairs is Oak Creek. The Creek here is nice for a quick splash, but two miles north on 89A is Slide Rock State Park where the real river run is at.

 

Fishing poles are available in the lobby for free – and no fishing license required if you stay on Oak Creek property. However, the last time I went fishing I ended up in the lake and the fish ended up in the boat, so I leave the poles alone. I do take them up on the trail pass. The Oak Creek Terrace people have a few year-long on hand, complimentary for guests. This saves me $9 on my hike the next morning.   

I stayed at Oak Creek Terrance for just under $100 on a summer weekday. The cabins (as opposed to the single room I stayed in) are naturally more expensive. Oak Creek Terrace is located at 4548 N. Highway 89A, Sedona AZ, 86336. Call them at 800-224-2229. It’s about 6 miles north of Sedona’s touristy city-center on highway 89A, right across the street from the Dairy Queen.

I thought Oak Creek Terrace was great until I visited some friends staying up the road at Garlands.

Oh. My. God. Heaven in Sedona.

Garlands is one of those vacation spots that families go to year after year for generations. The small group of cabins embodies the close-knit family resort feel that instantly reminded me of my family’s favorite vacation spot. The tucked away log cabins, with their fireplaces, huge beds, and picture windows scream romance are what every “authentic-looking-rustic-lodge” strives to be. Your stay at Garlands includes access to Oak Creek (and the trout that inhabit it), and meals (breakfast, high tea, dinner) at their lodge.

After dinner, residents enjoy a campfire on the immaculately kept grounds. Many vacationers know each other well, as they’ve all return the same week, year after year. The talk around the fireside is relaxed and welcoming.

 

But back to the meals. Garlands features an on-site apple orchard, herb garden and hen house, so you can taste how fresh the food is. For dinner I enjoyed coconut/corn/lobster soup, salad with pickeled onions, halibut (not from Oak Creek, I presume) with mango dressing, saffron rice and a light banana chocolate tart for dessert. Everything tasted even better than it looks.

 

If you are not staying at the resort you can still enjoy their prix fixe dinners (starting at $40), but be sure to call ahead (928-282-3343) for reservations. I got the last spot three days ahead of time, and this was on a Tuesday. If you want to stay at Garlands, call a several months in advance as regulars get first dibs. Garlands is at 8067 N Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336. It’s 8 miles north of Sedona, 20 miles south of Flagstaff. Look for the small brown sign on the left side of the road if you’re coming from Sedona. The road immediately forks, and you want to take a left (the bigger road heads right – don’t be tempted). This one lane driveway crosses unsettlingly over Oak Creek and then it’s a steep drive up to the lodge. Garlands is only open April through November because the creek floods over the road for the rest of the year. They are also closed most Sundays.

 

The last time I was in Sedona I came screeching into town, my brake pads shot because a rock had gotten lodged in there during a jaunt through the Navajo Reservation. Although a wanna-be-retired mechanic (“I tried to close my shop but people kept knocking on my door asking me about tires”) in Teec Nos Pos assured me it would work itself out, things were not well in the driving department.  

“Did they check the aura of your car?” My brother quipped when I called him with the news. “Did they light incense and read your palms while they installed recently blessed brake pads?”

That would be a no. Big O Tires fixed my car in the normal fashion – slowly and expensively. My mom and I were left to our own (carless) devices for nearly five hours in Sedona. After waiting an hour for the city bus to take us into town, we wandered around the main street and wished that we were people who liked tourist traps better. As soon as the car was fixed we hightailed it to Slide Rock State Park – a place so gorgeous I needed to return with a camera.

So here I am. This aptly named State Park is a family’s dream daycation. Oak Creek has so graciously carved out several areas in the river that make perfect waterslides. The best spots provide pools to slide into (while screaming, of course) before the river sends you down the next slide.

The fun is endless. Parents claim a spot among the red rocks for beach chairs, coolers, and towels while their children breathlessly race up and down the river, water sliding to their hearts content while never having to wait in the lines that pervade commercial water parks.

And it’s not just kids. Teenagers are here on group dates, the daring among them jumping off huge rocks into (hopefully) deep water below. My 50+ mom even went through some slides, after getting encouraging tips from six year olds on how to “make it even faster!” She first applied their suggestions in reverse, but was soon zooming down with the best of them. On my return trip I witnessed one of my mom’s generational peers also take a turn on the slide, much to the amusement of his family.

Slide Rock State Park is located on highway 89A, seven miles north of Sedona and 23 miles south of Flagstaff. Summer hours are from 8am to 7pm. The fee is $20 per vehicle (1-4 adults) during the summer (Memorial Day through Labor Day) and $10 for the rest of the year. Get there early because the parking lot fills up by 10:00 on summer weekdays. I’d be there right at 8:00 on weekends. If the lot is full, continue driving north on highway 89A. About a quarter of a mile up you can pull off the side of the road and take a little trail along the highway to the park. There’s a steep climb down right after the pullout, or you can take the trail all the way across the bridge for an easily trek down to the river. This path bypasses the State Park fee station, so proceed as you see morally fit.

If you stay the night in Sedona, I’d recommend the cabins or inns along 89A, north of Sedona. They are quieter, provide river access, and have a homier feel then the commercial hotels in the city center. Tune back in on Wednesday for a review of a couple places, but here’s a teaser:   

Not that I’m complaining, but one of the problems with going to China in June is that you miss out on all the fun summer activities with your friends. My favorite tradition is the Salt River Float in Mesa, Arizona. A group of fifteen of us caravan from California and Las Vegas, stay in the cheapest motel we can find, and float the Salt.

 

This is not a family activity. Picture a frat party on a river, add ten (or so) years to the revelers, and you’ve got yourself a river float. Here are some tips for a happy float.

 

You need to bring:

  • A cute suit and sunscreen
  • Water shoes. Yes, flip flops look nicer (by a lot) but they will drown. If anyone wants to open up a used flip flop shop, a decade worth of inventory can be found on the bottom of the Salt River.
  • A bed sheet that you’re not attached to. This is to go over your inner tube, which, being black, gets very hot. The bed sheet will never smell good again, so throw it away after you’re done floating (or donate it to an animal shelter).
  • A cooler full of drinks and snacks. Although I’m not going to publically recommend drinking on a river, SOME people might fill this cooler with alcoholic beverages. Just make sure that all of your drinks are in non-glass containers. Your cooler will be checked. You can find Corona beer in aluminum cans if you’re so inclined.
  • Rope and scissors. The rope to tie your tubes together and the scissors to cut them apart when you’re finished.
  • Money (cash only) and ID to rent a tube. Tubes are $15. Remember you also need to rent an inner tube for your cooler. The Salt River Float guys take your ID as insurance that you will return your inner tube unscathed. Your group will need at least one ID for every five tubes.
  • Fun stuff! Marshmallows and Mardi Gras beads are fun to throw at other floaters. Someone usually has a huge speaker blasting Sublime, so if you have a cooler with speakers it’s an excellent time to bust that out.  

Some things to know:

  • To get to the Salt River, take highway 202 to the northeast corner of Phoenix/Mesa. Take the Power Road/Bush Highway exit north. About seven miles up this road you’ll see a four way stop. Turn left towards the huge parking lot and sign for Salt River Float. You can’t miss it.   
  • The Salt River tube rentals begin at 9am, with the last rental at 3. Your tube must be returned by 6:30.   
  • A bus will take you to your river put-in spot. The ride is free with your tube rental. If you brought your own inner tube you have to cough up $12 for the ride, although I think sneaking on would be pretty easy, especially during the busy weekends.  
  • There are cops all up and down Power Road on weekends, so be careful driving back home.   
  • Check out the Salt River Tubing website for deals and special events.