Two days before her arrival, we realized we had no plans – except for the party plans surrounding Halloween night. My crimson haired goddess of a gal pal, Steph, was coming to Arizona for the first time ever and we had to think of something worthy. An adventuress herself, it wasn’t difficult to figure out our plan… a big, obvious, 7th wonder of the natural world, kind of plan. It was settled. Grand Canyon.
The plan soon evolved into seeing the Grand Canyon at SUNRISE. We would have to leave straight from the airport and drive through the night. I packed the car with necessities – snacks, red bull, water, jackets, tripod and my shiny new camera. I scooped Steph up from the Mesa Gateway terminal and off we went. After a quick stop at “The Duce” in Phoenix for some late night grub and the best greyhound you will ever have, we jumped onto the 17 and headed straight up to Flagstaff.
We hit Flagstaff at midnight and hence, it was officially Halloween. This didn’t help the fact that our hotel looked like something out of Psycho. Originally, we had decided to sleep in the car but when I realized the temperature was going to drop from a comfortable 70 degrees in the valley to a freezing 30 degrees in Flagstaff, I made a last minute decision to book us a cheap motel through Priceline. I’m talking $27 budget motel – the kind you make sure your car is securely locked and there is nothing crawling in the bed. It looked sketchy but we were determined to make it to the Grand Canyon for sunrise and we needed at least a few hours of sleep before the last leg of our journey. Luckily, it wasn’t too bad once we got inside. The room didn’t have that musty smoky smell you can get in low budget motels. It was clean, comfortable and we even had a new flat screen TV. Yes, the shower didn’t exactly work but for $27 it was a steal.
Jump forward to 4:30am and we are off again. Next stop, Grand Canyon! A very subtle early morning light crept through the fields of Flagstaff as we shot north towards the great crevice. Arriving just in time to see the sky catch fire, we parked at Hopi Point. This spot is infamous for sunrises, sunsets, and everything in between.
In my sleep deprived zombie state, the combination of dreary morning light and vast 180 degree canyon views felt more like a dream than reality. As the sun smacked each of the scattered peaks throughout the canyon, the colors began to fill the nooks and crannies below. It stirred us awake. Dark blues turned to light blues. Blues gave way to soft purples, light pinks, and bright gold until finally, those characteristic red canyon hues bled through. Eventually the warmth hits you and you wake up with the rest of the canyon.
We stayed and played for a few more hours before heading back down south through Oak Creek Canyon and eventually hitting Sedona’s red rock giants. The canyon was full of fall foliage – aspen, ash, elm, and cottonwoods tunneled our path in shades of yellow, burnt orange and bright red. We whipped down the canyon, turn after turn, windows down, leaves in the wind, and wind in our hair. A new array of colors surprised us around each corner. Even as tired and overly stimulated as we already were, we didn’t dare pass up the chance to visit with five brilliantly yellow poplar trees.
Eventually we were leaving Sedona with Bell Rock in our rearview mirror.
We made it home with no time for a nap as we had planned. We had a few hours to get showered and costumed for the epic Halloween festivities that lay ahead.
Who knows how we powered through that night. I think we called it quits at 3am, ending our 23hr day. It was seriously the LONGEST DAY EVER, but I wouldn’t have changed it for a minute.
A road trip will fill you up and drain you over and over, and over again. It’s all about getting those 2nd and 3rd winds, taking power naps, refueling on fast food, rehashing nostalgic memories, shoes on, shoes off, braving notoriously disgusting bathrooms, pressing your fingers against the window to feel the changing air, singing random songs at the top of your lungs, dropping Cheez-its between the seats, making U-turns, making more U-turns, and then, as if deserved for surviving the hectic journey, sitting in awe and amazement at the beauty of your final destination. There is a magic in the chaos.
Sometimes I get criticized for overbooking myself, being too passionate, being a dreamer, the list goes on. But at the end of the day, an experience retains as much value as you are willing to give it. I say give it your all!