Arizona Top 5

We had so much fun exploring Arizona! From beautiful desert flowers to the amazing rock formations and crisp blue waterfalls, here are some places you must put on your travel list.

#5  Sedona, AZ — Still not sure what a vortex is, but we had a blast exploring red rock country and enjoying the beautiful sunsets!  Make sure you take the scenic drive from Flagstaff through Oak Creek Canyon, and check out the unique rock formations like Devil’s Bridge, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Red Rock State Park.

#4  Flagstaff, AZ — Can’t say enough about this mountain town that sits below our favorite skiing spot–Arizona Snowbowl.  Great food, brews, shopping, and our jump off point for many of our adventures!

#3  Page, AZ — Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend! It’s a must stop.

#2 Grand Canyon — I know Rach really enjoyed being there to see my face the first time I saw it, and we will never forget sharing the experience with so many of our family and friends. I guess you could say its what makes us tick.

#1 Havasu Falls— What can I say, I am a sucker for waterfalls! And, I love the destinations that take some effort to get to.  After hiking 10 miles and managing through the caves, descending chains, and wooden ladders the iconic clear blue water and innumerable falls are straight out of a dream.

Favorite Podcasts May 2017

As many of you know who have traveled with us before, we love listening to podcasts during long stretches in the car.  After our latest trip from Phoenix up to Zion National Park, I made a list of what has been keeping me going during some marathon car rides.  So, if you are looking for new podcasts for your summer roadtrips, hopefully we have a few suggestions–some old, some new–that can help.

#1  S-Town: Brought to you by Serial and This American Life, so you know its gonna be good!

#2 How I Built This with Guy Raz: A podcast about innovators, entrepreneurs, and idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built.

#3 Missing Richard Simmons

#4 “Convicted” and “Someone Knows Something“: Both similar to Serial and Accused podcasts as they work towards solving an unsolved murder.

I love good story telling, mystery, and suspense.  I think these all offer all three.

Enjoy and safe travels!

 

#26 Havasu Falls

“Rise and shine ya’ll!” Rach yelled.  I was immediately jerked away from a gentle slumber and into the dimly lit hotel room.

“Ugh,” Logan slowly rolled out of bed.

“We’re going to Havasu falls today!” Rach said all too excitedly.

We quietly brushed our teeth, finished stuffing a few last items into our packs, and scarfed down our oatmeal.

By 5:00 am we were on the road and headed to the Havasupai Reservation trailhead, an hour long drive from our hotel in Peach Springs.  Logan dozed off in the backseat as Rach and I kept a look out for cows, elk, and rabbits on the road.

At 6:00 am, we arrived at the trailhead and quickly found a parking spot.

“Whoooooosh!” The wind pushed us as we jumped out of the car and adjusted our packs. I could see Rach shivering under the light of my head lamp.  By 6:11 am we were on the trail and had ten rugged miles ahead of us.

The trail started out as a group of steep downhill switchbacks.

“This is going to be terrible on the way back,” Logan said.

We hit the only mile marker on the whole trail, the mile 1 marker, in no time.  We took a small break to appreciate the scenery around us that was just starting to be illuminated by the rising sun.  We were standing in what appeared to be a creek bed sandwiched between a deep canyon.  We continued along the trail.

The next seven miles of the trail were fairly flat and we managed to keep a swift pace.  After about three hours, we arrived at the small village of Supai, Arizona.  We looked around in awe at the small houses with horses milling about in the front yards. Cottonwood trees lined the dirt streets and their seeds caught the morning sunlight and looked like snowflakes as they lazily floated in the gentle breeze.  We made it to the tourism office and checked in with our confirmation code.  They gave us an orange tag for our tent and three wrist bands that we wouldn’t take off for three days.

“Two more miles guys,” I said as I put my pack back on and began hiking out of the village.  After about a mile, we started to catch glimpses of blue green water peaking through the trees.  We passed two fifty-foot falls–Little Navajo Falls, and Old Navajo Falls–and finally, after hours of hiking we turned a downhill bend in the trail and set eyes on Havasu Falls to our right.  We stopped and admired the view for a few minutes. The aquamarine water plummeted into a deep blue pool and seemed particularly bright against the contrast of the orange rocks behind.  We continued down the hill and found our way through the campsite.  This part became a little tricky.

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Hvasupai Falls

“Do we pick out a campsite close to drinking water that isn’t as scenic or do we hike farther away from the drinking water where the campsites are closer to the creek and more secluded?” we asked ourselves.  We ultimately opted to hike farther away from drinking water to enjoy a more appealing campsite.

In our search for a spot to pitch our tents, we found a spacious site across the creek with two picnic tables.  We slowly walked toward it and paused when we came to the “bridge” we would need to cross in order to get to the campsite.  I use the term bridge here loosely because what was in front of us was a rickety, handmade ladder strewn across the swiftly flowing creek.

“No way. This is insane!” Logan grinned in excitement as he gingerly tried his footing out on the rungs of the bridge. We slowly made our way across one at a time because if we were all on the bridge at once it started to bend and shake vigorously making it easy to lose our balance.  We made it across, set up camp, and changed into our swimming suits, so we could get back to the falls as quickly as possible.  Our campsite was about .7 miles from Havasu Falls but this hike seemed easy without large packs on our backs.

DAY 1:

When we arrived at Havasu Falls we just stood for a few moments and felt mist catch the wind and blow in our faces.  It was stunning.  We couldn’t believe the lush greenery surrounding the teal waterhole and sunburnt rock.  More seeds from the cottonwood trees floated through the air giving the sense of a gentle flurry again.  We found a spot to put our bags and made our way into the water.  I’m not sure exactly what we were expecting the water to feel like.  I guess we assumed it would be freezing cold, but I must say the water felt refreshing but definitely not frigid.  We spent the rest of the day basking in the Arizona sun and swimming in the bluest water.

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The Canyon at Twilight

At dinner time, we headed back to our campsite and changed into dry clothes.  The sky slowly turned gray and the temperature began to drop.  Wind whipped dirt into our tent coating our belongings in a red film.  We grabbed our half-cooked dinner and headed for the tent in preparation for a storm, but after a few minutes of gusting winds the sky opened up to a beautiful sunset.  We opened up the tent and Rach and I cooked dinner as Logan tried as best he could to remove the dirt that had been blown into his sleeping bag.  We ate refried bean burritos followed by some hot chocolate and warm whiskeys. As the sun set, the canyon revealed another beautiful site: the stars in the night sky.  Because there isn’t much light pollution in the area, we could see an impressive number of stars.  We went to bed early with our bellies satisfied and our hearts full of adventure.

DAY 2:

The next morning Rach and I got up early and sipped our piping hot coffee as we waited for Logan to wake up.  He eventually emerged from the tent.

“How’d you sleep?” I asked as I made him a cup of coffee.

“Oh man, I had on every article of clothing I brought because it was so cold!” Logan groggily said.

“Yeah, next time we should probably get you a better sleeping bag,” Rach chimed in.

We ate our breakfast slowly and made a plan for the day.

“We have to check out Mooney Falls and Beaver Falls today,” Rach said. “Beaver Falls is only another two miles past our campsite so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal to get there.”

“OK,” Logan and I both agreed.

We started out on the trail again.  Only about five minutes from our campsite was Mooney Falls.  The tallest of all the falls at the Havsupai reservation at about 200 feet tall.  We followed the trail until we came to a sign that said “DESCEND AT OWN RISK.”

We had seen a few people hike down to Mooney Falls the previous day and we understood that this sign was extremely honest and accurate.  The next portion of the trail went through a few tunnels and scaled a large rock wall with wet foot hold and iron chains as climbing aids and eventually ended with a sketchy handmade wooden ladder.  We took our time climbing down as the mist from Mooney Falls beat down on us but eventually made it to the bottom. We decided to head straight to Beaver Falls and admire Mooney Falls later in the day.

The hike to Beaver Falls is only two miles.  However, it is a long two miles.  We looped up and down the dirt terrain and crossed the creek over countless rickety bridges and logs until finally we made it to a small ranger station where we checked in.  Beaver Falls was just a couple hundred feet away. When we first saw it, we were a on a cliff above it.  Beaver Falls was by far our favorite set of falls.  The blue water cascaded over white travertine rock formations. We made our way to the base of the falls and put our packs down.

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We spent the next few hours climbing over various rock formations, jumping off cliffs, and basking in the sun.

At about 1:30 p.m. we started to notice shadows being cast across the water.  The steep canyon walls were already stealing sunlight from us.  By 2:00 p.m. there wasn’t any direct sunlight left in the canyon making for a chilly hike back to Mooney Falls and eventually our campsite.

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The next morning we woke up early, packed up the tent, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags, and slowly began the ten mile hike back to our car.

Looking back on this trip to Havasupai Falls, I am so thankful I was able to share this experience not only with Rachel, but with my brother-in-law Logan as well.  I believe this place is truly a treasure.  And we are so blessed the Havasupai people allow people to enjoy its uniqueness and beauty.

#25 Antelope Canyon

“Hold on tight! It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” our tour guide yelled as she hauled herself up into the cab of the lifted truck.  Rach, Harry, about 10 other people, and myself were seated on small cushioned bleachers in the bed of a covered truck facing outward to watch the road passing by. We grabbed onto the rails in front of us and enjoyed the ride as the truck drove us 20 minutes to Antelope Canyon.

When we slowly came to a halt we could see the mouth of the canyon in the side of a large red rock wall. We jumped out of the truck and onto the dirt parking area. Rach took her sunglasses off and gently wiped the red dirt off of the lenses that had collected during the bumpy ride.  We gathered around our tour guide, adjusted our cameras, and slowly meandered toward the canyon.

As we began walking into the canyon our tour guide described how the rock we snaked back and forth past was carved by wind, water, and sand.  We occasionally made stops where are guide pointed out exceptional photo opportunities. After about 20 minutes the walls of the canyon widened and shortened into the earth and we found ourselves at the end of the canyon in a sandy opening under a crisp blue sky.  Our guide explained how the canyon was discovered by a young Navajo girl who accidentally lost of a few of her family’s sheep and followed their tracks into the canyon.  This was the halfway point of the tour and we tried as much as we could to take our time making our way back to the entrance however, with so many tours going through and so many people trying to take pictures we spent the remainder of the tour trying not to photobomb everyone else’s pictures.

 

We made it back to the entrance of the canyon and found our seats in the back of the tour bus.  Since this trip with Harry we have been back to the Upper Antelope Canyon twice and the lower antelope canyon once. This is an absolute must-stop if you are ever in Arizona.

Here are some thoughts we have about this experience:

1.  What is the difference between the Upper and the Lower Antelope Canyon

There didn’t seem to be too many differences between the two tour but we personally felt that the Lower Antelope Canyon was a better value for a few reasons: it is longer and cheaper and offers many of the same views as the Upper Canyon.  However, if fitness is of concern the lower canyon is more difficult to walk through.  There are numerous steps and ladder-like structures that must be climbed in order to navigate through the canyon.

2.  Use your time wisely…

Both canyons home stunning views of unique landscape and it’s definitely easy to get caught up with taking pictures.  Although pictures are important make sure you pause and take a few moments to really enjoy being in the canyon.   We suggest taking a few pictures at the beginning, when the lighting is good, and take a break when it starts to get darker.   Most importantly enjoy yourself, listen to your guide, and take it all in.

 

 

#24 Grand Canyon: Down and Back Again

“Harry! It’s time to wake up!” I whispered through the mesh of his tent.

“Ugh” Harry groggily replied, “Ok.”

The 15 year old slowly emerged from his tent and blankly looked around our moonlit campsite. It was 5:15 am and we had plans to hike to the very bottom of the Grand Canyon and back to the top, a 16.5 mile trip not for the faint of heart.

“Mornin’ Harry.” Rach said as she quietly braided the front of her hair back.

We quickly boiled some water and scarfed down our oatmeal and coffee so we could get to the Grand Canyon visitors center to catch a shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead (see grand-canyon-south-rim-pocket-map for details).

Outside the Visitor Center we found a short line of people waiting for the shuttle to the South Kaibab trailhead. The buses come every 10-15 minutes so we patiently waited for our transportation to arrive. Once on the shuttle, we sat surrounded by backpackers, day hikers, and rafters as we rode past flittering glimpses of the canyon.

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Sunrise at the top of South Kaibab trailhead

After a short ride our bus rolled into a parking lot near the trailhead.  We jumped off the shuttle and slowly walked towards the Grand Canyon. It was early and the sun that would later in the day strongly beat down on us cast a soft and hazy blanket of orange over the red and purple rocks. Everything looked gentle and quiet in this light. We soaked in the view. Excitement bubbled out of each of us as we imagined ourselves at the bottom of the expansive rock feature.

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Early morning sunlight peaking around the corner

We began the 7 mile down hill trek into the belly of the canyon and quickly realized that hiking down the South Kaibab trail rather than up was a fabulous decision.  The trail is extremely steep and features countless switchbacks and rock stair steps.

After about 3 hours of dodging rocks, logs, and donkeys on the trail a small tunnel came into sight. When we emerged from the cool darkness we were greeted with the view of a large bridge suspended 20 feet above the Colorado River. We had made it to the bottom!

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Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

We found a grassy area next to the muddy water of the Colorado, pulled out some snacks and enjoyed the view. Seeing the Grand Canyon from the top was definitely a treat but being able to view it from within is a humbling experience. Each switchback offered new views, lighting, and angles of the canyon making the Colorado River below turn from a docile stream into a raging river. After our much deserved break we decided it was time to start hiking again. The next portion of the hike was the bright angel trail, a 9.5 mile hike to the top of the canyon.

We began following alongside the Colorado River but quickly made a turn into the side of the canyon.  This portion of the trail crossed a small bubbling creek in a few areas and eventually changed from exposed red rock to being rimmed by green luscious vegetation. After 5 more miles of hiking we landed ourselves at Indian Gardens, an oasis in the dry canyon.  We found a large tree and ate our PB&Js in the relief of its shade.

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“Only 4.5 miles to go!” we yelled excitedly. Here was the finish line, we had almost made back to the top! We slowly trudged up the trail that had thus far only held a gentle inclination but now became increasingly steep with each step. Left. Right. Left. Right. Our legs climbed and climbed.  The bright Arizona sun stared intensely at us from above as I quietly fought to keep my lunch down.

After 2.5 miles we stoped at one of the rest areas along the trail.

“My legs are mush.” Rach murmured.

“Mine too.” I replied as we looked up the trail at Harry who seemed not to be bothered by the steepness of the hike. Oh to be 15 years old again…

2. More. Miles.  We continued hiking.  Until now the trail hadn’t been very crowded.  In fact at times we went long stretches without seeing people.  However, as we neared the rim of the canyon people littered every aspect of the trail.  We tried not to show our frustration as a couple goobers taking selfies hogged the entire path.  At this point we just needed to finish the hike! Finally, we wrapped around a switchback and there it was, the end of the trail and the parking lot near the shuttle that would take us back to our car where cold drinks and food awaited us.

“Ahhhh!” Rach exclaimed as we stood in line for our bus to arrive. “I cannot believe we just did that.”

“I know! That was awesome.” I replied.

“I call the hammock when we get back to the campsite.” Harry interjected.

“Ok Hairball.” Rach and I agreed.

The Grand Canyon never ceases to amaze me.  I’ve been numerous times since we moved to Arizona and I gain a new appreciation for it each time my eyes fall on the deep canyon walls.  I must say, however, I have never felt so awe-struck as I did during this hike even though it definitely wasn’t the easiest or safest thing in the entire world.  In fact every park ranger that we talked to before the hike advised against it saying it was reckless for a day hike.  I think this is probably true for most of the people who visit the Grand Canyon but for those who have a lot of experience hiking long distances and bring enough food and water this is a fun and scenic trip!

#23 Flatiron Peak

 

“Lead the way Harry!” I exclaimed as we hopped on the siphon draw trail at Lost Dutchman State Park. My youngest brother had flown in the night before from St. Louis to enjoy his spring break with Rach and I. We had a week full of plans and decided to kick it off by hiking to the top of the Flatiron, something Rach and I had attempted to do a few weeks prior but due to a lack of preparation were unable to finish.

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Hike up Siphon Draw Trail to Flatiron Peak

Well this time we were finally going to make it to the summit! We left Phoenix at 7:30, headed east, and were hiking by 8:30. We put Harry in charge of setting a brisk pace as we followed the gentle incline of the dirt path. However, after about a mile of walking the trail quickly intensified. It snaked through the basin of a canyon over smooth, steep rock surfaces making our legs burn and our nerves fray.

Some reprieve was attained once we reached the saddle of the trail but was short lived. After a minimal jaunt downhill the trail turned into large boulders and loose stones making it difficult to discern where the trail went.  At one point we actually lost the trail and ended up scaling a small 10 foot rock wall but eventually we emerged from brittle brush onto a large plateau with the actual trail In site and with only a couple hundred feet left to go.

The last portion of the trail was mainly flat and ceased at the end of a large plateau. We sat, ate our PB&Js, and admired the expansive view before making the slow trek back to the car.

#22 Seven Falls

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“Are you sure this trail is only 5 miles round trip? I feel like we’ve been walking forever.” I questioned Rach as she gingerly leapt from boulder to boulder that protruded from the Sabino Canyon creek bed.

“That’s what the website said…let me check when we get to the other side of this creek.”

Rach pulled her phone out once she had reached the sandy shoreline and looked up the Seven Falls trail information.

“Oh shoot…” Rach quietly whispered.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well, it seems I didn’t read the entire post about the trail.  It’s only 5 miles round trip if you take a tram to the trailhead from the parking lot. We walked from the parking lot so I think that adds another 4 miles….Whoops!” Rach nervously exclaimed.

“We’ve come this far, might as well keep on walking. I just wish we would have brought more food than 2 granola bars and some trail mix.”

Rach and I have been working quite a bit here in Arizona and last week we finally had a day off together.  We decided to head down to Tucson to check out Sabino Canyon and 7 falls. Unfortunately, our plans for a short 2 hour hike turned into a much longer time commitment but I must say even though we doubled our planned hiking distance the views at 7 falls were completely worth it.

Sabino Canyon is located just east of Tucson and offers a wide variety of hiking trails. However, the actual trailheads are located at varying distances from the two parking lots which is where the tram ride comes in handy. For $4 apiece we could have taken a tram to the 7 falls trailhead which, in the end, would have saved us about 4 miles of walking.   Unfortunately, we missed this memo.  The two miles to get to the trailhead traverse a stereotypical Arizona landscape past cacti and red dirt but follow along a paved road which hinders any sense of seclusion. The actual 7 falls trail produces much more inspiring views. It winds through a stunning landscape saturated with saguaro cacti, a bubbling creek, and shear rock walls eventually ending with 7 cascading waterfalls. Once at the falls we took our time eating what little snacks we had packed and hiking up to some of the higher water features. The view really was spectacular.

However, after soaking in the glittering views of the falls and in our attempts to ward of extreme hanger we hiked as fast as we could back to the car where our actual lunch patiently awaited us.