For the holidays in 2014, we trekked to Arizona to attend the wedding of some good friends. Taking a break from the cold seemed like a good idea, but that is not quite what happened.
We flew on Spirit Airlines, which was one of the most claustrophobic flights I’ve been on. I am quite petite, so that is saying a lot! However, flying on Christmas Day was beneficial as nearly everyone was in good spirits (ha ha, get it?). From Phoenix, we drove to Tucson, where we would spend the first three days.
Sadly, I caught a bad virus just before we left. In total I had two bags of cough drops and ended up with three different pills to fight the different aspects of the severe cold. I was not going to get the wedding party sick! I took the first round of pills on our way to the Saguaro National Park the morning of the 26th. The weather was just starting to drop, but the sky was still clear and sunny (when we came in, Tucson dropped 20 degrees to be between 40 and 50 degrees; not too bad but not as warm as we were expecting). The park was a great visit; we stopped by the visitor’s center and watched an introductory video, then Herr stayed for a lecture about the life of the saguaro cactus while I passed out in the car. He took a walk along some trails while I continued to stay passed out.
Luckily I was not yet on my no sugar diet, so I was able to counter balance the drowsiness effects with some Dr. Pepper to see the Desert Museum located within the park. The entrance fee was high, but the grounds included a zoo, botanical garden, butterfly house, and a birds of prey flight demonstration. So despite the cost, visiting the park and the museum are both recommended.
After the museum we needed to go to the resort for the wedding rehearsal since Herr was a groomsman. It was lovely, and they were friendly to me being a hanger on.
The 27th was the day of the wedding, which did not start until late afternoon, so we used the morning to go check out Biosphere 2. It seemed like visiting in the nineties would have been amazing, but right now visitors can see it falling apart a bit, a shadow of its former fame. The cost to maintain the buildings is astounding. Regardless, we learned a lot about what they were attempting to do and enjoyed walking around the facility. It was getting progressively colder though, and I regretted not having warmer clothes. Herr had to pick up a book written by one of the original inhabitants and had it finished not long after we returned, so he learned much more than I did.
Despite the cold, the wedding was beautiful albeit small. A great setting, and the reception was great, especially once it relocated indoors. Herr even got me on the dance floor for a song or two, no small feat (get the pun?).
After that began our standard travel style in earnest. We departed for Phoenix making a stop at Casa Grande Ruins en route. In Phoenix my aunt kindly allowed us to crash at their place, but we didn’t make it there until after a somewhat expensive visit to Taliesin West (we both now know how to pronounce that correctly), one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s residences and schools. FLW has always been a person of interest to Herr, so it was worth it to see. The day was failing, but we managed to squeeze in a short stop at Goldfield, a “ghost town” that is actually quite lively. We had dinner at the saloon and had a short tour at the brothel before watching the sun set.
Monday the 29th was arguably our busiest day. We departed early and stopped at Montezuma’s Castle as well as the Well. I had visited these fifteen years ago and found the castle a little underwhelming the second time. The Well, however, was still fascinating, and free! From there we headed west to see Tuzigoot, a small village ruin that sits atop a short hill. It happened to be right next to our destination, the Verde Canyon Railroad tour. We had first class tickets for this three hour trip. While it did have open observation cars that allowed for great photo opportunities, the left side of the train was mostly against rock the entire way. And once we reached the end, we just reversed back the way we came. They tried to make it more interesting by having stories and old songs playing, but I read quite a bit and Herr napped a little. I’m not sure I could really recommend it; they did fairly well for the track available.
From there we had to make it to Williams, our last stop before reaching the Grand Canyon. I recalled the road looking a bit squiggly on Google Maps when I was planning everything out, but I was not prepared for what we went through. The road snaked along mountainous hillsides with very little railing for some steep falls. Herr thought it would be fun to do all this slightly over the speed limit in the dark, to which I had to slide down in the seat and keep my eyes closed. A pretty ride if done in the day time, but not so fun at night. We thankfully made it to our motel, the Highlander (pretty nice for a motel!), in Williams right at dinner time. The town is on Route 66; a fun little addition to our sightseeing. Just a few blocks away was Cruisers, which specialized in Route 66 merchandise and so-so American fare food. It was fun to eat there despite the average dining experience. Herr had to check out the train station before we went to bed; the next day was to be a very early start so we could be to the Grand Canyon in time for sunrise.
On the 30th, we managed to leave before 6 a.m. to make the hour drive north. We arrived with 20 minutes to spare before sunrise, but this was the coldest day yet! Sitting on the edge of a canyon on some rather unheated rocks waiting for the lazy rotation of the planet to expose the sun is something best left to memory and not to be experiencing at that moment. Body parts went numb, and holding the camera was difficult at times. At one point I made it out on a rock separate from the rest of the edge, and it took me about two minutes before survival instinct kicked in and encouraged me to stay at least a foot away from the ledge from then on. Herr, on the other hand, swung his legs over with the camera just sitting in his lap, freaking me out.
If at all possible, on your trip to the Grand Canyon plan to get in a sunrise, or if not that, then a sunset. It’s worth it. Afterwards, we found the south rim’s trail of time (after a long stint warming up at the small and packed coffee shop and later the visitor center), which is quite scenic but completely without railings. Apparently several people a year fall to their doom, so I kept to the walking path for the most part. We had lunch at el Tovar Lodge
New Years’ Eve, the next morning, left us with a big surprise. A blizzard, and a lot of fog. It was as if the clouds tried to fill up the canyon like a giant soup bowl. We had rented a Chevy Spark, so a blizzard was not very conducive to the day’s activity of driving back to Phoenix. We did try to see one more lookout point, but it was closed up and barely visible through the fog. We made it out the east gate and made the treacherous drive back south. Later we heard that the park had to close the east gate just a few hours after we made it through. Unfortunately, the blizzard closed down Wupatki, where we had planned to make a stop on the way back. Herr had started to make the turn before we realized the several mile road to the site was not plowed, and hence the car could not clear it nor was it very likely staff were at the location. So, south we went. I am glad Herr is a professional driver because we would probably have pulled over in Flagstaff and not made it back to Phoenix. But we kept on, and only about 45 minutes north of Phoenix did the snow turn to rain and eventually fizzle out.
Because of the nearly six hours of tense driving, the rest of New Years’ Eve was spent doing nothing. We went out to a local Asian restaurant and watched some “House Hunters” at my aunt’s house. We did not even make it until midnight but did see Time Square celebrations at least. Our last day was spent getting to the airport and flying back. By the time we had reached the Grand Canyon, my cold had mostly abated but Herr took it from me and had to deal with it flying back. Thankfully, we both survived the wedding without looking too ill, but it would have been nice to have had a little reprieve from the cold (both health-wise and weather-wise)!