Back from the Desert

We’re back from our week in the desert.  We spent 3 days backpacking in the Grand Canyon and 4 days relaxing in Sedona.  It turned out to be one of the best vacations we’ve ever had.

This is a long post, so I didn’t put it all on the front page.  To read the details see all the pictures, click the ‘Continue Reading’ link below.

We took a short flight to Phoenix and rented a convertible for the week.  The Grand Canyon is a 4 hour drive from Phoenix, so we stopped in Flagstaff for lunch.  I was curious to see “Flag” because it’s frequently on those “best places to live” lists.  It’s located 7,000 feet above sea level, so the weather is much cooler than in Phoenix, and there is a big outdoor community.  We had lunch at a cafe in the old downtown area, which was very cool.  We didn’t have much time to explore, but we liked the vibe in Flagstaff.

After lunch, we drove another two hours to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  We set up camp, and after a little sight-seeing, crawled into the tent at about 8:30pm.

Pitching the tent at Mather Campground on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

The sun comes up early in this part of the country.  I awoke at first light — around 4:30am — to clear skies and temps in the 40’s.  The Grand Canyon is in the desert, but it’s at 7,000 feet so the summer weather is pretty mild.  We broke camp, saddled our packs (50 lbs. and 30 lbs. respectively), and set off down the South Kaibab Trail.

A 20 mike hike begins with one step — at the South Kaibab Trailhead

The South Kaibab descends almost 5,000 feet over 7.5 miles to the Colorado River.  Think of it as walking down stairs for 5 hours — with a heavy pack.  It’s pretty hard on the muscles and joints (more on this later).

The South Kaibab Trail — Pretty darn steep

The Kaibab Trail doesn’t offer a lot of protection from the sun, but since we started early, we made it to the bottom of the Canyon at around noon.  You don’t get to see the Colorado River until you’re just a few hundred feet above it.

Almost there — Crossing the Colorado River

We camped at the Bright Angel Campground, which is literally an oasis in the desert.  It is situated next to one of many creeks that feed the Colorado River and there are tons of large trees for shade.  The temperature at the bottom of the Canyon was in the 90’s, but with a nice breeze and low humidity it was very comfortable.  We spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing.

Our campsite at the Bright Angel Campground

As the day wore on, it became clear that we were both going to be pretty sore from the hike down.  Megan in particular was almost unable to walk, and we were a little concerned as to how she was going to hike the next day.

A few hundred yards from the Bright Angel campground is a place called Phantom Ranch.  You can rent cabins there and they also provide meals by reservation.  We had reserved their “hiker’s stew” meal and the 6:30 dinner bell couldn’t come soon enough.

Family-style dinner at Phantom Ranch

The dinner turned out to be fabulous and was served family-style, so we got to meet other hikers (and also riders that had come down on mules).

The next morning, we had another meal at Phantom Ranch (pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, and peaches).  At around 7am we started hiking back up the canyon, this time via the Bright Angel Trail. 

A beach along the Colorado — just one vertical mile to the top!

The Bright Angel Trail is longer, but less steep than the South Kaibab Trail.  It follows a creek, so it’s also much more lush, with lots of shady spots.  Plus, we were only hiking halfway up today — about 4.5 miles. 

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail

Once we got moving, our soreness went away and we arrived at the Indian Garden campground by mid-morning.  After another afternoon of resting and reading, we make a sunset hike to Plateau Point, which is supposed to be the best view in the Grand Canyon (sorry, no pics!).

Only 3.5 miles (and a few thousand vertical feet) to the top!  We knew it was going to be a hot day, so we got up extra early and were on the trail at 5:30am.

The South Rim is in sight (but still way up there)

Back at the top — which way to the spa?

 We topped out at about 8:45, grabbed a big breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge, and got on the road to Sedona, anxious for a shower and a good meal.

Since this was our belated 10th anniversary trip (and our first week away from the kids ever), we decided to splurge and stay at a really nice resort called L’Auberge de Sedona.  The grounds are beautiful and we had our own cabin right next to Oak Creek.

Dinner at L’Auberge Restaurant (and looking a little tired!)

The resort also has probably the best restaurant in Sedona with seating right next to the creek.  After a big dinner, we hit the sack for our first decent night of sleep since we left home.

Wednesday was all about relaxing.  We both got 90 minute massages and just hung out at the hotel.  Megan’s calves were completely shot from the big hike and she was having trouble walking.  I think the other guests thought Megan was disabled (no kidding!).

Since more hiking was out of the question for us, we spent most of the day just poking around.  Sedona is a really unique and special place.  I could stare at the red rock formations for hours (especially since most of the are climbable).  To get a closer look, we took a “Pink Jeep Tour”.  Normally I’m not a fan of this sort of thing, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.  We saw and learned a lot about Sedona.

The Pink Jeep Tour

I had not planned on climbing in Sedona and didn’t even bring any gear.  But after starting at the rock for a couple of days, I couldn’t resist.  I had my rock shoes FedEx’d to the hotel (thanks, Chuck!) and found a great local guide.   We climbed a route called Dr. Rubo’s Wild Ride, which the guidebook refers to a member of the “triple crown” of classic Sedona routes.  

That’s me on top of Summit Block Rock after climbing Dr. Rubo’s Wild Ride

This was the first desert spire I’ve ever climbed.  The summit was only about 8 feet wide, so was really cool to stand on top.  I’ll post a full trip report on the climb later this week.

While I was climbing, Megan got another massage in an attempt to revive her calves and we met up at our cabin just before lunch.  It was a really hot day, so we decided to go for a swim.  My climbing guide had told me about a hidden swimming hole on Oak Creek only 5 minutes from our hotel, so we checked it out.

The secret swimming hole on Oak Creek

It was a beautiful spot —  the water was refreshing (cold) and clear and there were nice flat spots on the rocks to hang out.  What a great way to cap off the trip!

A quick morning run and then we got packed up for the trip back to Fort Worth.  It’s become a tradition for us to take a picture of all the books we read on vacations.  So here’s the stack from this trip:

A week’s worth of reading

If you have young kids then you understand how nice it is just to be able to hang out and read uninterrupted for a few hours.  Megan sure took advantage of it — you can tell that most of the books in our stack are hers!

We got home at about 7:30 last night.  It sure was nice to see the girls again.  We missed them badly but at the same time we knew they were in good hands and we (especially Megan) really needed the break.

As I said above, this turned out to be one of the best vacations we’ve had.  It was a perfect mix of activity and relaxation — of “roughing it” and luxury.  And it was great to experience it all with my best friend!

When you think of vacation spots, there is a tendency to think of places outside the U.S.  They seem more exotic or desirable — like a better use of precious vacation days.  But there is so much amazing stuff to see and do within the U.S.  My list just keeps getting longer…

P.S.  I’ll be posting over the next few days on a few interesting things that I didn’t cover in this report.



2 thoughts on “Back from the Desert

  1. Sounds like you had a great trip…the photos are amazing! Glad you enjoyed yourselves….it was fun keeping the girls. Good to have you back safe and sound, as no one can take the place of Mommie & Daddy.

  2. Wow, what an awesome vacation. I am reading about it in our luxurious pop-up in Port Aransas… try to top that K-man. Wifi on the entire campground! Woohoo!

    By the way, we will be giving you a call when we get ready to plan our next vacation.

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