This was it.
The trip of the year next to our upcoming AT excursion. I was finally going to see the Grand Canyon. Something I daydreamed about often as an adult. Would I cry? Would I stand speechless? Would I be overwhelmed with emotion? YES. All of those things but for different reasons…
Before I get into all of that, I will go back quite a few months to June 2016 where my brother-in-law placed first in a Regional bricklaying competition. This enabled him to go onward to Nationals which took place in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada! B and I were stoked for our brother in law, so much we decided we would take the trip out to watch him compete.
Before we booked the trip, B and I decided since we had already been to Vegas to do the Vegas thing in 2015, we would only spend two days on the Strip and then head east to start our very scattered 2017 National Park tour. First stop – the Grand Canyon!
We planned to do a one way car rental – pick up at McCarran in Vegas on Tuesday, and drop off in Phoenix where we would fly out to go home Saturday.
Our day Tuesday started off great. Slept well the night before, and had packed everything a couple days prior so we were ready to go when my dad picked us up to take us to Lambert Airport. Our flight was around 10am with a plane switch in Oklahoma. We were gonna land in Las Vegas at 2:30 their time. Pretty chill travel day.
The first flight was packed full. It was only about an hour and 20 minutes to OKC so I figured it wasn’t that big of a deal when a gentleman of larger proportions sat next to me in the aisle seat. I am not doing any shaming. B and I are NOT small people; we’re both tall and fuller figured. I always sit in the middle seat so B can have either the window or outside aisle.
What I can only describe as the eye watering stench of human bodily odor and very ripe onions burned my nostrils immediately as the man sat down. I knew I was in for a long hour and 20 minutes. He was a man that couldn’t quite sit still either. Constantly fidgeting and lifting his arms to turn the air off and on. His underarms. Right in my face. I won’t continue much further on this subject, but please friends…wear deodorant. Or at the very least bathe when you plan to be in a small enclosed space with others in your personal bubble. If you don’t believe in it, or choose a more natural route in life that is great and I understand. But be considerate to others. Nobody wants to smell you! It’s different when you’re out on a trail for multiple days. I will accept your smell (and my smell) in that case! It is unforgiven in this planned travel situation.
Our connecting flight was much better. A newer plane equals more leg room, and it wasn’t a full flight so we had a whole row of seats to ourselves. When we landed in Vegas we knew the drill. Get our bags, check. Hitch a shuttle to the McCarran Rent-A-Car center, check.
Except…upon our arrival we discovered our rental company wasn’t inside the building. Hiccup. We waited for the shuttle to the off site location. Me, B and two other gentlemen. When we got to the rental place, I made sure to be first in line. Everything was going swimmingly until I said, “I’m just double checking…I opted for a one way rental…we will be flying out of Phoenix!” The kid stared at me for a minute and said he’d be right back. Uh oh. Long story short, they ‘do have a Phoenix location but don’t allow one way rentals from the off site location.’ WHAT. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? I was fuming. It was what I opted for on my online rental reservation yet it was not available to me day of. I will not book through a third party website anymore.
I said a curt thanks (I know it wasn’t the kids fault), gathered my ID and things and left B in the dust. I later felt terrible storming off like that but good lord. He knows how I get when situations don’t work out the way I had planned and made lists for over a period of months and weeks. I need a minute to stew then cool off, then figure out plan B. I had an itenerary and this threw it all off. Now what?
We stood outside for about 5 minutes until the men that took the shuttle with us came out, flustered as well. He told us that since they were however minutes late (due to the lagging of their shuttle not being at the Rent-A-Car center in a timely fashion) that they had canceled his reservation! They were SOL too! I do not believe in trash talking businesses so I will not use the name of the company, they may have been great for other people, but with my personal experience and hearing what they did to the man in line behind us allowing him no grace period or sympathy, I will not use them ever again. Cheap prices = you get what you pay for.
We were supposed to have a car from Tuesday thru Saturday and here we were absolutely car-less on day one, stranded in a parking lot a few miles outside of downtown Las Vegas. I decided since we weren’t leaving Vegas until Thursday anyway, we would just go ahead and check into our hotel and worry about a car later. Truthfully this ended up working out fine…we didn’t have to pay for 2 days of parking in a hotel lot and we weren’t paying for an extra 2 days on a car we wouldn’t really be using yet. So, standing there, we Ubered a car and the driver picked us up outside of the ‘Mean Car Rental Co.’ and took us to the lobby of our hotel 7 miles away for a measly fee. We ended up utilizing Uber quite a bit on this trip and I was so happy with it!
Check in at the hotel was great. We waited in a visually long line for only about 5 minutes. Circus Circus is where we stayed. It’s not the nicest or fanciest hotel on the Strip by any means but it served it’s purpose for us. A place to sleep and shower.
We got ahold of my sister as they were finishing up day one of the World of Concrete convention. We met them at Treasure Island in Senõr Frogs for a private party with all you can eat and drink (for a price of course!) and had a great time.
The food was hot, the drinks were going down great and the atmosphere was super fun after a long and frustrating travel day. B and I went back to our hotel around 7:45 Vegas time (at home it was 9:45!) and actually went to bed at a decent hour. This Las Vegas trip was not a “Las Vegas trip” for us. It was merely the introduction to our REAL vacation…the Canyon. Flagstaff. Sedona. We kept our nights on the Strip early and gambled very little. Whatever we played, we got back. We broke even and that was perfect. We spent the majority of our time in our hotel casino and ate at the restaurants available there. It was just a really nice couple days of quality time after a few stressful work weeks for B.
Wednesday morning was the SpecMix500, the competition my brother in law was competing in! If you know nothing of this, Google it! It is a very interesting and suprisingly entertaining spectacle. Unfortunately he didn’t place in the competition but he thoroughly impressed us! He did great! The fact that he made it to Nationals in Las Vegas was huge and exciting and I am so glad we were able to go and support him. Next year is in the bag! =)
After the competition we went back to the hotel and B took a nap while I booked our car for the weekend. We found a great deal through Enterprise, who I will now only book rental cars through for the rest of my life! Reliable, reasonable, and effecient.
We met up again with my sister and her husband for some dinner and drinks at a mixer back at Treasure Island.
During dinner I recieved an email from the AirBnB owner of the place we were staying in Flagstaff. He expressed to us that there was a winter storm on the way and to be safe driving in. He had a plow set to clear the path in case we were to arrive at night. Great. I held off on telling B for awhile so as not to worry him as he always does the driving. He was having too good of a time right now with the open bar and top shelf whiskey.
Before we settled into bed that night, I had set up an Uber to pick us up at 6:10 in front of Circus Circus the next morning. We had a great ride with a nice driver to the Enterprise location that is indeed inside the McCarran Rent-A-Car center. We were among the first customers that morning as they opened at 6 and we arrived at about 6:35. We were greeted warmly by a man about our age. He took and conveyed all of our information back to us, confirmed our drop off in Phoenix, and we were on our way in under 10 minutes. When we got to the garage, a young woman led us to our vehicle and stated, “Here’s an upgrade for ya, seems we don’t have any vehicles left in the class you requested!” She handed B the keys to a fully loaded Chevy Equinox. We were very happy with it, as there was that pesky snow in the forecast. And oh boy, was there snow.
In my itenerary, I expected to be on the highway east to Arizona by 7:30 and here it was 6:50 in the morning. We were on our way. I teared up a little on the way out of the parking garage, thankful for an easy transaction. It was so wonderful to have a nice experience after the situation we had dealt with the first day we were here.
On the way to Kingman.
We took our time and drove through quite a bit of rain before stopping in Kingman, AZ for some groceries. The rain began to let up but the chill was definitely still in the air. We stopped at a Walmart to grab a cheap cooler and loaded up on some whiskey,frozen pizza, soda, chips and salsa and cookie dough. The basics for being snowed in! The woman checking us out was so sweet, and joked that we were “in Arizona honey, there’s no such thing as being snowed in!”
We set back off, ready for our weekend in Flagstaff. But first we were going to the Grand Canyon to spend the day. About 30 miles from the park entrance it really began to snow. There were plows coming from the opposite direction. Cars driving slowly and cautiously. I had no idea that it even really snowed, let alone this much in Arizona!
Finally we arrived at the South Rim entrance. We purchased an Annual National Park Pass (YAY!) since we have quite this list of parks we’re visiting this year. In the long run, this will save us quite a bit as it is $25/car to enter, and the pass is only $80 for the year. As the ranger handed us some Grand Canyon maps and packets he said, “Visibility is very bad right now, just so you guys know.”
Psh. It’s the GRAND CANYON. It’s vast and massive and mysterious. Any visibility at all has to be good visibility. This was one of the big ones on my bucket list and I was finally there. I began to get goosebumps thinking of the magic I was about to experience. Everyone says it is the most majestic and breathtaking sight to see. We parked the car and started off easy, walking to Mathers Point past the visitor center. We were walking in easily 4″ of snow.
We reached the stairs that lead to the Rim. We walked down somberly. Nothing. White, dense fog filled the Canyon before us. The right, the left, straight head, down below. We could see literally nothing. I couldn’t help it but let out a loud half chuckle. Of course. This was just our luck. I took two pictures.
I choked back tears. My throat tight and my eyes burning we walked back to the car in silence, snow pelting us. I kept looking straight down so that anyone walking towards me couldn’t see the disappointment and frustration in my face. I felt like a child that didn’t get what they wanted on Christmas. B grabbed my hand and squeezed it. It made me feel a little better; he knew. He knew I was upset and he was too.
I had been served a slice of “you don’t always get what you want” pie. We had this trip planned since June. I looked forward to it and counted down every day. Yet isn’t this what I so loved and admired about nature anyway? The unpredictability and the unknown? The take it as it comes, go with the flow part of my personality was not so present that day. Looking back now, I am angry at myself for still not taking in where we were and what we were doing. Sure, maybe there were no typical stunning views or perfect photo opportunities. I didn’t allow myself to really LOOK. I didn’t stop to feel the mystery or the massive presence that lay behind the fog. I was stubborn and angry and stomped off after 3 minutes. Am I disappointed? Absolutely. But, I am also very fortunate.
Some people will never make it to the Grand Canyon. Some people never travel AT ALL. Some people see the Canyon for what it is every other day; not a lot of people get to see and feel the Canyon the way we did. It was still there. It was still glorious. Just in an entirely different way. I learned my lesson. I should know to never expect nature to do what you think it should do.
After we fully accepted the situation, we ventured on to Flagstaff where our cabin awaited us. B stopped at the park sign for me so I could get my picture with it. You can see the disappointment in my face in the first one! Snow continued to come down and we still had an almost 2 hour drive ahead of us. Out of the park we went.
We made it to our destination at 3:50pm. We had been up since 5am Vegas time and felt relieved to be out of the car. I snapped a quick picture before we even unloaded. This had to be the most charming and beautiful little A-frame cabin I had ever seen. The pictures don’t do it justice. Here is the link to the AirBnB site if you are interested in checking it out or even booking it yourself! The owners were a joy to work with and speak to. So very helpful and kind.
I wish I knew more of the history behind the property and the cabin. All I know is it sits on a few acres inside the Coconino National Forest in Flagstaff. It’s warm glow and wood structure enveloped us after a cold wet day. The owners left a couple lights on for us and had the heat already on. There was a bottle of white wine on the breakfast bar with a note. I flipped through the guestbook. We were immediately enamored with this little home.
It was the perfect size for the two of us and we made ourselves comfortable quickly. Our first night there, we hung out in the loft upstairs and sipped our respective wine and whiskey. We snacked on fruit and tortilla chips with guacamole and watched one of the DVDs in their collection; which happened to be one of my favorite movies, Sideways. What a wonderful cozy ending to a long, cold and emotional day.
Friday morning we awoke to an additional 5″ of snow outside. We made coffee and B shoveled the porch, stairs and area around the car while a snow plow did the driveway for us to leave if we needed to.
Again, my itenerary was useless. (I think I should just quit with the detailed itineraries now…) The snow was so heavy and the roads iffy, hiking trails were a no go. We had some, but not enough winter gear to make me feel comfortable and since we are unfamiliar with the area we didn’t want to risk anything, especially with another front coming in that afternoon expecting 9″ of additional snow. We ended up choosing to go to a place called Bearizona. It’s a drive through safari of sorts, where free roaming animals do their thing and you drive through and observe them.
It was VERY neat! B got a huge kick out of the black bears and wolves. I was taken by the foxes and deer. After you drive through 3 miles of the sanctuary, there is a section of the property that is walk through with numerous animals in enclosures. We opted to do this since we were one of only 4 other cars at the park. I am so glad we did! The gift shop was cute and cozy, ALL of the animals were out playing in the beautiful snow and…the snack shack was open. We grabbed a delicious bite to eat before heading back to the cabin 45 minutes away.
Just as we got back, the heavy snow started coming down. It did this off and on all night through Saturday morning until about 8:15.
We fell asleep up in the loft Friday night while watching TV and ended up staying there until I woke up at 7 that morning. I let B sleep while I started gathering things and cleaning up. He came down around 8 and watched the snow, worried. I checked my phone for weather updates and noticed a missed call. It was from the proprietor of the cabin letting us know he had a plow on the way! Again, such thoughtful and gracious hosts! We were packed and ready to hit the road to Sedona and then later that afternoon, Phoenix. We were so sad to see the A-frame in our rearview mirror. We will come back some day. Most because…
The drive to Sedona.
I feel like life gives and takes evenly. For example, it gave me a stinky armpit to sit next to on the flight to OKC, but then gave me a whole row to myself the next flight.
It took our original car rental arrangement from us, but then gave us a better deal later that week.
It took the Grand Canyon experience from us and in return, gave us the drive to Sedona.
I have never in my life seen such stunning and gorgeous scenery. We swooned over the lodges and cabins tucked off the road in Coconino. We swore the next time we had extended time off we would stay here in the mountains.We stumbled upon Oak Creek Canyon and it’s sprawling beauty. Of course the further south we drove, the less snow. The mountaintops remained snow capped however for quite awhile on our little roadtrip which was always an eye treat. As we ventured a little further we finally came upon Sedona and Bell Rock. (I have a ton of pictures in my actual camera that I haven’t had a chance to go through yet so I will make a small photo only post this week too.) I immediately felt my heartstrings being tugged. Way back when in a post long ago, I said I never really knew where my heart belonged. Part of me has always been in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but now I am not so sure. Arizona is pretty phenomenal. B and I definitely do not plan to stay here in the Midwest forever. We are 100% on not having children, so truthfully there is no reason to stay put. We still have plenty of places to explore before we decide what we really want, and it will be a while yet (a handful of years) before we settle elsewhere anyhow. Sedona is officially at the top of the list thus far.
The drive down from Flagstaff was not long enough.By the time we reached Phoenix I was annoyed in how quickly traffic became heavy and that skyscrapers blocked the mountains from view. I am not a city person.
We of course hit In-N-Out burger, as it’s a must when we’re out west.
It never disappoints! We dropped our car off and got through airport security and to our gate very quickly, and very early. We had about two and a half hours to kill before our flight even boarded. I grabbed a coffee and my book and relaxed in the final hours of our wonderful yet sometimes horribly awry vacation. There were moments and places that will be forever be considered some of my favorite memories.
Let’s hope in 5 and a half weeks when we leave yet again for Las Vegas that it is easy on us. After some serious weighing of options we decided we will be returning to the Canyon in March as another excursion to our second Las Vegas trip. We changed our flight to leave a day early so we can drive back to the South Rim, stay the night at a lodge there and then drive back to Vegas the next day in time to meet B’s parents as they get in. We will also still be taking a day trip to Death Valley. All of this planning and traveling is scratching the itch of my restlessness. It’s satisfying and stressful all at once. It will work out. I am grateful. This year is meant for adventure and opportunity and we are going to take it.
I don’t know who said it, but west is best. I need to see it all!
Thank you for following along. Don’t forget to check out our IG @pottsiepackin!