Our trip to the Grand Canyon and Sedona wasn’t a planned one. Somehow I had to get to Arizona to visit our son this summer. He was there for an internship, and he’d be returning to college soon. But when we consulted our calendars, we couldn’t find a time when we both had an open weekend. At least not open enough to make a round trip to Phoenix from San Diego and still have any time to do anything with him.
And that brought up another dilemma. What is there to do in Phoenix when the temperatures are soaring above 100 degrees Fahrenheit?
My husband had the perfect solution. Instead of making the trip from San Diego, we would tack it onto the end of a trip we were already making to Utah. Making a sidetrip from Utah to Arizona allowed us to enjoy all-new scenery and explore parts of northern Arizona we hadn’t visited before. The temperatures would be cooler, and it answered the question about what we would do with our son — he met us in northern Arizona to explore the Grand Canyon and Sedona with us!
The Utah leg of the trip
Our starting point was Lehi, UT, about 20 miles south of Salt Lake City. We expected it to take most of the day to get to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It was a perfect day for a road trip — blue skies, only a few puffy clouds, and an exciting destination at the end of the day. Plus we’d get to see our son!
After turning off I-15, Highway 20 led us to Highway 89, and we headed south through Panguitch where we saw lots of old pioneer homes and an occasional roadside motel. We began to see red-colored buttes as we rode along the edge of a summer storm, with sunshine on our left and lightning on our right. Bucolic scenes of grazing cows beside the Sevier River delighted us.
When our stomachs started to growl, we consulted our GPS to see what was coming up. Orderville looked promising — small but large enough to have a cafe. If you’ve never heard of Orderville, it has a very unique history. Founded in 1875, Orderville was a city where the citizens owned all things in common. That experiment lasted until 1890.
We enjoyed soup, sandwiches, and salad at the Soup Town Cafe, a casual eatery housed in a historic building with original wood floors and antiques.
Next, we eventually found ourselves in Kanab, surrounded by beautiful red and cream-colored bluffs. A large red rock marked with a white “K” shares the Utah tradition of marking nearby mountains or hills with city initials.
Crossing into Arizona
Highway 89 crosses the border from Utah into Arizona at Lake Powell. The highway crosses a bridge next to the Glen Canyon Dam, which is an amazing feat of engineering skill. It’s definitely worth a stop here to take a look. The best view is from the Carl Hayden Visitor Center just before you take the bridge. Pull off and park, then wander inside for the views, information about the dam and water distribution — and sparkling clean bathrooms (always a plus when you’re on a road trip!)
Just five miles beyond Glen Canyon Dam is a place I’d always seen in pictures but thought it was too far off the beaten path to ever make it practical to visit. I was wrong. It’s actually a very easy turn right off Highway 89 into a large dirt parking lot, plus a hike of about .75 miles. In July, it’s really hot, so you’ll want water even for this relatively short hike. Nothing really prepared me for reaching the end of the trail and seeing this right in front of me!
It’s even better in person, let me tell you! It’s a little dizzying to stand close to the edge and look down, so you don’t want to get TOO close! And that meant I didn’t get a very good selfie…
East Rim of the Grand Canyon
After about two hours of driving from Horseshoe Bend, we arrived at the Desert View Watchtower, which is at the east rim of the Grand Canyon. Just past Cameron, we had turned onto Highway 64 and headed west. That two hour drive was rather dramatic as we drove through a lightning storm and were pelted with rain for a portion of it. The terrain was increasingly interesting, too. As the Little Colorado River winds its way, it has eroded through these rocks and created mini Grand Canyon vistas.
The view from the Desert View Watchtower was mesmerizing despite the storm. In fact, with the constant lightning flashes, it might have been even more mesmerizing! (I tried so hard to get a photo with lightning, but to no avail.) I learned that the Grand Canyon is its widest at the east rim. It was difficult to fathom that what we were looking at was a spread of 18 miles! Unfortunately, much of it was obscured by the storm. If you’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to describe it because it is unlike anything else. But words like huge and incredible and humbling come to mind.
As we were walking back to our car, we saw rangers walking quickly, nearly running. When I asked one of them where she was going so fast, she explained that lightning storms were dangerous, and an average of one person is killed by lightning at the Grand Canyon every year. That made us walk a little faster too!
Tusayan, AZ & Sunset Views of Grand Canyon’s South Rim
Tusayan is really the only town just outside the Grand Canyon Village at the south rim. There are a few hotels, restaurants, gift shops, etc. there, so it made a good place to stay for the evening. This is also where our son was meeting us. We made our way to the Red Feather Lodge, checked in, met our son, and then left immediately to go see south rim views of the Grand Canyon. Remember that lightning storm I mentioned? It kind of followed us here.
We drove into Grand Canyon Park ($30 for a 7-day pass) and parked along Desert View Drive. (In the evening, it isn’t too difficult to find parking spots here). It wasn’t raining at this spot, but we could see the rain and thunderclouds off in the distance. We walked along a paved trail towards Yaki Point, one of the best places to get sunset and sunrise photos because of its orientation.
Finally, this view opened up in front of us.It was a moment of awe for all of us. Plus it was my son’s first glimpse of the canyon.
We savored the view and even indulged in some rock-stacking…
As we continued towards Yaki Point, this is the view that welcomed us. What an amazing sunset!
The views almost made us forget it would soon be dark, and we didn’t have flashlights with us. We hurriedly made our way back to the car, but of course I had to catch just one more shot.
We caught a late dinner at Plaza Bonita and despite the long lines of people waiting to be seated, they found a table for us quickly and we had our dinners within about 20 minutes. I was duly impressed. Our Mexican-themed dinners were also delicious.
Red Feather Lodge
Red Feather Lodge was kind enough to extend a media discount to us, which was greatly appreciated during the middle of a busy tourist season. It was a very comfortable place to stay, with all the amenities one would expect, plus a super friendly and helpful staff. We were never bothered by noise despite being close to the lobby in a hotel full to capacity. The decor was simple and symbolic of the native Indians who inhabited this area. Our beds were plush, the shower had great water pressure, and complimentary wi-fi worked well, albeit a little slow at times. (Remember, Tusayan IS kind of in the middle of the wilderness!)
I also felt that Red Feather Lodge had reasonable prices considering the demand for rooms in the summer months. Add the park shuttle service that stops here, and I can’t imagine what else you would need to make visiting the Grand Canyon easier.
Is it Worth it to Get Up at 4:15 am?
Yes, that IS what we did. We wanted to be sure to arrive at Yaki Point in time to see the sun rise. We drove from the hotel to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and caught the orange line shuttle that takes you straight to Yaki Point (you can’t take private vehicles into this area). Was it worth it? Oh, definitely! When we arrived there were already a few people there, including a family with very young children. All were waiting for that moment when the sun’s first rays break the horizon. To watch the sunlight slowly bathe the canyon and gently wash it with a rainbow of pastel colors is simply indescribable. Perhaps seeing the photos will help a little.
We returned by shuttle to the Visitor Center, and spotted a few deer along the road — a pleasant surprise! The Visitor Center wasn’t open this early, to our dismay, so I can’t tell you much about what’s there. But the brochure I picked up mentions restrooms, maps, information, exhibits, a theater, a passport stamp, free local calls, a park store and a cafe.
Next Stop: Flagstaff
We left Tusayan heading south on Highway 64 and turned east on Highway 180. Right at that junction we stopped just long enough to snap this photo of Flintstones Bedrock City — a theme park, campground, and RV Park. I imagine this might be a fun place to visit with young kids.
The scenery along AZ Highway 180 was constantly changing, but quite striking, especially with a vivid blue sky streaked with a few clouds.
Since we were driving through Flagstaff on our way to Sedona, I wondered what we might want to see or do in that area. Two attractions caught my attention: riding the scenic chairlift at Arizona Snowbowl and eating pizza at Fratelli Pizza, rated the best pizza in Flagstaff.
Riding on a ski resort chairlift in the summer is awesome because it’s not too cold, and the views are quite expansive. Humphrey’s Peak is the highest in Arizona, and on a clear day, you can actually see the north rim of the Grand Canyon (maybe 60 miles away as the crow flies?) from the top of the chairlift. Be sure to read all the details at Arizona Snowbowl — Not Just For Skiing.
By the time we arrived in Flagstaff, we were famished, and pizza was perfect. Admittedly, I might have eaten anything, but Fratelli Pizza’s claim to best pizza is certainly justifiable. The prices are inexpensive, the pizzas were flavorful and filling (crusts were buttery and crisp on the outside, tender inside), and the atmosphere was fun casual. Perfect for a road trip stop!
Highway 89A to Sedona
You don’t have to drive this route, but I highly recommend it. A winding road takes you through some spectacular scenery — campgrounds, picnic spots, and past Slide Rock State Park. There is some construction going on some weekdays and evenings in an attempt to widen the road and create turnouts in a few places. But on a weekend, the construction is put on hold to accommodate tourists. We parked our car and walked along the highway for a stretch. The scenery included red mountains with pine trees and Oak Creek winding its way down the canyon.
Final Stop: Sedona
Have you ever been to Sedona? This was my first visit, and I was thrilled with the landscape. I had heard about the beautiful rock formations and the bright red-orange soil. I thought it would be more desert-like, but there was a lot of green. July and August are Monsoon Season in northern Arizona, and as a result, it can rain nearly every day.
There’s a lot to do and see in Sedona, but we only had half a day. We checked into the Matterhorn Inn and then immediately went back out again to do some exploring.
What do you think of this view? This is why we wanted to see Sedona!
We drove through the town and noticed lots of new-age type businesses: stores that sold crystals or vortex maps, psychics — that kind of stuff. There are also native Indian souvenir shops, lots of restaurants, and clothing boutiques. But we didn’t come to shop. We wanted to see the natural beauty of Sedona. We saw the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Cathedral Rock, and then headed to the trailhead for Devil’s Bridge, a natural stone arch.
The 4.4-mile (round-trip) hike to Devil’s Bridge is mostly level until the last 1/4 mile or so. If you decide to hike it, be sure to use sunscreen and take plenty of water. The trail is well-marked, and you’ll most likely see many others on the trail. No matter which direction you looked, there were beautiful things to see: rock formations, wildflowers and cacti, green shrubbery and manzanitas.
Wrapping up in Sedona
At the end of our hike, the thunderstorms rolled in and we barely escaped a downpour. After a few minutes of downtime at the hotel, we strolled around town to see what was there…
Sedona has a lot of art displayed throughout the town.
We really enjoyed Sedona’s History Walk, a stroll past signs with interesting facts about Sedona’s art, cinema, history, geology and nature.
And right below our hotel room, on the street, was a music-making station. The most beautiful tones of harp-like music would make its way to our balcony when people stopped to play the various instruments.
Restaurants were full (reservations recommended), so we opted for dinner at a covered food court and a visit to the hotel’s jacuzzi before calling it a day. Although our road trip from Utah to the Grand Canyon and Sedona was a quick one, we really enjoyed what we were able to see and do. Each of the places we visited warranted at least a full-day itinerary, but we just didn’t have that much time.
I hope that when you visit the Grand Canyon or Sedona, you’ll be able to give yourselves plenty of time to explore and revel in the beauty of this region! What do you most want to see?
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