From December 17th to the 24th, me and my dad went on a vacation to Northern Arizona. We had a fairly flexible plan where we would land in Phoenix, travel to Sedona, and then work our way to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Las Vegas, and eventually end up back in Phoenix to arrive home on Christmas Eve.
Our flight touched down in Phoenix on December 17th.
After our flight landed we picked up our rental car and drove to Sedona.
We arrived close to suppertime in Sedona, so we didn’t have much time (or energy) to do anything fun, so we walked up to the trailhead that we would start our big hike on the next day, and then we got some food, relaxed, and slept.
Day of Hiking
We started our next day in Sedona by embarking on a roughly 4.5 hour hike around some of the natural rock features near Sedona. We left the hotel at a decent hour in the morning so that we would have plenty of time to finish the hike and see other parts of Sedona afterwards.
Our main hike of the day took us around Courthouse Butte, a huge natural rock formation in Sedona.
Side note, if you’ve never heard the term butte before:
In geomorphology, a butte is an isolated hill with steep, often vertical sides and a small, relatively flat top; buttes are smaller landforms than mesas, plateaus, and tablelands -Wikipedia
Here’s another view of the panorama photo that I took from the top of Baby Bell, which you should be able to click around to view all the different parts of.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
A well known attraction in Sedona is the Chapel of The Holy Cross. It looks bigger in photos than it actually is in real life, but its definitely a very unique building that appears to be growing directly out of the rock.
After we saw the Chapel of The Holy Cross, we wanted to do another hike during the remaining daylight. We decided on the Airport Loop Trail and finished it just before the sun went down.
After the Airport Loop trail, we went to the more populated “downtown” area of Sedona. I learned that the name of Sedona comes from the wife of the city’s first postmaster, and that you can buy live cactus plant fridge magnets at a bunch of stores (but apparently they can’t be taken across the border to Canada). I also got to eat at Chipotle for the first time in my life, which was incredibly filling after a long day of hiking.
While driving from Sedona to the Grand Canyon we made a stop in Flagstaff, home of Northern Arizona University. NAU has won the NCAA Division 1 men’s cross country title for the past three years, and is a powerhouse in distance running. We got to see the gymnasium, outdoor track, and some of the campus. It was very surreal to be on the campus that has produced the best men’s collegiate cross country team for the past three years, but I was surprised at the lack of public display about cross country. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong places, but I only saw one promotional banner with a runner on it the entire time that we were driving around the campus.
After stopping in Flagstaff, we continued our journey to the Grand Canyon.
Driving up to the Grand Canyon is pretty bizarre, as there are no mountains or anything around it. It’s just flat desert for the most part, with some vegetation and trees appearing more frequently the closer you get to the park itself. Seeing the canyon itself is hard to describe. Most people know that its a pretty deep and wide canyon, but hearing that the rim is 10 miles wide and 1 mile deep on average still doesn’t do it justice. It’s incomprehensibly large, and its almost hard to believe what you are seeing.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park was highly recommended by a number of people. After spending roughly 1.5 days there, I can confidently say that it was the highlight of the trip for me. We drove into the park from the East Entrance, which I think is the less popular entrance, but entering the park from this entrance is definitely more scenic than coming in from the main entrance. The only downside is that you drive through a fairly long (and relatively narrow) tunnel, but other than that it is a stunning drive with switchback turns, sheer cliffs, and stunning views of the park as you descend into the valley.
On our first afternoon in Zion we started with two short but popular trails in Zion, Weeping Rock and the Lower Emerald Pool. The Upper Emerald Pool path was unfortunately closed to due to icy conditions, so that’s why we didn’t do the complete Emerald Pools hike. Both Weeping Rock and the Lower Emerald Pool were both very short hikes, each taking half an hour or less to fully complete.
After those very brief hikes we wanted to try something longer. We headed out on the East Rim trail, knowing we could only go out for about an hour before we would have to turn around, otherwise we would end up hiking in the dark. This trail was awesome, starting off with a lot of switchback climbing, which eventually leveled off and took us into a miniature canyon.
We got pretty lucky with weather on our full day in Zion, as it was slightly overcast and not too cold. It was great hiking weather, and we started our hike to Angels Landing in the morning with jackets on, but alternated between keeping them on and off depending on how hard we were working to get uphill. For an idea of what it felt like to hike to Angels Landing, check out the following YouTube video.
And here’s a video of me during the descent.
West Rim Trail
After our big hike to the top of Angels Landing, we still had some daylight left, so we wanted to fill it with as much hiking in the park as we could. After coming down from the highest part of Angels Landing, we took a turn to get on to part of the West Rim Trail. This trail was much more quiet than the Angels Landing trail. It was also wider in most parts, and had unique views of its own.
After descending back down the trail that led to Angels Landing and the West Rim, we drove to the upper part of Zion National Park to hike the Narrows Riverside Walk. We got to see some people in knee high rubber boots that were completing the full Narrows hike as well.
After we finished the Riverside Walk, we wanted to fit one more trail into our day. At this point I was exhausted and almost fell asleep during the drive to Watchman Trail but once we started walking again I woke up quickly. We didn’t finish this hike entirely, we just walked out on the trail for half an hour to see how far we could get and then turned around. This was a fairly deserted trail which didn’t have a ton of climbing in it.
After our days in Zion were complete, our only real agenda was to get back to Phoenix to catch our flight on the 24th. We had the option of driving for 7 hours to get there in one trip, or we could stop somewhere along the way and do it in two roughly 3.5 hour drives. We chose the latter, and so we got to stop at the Hoover Dam, and went through a tour of some of the inner power plant workings.
Since we were so close, we figured we should stop in and see Las Vegas. We spent one night walking up and down the strip, and in and out of some of the more famous buildings. The Fountains of Bellagio were one of the coolest things we saw that night, along with some Christmas decorations that some hotels had put together.
We eventually arrived back in Phoenix, where I ate at In-N-Out for the first time in my life. Other than that, we didn’t really do anything else interesting other than wait for our flight at the airport.
Thanks for reading!