Arizona & Utah

10 minute read

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.

Sedona

Our flight touched down in Phoenix on December 17th.


Before landing in Phoenix

After our flight landed we picked up our rental car and drove to Sedona.


Drive from Phoenix to Sedona

View from the hotel in 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.


The hotel pool in the early morning

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


Scouting out the trail before we set off

Panorama from the top of Baby Bell

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.



Trail marker showing the way

View of Courthouse Butte

Working our way around Courthouse Butte

Durable trail markers indicated we were on the right path

A rock formation nicknamed the Cupcake

What most of the trail looked like

Coconino National Forest sign

We climbed through that narrow gap in the rocks!

View from somewhere partway up Bell Rock

Candid shot of Dad balancing

Bell Rock blocking the sun

Taken on the return leg of the hike - after coming down from Bell Rock

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.


Chapel of the Holy Cross

Airport Hike

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.


Start of the Airport Trail loop

Cactus on the Airport Trail

Walking through a lot of cacti

Beautiful cliff views

More beautiful views

Dad keeping his balance

Me at a scenic stopping point

The scenic view near the end of the hike

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.


Christmas in the desert is weird

Flagstaff

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.


Me and the NAU mascot

NAU running trophies

This will hopefully make me a faster runner

Grand Canyon

After stopping in Flagstaff, we continued our journey to the Grand Canyon.


At the entrance to the canyon area

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.


Surveying the land

"The canyon is this big"

Elk crossing the path

Getting closer to another elk

Me and Dad at the rim

Waiting for sunset at the canyon

The canyon at sunset

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.


We stopped at the Glen Canyon Dam en route to Zion

First Afternoon

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.


The end of the Lower Emerald Pools trail

Sunlight illuminating the water falling off Weeping Rock

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.

Angels Landing

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.



Me on the Angels Landing hike

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.


On the West Rim Trail, with Angels Landing in the background

Riverside Trail

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.


The view from the parking lot at the Riverside Walk trailhead

The end of the Riverside Walk (if you look closely you can see hikers finishing the full Narrows hike)

Watchman Trail

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.


Near the trailhead for Watchman

Close to where we turned around on Watchman Trail

Hoover Dam

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.


Me on top of the Hoover Dam

One of the massive spillways for overflow

The relatively new bridge next to the Hoover Dam

The turbines deep inside the dam

The water level in the basin, and two of the 4 intake towers

Vegas

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.


The Bellagio Fountains in action

Me in front of some of the most extravagant Christmas decorations I've ever seen

Phoenix

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!