Three days in Flagstaff Arizona, exploring the Grand Canyon, Coconino National Forest, and Sedona.
It’s not every day that your sister has a milestone birthday. This time around, we decided to celebrate with a good old fashioned adventure. There were just two rules: lady-friends only and NO kids. Inspired by a friend’s description of her beloved home-base in Flagstaff, Arizona, we decided to go explore this wild chunk of the west. We flew into Phoenix and stayed in Flagstaff, but the main attraction for our weekend trip was the Grand Canyon. We spent my sister Sarah‘s birthday exploring the South Rim, and it was glorious.
After landing in Phoenix on Friday morning (which was just a short and DIRECT flight from Austin) we grabbed a rental car and headed for Flagstaff. Our Mitsubishi Lancer fit the three of us nicely, but it turned out to be a bit under-powered for the mountain climbing we were about to undertake. While I am usually a big fan of economy cars, I think that I would spring for something with a little more power. The highways between Phoenix and Flagstaff can get really steep, and that little car was really struggling at times.
We decided to stop in Sedona on our way in, which took us on a gorgeous drive through the Coconino National Forest. Sedona was gorgeous, surrounded by towering rock formations and huge blue skies. It was also extremely expensive, so as much as we were craving a mid-trip snack, we opted to forgo the $19 burgers and $10 smoothies and nibble on car snacks instead.
Our first stop was The Center for the New Age, where we window-shopped for glittering crystals, psychic readings, and a seriously tempting array of woo-woo supplies. Back in my witchy days I would have dropped some serious dime in a shop like this. It made me seriously nostalgic for my teenage years and early twenties when I spent a good amount of time on woo-woo pursuits. (This is, perhaps, a habit I should pick up again. After all, there isn’t anything quite as liberating as tossing off one’s clothes to dance naked around a bonfire.)
This was also where we learned about the local vortexes – natural centers of power located in the nearby wilderness. The next time I visit Sedona I will have to make time for a hike out to the red rocks and go vibe hunting.
We finally got into Flagstaff in the late afternoon. The cool, crisp autumn air was a refreshing change from the perpetual Indian summer we have going on here in Austin – and wildly different than the climate we had left in Phoenix. Our journey had started at 99F, but in Flagstaff we were pulling out our sweaters.
Our Air BnB was located in an adorable little neighborhood called Mountainaire. It is a little ways out of Flagstaff proper, but nestled right in the national forest and peppered with quirky 3 and 4 season camps and cabins. It was named the Berghütte and was pretty much perfect, packed with handmade art, modern style touches, a YURT outside, and a backyard opening up into the national forest behind.
My favorite part, of course, was the great big cast iron bath tub. I’m happy to report that I snuck in a good soak before the weekend ended.
If you are headed to Flagstaff, I would highly recommend checking out the The Berghütte, AND if you are trying out Air BnB for the first time, you can use this link to get $40 off your first stay! (I’ll get a little travel credit too, so it’s a win win.)
After checking out the cabin we hopped in the car and headed for downtown Flagstaff. This super cute downtown area is packed with bars and restaurants, new age gift shops, and boutiques peddling hiking gear. Artsy murals and vintage details adorn the modest-sized buildings, and the entire area is perfect for exploring on foot or bicycle. We ended up having dinner at Swaddee Thai, and enjoyed a delicious family style feast of noodles, curry, and spring rolls before heading back home to put in some quality yurt time. By the way, yurts + red wine = WIN.
We cooked up breakfast at home on Saturday morning, then headed into town to pick up sandwiches for our picnic lunch. I was impressed by how many places came up when I searched for vegetarian sandwiches. There seems to be no shortage of veg-friendly lunch options in Flagstaff. We ended up ordering tempeh sandwiches from The Morning Glory Cafe, which came with chips and homemade salsa – perfect for our picnic plans.
The drive to The Grand Canyon was supposed to take about 2 hours, but we took our time stopping at every spectacular landscape along the way – and there were MANY. It was really amazing how many different kinds of landscapes we enjoyed during our time in Arizona. From classic cactus dotted deserts to towering pine forests and wide open plains – our jaws were dropping around every corner.
The canyon itself, of course, was breathtaking. It is really hard to explain just how dumbfounding the Grand Canyon is. At first, your brain can’t seem to process its size, so you could spend hours (or days) gazing into it as your mind wraps around the depth, the details, and your relative importance to something so massive and ancient.
I got a real kick out of the ravens flying around the edge. They make these really cool chattering and clicking noises that instantly endeared them to me. Watching them fly through the canyon also helped drive home a more tangible sense of depth and space than my eyes could comprehend alone. Thanks, bird friends!
My sister has always dreamed of taking a mule ride at The Grand Canyon, but that plan was squashed when we realized two things. First, the tours start so early that we would have had to leave Flagstaff with the dawn, and secondly, pretty much everything at the Grand Canyon books up quickly. The iconic El Tovar Hotel, for example, is often booked at least a year ahead. I now have it in my sites for the ultimate 10 year anniversary trip. (Because to my husband and I, hiking = ROMANCE!)
We spent the entire day walking along the south rim trail, basking in the view, and poking around at the plants, trees, and flowers nearby. Being able to take our time without anyone hurrying, whining, or demanding was pretty sweet. You forget, as a parent, how little time is left on a daily basis for unhurried thoughts or quiet reflection. Or maybe you just forget how good it feels to have time for those things.
Making time for long baths or date nights is fantastic, but I feel like what I really need more of in my life is true down time. Sometimes a girl just needs to lay on the ground and do nothing. Bonus points if you can do that somewhere beautiful.
Dinner that night was back in Flagstaff – big bowls of handmade noodles at Sosoba followed by a trip to a local candy shop nearby. After that we went back to the house, cuddled up, drank local beer and nibbled on chocolates while sketching, painting, and reading books. It may not have been the wild kind of birthday party that a younger us would have opted for, but it was just right for these three women – especially after a day of exploring.
Before saying farewell to The Berghütte the next morning, we took a quick little walk in the woods. I could have spent all day exploring there, but alas, it was time to go!
We had brunch with our friend, Eva, who lives in Flagstaff, before heading back to Phoenix. If you are into reality shows or survivalist stuff, you might know my dear buddy from her time on Naked and Afraid. In case you ever wondered, this lady is just as bad-ass as she appears – probably MORE to tell you the truth. Hanging out with Eva is like downing 3 cups of coffee, then diving out of an airplane. She’s the kind of friend who reminds you to get excited about life, and I can see why she chose Arizona as her home.
Eva recommended a local place called Criollo Latin Kitchen for our meet up. What a treat to stroll into a fancy brunch spot on a Sunday morning and be seated right away. I feel like that’s kind of impossible in Austin these days. The food was fantastic, but the company was even better. There’s nothing like gabbing with an old friend over a delicious meal. It was the perfect way to end our time in Flagstaff.
We made one little stop on our way back to Phoenix. We had sped past Oak Creek Vista on Friday afternoon, just missing the 4PM cutoff for driving into the overlook park, and had been groaning over it ever since. It only took us about twenty minutes out of our way to make the detour to Oak Creek Vista, and we were treated to another unforgettable view.
The Oak Creek Canyon has a similar shape and structure to the veins we had seen the day before, but here the ridges were covered in multi-colored trees displaying their best autumn foliage. Getting a view of the super twisty road I had driven in on was also a real treat. On Friday I hadn’t been able to fully appreciate the view since I was trying REALLY hard not to crash the car, haha.
Our flight home was a bit late, and landed us back in Austin around 11PM. It was a weekend well spent, and a great reminder that you don’t always need a whole week of vacation to do something incredible. Thanks for being born, Sarah!! Happy birthday.