Sedona, Prescott & Flagstaff, AZ
Northern Arizona kept us entertained for quite some time. It still has our attention. As I write this, tucked away up some forest road outside Grand Canyon National Park, Whitney is outside enjoying the sun and doing her physical therapy, while Dottie ruts around in the dirt and sniffs for unlucky rabbits.
The red rocks of Sedona, once the native lands of the Sinagua people, and more recently the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches, drew us in with zero reluctance on our parts. We were thrilled to welcome the impressive cliff bands, towering buttresses, and delicate spires of martian red rock into our road trip.
On our first day, we got a taste of the hecticness of Sedona. The trailhead for the hike we wanted to do felt like an amusement park. Packed parking lots and people everywhere. Somehow, luck was on our side and we found a spot to park Sage in the shade for the day.
The hike served as a nice intro to the backcountry of Sedona. It was magnificently beautiful. Like a postcard, or the landscape of a well-made jigsaw puzzle. Something about it all looked fake. But this was the real deal.
On our second day with Ellie, we sampled some of the local climbing. We quickly found out that the rock was more beautiful to look at than to climb. The sandstone rock in Sedona is soft compared to other types and is prone to breaking. Some footholds and handholds would jiggle as you applied pressure to them as you climbed. And the surfaces of things were sugary and coated with a thin layer of ground-up sandstone dust.
But any climbing is better than no climbing. And once you reached the top, the panoramic views of the Sedona area had you completely flabbergasted and questioning your previous understanding of beauty.
Throughout the rest of the week, we tinkered around town and enjoyed our campsite. We spend a couple mornings in the public library, enjoying the coziness of the place and the fast wi-fi. I ventured off on a couple bike rides that eventually evolved into a fun, technical and fast-paced 6-mile loop around the forest roads we were living amongst. Dottie accompanied me one day, and as you might imagine, was entirely spent by the time she got home. Afterward, she plopped down, ate her dinner from a prone position, and fell asleep with her eyes open, twitching in her sleep.
A highlight of Sedona was when Whitney and I went for a multi-pitch climb. We read about a fun-sounding route up a massif of sandstone called the Earthship in West Sedona. After getting somewhat lost on the approach to the formation, we eventually made it to the base of the climb. Only 4 short pitches of moderate and easy slab climbing separated us from the summit. That, and the goddamn wind.
Fortunately, we were well prepared and dressed appropriately. The wind, however, still found ways to creep past our multi-layered defense system of long underwear and puffy down jackets. By the end of it, we were bleary-eyed, wind-blown, and on the verge of being too cold. But as you might suspect, the views from the top were 1,000% worth the endeavor. We were proud to document our ascent in the winkled summit log that was tucked away in a glass mason jar underneath a small cache of rocks. We were surprised to find a small nugget of cannabis (but then again, maybe not, considering this is Sedona) in the bottom of the jar. After inspecting the product, and deciding it was actually of decent quality, we passed on the gift from some climber-stranger. Someone else could surely use it more than we could. So we rigged our rappels, taking care to not let the rope get stuck due to the high winds, and made our way down to Dottie who waited patiently at the bottom.
When the coating of red sandstone dust was too much to handle, Whitney and I finally decided to take a shower. We heard of a recreation center south of Sedona in Cottonwood, AZ that had cheap, hot and clean showers. After a soak in the hot tubs, we both were squeaky clean once again.
Not wanting to waste the fact that we no longer smelled like body odor and feet, we put on some decent clothes and decided to stop off at a local winery for a little date night. We enjoyed a flight of wine each, and people watched a wedding party of drunken wine-loving Arizonians. We were the last ones to leave the place, enjoying the quiet after the wedding party had left, while also being careful not to hold up the service staff.
Sometime during our stay in Sedona, we decided we wanted to head south for a quick detour to Prescott, AZ, once the indigenous lands of the Yavapai people. We had heard it had some fun rock climbing and a decently sized college town with interesting vibes.
We made it by sundown and quickly tucked in for the night as the temperatures began to plummet with the sun.
In the morning, Dottie and I trampled around the muddy and half-frozen trails while Whitney rested in bed. By midday, we decided to go down to town in search of information about the local climbing and hiking. We stopped off in a local gear shop and were happy to find exactly what we were looking for. The staff was full of helpful info in regard to where to hike and climb in the sun.
After some other errands in town, and with a desire for a little adventure before the sunset, we decided to hike the approach trail for the local climbing Mecca, Granite Mountain. The vertical walls and climbing of the mountain were closed for the season due to Peregrine Falcon nesting, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t hike around. So we enjoyed the trails, took some photos, and gawked at the towering granite walls we were not allowed to climb.
The following afternoon, however, we did indeed climb. We waited until about midday, so to give the sun time to warm up the west-facing stone, and were happy to move over rock once again at an area called the Granite Dells. The area was reminiscent of Joshua Tree, with its piles of rounded and incredibly grainy granite rock.
The climbing was fun, thought-provoking, and sand-bagged. Sand-bagged is a term in climbing that essentially means the climb is harder than the difficulty rating it has been assigned. This is common with old-school climbing areas. The reason is that at the time of the first ascent, normally some 40-50 years ago, the spectrum of climbing difficulties was much smaller. So when climbers ascended a route for the first time, they assigned it a rating that was considered hard for their time.
But since then, the spectrum of climbing difficulties has grown immensely, but the grades of the climbs have not changed. So when a modern climber (me) tries out an old route with an “easy rating” in respect to their current understanding of climbing difficulties and gets their butt kicked, they typically whine and rationalize their feelings of inadequacy by calling the climb sand-bagged.
Before leaving town, we connected with a friend (my boss’ wife) Cara for dinner and drinks. We picked out a place called the Palace Hotel and Saloon. You had to walk through old-western swinging doors to enter. Hostesses and waiters in Western garb greeted you and served you food. The building and its antique decorations splattered all over the walls blasted us back to the past. We felt somewhat out of place amongst all the cowboy boots, hats, and high hair-dos of the other customers.
After dinner, we said our goodbyes to Cara and loaded up the van for our next stop in Flagstaff, AZ.
Before arriving in Flagstaff, we stopped off in Cottonwood, AZ at the Dead Horse Ranch State Park. We desperately needed to do laundry, charge Sage’s battery and take showers.
Compared to the somewhat desolate forest roads we were used to camping on, a bustling State Park campground felt exciting. And fancy. We plugged up the van, cooked outside on a massive picnic table, had access to potable water, and pooped in toilets.
We cooked bratwursts over the fire and had bacon, eggs and sweet potato hash for breakfast the following morning. We went for a 3-mile bike ride with Dottie and then left by check-out time at noon for Flagstaff.
In Flagstaff, a town once inhabited by the Sinagua and Anasazi tribes, and that hovers just below 7,000 feet above sea level, we picked up some mail from the brother of Whitney’s uncle and slept in the parking lot of Cracker Barrel. We spent one day climbing at this awesome and small limestone cliff, and one day working in and exploring the town.
By the end of the climbing day my fingertips were raw and missing skin (a sign of a great climbing outing), Dottie was covered head to toe in mud, and Whitney was exhausted and content with her climbing. Since her surgery, Whitney has been making epic progress in her return to climbing. I can see her strength, technique, and confidence returning to her and it makes me extremely proud to observe.
During our second day in town, we left the van and rode our bikes to a local coffee shop along the historic route-66. After coffee and a couple of pastries, Whitney was itching to get to the Grand Canyon. I finished my work, we loaded the van and we blasted north to make it to the Canyon by sunset. Whitney blared pump-up music, I got car sick and Dottie waited patiently in the back for her next chance to run rampantly once we arrived at our destination.
And boy did we make it in time. It was spectacular.