Last leg- Santa Fe, Flagstaff, South Rim Grand Canyon and Sedona.
It wasn’t a good day to drive anywhere, especially down to New Mexico. At Cortez, we could see dark clouds on the horizon and rain was a certainty. So instead of taking US-160E and US 84-E as planned, we took the advice from the friendly young man at the hotel reception and headed south using a direct but scenic route to Santa Fe. The route he suggested was US 550-S then 1-25N/Old Pecos Trail in Santa Fe County. This was an estimated 278 miles and 4.5 to 5 hours drive on a good day.
As soon as it was possible, we started our journey to Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. However, a couple of hours into the drive, the heavens opened with such ferocity that it affected our visibility. We needed to slow down to 30 miles an hour but we weren’t alone. We saw a few of our fellow road travellers on their Harley Davidsons soaked to their skin and some sensible ones took shelter at petrol/gas stations. Lucky our caddy was waterproof!
The rain was relentless. It didn’t get any better when we finally reached historic Santa Fe a few hours later. The heavy downpour seemed to follow us from a few hours back and it somewhat spoiled our plans to explore the town proper that evening. We wanted to head straight to the heart of the city and its renowned Plaza to soak in its distinctly old world Spanish ambience but the rain was a real spoiler. Fortunately, the intimate Santa Fe Motel and Inn was a lovely and delightful refuge from the rain. The staff were efficient and friendly and suggested we try the Italian restaurant, Andiamo, just next to the motel. We really didn’t want to drive in the rain to search for a good meal so this was a welcome option. We weren’t disappointed. The menu featured some of our favourite Italian classics and the restaurant’s atmosphere lent a unique Santa Fe twist to the whole dining experience.
But in fact, the evening was also made more interesting by an encounter with a lone English traveller dining by himself. Seated at a table next to us, we noted the bottle of red wine he was enjoying while perusing a USA road trip travel book (as one does when travelling solo). To break the ice, my husband enquired whether he would recommend the wine he was having… the rest of the evening was a pleasant exchange of travel stories, opinions and suggestions. It turned out our new acquaintance was a fan of American music and earlier in his youth, was inspired to see America by road, on a Mustang to visit towns and cities he has heard in pop tunes. He was pretty much exploring the south west as we were doing but stopping also at places like Wichita (from the well known tune sang by Glen Campbell -Wichita Lineman) , San Francisco ( Scott Mackenzie’s If you’re going to San Francisco) Lodi ( Credence Clearwater Revival) Las Vegas ( Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley) San Jose ( Do you know the way to San Jose) and the list went on. He said, growing up, he had a map of the USA on his wall with different coloured pins so he could plot a route for an adventure he swore he would experience one day. It was to be a trip of a lifetime with a friend who shared the same wish. Unfortunately his friend died unexpectedly. What a wake up call! His sympathetic wife didn’t want to travel but nevertheless urged him to realise the dream on his own. So here he was, seeing and experiencing America on his rented Mustang with the American tunes he downloaded on his iPod, blaring away. The next day after breakfast, my husband showed off our rented caddy and in turn was invited by the Englishman to take his rented Mustang for a spin. Men and their toys! And you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that there will be another American road trip for us down the track on a Mustang.
We only had half a day to have a slice of the Santa Fe experience, so after breakfast we headed straight to the Plaza. What we saw of this picturesque and conspicuously Spanish –Mexican influenced town was so impressive; we earmarked it for a longer visit in the near future.
On the road again taking 1-40 W, this time we were going to head straight to Flagstaff for a couple of nights where we were going to visit the south entrance of the Grand Canyon and a day trip to Sedona. The afternoon trip was more pleasant than the drive to Santa Fe the day before and traversing the 384 miles took us only a good 6 hours.
After a long drive, once settled in Flagstaff, we didn’t want to venture too far from our motel for dinner. We ended up going to Buffalo Wild Wings across the road at 2700 S Woodlands Village Blvd. A lively and noisy venue for sports enthusiasts, the bar/restaurant boasts of more than 30 large flat screen TVs tuned to various sports games. The menu was typical of American bar food and we naturally tried the wings (which they are famous for) and shared a plate of fries and chicken quesadilla. I’m sure the wings would have pleased my palate had it not been smothered with their legendary sauce but apparently that’s how the local patrons like it. Hmmm…
Finally, the last major sight to visit transpired the next day. The 80-mile drive to the South rim Grand Canyon from Flagstaff was pretty and took approximately 2 hours (via route I-40 W then highway 64 N). This entrance to the Grand Canyon is open all year round and very popular among families and overseas visitors. On arrival at the park gate we drove to the parking area (be sure to come early specially at the height of the summer season as the four parking areas can get crowded) and made the Visitor Centre our first stop. While there, we watched a 20-minute movie of the Grand Canyon rim and river, called Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder. It was engrossing and educational.
We then took the free shuttle bus to the overlooks and walked along Mather Point and Yavapai Point. Needless to say, the views were spectacular and from this vantage point, we could clearly see and feel the difference between the north and south rims.
As we have earlier visited the north during our stay at Kanab we were somewhat more knowledgeable about the geology of the Grand Canyon. Regardless we made an effort to visit the Yavapai geology museum which is situated at Yavapai Point overlook. There we had a more thorough orientation on how the almighty 1,450-mile-long (2,330 km) Colorado River and nature sculpted the Grand Canyon. It is highly recommended to visit this museum, if not for the views one can see through the panoramic windows. At the end of this exploration, I personally felt so privileged to have seen the staggering beauty of the Grand Canyon and the many natural attractions within the Colorado Plateau. Everything we saw was spectacular but I still somewhat favour Grand Canyon North overall as it really was a very peaceful spiritual place and I felt connected to nature and God. A truly humbling experience.
Since we had an extra day at Flagstaff, we decided to enjoy our stop here with a day trip to Sedona. It wasn’t far to drive, about an hour and a few minutes to traverse the 30-mile distance on AZ 89-A. But my husband who was driving the wide caddy didn’t like the winding road at all and took a little bit of care and time to take us to our destination. Surrounded by pine forests, red buttes and canyons, the pretty little town resembled a village out of a fairy tale book cover. The main street was lined with interesting little shops selling arty things, gemstones, galleries and restaurants. The town had a ‘New Age’ feel to it which reminded us somewhat of Byron Bay in New South Wales, Australia and Noosa , north of Brisbane, Queensland Australia. We enjoyed the day just meandering and leisurely taking in the town’s views and character while fossicking and perusing the various shops. Though we liked the pretty town, it was a bit anti-climactic and felt that seeing the various places within the Colorado Plateau, unfairly made us accustomed to the beauty around us. In the outskirts of the village there are camping and picnic grounds for families, most notable being Red Rock State Park.
Soon it was time to pack and move on to make our way to California and visit my family. We were also scheduled to return the caddy there. Having finally completed and crossed off one of the things we wanted to experience before we get too old, I can guarantee that the road trip was one big awesome experience and confirms what Stephen Fry said… that America is a beautiful, vast, country and interesting in its diversity. It is definitely God’s country !