Tag Archive | Arizona tours

Grand Canyon

Arizona – South Rim

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My first view of the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon has always been on my bucket list. It wasn’t until some close friends went a few months ago that the urge hit me again. Their photos were spectacular and I wanted to see it up close and personal for myself.

My husband and I planned a trip to Sedona, Arizona for a few days and decided this would be a great opportunity to drive on up to the Grand Canyon for a day. I had knee replacement surgery a few months ago and realized that days of hiking, riding burros, or camping overnight in the bottom of the canyon would not be for me. A day trip seemed to be the perfect option and it really was the right choice for us.

We had taken a Pink Jeep Tour to some ancient ruins on our first full day in Sedona and we had a wonderful tour guide named Stephen. He often drives tour groups into the Grand Canyon for the day and gave us some great pointers and advice. His suggestion was to drive into the park’s east entrance and return to Sedona through the south entrance, which is extremely busy and crowded. In other words, we would go against the traffic and crowds. It turned out to be great advice. 

The drive north from Sedona was quite scenic and enjoyable. It was a two hour drive with hardly any traffic. We drove through pine forests, curvy mountain roads, sparse desert mesas, and the flat red lands of the Navajo Nation. As we entered the Grand Canyon National Park’s east entrance, there were only two cars ahead of us. What great luck – thank you for the advice, Stephen!

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Our first stop was at the Desert View Visitor Center. This was a great spot with few visitors, ample parking, restrooms, restaurant, and a gift shop. There is a tall stone tower (modeled after ancient Puebloan towers) and an overlook with fantastic views of the Grand Canyon. This is where I walked up and got my first look at the majestic canyon. I will never forget that moment and readily admit that photos do not even come close to doing it justice. We stood for several minutes taking in all the colors, the expanse, the depth, and the silence. This was most certainly a true “pinch me” moment. There were some great views of the Colorado River from this overlook (over one full mile below us!).

We took our time here and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out towards the Grand Canyon Visitor Center at the south entrance. We stopped at several of the overlooks and pull-outs that our tour guide had suggested for us. Each stop gave us different views and a different perspective of the canyon. Mather Point, Navajo Point, and Grandview Point were a few of the stand-outs. The scenery was spectacular and there were only a few people at each of these stops. It was a most enjoyable day with almost perfect weather. 

 Later in the day we arrived at the South Rim Visitor Center. It was packed with tourists, tour buses, shuttle buses, and cars. Luckily we found a parking spot relatively close to the center and we found our way to the overlook area. Once again, the views were spectacular but there were so many people that it was difficult at times to get to the railing to take good photos. We then explored the area and it was expansive: restrooms, snack bars, gift shops, movie theater, information & education centers, bike rentals, shuttle stops, etc.  The most exciting thing about this stop was getting to see two elk that had wandered up to drink from the water fountains! 

Everyone has a different agenda when visiting the Grand Canyon and for us – one full day was enough. It was glorious, spectacular, breath-taking and immense.  David and I lucked up and had perfect weather this particular day. We enjoyed every minute of it and the images will be embedded in my mind for years to come. If you have never made this trip, I hope you will make plans. It was well worth the effort.

Check this one off my bucket list. It is done. Now on to my next adventure!! 

 

Sonoran Desert Tour

Scottsdale, AZ

I just returned from a wonderful four-day weekend to Scottsdale, Arizona and the highlight of my trip was an ATV tour of the desert. After doing a bit of research before I went, I chose a tour close to Scottsdale where the company actually picked us up from our hotel in a very nice Mercedes van.

There were plenty of independent tours to choose from. Some used dune buggies, four-wheelers, three-wheelers, jeeps, hummers, segways and even hot air balloons. This Green Zebra tour I picked was 2.5 hours long, with only  a 30 minute drive from our hotel to the starting point, and provided us with water and a colorful bandana. It sounded like the perfect plan for us. A morning tour of the desert left us with plenty of time for a late lunch and shopping in the afternoon!

We dressed in closed-toe shoes and grubby clothes, grabbed our sunglasses and hats, and were ready to roll. Our driver/guide Mike picked us up from our hotel and we drove through Scottsdale towards Fort McDowell. Mike explained many of the sights along the way. Our starting point for the tour was actually on tribal land belonging to the Yavapi Indians. We pulled into the main facility (which reminded me a little of the Alamo!) and unloaded. We used the restrooms, donned our bandanas, and listened intently as Mike gave us our instructions for the trail.

The TomCar ATVs were gas powered, military grade and did not have power steering or power brakes. There were two-seaters and four-seaters. We elected my daughter Rachel to drive our four-seater with me in the back and my sister-in-law in the front passenger seat. Luckily, the TomCars did had “over-the-shoulder” harness type seat belts (to keep you from bouncing out) and windshields (to keep a large percentage of red dirt and dust out of your face!). The main rules were to stay on the trail behind the guide and to stay 1-2 car lengths behind the car in front of you. We had this!!

The scenery along the way was gorgeous! The Sonoran Desert has heavy rainfall in the summer and winter and it was more lush than I had imagined. It was rugged but very beautiful. Our TomCars drove through brush, climbed rocky hillsides, and bumped along through dry rocky riverbeds and canyons that showed evidence of flash floods during the rainy season. Our excursion took us from rushes of adrenaline to quiet peacefulness in this remote landscape.

Our first stop was a high overlook at the Verde River. We actually talked to an Arizona Fish & Wildlife employee who had set up cameras at this location to study nesting bald eagles in the large trees down below. The scenery here from this high vista was amazing. We saw Scottsdale, Fountain Hills, and Phoenix in the distance. We could see how the Verde River split the tribal lands down the middle. Mike pointed out the Yavapi’s reservation housing and their expansive acreage. The Native Americans farm citrus groves, pecan groves, alfalfa, and other grains for their vast livestock. When investors wanted to dam the Verde River miles upstream decades ago to create luxury waterfront real estate, the presence of bald eagles here (then on the endangered species list) kept this from happening and the Yavapi kept their lands fertile with this water source. They are presently a very wealthy and prosperous tribe.

Our next adventure took us through dense mesquite groves, where we saw recent evidence of a herd of wild horses. The trail ended at a low spot by the Verde River, so we stopped and got out for a water break. Mike then explained all about the mesquite trees and how important they were to the Native Americans. The wood was used for firewood and smoking meats. The flowers and pods were edible. The “peas/beans” were a source of protein in lean months and could be dried and ground into flour. The sap was used as a hair product. These mesquite trees are much larger than the scrubby ones we see in Texas.

Our third and final scheduled stop was to check out the cacti near the trail. This huge saguaro we examined was over 200 years old. Mike also pointed out many other plant and cacti species that thrive in this desert climate. He talked about the geology, history, and wildlife in this area – it was very interesting. He also had a killer John Wayne impression! We then found several kangaroo rat burrows, but unfortunately – no rats. They were wise and stayed hidden from us (as did the rattlesnakes). Mike told us these desert rodents live their entire lives and never drink water (they get moisture from the seeds and vegetation they eat) and instead of urinating liquid, they excrete a small drop of yellow paste. So being the mature adults we are….we then spent the next five minutes looking for mustard colored kangaroo rat droppings, but never found any.

This was a such a fun and educational experience! My sister-in-law Linda is not the most adventurous type – but even she enjoyed the tour and got out of her comfort zone a little (okay… a LOT!). My daughter was completely in her element with this excursion and loved driving our TomCar. We were covered in dirt from head to toe when we finished and our clothes were a dusty mess. It took a couple of showers and many kleenex and Q-tips to erase all the “evidence” of this adventure – but it was well worth it! We made wonderful memories on this morning and I hope you have the opportunity to do the same one day.

If you would like, please leave me comments or additional information relating to this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts on this trip and your own experiences. I highly enjoyed this brief trip to Scottsdale and urge anyone to visit – especially if you enjoy excursions like this. Please subscribe to my blog for more travel and dining updates. Thanks!

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the beautiful Sonoran Desert on a warm, cloudy morning