Week #8: Arizona ft. Grand Canyon (& Lots of Other Stuff)

Another awesome and busy week in Arizona has come and gone…I hope you’re ready for a lengthy post! This week included: running the Sun Health Arizona half-marathon with my dad, hiking Camelback, hiking more of the White Tank Mountains, checking out Old Town Scottsdale, catching some spring training, visiting the Desert Botanical Gardens, more pickleballin’ (obviously) aaand the Grand Canyon. Phew. With some relaxing family time thrown in there somewhere.

Grand Canyon

So the Grand Canyon (you might have heard of it) was pretty amazing to see – no false advertising there. We (me, Eric, my sister and bro in law plus the baby) made the journey from Surprise to the South Rim (North Rim is closed in the winter) in our rental Pathfinder. The scenery pretty quickly changed from desert landscapes to mountains, rocks, pine trees and even a bit of snow (ahhh!! It felt like we had gone too far north and had accidentally ended up in Sudbury at some points) as we continued north past Flagstaff. My niece was not too fond of a) being in the carseat and/or b) the elevation change. How do I know this you might ask? Screaming. Lots of screaming and angry spitting (which is actually kind of hilarious…for the first few minutes). After a breakfast and coffee pit-stop in Flagstaff, we continued to Cameron where we stopped at the trading post for a bit of shopping (and break from baby screaming). They had some pretty cool stuff in here including lots of Native American crafts, pottery, jewelry, etc. Ok, onto the Canyon itself – we entered the park through the east gate ($30 per vehicle, good for seven days) and got our first glimpse of the Colorado River. We made stops at the Desert View Watchtower and Grandview lookout points and were definitely not disappointed (see pics below). We walked along the Rim Trail (it would be awesome to hike/camp down in the Canyon but that takes some time and planning plus it’s still icy/snowy this time of year – sigh, maybe one day), making lots of stops along the way to take pictures. Every view was amazing (again, see pics below). It was a little chillier out than we expected (21 and sunny? Try again weatherman) and we got caught in a wee bit of rain with a bonus sprinkle of hail near the end of our walk. Grand Canyon Village was cute with an old train station, lodging, galleries, etc. After a solid afternoon of Canyon viewing, we headed back down south with a stop in Flagstaff at Altitude’s for dinner. We covered a lot for one day, but we’ll have make another trip to do some hiking/camping and see the North Rim!

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Grand Canyon South Rim…so beautiful!
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Enjoying the view. Note: this is not recommended (you are supposed to stay on the paths) since it’s a long way to fall. Good thing we read the book about Grand Canyon deaths at the end of the day.
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Pretty impressive canyon
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Eric also enjoying the view
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A little bit of rainbow peeking out
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Smiles 🙂

Hiking Camelback

Eric and I hiked Camelback’s Cholla Trail and it was amaaazing! My favourite hike out of the ones that I’ve done around Phoenix in the past two weeks. Camelback is a very popular hiking and climbing spot and has two trails: Cholla and Echo Canyon. Cholla is a bit longer but less steep compared to Echo Canyon, from what I read. Both are rated as very difficult and require some scrambling – fun! We set out early in an attempt to catch the sunrise, but it turns out that getting into Phoenix around rush hour was not as quick as anticipated. We did see the sunrise – it was just from a Jack in the Box parking lot instead of a mountain (womp womp). And in case anyone is wondering, Jack in the Box has extreeeeemely bad coffee (and a super creepy mascot). We got there early enough to nab a good parking spot (you need to park on Invergordon Rd. and then walk a little bit to get to the trailhead) and the trail wasn’t too busy just after 7AM. At the trailhead, we were greeted with this sign:

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…so we knew we were in for a treat. I also took this picture after our hike, so that’s my excuse for it being crooked and cut-off. Needless to say, it was a bit of a climb. Up until the heli-pad (you know, in case you need to be rescued), the trail was well marked but after that point it was kind of a choose-your-own-adventure climb. One group of girls had clearly chosen poorly and found themselves clinging to a rather smooth rockface in somewhat of a panic. Don’t worry though, they eventually made it back to a safer more trail-like part of the mountain. I don’t have too many pictures from the top part of the hike since I didn’t want to smash my camera on rocks and needed to use my hands to climb. At the summit, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of Phoenix and the surrounding mountains and a snack (of course). Check it out:

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Managed to catch a bit of the sunrise
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While I still had hands free to use the camera
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Eric made a cactus friend
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View from our snack spot on top of Camelback – facing northeast
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View from the top – facing south, downtown Phoenix
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We made it!
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We found out on our return trip that we did not need to take this way around on our way up…oh well, it was fun anyway! Probably not so fun if you’re afraid of heights though

Our legs were a bit shaky on the descent; quads were working pretty hard  to prevent us from just tumbling all the way down. It took us just under an hour and a half to climb up and then about an hour-ish to get down. To sum things up: awesome hike, great views, be prepared (we overheard a woman who was wearing bedazzled jeans ask if this trail was a loop…ummm…we took bets on her), go early to avoid heat and crowds, bring lots of water, and don’t put yourself in a position where the heli-pad needs to be used (i.e. don’t be “that guy”).

Half-Marathon

My dad and I finished the Sun Health Arizona half-marathon, woohoo! We had less than stellar weather but we both finished within our goal times. The course was pretty flat (thank you for the hill at mile 12 though), went through the Luke Air Force Base (no, you don’t get to fly any of the planes as a reward for finishing), and was really well-organized with awesome medals! Now, which race to do next??

Old Town Scottsdale

We kind of stumbled into Scottsdale after our Camelback hike so we didn’t spend too much time here.  It’s a cute touristy part of Scottsdale with an Old West theme (complete with saloon with swinging doors and horse and carriage rides – one carriage contained a tiny dog wearing a cowboy hat and vest hehe). We did a bit of shopping, grabbed a quick martini and snack (of course) and checked out one of the many art galleries. The next day, we brought everyone back for lunch and gelato before the botanical garden. You could easily spend a full day here if you’re into art and shopping.

Spring Training

The Phoenix area is home to the Cactus League i.e. spring training for about half of the major league baseball teams. We would have liked to watch the Cubs (they play out of Mesa) but we never made it over to that area. We’ve seen the Blue Jays in Dunedin (Grapefruit League…where the other half play in Florida) so thought we’d check out some of their rivals. Games started this past Friday and Saturday and you need to buy tickets to those, but practices are open to the public so you can just swing by and hang out. We took the golf cart (accidentally on a road we weren’t allowed to take the cart on, oops) to Surprise Stadium to watch the Kansas City Royals (booooooo) for a bit. We also checked out Scottsdale Stadium where the San Francisco Giants (mehhhh I don’t have a problem with them) were practicing. We didn’t stay too long at either stadium, but it’s a fun way to spend some time if you’re in the area during spring training. Oh, we also stopped by the local slo-pitch field on our way home one day – not quiiiite the same but everyone was having a good time (and also had a good 40 years on the MLB players – maybe that’s being generous).

Desert Botanical Garden

The whole family packed into the Pathfinder to check out the Desert Botanical Garden, which is located in Papago Park. We spent a few hours walking around the gardens, checking out the various cacti, agave plants and other nature-y things. There were a few different trails to walk including the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop and Desert Discovery Loop, and there were a lot of benches and water fountains throughout. Nice way to spend an afternoon 🙂

Hole in the Rock

By the time we were finished at the botanical garden, it was almost time for sunset so we popped on over to Hole in the Rock, also in Papago Park. It turns out that our idea of watching the sunset from here was not very original. We shared our spot with a bunch of other people, but it was still very cool to watch the sun set behind the city and mountains. Another good view of the city and a great end to the day!

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Hole in the Rock
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Sunset over Phoenix

Return to White Tanks

Eric and I checked out a few more of the White Tank Mountain trails: Black Rock Loop, Waterfall Trail, and a portion of Mesquite Canyon. It was probably the hottest day of the week and we could see how hiking in the middle of the day around the desert in actual summer would probably not be so pleasant. Black Rock Loop trail had some nice wildflowers, was very flat and easy and had a link to Waterfall Trail. Waterfall Trail is the most popular hike in the White Tanks and you can only see a waterfall after heavy rain – we saw no waterfall 😦 but I can see how that would be an attraction in a desert. Mesquite Canyon was a more difficult hike with a lot of switchbacks and quite an elevation gain. We only had about an hour on this trail so we didn’t get to finish the whole thing but it was still a great workout. A few runners passed us along the way – I’m too clumsy and not skilled enough to attempt running on some of these trails, i.e. I would definitely trip and fall off the mountain. It was a nice way to spend our last day in Arizona. We also managed to fit in one last pickleball match before our flight.

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I’m going to miss you cacti!
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Some wildflowers were starting to come out
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Nice views in the White Tanks
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On Mesquite Canyon trail

If you made it through this whole thing, I commend you – sorry it was so long! Thanks for reading 🙂

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