A Visit to the Valley of the Sun

I headed to Phoenix, Arizona this past week under the pretext that I would watch my Uncle Steve’s house for the week while he was in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Of course, it was more just of a vacation of my own! After a connecting plane to Minneapolis, I jetted down to Sky Harbor International and by 11:30 was greeted by my dad at Steve’s house! He was staying for the first few days as well.

The following morning, my dad and I dropped off Steve at the airport and cruised south to Tucson. We did some hiking in Saguaro National Monument and visited the Sonoran Desert Museum in the western section of the park. Then we ate at a nice place near the University of Arizona campus and toured a nearby Arizona History Museum. We also visited my cousin Timmy in Gilbert, AZ. It was good to catch up with him and his family. The following day, Dad and I climbed a popular Phoenix hiking spot- Camelback Mountain. We took the Cholla Trail, a 3 mile round trip climb that ascends up to 2,706 ft.

Camelback Mountain Summit

Afterwards, we recovered in Steve’s pool and then set out to visit Old Town Scottsdale.The downtown area has its share of touristy shops, bars, and restaurants, but mostly seems to be dedicated to art galleries. We wandered around, poking our heads in and out as we pleased. We had a couple beers at the Rusty Spur Saloon, a neat little hole in the wall.

Chuckwalla Lizard

Our final full day together was spent driving north to escape the heat of the valley. Tonto Natural Bridge State Park was small, but the bridge itself was pretty neat. Then we did a nice hike through the Ponderosa Pine forests near the village of Pine. It’s so crazy to me how an hour or so north and the landscape, and the climate, completely changes. We ate lunch at a nice diner in the village, and circled back to Phoenix via I-17. Dinner was at Garcia’s, the restaurant Uncle Steve works for. The Chicken tacos were delicious, as was the beer! Tuesday was spent lounging around the house and touring Old Town one last time. Lunch at Rehab Burger was excellent.Then I dropped dad off at the airport and headed over to Alexa’s house. Steve knew her from Garcia’s, and we were headed to Sedona with one of her friends, Natalie. The adventures were about to begin!

Adventures in Sedona

The two hour drive up to Sedona flew by as we all chatted and got to knew each other better. They were two great girls and I knew we were going to have an awesome time! With the sun freshly set, we pulled into our hotel, the Poco Diablo Resort. After dumping our stuff off, we headed up the street to find some grub. We settled for Mooney’s Irish Pub on account that it seemed to be about the only place still open. Though they didn’t have a Reuben, the food was still delicious, as was the beer. A few Irish Car Bombs later, we were back in the room snoozing.The next morning we arose early and hit the trails. Alexa knew of a short hike up to a neat natural feature called Devil’s Bridge. It felt good to be back among the red rocks of Sedona. I had visited twice last year during my summer at the canyon, but the views never fail to impress. This time was no different.

Devil's Bridge Sedona

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and took a dip in the pool before it was time for our jeep tour. We met up in town with another one of their friends, Jorge, and then strapped into our bad ass ride.A Day In The West was the company we were riding with, and the description for the tour at the shop read EXTREME. And boy, they were not kidding! For 2 hours, the four of us were tossed around like rag dolls as Frank, our driver, recklessly zipped over boulders and gravel drainages, all the while explaining the history, culture, and vegetation of the Sedona area. It was a blast! When he finally slowed down, we knew it was serious. We were heading down into a gully at a 45 degree angle! Crazy! By the end, my arms were literally sore from gripping the handholds so tight!


Afterwards, we ate lunch at a pizza place and went foranother short hike up to the top of a plateau. More great views! Then Jorge took us to a spot he hadn’t been to since high school… Gravel Pits. The highlight: a 42 foot cliff jump into Oak Creek!!! I was doubtful at first, but we went down around to the river beforehand and I swam out to see how deep it was. After failing to touch the bottom, I knew we had the green light! Then all it took was some courage and a yell… “WAHOOOOOO!!!” Such an adrenaline rush, there’s nothing else quite like it! For the perfect ending to the perfect day, we drove up to another plateau and watched the sun set over the gorgeous Sedona scenery. What a day!

Sedona Sunset

Old Town Scottsdale

Girls in Sombreros

Headed into Old Town Scottsdale with Alexa, Natalie, and Kayla to check out some of the touristy shops and the art galleries. The city of Scottsdale contains over 75 art galleries, the majority of which are located in Old Town. We walked the streets checking out the ones we found to be interesting. Some I had seen with my dad, most I had not. I really loved this one photography store with pictures from all over the world. Pictures of a village in Italy called Cinque Terre were especially breathtaking. Lunch was pizza and a huge calzone. YUM! A huge LOVE art piece in a nearby park entertained us for awhile, as we struggled to clamber on top. Only afterwards did we see the NO CLIMBING sign… oops! Gelato made for a delicious desert before we headed to a railroad park for lack of anything better to do.The swing-set and slides were the most entertaining part. It’s good to still be a kid! Then it was onto 2 rounds of mini-golf and some arcade games. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of such intense mini-golf action, but it was fun all the same! I got my butt kicked in everything else as well- Phoenix girls go hard. We finished the night off with some drinks at one of their favorite local places. It was another great day in the Valley of the Sun!

Jumping from Swings

The Superstition Mountains

Superstition MountainsGot a later start then we wanted this morning, but you can blame the AAAAA-ALCOHOL. Still got on the trail by 7 or so. We were hiking the Boulder Trail, a route that provided some good vistas of a winding dry wash that seasonally contains a creek by the same name. From the trail head, we gradually climbed to the top of a mesa before descending the other side. The descent took us all the way to the dry wash. At first, it seemed like we could probably just take this all the way back to road. However, the wash was covered with thick vegetation and it turned out to take even longer so we headed back the same way we came. It was now around 11 o’clock and it was hot. Even if it is a dry heat, 110+ is freakin’ scorching. We were dripping with sweat as we started the climb back up. Every couple of minutes we sought out the little shade that we could find. However, there was no real relief from the heat. It was a struggle, but eventually we did make it back to the car, where we dunked our heads in the cooler and eventually jumped in Canyon Lake. An afternoon nap was definitely in order. That night, Alexa and I walked around the Desert Botanical Gardens and caught an excellent sunset from a nearby rock formation. We chowed down at In-N-Out burgers and watched Two Guns, before calling it a night.

A Pleasant Kayaking Trip

In an effort to escape the heat, we hit the water today in the form of kayaking. We drove just north of Phoenix to man-made Lake Pleasant. Fed also by the Agua Fria River, the reservoir obtains most of its water via the Arizona canal that diverts Colorado River water to Phoenix. At the marina, the three of us rented one 2-person and one single kayak. An employee pushed us into the clear, blue water and we were off. As directed, we first paddled down a side canyon where we found wild burros on the shore. I tried to get closer, but they were easily spooked. Whenever the sun got too hot, we took a dip in the water or just splashed ourselves. It was a nice relaxing morning out on the water. The afternoon was spent back at Steve’s, where I spent more time in the water- his pool. That night, the four of us met up for some drinks at Four Peaks Brewery. I ordered a flight beer and sampled each of their 8 brews. Most were pretty tasty. It was a lively place and another night of good fun. When I made it back to the house it was still like 80 degrees so I went skinny dipping in the pool- Don’t tell Steve!

Lake Pleasant Kayaking

On my last full day in Arizona, Kayla, Alexa, and I went tubing down the Gila River. We brought three tubes for ourselves, and another for our cooler full of beer and snacks. Talk about a relaxing day! We chilled out in the sun, letting the river take us where it pleased. There were a lot of other people who had the same idea too, including some kayakers. It was a pretty chill day. Afterwards, Alexa and I caught another awesome sunset from a rock formation in Papago Park. From our vantage point on top, we could see the whole city sprawl out beneath us in every direction. It was gorgeous. We finished the night off back at Steve’s with a little cookout and some pool time with Natalie. The next morning, we grabbed breakfast before it was time for her to drop me off at the airport. As always, it was depressing to have another vacation come to an end. Especially one where I made such great friends and got to explore some really neat places.Friends & Beer

So long Phoenix…. for now! But I’ll be back, maybe sooner than you know!

Written by Jake G

I’m a 26 year old who loves to hike, bike, backpack, and explore the outdoors. I’m a Midwesterner who currently resides in sunny Arizona. I hope to inspire others with my adventures and maybe give some advice for your future vacations. Follow me as I travel around the country and...
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