Read about my travels in Phoenix and Scottsdale in the my first Arizona travel post here.
I've been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel all over the world with my family. But, while I've traveled to Singapore and Spain, Istanbul and Italy, I haven't done much traveling in the western half of the US, save for some trips to San Francisco and Seattle. All this time, the Southwest has been on my bucket list. With a changing desert landscape, sights like Antelope Canyon and so. many. Mexican. grocery stores. Arizona topped the list of states I wanted to visit. While we were there, my family decided to not only visit Phoenix, but to head up to the northern half of the state for a few days.
If you venture a few hours north of Phoenix and Scottsdale you will find open, flat land with - I kid you not - tumbleweed, snow-capped mountains, red rock deserts and, of course, the Grand Canyon.
When we traveled to Arizona in March, half the reason I wanted to go was to visit the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon in the northern half of the state. We decided the easiest way to do that would be to break up the drive with an overnight stop in Sedona, town of spiritual vortexes and giant red rock formations. While in Sedona we stayed at the breathtaking Amara Resort, a Kimpton property, that's nestled into the red rocks and surrounding mountains. Fire pits? Check. Pool overlooking said red rocks? Check. Delicious margaritas and tacos? Double check.
While visiting the Grand Canyon, something I seemed to be much more enthused about than the rest of my family, we also took a early morning detour to Antelope Canyon in the northeastern part of the state. In order to visit Antelope Canyon, you walk through it, in the crevices and spaces that wind, rain, and sand have carved out of the massive sandstone. The canyon itself is breathtaking. The red, purple, and gold colors of the smooth, sweeping stone surround you and, if you're lucky (and you get there for a tour before 12:00 PM) you might even catch some light funnels. The desert in this region of Arizona, and along your drive to the Grand Canyon, is mostly Navajo land, and is different from the desert in Phoenix and Scottsdale. More red sand and stone, less cacti. But was just as captivating to my NYC nature-deprived-self.
Read below for what to see, where to eat, and where to stay if you venture north of Pheonix.
What to see/do:
- Grand Canyon - It goes without saying that the Grand Canyon is spectacular. I was literally speechless for the first few minuets I gazed down at the huge expanse of rock and water. Go here. I think it cost us around $25 for a car of four people. If you are in Arizona and you don't go here, you might not fully realize how much you're really missing out on. Earth is SO impressive. Note: The North Rim is only open during the summer months, and since we got there closer to the end of winter, it was still closed. However, the South Rim provided all the beautiful lookouts my heart desires, and I'm sure it'll do it for you too.
- Antelope Canyon - Half the beauty of Antelope Canyon is the breathtaking drive through the Navajo reservation that you take to get there. Massive red rocks with colorful stripes, miles of blue sky, and mini canyons dot your drive to Antelope Canyon. When you get to the entrances of the canyons, because you're on Navajo land, you're required to take a tour with a Navajo guide. We booked through Navajo Tours, because their pricing was reasonable, and the website seemed legit. We were given a wonderful tour with a guide who helped us photograph the canyon and made sure we got a little history lesson of the area.
- Red Rock Formations and Spiritual Vortexes in Sedona - There are a few different areas that contain the much talked about spiritual vortexes in Sedona. These are areas of spiritual energy. Before you laugh, try telling me you don't feel just a little uplifted looking at the pictures of the red rock. Even the state signs around the area encourage hikers to travel in groups smaller than "12 heartbeats, including animals and pets." In fact, the state still does't use any modern machinery to do upkeep on the lands and parks where the vortexes are located. We did a relatively easy hike, lasting about 45 minutes, around Bell Rock.
Where to stay:
- Amara Resort and Spa in Sedona - Like I said before, this hotel is amazing. While we didn't get to check out the spa before we left, we were very pleased with the friendly staff, beautiful grounds and rooms, and great amenities. It is a bit of a splurge, but for one night it isn't bad.
What to eat:
- Big John's Texas BBQ near Antelope Canyon - Dining options near Antelope Canyon are a bit sparse, but this BBQ spot, located in revamped gas station, was full of charm and friendly servers. The ribs weren't the best we've ever had, but they were tasty and the smiles served, up along with the basket of roasted peanuts they drop on your table to start, were fun.
- Doner Empire in Sedona - I've loved Doner ever since I lived in Berlin for a summer. Like a gyro, but amped up with more toppings and sauces, a doner is a hearty, handheld meal. This place brought the heat with their chili sauce, and filled our stomachs before we set out on our hike around Bell Rock. The owners were so friendly that they even invited us to hike with them the next day! Though there's no seating at this walk up window, you can find one of the public tables dotting the street for a seat.
- Saltrock Southwest Kitchen in Sedona - If you're craving tacos, guac, or margaritas while in Sedona, Saltrock is a solid choice. Crackling fireplace, live music and DIY guacamole that you could customize with a slew of add-ins that are brought out to the table make this spot a easy choice for dinner.
- Elote Cafe in Sedona - This restaurant is so popular the line outside starts growing even before it opens. Word to the wise: get there well before 5:00 PM when they open, and make sure everyone in your party is there, so you can get in on the first seating. If you don't, you'll be waiting for a bit. Standout dishes here included their elote (duh, the place is named after it) and the jicama and citrus salad. Margaritas were on point, as well.
I can't wait 'til my next Southwest adventure starts, but until then I'll be living vicariously through my photos and the photos of other travelers. Have you traveled to the Southwest recently? Have some cool shots? Tag us on Instagram and Twitter - and we might even share them!