Taliesin West: Ben’s parents flew into Phoenix to join us on our trip for two weeks. After we picked them up from the airport and had breakfast (for us) and lunch (for them), we embarked on a tour of some of the many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Phoenix. He spent a lot of time here in later life so, as a result, ended up building a lot here too. While many of the buildings were private residences and hard to appreciate, the main feature of the day was Taliesin West, the architectural school Wright designed and built in the hills north-east of the city. We had booked tickets for the main 90-minute tour and it was very thorough – we got to see the inside of many of the buildings and had a very knowledgable tour guide (though he wasn’t very good at hearing or answering questions). Having seen several other Wright buildings on our trip, it was fascinating to see how he attempted to integrate the buildings with the surrounding desert landscape.
Green: After a long day of driving around Phoenix, we were all famished. As stated earlier, finding vegan and vegetarian restaurants on the trip has not been difficult, and our awesome Phoenix hosts Ari and Erin immediately suggested Green Restaurant for dinner. Walking distance from their house (and the cute pool house in the backyard we called home for two nights), Green was basically vegan fast-food – and attempted to fill the cravings for “bad” food more easily satisfied for meat eaters. The food was delicious and filling … and then we were shown to the vegan desert place next door where we proceeded to eat even more. It was a delightfully gluttonous experience.
Heard Museum: The Heard Museum also came highly recommended by many people, so we were eager to check it out before leaving the city. The Heard contains a massive collection of south-western Indigenous artifacts and art – both ancient and contemporary. One awesome feature of the museum is that it offers regular free tours of the different exhibits. Even better than the phone tours that have become so popular, having an enthusiastic guide helped to provide context and a deeper understanding of the many works and galleries.
Bonus: Desert Roots Kitchen (fresh and yummy vegan food), Lola Coffee (great coffee place Ari took us to and where we made new friends – hi Wayne!), First Christian Church (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright)
Cottonwood, Arizona and area
Mingus Mountain Scenic Road: We decided to take the scenic route from Phoenix to Cottonwood (where we would be camping for a few nights), and boy these scenic byways rarely disappoint. The road wound up into the mountains through beautiful forests (yes, in Arizona) and, when it began winding back down towards Cottonwood the view really opened up. Far in the distance you could see the red rock cliffs of Sedona. Perched on the side of this mountain is the former mining town of Jerome. While we didn’t stop at any of the many shops or bars, it seemed like a pretty cool place (as long as your okay with heights).
Dead Horse Ranch State Park: So, as it turns out, Arizona is not all desert. In fact, a lot of it isn’t. Dead Horse Ranch turned out to be a gorgeous campground in a lush river valley with lots of trees and water for birds. We snagged a nice isolated spot, and in addition to checking out the local sights we spent half a day hiking the Park which transitions from riverside paths to marshy ponds to desert mesas. On our hike we saw lots of birds including a great blue heron and two bald eagles who, for a moment, shared a perch in a dead tree.
Montezuma Castle and Well National Monuments: These two national monuments are close to one another and provide some interesting things to see. As cliff dwellings go, Montezuma was large and well-preserved, but there is no way to get close enough to see inside or get a better sense of its scale. Bandalier National Monument is still our favourite for exploring Cliff Dwellings (though Walnut Canyon (below) comes close). At the Well we discovered that it was only very recently that scientists identified where the water source comes from (there is a deep layer of muddy water at the bottom that obscured many efforts to reveal the water’s source). The trail allows you to descend down to the level of the water in the well, and then over and down to where the water seeps out through the rock and into a canal built by Indigenous peoples. In addition to lots of lizards and some ducks, we also spotted another Great Horned Owl and its tiny babies.
Tuzigoot National Monument: Probably one of the more excavated of the pueblos we’ve come across, Tuzigoot allows visitors to climb up to one of its higher levels and take in some amazing views of the surrounding valley. It was so close to our campground that (if not for all the trees) we probably could have seen our tent. We also almost got to see a Rattlesnake. Apparently, they frequent this monument and one was spotted on the trail … but it slithered away before the Ranger could find it.
All the rocks, mountains, and cliffs: Sedona is the name of a town in central Arizona. As a town, it has the worst kind of touristy shops and strip mall developments. But you have to go to Sedona because of where it is – smack in the middle of a breathtaking red landscape. In every direction red cliffs and towers climb out of the valley. The formations are impossible to do justice to in either words or photos. To find yourself looking upon these majestic mountains of rock is a singular experience. We wish we had more time here to hike. There are trails everywhere – starting at the ends of residential streets or way out of town.
Cockscomb Trail and the climb up Doe Mountain: We chose the Cockscomb trail because it was a good length and less popular because it’s a short drive out of town. The hike was really satisfying, offering many views of Doe Mountain (which it circles) and the other formations walling up the surrounding valley. The wild flowers were abundant and we didn’t run into too many people. Towards the end of the hike we crossed another trail that led straight up to the top of the mountain. My mom bravely set aside her fear of heights and we all ascended the steep climb together. Totally. Worth. It. The top is a flat mesa that could be explored, and the views from it would even more amazing than from the ground.
Tamaliza Market: After our long hike we stopped at this Mexican take-out restaurant for tamales. We had had some in Tucson and, while they were good, they weren’t this amazing. But at Tamaliza they definitely know what they’re doing. The tamales were totally delicious. I want one now just writing this.
The drive from Sedona to Flagstaff: It is amazing just how varied the geography and ecosystems of Arizona are. We left Sedona for Flagstaff, driving up the Oak Creek Canyon. The drive along the bottom of the canyon was beautiful with the water streaming by and trees climbing cliffs to either side of us. Then we climbed out of the canyon, all the way up to the rim and into a forest of massive pine trees. From the top there was a cool viewpoint where we could look down at the road we had driven up and then continued our drive through the Cococino National Forest all the way to Flagstaff.
Bonus: ChocolaTree (yummy food and scrumptious deserts that Ben was “forced” to eat because of his birthday)