Arizona Spring Break 2016 - AAR

So we packed up the family and headed to Arizona for our Spring Break. We made a critical error in planning to non-rev on the airlines over Spring Break, and paid for it with a wait at the Charlotte airport for the entire day (bumped off nine flights!). One seat came available near the last flight of the night, so I hopped on it, and headed for Phoenix, then drove to Williams, AZ to secure our hotel. The next morning, Kai and Marisa grabbed a flight to Vegas. Unfortunately, when I read the text after just a couple hours of sleep I only read “we got on…” and didn’t read the rest of it. I immediately got in the car and drove the 2 1/2 hours to Phoenix…only to find out when they landed that they were in Vegas. Wow. Any-who, they rented a car in Vegas and met me in Flagstaff. What a whirlwind of non-rev travel…(still trying to decide if the free part was worth it…LOL…)

Kai sleeping in the airport…

Since there was going to be a slight delay meeting up with Marisa and Kai in Flagstaff, I decided to drive through Prescott, Arizona where I went to school. My last visit to Embry-Riddle was the year I graduated in 1998, and wow, that town has changed so much. The traffic is insane and the city has just grown by leaps and bounds. One thing that didn’t change much was that The Palace bar on Whisky Row is still there. I hugged the pavement in front of this bar when I turned 21 twenty-three years ago. So I tipped back a whisky sour at the memory…

The old F-104 still graces the area in front of the ERAU book store…

I finally met up with Kai and Marisa at the Flagstaff airport after they drove from Vegas. Poor Marisa had about two hours of sleep in the previous 36 hours. We turned in the second rental car and headed for the rim of the Grand Canyon and the Maswik Lodge - a trip we were supposed to have made by train from Williams that morning, but owing to our travel woes, we missed. We made it up to the South Rim just as the sun was setting…

The next morning, I got up at 4:45am and took advantage of the moment to visit the South Rim and watch the sunrise. I have to say, it was pretty cool to be sitting on the rim of the canyon in the dead silence (freezing) with nobody else around watching the sun come up…it was really neat.

Time lapse of the sunrise:

Later in the morning, we grabbed some breakfast and headed down the Bright Angel Trail for a few hours of hiking. With Kai being 6-years old, we didn’t want to bite off too much, so we decided we’d hike down about three hours, then turn around and come back up. Having hiked all the way to the Colorado River and back in my twenties, I knew that you could easily wear out a kid, let alone a pair of 40-somethings.

Marisa was pretty nervous about Kai hopping and skipping down the trail next to sheer drop-offs…and she’s come a long way from when we first met with regards to exposure and heights. The narrow trail and sheer drops during the first half a mile as you first drop into the canyon are pretty awe inspiring. Eventually the trail widens out and the drop offs become less steep.

We headed down a few hours, then stopped and had lunch before heading back up.

The South Rim of the Canyon is a bit of a zoo. The concessions and sheer volume of people is incredible. The Park Service does a good job of managing it all…but it is still a bit nuts up there. We had a nice early dinner at the Bright Angel Lodge restaurant with a bunch of really good appetizers. Kai decided to try on my pack…

Later in the afternoon, Kai and Marisa boarded the Grand Canyon Railway train to take them back to Williams where we’d spend another night. They had a fun ride…interrupted mid-route by a group of bandits that rode up next to the train, stopped it, and boarded it. Fortunately there was a US Marshall on board to fend of the thieves. Since we had been so late arriving in AZ due to our flights, I had to drive the car back from the Grand Canyon to Williams, but I’m glad Kai got the opportunity to ride the train with Mommy…

The next morning - we were pleasantly surprised to see the Easter Bunny had found us in Arizona…

That morning we headed back to Flagstaff, down through Oak Creek Canyon, and south of Sedona to the Verde River to take a kayaking trip. This is a great little 4-hour, self-guided paddle down the Class I Verde River by Verde River Adventure Center and it was a blast. We rented a tandem kayak for Kai and I, while Marisa took a single. You park at the take-out and a shuttle drives you up-river and you do the 3-4 hour float back to your car.

The put-in…

Kai helping me paddle…

Stopping for a lunch we packed in a cooler…

The river flows through grassy areas, tree lined banks, and sandy cliff faces…

The river has some fun little chutes where the water picks up speed…

Paddling along the white bluffs is really neat…

It’s a really relaxing and chill paddle that anyone could do…

Our rental Jeep near the takeout…

After the kayaking, we headed up to our cabin in Oak Creek Canyon just north of Sedona. We stayed at a nice little rustic area called Forest Houses Resort, and really enjoyed the no TV, no internet, no phone week there.

Temperatures on the Verde River were up in the high 70s, while Oak Creek Canyon would experience lows below freezing. A few days we got graupel showers and one night a light dusting of snow. Here Kai is helping move a load of firewood up to the cabin…

Later that night we held our Easter egg hunt in the cabin…

Our stay in Oak Creek would be characterized by going to bed early each night, getting up early the next morning, and hiking the trails around Sedona and Oak Creek. After puzzling over the map the night before, we decided to be ambitious and tackle one of the most challenging hikes in the area, the extremely steep A.B. Young trail up the western wall of Oak Creek Canyon. Rated as one of the most difficult hikes in the area, with a vertical elevation gain of 1,800’ over a short 2 mile distance, the gradient is unrelenting until you top out on the mesa above. Anyone familiar with topo charts will be suitably impressed by the trail depiction…

We had a gorgeous morning of hiking and we wouldn’t see another person on the trail for the entire day until hitting the parking area at the end of the six hour hike. To get to the trail, you first have to scramble a bit across Oak Creek…

As you climb out of the valley the views down Oak Creek toward Sedona are just phenomenal…

There is some exposure, and there were some points where I wished I had some short roping gear on Kai in case of a slip, but I kept close (within grabbing distance) at those points and/or held his hand across dicey spots. I was really impressed with his endurance and attitude for the entire hike…this was not an easy hike at all, even for fairly fit adults…

To help encourage Kai along, some mysterious Indians kept leaving Indian treats on the trail to encourage him along…

After the A.B. Young trail tops out, you enter a beautiful Ponderosa Pine forest that has a downy floor - quite the contrast from the drier and exposed canyon wall. Signs of what we think might have been mule deer and/or elk are everywhere, and we were surprised we didn’t spot any…

On the plateau at the top (which runs for miles) we sat down and had our well earned lunch…

View from the top…

After a short stay at the top, the wind came up, some clouds moved in, and we put on some more layers to head down as the temperature turned cooler…

The lower slopes of the canyon are full of beautiful desert flowers…

Later that afternoon, back at the cabin, we got a dusting of graupel…

We tucked in to a nice dinner that evening, went to bed early, and rose early the next day to tackle our next hike - the popular West Fork of Oak Creek trail - a 6.6 mile round trip hike up the creek hemmed in on both sides by sheer canyon walls. This hike was much more moderate - with only a few hundred feet of vertical spread over many miles. The main feature for this hike is the towering canyon walls and the 14 stream crossings…

The creek has carved beautiful formations from the red rock walls…

Scrambling across the creek crossings and trying to keep our feet dry was fun…

The scenery on this hike is breathtaking as the walls close in the further up the canyon you climb…

I brought a fly-rod with me, but this creek is totally fished out - I did not see a single trout for the entire week we were in Oak Creek canyon. The creeks are stocked, but I think we hit it late in the season…

Toward the end of the hike, the walls hem you in, and eventually the trail ends where the only choice is to wade through water. In the summer, it would be fun to don some water shoes and continue, but most people stop here…

I sure would be interested to see this area during a flood stage (but wouldn’t want to be IN the canyon…scary!)…

We retreated back down the canyon a half mile to have lunch and were happy that we had gotten up early and beat the crowds that were flocking up behind us…

Kai, finding some of those mysterious Indian treats on the trail…

At the beginning of the trail you can poke around the ruins of 1926 era Mayhew Lodge which used to host famous Hollywood Stars from 1926 to 1968. Notable guests included President Hoover, Jimmy Stewart, Walt Disney, Clark Gable, and others…

With our hike done early in the afternoon, we headed to the Sedona Airport “Vortex” to harness some of that famous Sedona “energy”…

The road back to our cabin is always fun for Daddy…the goal is to make the biggest splash…LOL…

The next morning we wake to a light dusting of snow…

Our next hike is a super nice loop hike that climbs steeply up to Soldier Pass and comes down the Brins Mesa trail…a total of around 5.5 miles, with some good elevation change involved…

This trail is located on the north side of Sedona and has much more wide open views of those famous Sedona red rock mesas and features…

As usual, Kai was a super-trooper hiker and really held up well…

Some occasional Trail Magic moments to keep him going…

Passing by the huge sinkhole known as The Devil’s Kitchen…

And the Seven Sacred Pools where we stopped for our lunch break…

Next was the relentless climb up to Soldier Pass - a nice effort up the valley to a level pass that winds around the mesa…

Near the top of the pass…

The trail flattens out on the top of the pass and there is a fantastic snack break spot to look back over the valley you just climbed…

Then it is all downhill back to the trailhead via the Brins Mesa trail…

The reward - a blizzard from Dairy Queen…

After another night of great food at our cabin and playing board games on the dinner table, we went to sleep and got up early for our last hike - a unique hike up Boynton Canyon with a stop at the Boynton Vista “vortex” as well…a total mileage of about 6 miles…

Hitting the Vortex first…

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The Boynton Canyon trail starts out somewhat disappointingly paralleling the residential and business area in the canyon…but stick with it after the first mile and it gets WAY better. Once you leave the community the peace and quiet as the canyon closes in is awesome. You transition from a hot and dusty scramble into a shaded trail that runs up the ever narrowing canyon…

The stream bed was dry when we were there…

Toward the top of the canyon the trail ramps up in gradient and difficulty…

But the reward is worth it as you reach the termination of the trail in a box canyon. Thanks to a tip from some hikers, we pushed on past the end of the trail onto some of the overhanging shelves and found a gorgeous lunch spot (use caution, it is fairly exposed and the loose, gravelly surface can have serious consequences if you are careless)…

This was probably my favorite lunch spot on the entire trip…the quiet and soaring walls of the canyon were awesome…

Later that afternoon, we packed up and headed back to Phoenix to get our names on the non-rev flight list that evening, anticipating we’d get rolled over onto the first flights of the next morning (which is what happened…we spent the night in the airport). One interesting thing did happen on our trip to the airport.

Just short of the airport we stopped for gas and I wanted to give the Jeep a quick run through the car wash. Well, the area around Sky Harbor airport is a bit rough. Getting the gas went fine, but when we pulled up to the automatic car wash a few blocks away (it was night) I noticed a fella in a hoodie sort of stumbling down the sidewalk on the street. As I paged through my wallet looking for some bills to put into the automatic car wash kiosk, I kept an eye on my side view mirror. The guy was bent over, pretending to be sick, then he bolted straight upright, and ran at full speed toward the back of our Jeep. I don’t know if the intent was to rob us, car jack us, or what…but I’d seen enough. I threw the Jeep into drive and we blasted THROUGH the carwash as fast as I could get that Jeep to go, screamed out the other end and whipped into the street.

We turned the Jeep in dirty. LOL…

Anyway - a great Spring Break with the exception of the non-rev traveling trials. It was great to get back to Arizona and introduce Kai to some of the area.

BeachAV8R

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