A desert sunset, hiking around the rim of the Grand Canyon, the flavors of Southwestern cuisine, Sedona’s red rocks and cactus after cactus after cactus – there is so much about Arizona that I’ve wanted to experience for years. And I’m not just saying that because it’s the latest place I’ve been. I don’t really remember what first sparked my intrigue, but I’d romanticized the idea of Arizona in my mind since I was a teenager and I knew I had to get there some day.
Growing up among the red clay and lush oaks of Alabama, and now living a few sandy steps from the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s northwestern coast, I knew Arizona would be otherworldly.
The diversity of geography and plant life throughout the Western United States fascinates me because it is so very different from every place I’ve ever known. I’d checked visiting various places in California and Nevada off my bucket list before – all good experiences – but I hadn’t ventured to Arizona until this year.
My husband and I planned to visit Phoenix and the Grand Canyon over a long weekend to celebrate our 40th birthdays and our 13th wedding anniversary, all of which occur this year. Our plans came together beautifully. We flew into Phoenix Friday afternoon. We’d decided to stay in Scottsdale, a resort community and suburb of Phoenix, and devote a day to driving to the Grand Canyon and seeing Sedona along the way.
A very early wake up call on Saturday put us on our way north toward Flagstaff and ultimately Grand Canyon National Park. It would be a lot of driving, but when else are we going to see this great American wonder? And what could be more poetic than setting out on an adventure through the wild, wild West culminating 7,000 feet above sea level to say goodbye to our 30s?!
Well, it turns out…
Forty years to the day – and almost to the exact hour and minute – of your birth, having reached the coveted destination and exploring for about 20 minutes, you can lose your lunch all over yourself (on your hair, shirt, shorts and shoes)… and the rented vehicle you’re traveling in, mind you. That’s pretty poetic, too, I guess.
Happy 40th to me!
This was definitely not the climactic 40th birthday I’d envisioned, but it’s certainly one I won’t forget. I even got a souvenir t-shirt, baby wipes and a giant roll of paper towels (out of necessity) that my husband was so kind to purchase from one of the two or three gas stations that represented all of civilization on a long a stretch of desert highway heading back toward Flagstaff. I cleaned myself and the car as best I could there in the gas station parking lot, but we were still hours from our hotel.
You see, that minor detail of reaching 7,000 feet at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon less than 24 hours after you left your home at sea level, flew across the country, and ascended by car nearly 6,000 feet was something I should have considered more carefully as one who’s reached the wise old age of 40. What was I thinking? Dora the Explorer and Map would have had a smarter game plan than this!
Temperatures were comfortable at the Canyon, hovering around 70 degrees during our visit. I drank a lot of water the entire time we were in Arizona. It’s possible I was dehydrated before we landed in the desert, but I really think the rapid changes in altitude were the problem. When you only have a few days to cover a lot of territory, you try to schedule all of the things you want to do but Mother Nature doesn’t necessarily accommodate. My idea of seeing the Grand Canyon on Saturday and relaxing back in Scottsdale on Sunday was shortsighted, for this reason: altitude sickness is real (or, I’m just allergic to 40).
If I had it to do over again I would have given myself time to get acclimated in Phoenix and gradually traveled north to the Canyon, but we didn’t have that luxury in our schedule. If I had it to do over again, we’d see the Grand Canyon by helicopter from Las Vegas. The three-and-a-half hours or so each way in the car from Scottsdale are too much, despite the breathtaking scenery, when you don’t feel well.
And Sedona, beautiful Sedona. I’d come clear across the country to see this stunning red earth. In the condition I was in, I only got to look out the car window while praying I wouldn’t get sick again as we drove down Sedona’s winding roads through campgrounds and scenic overlooks. I made a few feeble attempts at taking photos at one stop, then we continued on back to Scottsdale.
That evening I slept, and later attempted to eat the In-N-Out Burger my husband picked up for us for dinner. It is normally such a treat for those of us living east of the Mississippi when we visit the West Coast, and I was so looking forward to it, but I could only manage about three bites.
So while this wasn’t exactly a happy birthday as it unfolded, it is laughable now, and I can add the experience to a long list of adventures with my husband. I’m so glad he took care of me that day, and that he didn’t get sick. If it’s the un-luckiest thing that happens to us as we approach our 13th Anniversary, I’m okay with that.
I’ll share more from the rest of our Arizona trip (it gets better) in a future vomit-free post.
Have you ever taken a vacation that didn’t go according to plan? Or did you learn a major lesson about traveling to a new destination? Please leave a comment! I’d love to hear your stories.
The U.S. National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary on August 25, 2016. Despite my illness, I enjoyed seeing Grand Canyon National Park and look forward to visiting others.