A Classic Road Trip in Arizona

There are few things I love more than a good road trip. Anywhere in the world, I would almost always prefer to drive if it’s reasonable because you get to see so much more, so much closer up. In the United States, there are few better places to take road trips than the Southwest. The huge open spaces, otherworldly landscapes, national parks and strange sights make for a really interesting trip while following in the shadows of the old Route 66.

For the second straight Labor Day weekend, my friends and I took a road trip around Arizona except this time we covered a lot more ground. We headed straight up Interstate 17 from Phoenix to Flagstaff and up the Grand Canyon. Then we headed back through Flagstaff and stopped in Winslow (made famous by the Eagles song ‘Take It Easy’) and finally spent a night in one of those awesome backwards old western towns call Holbrook. The next morning we headed a little further east on Interstate 40 to the Petrified Forest National Park and of course the Painted Desert. Finally, we did some awesome, yet nearly fatal hiking on the red mountains of Sedona. Quite a weekend trip, indeed!

The Grand Canyon is simply put: the single most awesome spectacle of nature. There are many natural wonders and many are great but none can compare in beauty and scope to the Grand Canyon. Its sheer size, depth and tremendous views makes for an essential stop on any trip to America, let alone the Southwest. Much has been written about the Canyon itself so I won’t bore you with numbers but aside from the views, my favorite part of the Grand Canyon is simply climbing around the rim.
There are many areas where you can go down from the rim walk and take pictures. Usually these are fenced off and very safe and crowded. However, right next to these there are usually areas where you can climb down and get a real bird’s eye view and feel practically inside the Canyon itself. Those of you who know me or read my site regularly know this is the only way I can do overly touristy sites as I hate crowds. As you can see it makes for some awesome pictures and trust me the views are amazing.
After the Grand Canyon we made our way back through Flagstaff and over to Winslow and Holbrook, Arizona. There is nothing really of note to see in either of these towns but if you like the old west then you’d appreciate these little transient towns. They were stops on the old railroads going across the country and served as places to spend the night or hit a saloon on your way west to California or back east. Today, they are little more than tourist traps along the old route 66 with little for tourists except for possibly a tee shirt at the gas station. However, if you love The Eagles like I do, then Winslow was a must as the old song Take it Easy says:

Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see

As we played the song on our iPod as we drove through the town it made for stupid yet fun times as we decided to spend the night at the Motel 6 in Holbrook because of its location 20 miles from the Petrified Forest. Mind you, there’s nothing of note to see or do in Holbrook but if you find yourself there, check out the Mesa Bar and Grille for some good pool, good jukebox, crappy TV’s, a lot of weird people and a stray cat that thinks he owns the bar. And for breakfast, the Denny’s is a must. It was my first time and I am sold on the heartland grand slam breakfast, haha.
The Petrified Forest was a little overrated I must say. I didn’t really know too much about it and hadn’t much any research before the trip as it was kind of decided last minute we would go there. When you enter the park there is a decent video that explains why the trees are petrified and also how Arizona used to be down by Panama 225 million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Southwest. But my biggest problem was there really wasn’t too much to see per se as the trees are all on the ground and cut open so you can see the crystallization that has taken place over the years. The best part was the views of the Painted Desert.
The Painted Desert was named by Coronado in the 1500’s when he explored the land. He noted the amazing look colors on the ground and rocks. It looks much like it must’ve back then because we were all taken aback by the beauty of the desert. The pinks and oranges mixed with the earthen tones and the bright blue sky made for great pictures as you can see.
Finally, after a few more random stops along the way we ended up in Sedona, Arizona. Sedona is one of the best places in the United States for natural beauty and outdoor activities. Its red clay mountains and rocks make for awesome pictures and the reasonable (for Arizona) temperatures make for great day hikes.
We decided to do a route called the Baldwin route which entailed circling some gorgeous mountains and was a moderate hike. We were slightly misled by the tourist information lady as we thought we’d be climbing to the top of one of the mountains. As we realized we weren’t going to be, we decided to take things into our own hands as usual. We climbed up and over the mountain to our right and back to the car park on the other side. However, it was not without some drama.
There were four of us, 3 guys and a girl. I was the last one up making sure everyone got up and at one point on a fairly steep incline in a crevice, my friend was standing on some loose clay rock and it gave out above me. It was a big piece that broke into two decent size boulders coming right at me. He yelled and luckily at the last minute I looked and was able to jump sideways and up onto a rock and narrowly avoid the falling rocks. It was a tense moment in an otherwise awesome climb. We certainly made sure to make sure of our footing the rest of the climb, especially because we weren’t supposed to be on the mountain anyway.

Anyway, I love road trips and this was a classic Southwestern drive through the best of Northern Arizona. I look forward to more this Fall to Southern Arizona and into New Mexico. If you are in Phoenix for any length of time, you definitely need to get out of the Valley and Arizona has a lot to do.

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  1. Amazing pictures. Looks like a lot of fun.

  2. I love that Eagles song. Always kind of wondered what that town was like. The Dennys sounds great right about now though. Nice pictures and cool post.

  3. Big Eagles fan…I didn’t even know the town actually existed. Thanks a lot for the post. Good luck on your quest!

  4. Sedona is gorgeous.

  5. Sounds like a great roadtrip, sometimes travelers don’t take into consideration all the great things there are to see and do in their own ‘backyard’. I don’t know how well you know Utah, but Moab is just awesome. It’s an 8 hr. drive from PHX, but totally worth it if you can spend a full day there as all the parks are accessible – Arches NP and Canyonlands NP – not to mention you can go offroading and whitewater rafting if you want.


  6. I agree that AZ is a great place for a road trip. The only other place that can compete for scenery in the States is Montana and big sky country.

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