When my son's run at a national tennis tournament in December ended prematurely, we decided to assuage our flagging spirits by taking a short vacation since we were, after all, in Scottsdale, Arizona, a city that was driving distance to some of the most spectacular vistas in America.
We began with a visit to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's signature winter home built in the Sonoran Desert, and at the foothills of the McDowell Mountains. A tour of his house enabled us to see the the genius of this architect -- to build using desert materials and to link the indoors with the outdoors by creating open garden spaces within the house. From every room one has a view of the desert and its changing light. This visit was a nice precursor to what we would experience over the next few days; a total immersion in nature.
We headed first to Sedona, referred to as Red Rock Country because of its magnificent scarlet-colored rock sculpture that inspires one to jump out of bed early to watch the sun's rays bathe the rocks in breathtaking hues of red, gold and crimson. These ochre colored canyons and sandstone monoliths are awe-inspiring, and were created some 350 million years ago when flood plain deposits of iron rich minerals mixed with available oxygen to create a reddish-brown sandstone. Standing at 4,300 feet above sea level, Sedona has become a hub for people seeking spiritual inspiration, drawing in artists and writers who have for years been beguiled by the city's striking beauty.
On our first morning we hiked to Devil's Bridge, a moderately difficult assent along a stone arch, which rewarded us with great views. Tourists lined up to create striking poses on the bridge so as to have their acrobatics preserved for posterity.
Since we had a teenager in tow we needed something adventurous, so we signed up the next day for a Pink Jeep Tour -- an off-road/on-rock tour that has us climb red rocks on sturdy 4x4 Jeeps. The tour, advertised as adventurous, was called Broken Arrow and took us over rocky terrain and sometimes down steep descents -- but was rated 'lame' by my daredevil son. But the tour was was worth it as we got a chance to walk the buttes and experience the canyons up close.
After spending two beautiful sun-filled days in Sedona, we left for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon which was just two hours away. From the rim, we could see the frozen Colorado River which was a 5,000 feet drop from the cliffs of the Grand Canyon. The walls of the canyon represent geological time and are differentiated by varying rock colors. The rim is made up of the Kaibab formation, the youngest of Canyon layers, which was formed some 270 million years ago, a bit before the dinosaurs roamed the earth.
The South Rim is the only part of the canyon that is open year round and December happened to be a good time to visit. I was nervous that it would be too cold, but the weather has its advantages -- it keeps away visitors, so getting reservations for hard-to-come-by mule rides and a hotel room at the canyon, was a breeze. During our visit, the temperature at the canyon hovered around 45 to 50 degrees making hiking pleasant. The nights and early mornings were quite cold but that did not bother us.
On the first morning we did a three-hour mule ride around the rim of the canyon. This new ride, just introduced last fall, adds to the existing mule ride that goes to base of the canyon. Equipped with a Bota bag for water, we were saddled up by Don Bristow, our tour guide and wrangler. During our ride, we saw Elk's grazing in the distance but they quickly dispersed after noticing us. Bristow was good at educating us about the flora and fauna particular to the region.
On Bristow's suggestion we did a short two-mile hike into the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point that brought us closer to rim's inspiring landscapes. This is the same trail that mules use to go down to the base of the canyon. Since it was late in the afternoon, we met a few hikers who were returning from the base, having done the roundtrip in a single day! I figured it would be fun to ride on a mule to the base of the canyon but now have changed my mind. Next time we will hike to the base and return; just not in one day!