In January 2020, when we planned a 10-day trip to California, Nevada and Phoenix, we were aware of COVID-19: a new and highly-infectious virus centered in Wuhan, China. And we took what we thought were appropriate precautions, such as wearing a cloth mask during flights; disinfecting door handles, light switches and remotes in our hotel rooms; and hanging the “no service please” sign so that housekeeping stayed out for the duration of our stay. But we enjoyed eating out three times/day, joined throngs of people exploring Las Vegas at night and didn’t hesitate to get up close to the eyepiece of the Clark Telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. We certainly didn’t imagine our 10-day getaway would be our only vacation in 2020 and into the foreseeable future. And now I sit, more than 4 months after our return to Calgary, writing the wrap-up post for a holiday that seems like it took place a lifetime ago…
3 Nights in Las Vegas
Our flight from Calgary landed at 9:30 pm, so by the time we collected our rental car and checked in at the Wyndham Grand Desert (thanks to my parents’ time share points), we barely took the time to organize our day packs and camera gear before slipping between the sheets.
Our first full day of vacation was a ridiculously long day trip to Death Valley NP in Californa. We concluded it’s way too big to see even the highlights in just one day. Our favourite stop was our first stop, at Dante’s Viewpoint. And we completely missed exploring the salt flats because we ran out time and energy.
Valley of Fire State Park
Our day trip to the Valley of Fire State Park was the highlight of our time based out of Las Vegas. Even doing a couple of short hikes, we were back at our hotel by mid-afternoon. Our favourite stop was the Fire Wave. Strong winds and blowing sand had us fearing the worst for our camera gear, but it came through just fine.
While we would have liked to take in a show, we ended up spending our last night in Las Vegas wandering the streets with our camera gear. Bad timing meant we missed the water fountain show at the Bellagio, but we returned to our hotel with some satisfactory shots.
A highlight for me was the Bliss Dance sculpture in The Park.
Driving Day – Las Vegas to Flagstaff
We visited Hoover Dam back in 2007, when this route to Arizona required crossing over the causeway. This time we took full advantage of the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge/Hoover Dam Bypass, first by walking along the pedestrian lane and then driving across.
We didn’t take the time to tour the workings of the Hoover Dam, but it’s well worth doing if you allow those couple of hours in your travel schedule.
A significant portion of the drive between Las Vegas and Flagstaff can be done on old Route 66, with stops in Chloried, Kingman, Hackberry and Seligman. We took our lunch break in Seligman, enjoying a picnic in the car while cruising the streets of the quite little town.
2 Nights in Flagstaff
After checking in to the Residence Inn (downtown location), we headed out for a walk through downtown Flagstaff, scoping out the bakeries and outdoor clothing and gear shops. Some of the older buildings caught our attention.
And we noticed a fair bit of smaller-scale public art in the downtown area.
We came across a couple of mentions of Fat Olives while doing pre-trip research. Featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Fat Olives is Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) certified and serves up amazing, traditional style of pizza found in Naples, Italy. It was so good the first evening that we returned a second evening!
After stuffing ourselves on pizza and wood oven-roasted vegetables, we headed up the short, winding drive to the Lowerll Observatory, a National Historic Landmark. We checked out the moon through the Clark Telescope, listened to a short lecture, explored the grounds via red-lit pathways and did a little night photography.
Grand Canyon South Rim
Flagstaff is an excellent base for a day trip to the Grand Canyon. We made a total of fifteen stops along the south room, most along the Hermit’s Rest road. A real highlight was hiking part of the way down into the canyon on the south Kaibab trail.
Driving Day – Flagstaff to Phoenix
We took a full day to transit from Flagstaff to Phoenix, partly because we started by driving in the wrong direction! It was on purpose, as we wanted to visit Wupatki National Monument, which we last explored in 2007 with our two boys, then aged 8 and 11.
Next up was an extended stop in Sedona, to hike the Brins Mesa and Soldier Pass Trails.
We arrived at our friend’s home in Phoenix around 5:30, to enjoy cool drinks and a delicious BBQ supper before settling in.
5 Night in Phoenix
Our stay with friends in Phoenix was wonderfully relaxing: we worked out almost every day, went for a dip in the pool, went walking, shopped at REI, and enjoyed some fabulous meals. Highlights included a Super Bowl party, hosted by our friends and attended by other Calgarians spending at least part of the winter in Arizona.
One morning we hiked Camelback, the distinctive hill visible from just about anywhere in Phoenix. We hiked the less steep Cholla trail and it was about 3.5 hours from the time we parked until we were back at the vehicle. There’s no separate post for this hike, so feel free to scroll through the slideshow, if you’re interested. In addition to being able to say we hiked Camelback, a highlight for us was spotting a roadrunner just off the trail at the saddle.
One morning we reserved spots for the four of us to tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the fringes of Scotsdale, the buildings are perfectly suited to the landscape. Again, there’s no separate post, so I’ve loaded a short slideshow if you’re interested.
And that’s a wrap!
It’s strange to be sitting here, four months after returning home from Phoenix, with most of that time under COVID-19 stay-at-home, maintain-physical-distancing if you can’t instructions in place. Time has become more fluid than usual, with days sometimes stretching out forever and months passing too quickly. I wonder when there will be an effective treatment and/or vaccine, because I can’t imagine feeling comfortable making a trip like this until those things have a proven track record. And so I’m glad for the memories – of special places, adventures and time with friends.
What are your thoughts about going on vacation? What was your last holiday? And where do you dream of going when you’re comfortable going there?