To the desert … and red rocks

Sometimes the stars align to where it’s a no-brainer for travel. Mid-December, I was ready for some adventure. Tired of the cold and dark Wisconsin winter, I logged into Southwest.com to find cheap flights. For less than $90 round-trip, I could fly from Chicago Midway to Phoenix Sky Harbor in Mid-January. Check. Rental cars for under $20/day? Check. Three-star hotels for less than $80/night? Check. Cheap random trips don’t come this easy, so I booked all three.

Pandemic Travel

While most people are now scared of their shadows and won’t leave their house, it makes travel a whole heck of a lot easier without the usual crowds and packed airplanes. Empty check in counters, no lines at TSA, empty terminals, closed restaurants and all sorts of face masking fashion made some sights to see. Thankfully, there were no people yelling at each other about their masks, eating or drinking or any other things that sets the Karens off in the world.

Climbing up Dixie Mountain

After arriving to Phoenix, my first to-do was to go eat a Double-Double form In-N-Out Burger. A west coast staple, it was everything I remembered from my last time there. If I didn’t have a hike planned for the afternoon, a 4×4 may have been on the agenda.

Next was to take a hike up Dixie Mountain in the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve. After looking at the various trails to figured out where to go, this one stuck out as it was rated “moderate” and was about 5 miles. As someone from the flat lands, I figured this would be a good starter.

As someone who really hasn’t hiked, I wasn’t sure how this would go. Originally I thought about wearing regular running shoes but once I saw the terrain at the trailhead, I put on my hiking shoes. It was also the first time for me using a hydration pack which fit nicely in a backpack. So I started on my venture. My Garmin watch said it was 5.8 miles in a loop. The Sonoran desert is a fascinating place. It is everything you think about the southwest. Saguaro cactuses everywhere, sand and short and sleep inclines everywhere. Since it was the mid-afternoon, the trail had few if any people on it. For the first two or so miles, the terrain was flowing up and down, but then the loop turned uphill quickly. Once I got to the top, you could see the Phoenix metro area to the South. It was exactly what I had imagined.

The last two-and-a-half miles of the loop had two steep inclines which were difficult and steep, but I was able to get through them eventually. Six miles later, I completed the loop feeling accomplished, tired and my whole body was sore. For a first hike, and for someone who hasn’t done anything like this before, it was everything I could have hoped for and more.

To close out the day, a giant chimichanga and margarita was consumed at Macayo’s Mexican Restaurant. Like everything else, the place was empty. The food was phenomenal and the perfect way of ending the day.

Sedona Beauty

If there is one place to take in the views, it is Sedona. Nesstled between the red rock formations and forests, you could spent hours just staring out into nature. The drive in on Highway 179 with its twists and turns is breathtaking. My first stop was the Chapel of the Holy Cross. It was built into one one of the red rock buttes.

After taking in the views of the South Sedona red rocks, it was time to take on the planned hike for the day. The Devil’s Bridge Trail. Devil’s Bridge is a rock formation in the form of a bridge. While most people go for a photo op on top of it, I only wanted to get to the top. This was another trail that Alltrails listed as Moderate. There are two ways to get to the Devil’s Bridge Trail. The first is to take the UTV road and the second is to take the Chuckwagon Trail. Given that the Chuckwagon adds miles and can’t be used buy UTVs, I decided to take that route. The trail was much like the Dixie Mountain trail in Phoenix in elevation changes and difficulty. However, once I got to the start of the Devil’s Bridge Trail, I knew I was in for a workout.

From here, the trail essentially went straight up. About two thirds of the way up, it became less trail and more rock steps and making your way up from ledge to ledge. Suffice to say, I was not cut out for this. There was a bit of a plateau less than a quarter of a mile from the top. From here I took in the views and started my way up. From here the hike got super technical and steep. Bascially, I chickened out. I was tired, sweaty and shaking. Not a good time to try to get to the top. So I climbed down the trail and took the UTV road back. Five miles latter, I was back to the car at the trailhead. Another hike down off the list.

To finish my day, dinner was had at Hideaway House where I had an Italian meats pizza with a view of the eastern red rocks. Once again, the food was fantastic.

At first if you don’t succeed try again

Having no real agenda or plan for my trip, I decided the next day to overcome the fear of heights to get to top of Devil’s Bridge early in the morning. Instead of the Chuckwagon Trail, I used the UTV road to cut down on the fatigue prior to the climb. Once I got to the first plateau, I started the climb. There were two additional climbs with rock steps to get to the top. After about 15 minutes of each, I made it.

Stunning is the wrong word but I can’t think of anything better. The downside of a popular view like this is that it is packed with people. Most people go out onto the bridge for a photo of themself. I was not going to that. However, I was able to get a nice photo of the bridge itself without anyone on it. It was worth the second attempt.

Once I got back to the car, I make the trip back to the Phoenix area for lunch. Years ago, I stumbled across this Italian Deli, Guido’s Chicago Meat and Deli in Scottsdale. It is your typical midwestern Italian deli with great smells and great food. I had the Hot Beef and Sausage combo and it was wonderful. After lunch, I was exhausted in a good way.

Given the flight the next morning, the rest of the day was low key. I went for a walk on one of the Scottsdale recreation trails and finished the day with another Double-Double from In-N-Out.

Random is the only way to travel

Of course I returned to Wisconsin on one of the coldest days of the year. But I didn’t care. The four days of sunshine and warmth was worth it. Having no expectations and no definitive plans is the best way of traveling. In addition, the mid-January trip to Arizona is something I can see myself doing each year going forward.

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