Story and photos by Drema J. Morgan
Armed with our Annual National Parks pass, maps and gazetteers, and a very loose plan, we headed on our yearly trip to the western part of the United States. We selected the mid-part of September to head to northern Arizona and southern Utah to escape the intense summer heat and (foolishly) thinking the peak tourist season would be passed, but someone forgot to tell the Europeans.
Adventure officially began the minute we hit Arizona. Our first stop was at the historic Hubbell Trading Post which was established in 1878 and is the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo nations. Next stop was Canyon de Chelly, also on the Navajo Reservation where we visited the many stops along the canyon rim and also camped overnight at the campground. Navaho people still inhabit the lands deep inside the canyon and farm the canyon lands.
The next day, we drove into southern Utah and did a whirlwind tour of four of the magnificent National Parks – Arches, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. To say the least, we were hitting the high spots. Any one of these parks offers entire years of exploration and adventure.
We were taken by surprise by the waves of European tourists which overtook the parks and the campgrounds. Our theory was twofold: weak U.S. currency strengthened most European currencies and some marketing guru in California was busy putting together travel packages complete with airfare, RV rentals and itineraries for all the National Parks in the states of Utah and Arizona. These were challenges we had not factored into our plan.
Leaving Utah and heading to Arizona, we visited both the north rim and the south rim of the Grand Canyon – which are very different experiences. More people visit the south rim and it was very crowded while we were there, so we cut our time short and headed south to some of the small towns. Crowds were nonexistant and we got to sample Arizona and the wild, west experience.
First stop was Williams, one of the best preserved towns on the historic Route 66. We enjoyed a greatly overpriced dinner there and the next day drove down into Wickenburg. Traveling Route 93 south, we drove through desert lands full of saguaro cactus and Joshua trees. We enjoyed the historic aspects of Wickenburg and the Caballeros Western Museum which featured an extensive collection of western inspired art in all mediums. We camped in the desert on BLM lands surrounded by saguaro and the clearest night sky imaginable.
Several people told us not to miss the Prescott experience. We headed there next and were so glad we did. It is a very art oriented town with lots of cultural opportunities. It is an old west town and has many historical buildings and for the outdoor enthusiasts, lots of opportunity for adventure. It was the one place we thought we may get to use our inflatable two person kayak, but soon discovered you have to purchase special permits which were not cheap.
We left Prescott taking the scenic Route 89/89A north which has 158 curves from Prescott to Jerome, a historic copper mining town, built entirely on the side of a steep mountain. It was a dying ghost town but has recreated itself into a flourishing tourist destination with many wonderful restaurants and shops. It was a sweet find. We continued on through Sedona’s magnificent Red Rock canyons thinking we may camp in Flagstaff for the night. Flagstaff is one of the gateways to the Grand Canyon and was so crowded; we marked that off the list and continued on to Holbrook to a KOA campground.
On the way to Holbrook, we would be passing by Winslow, so yes; we did the “standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona” thing. (Bet you were singing it in your head. You’re welcome.) The next day, our last adventure in Arizona was the Petrified Forrest and Painted Desert National Park which was quite amazing.
There is never enough time to see all the sights and experience all the destinations along the way. But if the opportunity comes by again, we discovered some things we would like to do but until that time, next destination – Idaho.