LA to Arizona: A Thanksgiving Road Trip
When flights home for Thanksgiving are outrageously priced (as they all too often are), Ben and I like to take road trips. Last year, we went to Death Valley. This year, we ventured a little farther to Arizona! We’d both been dying to check out Antelope Canyon, but at around eight hours from Los Angeles, it seemed a bit far for a long weekend. A four day weekend, however, seemed doable. Not daring to drive through Las Vegas on such a high-traffic holiday weekend, we decided to make Sedona our home base. Sedona is about three hours North of Page, Arizona, where Antelope Canyon is located. As it turns out, it’s also insanely beautiful!
We arrived in Sedona after dark on Thanksgiving day, and were absolutely shocked by how gorgeous the views were when we set out for our activities the next morning. To give you some insight, a view like this is totally normal from the side of any road.
First, we grabbed breakfast at a restaurant called Che Ah Chi (which I totally recommend). Che Ah Chi is one of the restaurants at the Enchantment Resort. It features local ingredients that are meant to showcase authentic regional cuisine. They’ve also got a pretty impressive view. After breakfast, we set out for a hike.
Devil’s Bridge Trail
We picked the Devil’s Bridge Trail because it boasts the area’s largest natural sandstone arch. (Oh – and you can walk across it.) Apparently, so did literally everyone else in Sedona. That’s not to say the hike wasn’t nice. I have a love/hate relationship with heavily trafficked hikes. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that people are getting out and enjoying nature. But on the other, it can diminish the experience. Oftentimes, the visitors who show up solely for the photo op aren’t the most respectful people on the trail. That said, if you know what you’re in for, this shouldn’t be a problem. The trail is fairly easy, and at 4.2 miles long it doesn’t eat up too much of the day.
Chapel of the Holy Cross
Once we’d finished hanging out with the devil on his bridge, we set out for the Chapel of the Holy Cross. I’m generally not super into churches, but this one is pretty magical. It’s an architectural marvel – a teensy little chapel that’s perched atop a cliff of red rocks for a stunning view. Parking can be a bit tough, but entry to the chapel is free and I’d say it’s definitely worth checking out.
Also in Sedona…
Though these aren’t necessarily big ticket activities, if you’re in Sedona, you should explore a little. The town is rife with local shops and boutiques. It’s pretty kitschy. Every other shop sells healing crystals and offers psychic readings and aura photographs. I even saw an ad for a UFO night sky tour that somehow guaranteed a sighting every night?! Personally, I don’t take any of those things seriously, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fun!
Sedona also has two scenic drives. Ben and I did both of these while en route to other places, and I’d say they’re both worth your time. One is the Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive and the other is the Red Rock Scenic Byway.
And finally, there’s Elote Cafe. This dinner spot was recommended to me by a friend who told me it was easily her favorite restaurant in the world. It’s always got an insane wait, but it’s worth it. We arrived just as they opened and still had to wait over an hour for our table. But they’ve got great margaritas and the bartender gave us some popcorn to munch on, so the wait really wasn’t that bad.
Page and Flagstaff
On our second full day in Arizona, we set out bright and early for Page and Flagstaff. Page (where Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon can be accessed) is about three hours from Sedona, and we had lots of stops planned. Two of our stops were in Flagstaff, which is about an hour from Sedona.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
While we had mild expectations for this spot, we ended up loving it. The Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument gives you a look at the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, including the land’s triumphant rebirth. It’s something you don’t get to see often, and it’s pretty dang cool.
Wupatki National Monument
The Wupatki National Monument is actually connected to the Sunset Crater Monument by a 30-something mile road. That said, the two parks have separate fees. If, like us, you tend to frequent national parks and monuments, I’d recommend investing in an annual pass! This can be used at any national park, monument or forest in the US, and at $80, it quickly pays for itself. But I digress. Wupatki is insanely cool. It features an assortment of ancient pueblos built by Native American people. The structures give you a unique look into the way they lived, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
This was the most highly anticipated portion of our trip. Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo land near Page, AZ. You’ve probably seen photos even if you don’t realize it. Though the canyon consists of two sections (upper and lower), we opted for a photography tour of the upper canyon. One thing that’s important to note here is that you can’t enter Antelope Canyon without a tour guide, so if you plan on visiting, make sure you plan accordingly.
The lighting in the canyon is a wonder to behold. Especially through a camera lens, which can capture a wider range of color than your eyes at times. Taking photos inside the canyon is no easy task, as lighting is low and crowds thick. For this reason, I’m especially glad that we opted for a photography tour. Our guide was able to block off areas for us to take our photos, which was helpful for both our sanity and our process. If you decide to book a photography tour of Antelope Canyon, make sure to pay attention to the their rules and guidelines. For example, we were required to bring a legitimate (not phone!) camera and a tripod. And they checked.
Because of how crowded Antelope Canyon was, our guide led us to another nearby canyon afterward. This one wasn’t as iconic, but it was more appropriately lit for iPhone photography, and virtually empty, which gave us a chance to explore.
This is another spot that you might recognize. It’s a portion of the Colorado River that flows around a giant rock formation, causing it to look like… well, a horseshoe. Kinda self explanatory, but seeing this place in person was something special.
We actually almost missed this spot, because we’d tried to go before our Antelope Canyon tour but parking was a nightmare so we were forced to skip it and settle for trying again afterward. I didn’t think we’d be able to make it before the sunset, and we almost didn’t. We had to run up the trail to the lookout area. Thankfully, we made it with a few minutes to spare, and I’m so glad we did!
All told, our four day Arizona road trip was super fun, but it involved a lot of driving. We saw landmarks we’d been coveting for years, and were very happy with the way the trip played out. If you’re not a fan of road trips, however, this might not be the trip for you.
We left for LA early Sunday morning. While we didn’t have time for any major activities, we built a few stops into the drive. Mostly average things like outlet shopping, grabbing lunch, and stopping to take pictures of cacti, however, we did hit one more national monument.
Montezuma’s Castle National Monument
This monument was erroneously named Montezuma’s Castle because it showcases structures built into the side of a mountain that explorers incorrectly believed were built by the Aztecs. Despite the misnomer, the monument was impressive, and made for a great pitstop on our way back to LA.
I’ll leave you with a picture of my cactus friends, because I love them.