Last weekend the East Coast was pummeled by a massive blizzard that dumped more than 2 feet of snow on our suburban Philadelphia neighborhood. If Matt and I had been home, we would have slow-cooked a stew, played with Piper in the snow, and stayed on top of shoveling our driveway. But we weren’t home… we were 2200 miles west in beautiful Sedona, Arizona!
Matt and I had been in Las Vegas for work during the days leading up the blizzard. Normally we would have flown home on Saturday (aka blizzard day), but, as luck would have it, we had already decided to extend our time out west with a long weekend in Sedona that culminated in a flight home from Phoenix on Tuesday.
Saturday morning we rented a Jeep at the Vegas airport and set out for Arizona. The 4 1/2 hour drive took us past Lake Meade, the Hoover Dam (which we couldn’t even see from the giant new interstate bridge!) and sections of historic Route 66 before twisting south into Oak Creek Canyon, the gateway to red rock country.
Oak Creek Canyon
If you approach Sedona from the north like we did, your first glimpse of red rocks will occur in this dramatic canyon. The road switchbacked constantly as we followed Oak Creek and descended a few thousand feet through snow-covered forest. We initially thought about returning to the canyon for a hike later in the weekend, but realized after our climb up Devil’s Bridge that red rocks + snow and ice can be a little treacherous. Someday when we return to Sedona in less snowy conditions we’ll definitely spend more time in Oak Creek Canyon.
Little Horse Trail to Chicken Point (4.2 miles)
We pulled into Sedona at 3PM on Saturday and wasted no time getting our first hike underway. We followed the Little Horse Trail up to Chicken Point and were rewarded with beautiful views of the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Cathedral Rock. After hiking 2 miles into the wilderness I was surprised when a pink jeep rolled up the rock from the opposite direction… apparently this lookout point is also a stop on the famous Pink Jeep Broken Arrow tour that leaves from Uptown Sedona. Matt and I really enjoyed this relatively easy hike, but if you’re not in the mood for a hike I hear that the jeep tours are very popular!
Orchards Inn and Elote Cafe
We drove back into uptown Sedona just as the sun was setting and checked into our hotel, Orchards Inn. Although the entrance to the hotel is smack in the middle of a very touristy section of route 89A, all of the rooms face east towards a serene wall of beautiful red rocks. It was easy to forget about the commercial strip out front when gazing out at the view from our private balcony!
Saturday night we had dinner at Elote Cafe, a Mexican restaurant that was highly recommended by a friend. Elote doesn’t take reservations so we waited 45 minutes for a table while sipping margaritas and munching on free spiced popcorn on Elote’s back patio. (As you can imagine, the wait went by in no time!) Dinner at Elote was all we hoped it would be and well worth the wait. Everything we had was delicious… elote (a fragrant corn dip), tomato salad, smoked pork cheeks, and buffalo mole poblano short ribs. Yum! The meal was so good we bought Elote’s cookbook, so be ready for some Elote-inspired recipes on my blog later this year!
Mescal Mountain – Devil’s Bridge Hike (10 miles)
I woke up before sunrise on Sunday, thinking I might be able to snap a few photos of the sun coming up from our balcony. Since we faced east my photos didn’t turn out (the more dramatic views were looking west, where the morning sun was turning the rocks a fiery red-orange), but this got us up and out of bed and ready to start our day. We had a hearty breakfast of french toast and pancakes at Wildflower Bread Company (which I didn’t realize was a chain until we saw another one in the Phoenix airport) and then set out on our first hike of the day: Devil’s Bridge.
Devil’s Bridge is a natural sandstone arch located 400+ feet up the side of a mountain. Brave visitors can walk out onto the bridge, making this a popular destination for hikers and Pink Jeep tours. I was thrilled to see that we were the very first car to arrive at the Dry Creek Road trailhead (no crowded views for us!!) but my excitement was immediately crushed when I saw a little U.S. Forest Service sign at the start of the trail… CLOSED due to dangerous icy slippery conditions. NO!!
A map of nearby hikes was posted in the parking lot and we realized we could salvage the morning by taking the Mescal Trail north, away from Devil’s Bridge, and looping around Mescal Mountain. This 5 mile hike ended up being our favorite of the trip. We had the well-marked path almost exclusively to ourselves and Mescal Mountain loomed over us in the morning sun as we circled it clockwise. The best part of this hike was when we entered a horseshoe-shaped curve along the side of the mountain – it felt like we were walking in a natural amphitheater that had been carved out of the rock. Very memorable!
The parking lot was packed when we returned to our jeep. Lo and behold, the danger sign had been moved aside! We stopped at the car for a quick water break then set out south on the Chuck Wagon trail to access Devil’s Bridge trail. The trail was easy at first with no sign of snow, but then we began to climb up the north side of the mountain. The higher we went the more snow and ice there was… at first it was just on the sides of the trail but eventually the ice stretched straight across the natural rock stairs and narrow single-track trail that skirted the edge of the mountain. Eek! I don’t usually have any issue with heights but the combination of being on a cliff AND being on unsure footing was very unsettling.
Finally Devil’s Bridge came into view. A few insane people (with their kids!!) were actually sliding across the ice to walk out on the arch but Matt and I were satisfied with taking photos from the relative safety of our icy, sloping trail. We headed back down the mountain and made it back to our car in just under 5 hours. Not bad for a 10 mile round trip with lots of photo stops!
Cathedral Rock from Crescent Moon Ranch / Red Rock Loop Road
By the time we made it back to town it was after 2PM and we were HUNGRY! We recharged with a satisfying lunch of beer, soft pretzels and pizza at the Oak Creek Brewery in Tlaquepaque Village (an artsy, walkable shopping area) and planned our next move for the day.
After a quick stroll around Tlaquepaque we headed west down Red Rock Loop Road to Crescent Moon Ranch. This park offers fantastic views of Cathedral Rock across Oak Creek. We wandered around the trails along the creek snapping photos and taking selfies with my new GoPro Hero. This was the first trip that we’ve had the GoPro and we loved using it to get a different, wider-angle view of the beautiful landscapes around us. (And also for selfies… I realized that I have hundreds of photos of Piper but hardly any of Matt and I; hopefully now we’ll have more than three “us” photos to choose from for next year’s Christmas card!)
From Crescent Moon we drove clockwise around Red Rock Loop Road back to 89A. Most of the best views seemed to be in the eastern section between 89A and Crescent Moon, so we circled back down the loop road again, this time stopping at numerous pull offs and overlooks to see Sedona’s gorgeous red rocks in the setting sun. (Note: this was the only time we needed an SUV as some of the pull offs were a little rough; a sedan would have easily gotten us everywhere else we went on this trip.)
Courthouse Butte and Bell Rock Hike (5 miles)
Monday morning we woke up early once more, this time to fit in one last Sedona hike before driving south to Scottsdale and the airport. After another breakfast at Wildflower we headed to Bell Rock, one of the most famous energy vortexes in Sedona. We followed the Bell Rock Pathway to connect to Courthouse Butte Loop, an easy trail that took us clockwise around the butte. The conditions were perfect – mid-50s with an intensely blue sky – and we were glad to take this final hike before leaving red rock country.
After circling Courthouse Butte we had lunch at nearby Red Rock Cafe in Oak Creek Village. Matt had a southwestern chicken fried steak scramble and I enjoyed a grilled roast beef sandwich with green chiles. Yum!
Pinnacle Peak, Scottsdale, AZ
We said goodbye to Sedona and pointed the car south towards I-17 and the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. The drive only took 2 hours so at some point I decided that we should try to squeeze one more hike in. On our way into town we stopped at Pinnacle Peak, a popular hiking/trail running spot that offers great views of northern Scottsdale. We didn’t have a lot of time but made it up to the Grandview overlook before heading back down to our car.
Before I wrap up this (very long) post I have to mention the amazing dinner we had Monday night. From our hotel in Old Town Scottsdale we walked to Bootleggers, a “modern American smokehouse.” We ate on the back patio, right next to the stacks of wood that fuel the restaurant’s giant smoker. We’ve been paying more attention to smoked food ever since Matt bought a smoker last summer and Bootleggers was easily the best BBQ we’ve had thus far. We started with a tray of nachos heaped with smoked brisket and smothered with a perfect mixture of avocado, lime and cilantro (perhaps the best nachos I’ve ever eaten) and then enjoyed more BBQ brisket and smoked sausage for dinner. Our server brought us Bootleggers’ signature apple pie moonshine as a complementary dessert. Cheers!
The next morning we headed back to Philadelphia on an 8AM flight. Despite the fact that we had hiked 23 miles in 3 days we arrived home feeling refreshed, recharged, and full of energy. (The magic of a mini-vacation!) It was a good thing we felt energetic because we were greeted by 2 feet of snow waiting to be shoveled off the driveway. Welcome home! 🙂