Friday, May 5, 2017: Day Fourteen

Friday, May 5, 2017: Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Before you get too excited about me being in the Southwest for Cinco de Mayo, let me go ahead and disappoint you. We were on the road until 11pm and now we’re exhausted. We did grab a Mexican dinner in Albuquerque at a restaurant called Frontier, where I chowed down on an enchilada and Nathan enjoyed nachos. More importantly, we left with a frontier sweet roll for the road, which we both discovered is basically a fresh, warm, extra large honeybun. Alas, not a single margarita was had. We’ll probably need to make up for that on Seis de Mayo while we’re in Santa Fe.

We left Phoenix around 10am after grabbing a bagel from Einstein Bros. Knowing our trip to Santa Fe was going to be a long one, we planned a few stops along the way.

We started by taking a bit of a detour. Nathan plugged in his phone and queued the soundtrack for this excursion, “Take It Easy” by the Eagles. I’m sure you’ve guessed it because below is a picture of me “…Standing on the corner of Winslow, Arizona…” Sure enough, there was a girl and a flatbed Ford. Winslow may not have much, but it definitely has this street corner.


Not too much further down I-40 (Route 66), we entered the Petrified Forest. Since we bought an annual pass to the National Parks for this trip, we decided to add another park to our list. We were in a bit of a hurry, but we made a couple of stops within the park to check out the fossilized wood, some petroglyphs, and see the original Route 66.

After a quick trip through the Petrified Forest, we made our way to Albuquerque. This took us longer than anticipated after we hit a long stretch of traffic that set us about an hour behind our intended schedule. This was the first real block of traffic we’ve hit on this trip.

We arrived in Albuquerque for dinner around 10pm and finally made it to Santa Fe by 11pm. We have yet to actually see much of New Mexico in daylight, however, I did see a man wearing a Heisenberg-style hat minutes after crossing the New Mexico state line, and moments later saw a very familiar looking RV that made Nathan and I both raise our eyebrows. Friends, I do believe some folks are still breaking bad around here.

 We love our National Parks!

Monday, May 1, 2017: Day Ten

Monday, May 1, 2017: I woke up with the sun in Grand Canyon National Park at 5am and was so proud of myself I couldn’t help but smile. And then I went back to sleep and awoke again at 7:30am.

We checked the weather later, and according to the National Weather Service, temperatures got down to 25 degrees. This time, I didn’t realize it was ever that cold [I’m not convinced it actually did]. My two layers of North Face jackets may have made the difference this go-around.

As we packed the tent into the car and closed the trunk, we turned around and a pack of mule deer passed directly though our sight. Nathan and I silently grabbed our cameras and phones and grabbed a couple of photos and enjoyed watching the park’s big-eared deer pass through our site. [By the way, we have actual cameras with us. So far, I’ve only posted phone photos on this blog.]

Mule deer creeping though our campsite

We wanted to make sure we didn’t leave the Grand Canyon without getting the full experience. So, we decided to hike down into the canyon on the partial South Kaibab trail which stops by Ooh Ahh point. After we “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” and dragged our legs up the equivalent of walking up 76 stair steps. Once we made it back to the top of the canyon, I was beyond ready to wash my hair.

The view from Ooh Aah point

So, we waved goodbye to the Grand Canyon, feeling proud and expressing our great appreciation for the park surrounding the canyon, which was about as impressive as the canyon itself.

We made it to Flagstaff in the early afternoon. Nathan and I spent the remainder of the day trying not to fall asleep.

Flagstaff is a neat little city, not much bigger than Jackson, TN (my hometown). The Route 66 city located at the foothills of the San Francisco Peaks has more local coffee shops than I’ve ever seen in such a small region. Its downtown gave off a more hipster/hippy vibe than I would have expected. I think we drove around the entirety of Flagstaff before finally grabbing a meal at night.

View from outside the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ

We’ve bounced around through different time zones for the past couple of weeks, and the impact of these changes is just now starting to catch up with me. Only two months ago, I was living in the Eastern Time Zone. In March, I moved back into Central. When we made it to Denver, we adjusted to Mountain Time, which we enjoyed in Moab and Monument Valley. The Grand Canyon is in the Pacific Time Zone this time of year, and so now we’re all Pacific and my brain hurts.

Needless to say, with all the camping and hiking, I was excited for a solid night’s sleep and a shower.


Sunday, April 30, 2017: Day Nine

Sunday, April 30, 2017: After attempting to sleep in 29°F, Nathan’s alarm went off at 6:00am so that we could catch the sunrise. This made my night of freezing worthwhile.

Sunrise over Monument Valley

The sun rose directly behind the monuments. The whole experience was overwhelming. I knew I was blessed, but it settled in with me even more just how blessed our country is to have access to these kinds of experiences. We complain a lot about the state of our country [I know I do anyway], but I cannot complain about the diversity of geography, biology, and cultures within our boarders. Friends, we have access to a lot, and I encourage you [and continue to force/encourage myself] to get out there and see it. Get to know that which is unfamiliar to you. You’ll be better for it, even if you continue to disagree with it or dislike it.

Camping was unfamiliar territory for me, and to tell you the truth, I found it scary and difficult. I am eternally grateful for having experienced Monument Valley, but my lack of sleep was getting the best of me.

After an early morning in Monument Valley, we took Nathan’s Altima on a wild 17-mile ride through rocky terrain of Valley Drive. While I was excessively nervous about the ride; however, we were surrounded and blown away as we passed by even more deep red-colored monuments.

We left Monument Valley later in the morning to begin making our way to the Grand Canyon. Our first stop along the way was to check out Horseshoe Bend. We caught it at a busy time, but there was no denying just how incredibly beautiful the Colorado River looked in the giant horseshoe-shaped canyon.

Photo credit: Nathan (iPhone) of Horseshoe Bend

So, here’s the thing, we were planning to camp in the Grand Canyon the day after we camped in Monument Valley. I had not showered in nearly two days at this point and was exhausted to tears and nervous about what kind of wildlife might trap me in a tent this time. I’ll admit that I had a bit of a nervous breakdown. I almost gave up on camping in the park entirely. My lack of sleep made me emotional and anxious and I almost let my anxiety get the best of me. But I decided to go for it anyway.

Before setting up camp, we drove around and visited a few viewpoints along the canyon. Because we visited Arches, Canyonlands, and Monuments before the Grand Canyon, I was nervous that we could be burnt out on canyons. However, this was not the case. In fact, I think it made the Grand Canyon look even grander.

“All the earth worships Thee; they sing praises to Thee, sing praises to They name.” Psalm 66:4

It was another cold night on the campground, but unlike Monument Valley, we were able to have a campfire. Praises be! Seriously, this plus the other campers enjoying their campfires added a little comfort in my paranoid mind. I have to brag on Nathan. He was willing to change plans about camping if need. He did not make me feel bad about being overcome with anxiety, but he did help me to feel safe and reminded me that I was not alone in this experience. I knew this was an experience I did not want to miss and in my mind, we were definitely going to camp one more time. I was just scared. When the FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in, it overpowered my (admittedly irrational but very real-feeling) fear of an elk kicking in the tent or a coyote attacking me on my way to the bathroom. So, I reluctantly agreed to sleep outside again.

So we set up the tent, got a campfire going, roasted hotdogs, and made s’mores. Basically, we experienced actual camping this time, whereas in Monument Valley, we experienced Monument Valley. My exhaustion finally got the best of me, and miraculously, knocked me out.

Tent set up at Mather Campgrounds in Grand Canyon National Park


Saturday, April 29, 2017: Day Eight

Saturday, April 29, 2017: After three days of being relatively off the grid, I’m finally trying to wrap my brain around what all we have done.

Following our adventures in Arches National Park on Friday, we took on Canyonlands National Park. Our immediate goal was to visit Mesa Arch, but as soon as we entered the park, Nathan and I both agreed that we did not set aside enough time to explore the park.

Mesa Arch was an easy hike that still managed to lead us to a notable arch that framed an incredible canyon view.

View from Mesa Arch

We continued to drive around and explore the park’s views, the Grand View in particular. There wasn’t a bad view in the park. Arches and Canyonlands took my expectations shot them into the sky like fireworks. I expected to enjoy the parks, but the hikes combined with the gorgeous surroundings completely blew me away.

Top of the World pose at the Grand View

Alas, we had to leave Canyonlands around 2:30pm to get to Monument Valley in time to set up camp for the night. That’s right. Camp. I camped. Outside. In a tent. In the cold.

Forrest Gump stopped running right before he would have reached Monument Valley, but we charged forward.

Queue “Against the Wind” by Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band

The View Campgrounds overlook the West and East Mitten Butte Monuments and the Merrick Butte Monument. The sun set behind us casting a reddish glow over the monuments, and once the sun disappeared, the stars put on a show. Monument Valley is a Navajo Nation Tribal Park and is located far from any light and noise pollution. Because of this, the stars were the brightest I’ve ever seen them and the atmosphere was extremely quite. Even the other campers were whispering to one another and were asleep in their tents before 10pm.

Tent camping and going to sleep next to giants

We stayed up and watched the stars. But when we finally called it a night, the temperature had dropped to freezing, and my motivation to camp had dropped a bit as well.

I had never camped in a tent before, and my first experience was at Monument Valley. It kind of blows my mind that I was able to do that and make it through the night. I was nervous, excited, cold, very cold, freezing, and unsure about what I needed to do. I ended up sleeping in about three layers of cloths, including a sweater, a jacket, a coat, two pairs of pants, wool socks, gloves, and a hat. Yes, I slept in a hat. One would think a flannel sleeping bag plus my layers of cloths would warm me up, but no. I was cold all night. And I was also woken by what I assume were raccoons trying to break into the tent. Needless to say, I slept a total of three hours. The end.


Friday, April 28, 2017: Day 7

Friday, April 28, 2017: I am exhausted. I am also in awe of Arches National Park.

Today, we spent almost the entire day driving around Arches, stopping to hike and snap photos of the breathtaking views in the park. [Insert breath of relief that our government didn’t shut down this week. Also insert PROTECT OUR NATIONAL PARKS comment.] Seriously, let’s please protect our amazing national parks.

Our goal for the day was to see the Delicate Arch. My new goal in life is to get in shape. I can at least say that the hike was labeled “difficult” and at my skill level, it definitely lived up to its label. But once we made it over several steep hills and a giant, steep rock formation, I can honestly admit that the climb was worth it.

What made the day even more interesting were the strong downbursts and the graupel. Nathan educated me on what these occasional harsh winds (particularly at Delicate Arch) and the “squishy” sleet-like snow that fell from the sky that we experienced. It was pretty incredible to see what looked like snow falling onto the red sands of Utah.

Grauple in Arches

Arches, thank you for being wonderful.