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On the Road in Arizona: Grand Canyon Sunsets, Route 66 Diners and Sedona’s Red Rocks

There is no peace quite like watching sunset at the Grand Canyon. Let me set the scene: the red and white rocks are tinged by a purple-blue hue, and even though it’s growing darker, you can still make out the peaks, layers, and shapes down below. The sun shifts from orange to red, and planes fly high above, adding to the patterns in the sky.

I’m perched near the edge of the rocks – perhaps a little too closely, if I’m honest – with a blanket draped over my shoulders, the breeze gently pushing past me as both the temperature and the sun drops. I’m tranquilised by the surroundings. Locals will tell you, the Canyon never looks the same. Each day, it changes, based on the season, the weather, and something else they couldn’t quite put their finger on.

Native Americans hold the land in highly spiritual regard, as our guide, Jerry, of Navajo descent (now renamed as the Diné nation) told us. His grandad, a medicine man, would come to the area to collect herbs and plants for his tinctures.

The peace of the land, as I felt it, is especially true when sitting along the South Rim – which many tourists miss. It’s popular to travel to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, visiting the West Rim. But coming in early November to this lesser-trodden part of the Canyon, there’s very few tourists, and I could explore the land without waiting for access to places – and without being photobombed.

Arizona, known as the Grand Canyon state, has plenty more to offer than this natural wonder, believe it or not.

Flying into Phoenix gives you opportunity to get on the road and drive from central Arizona up north, making stops at Prescott, Verde Valley, Sedona, The Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, as well as a stretch of the famous Route 66. This was the route I took, and Prescott was where my Arizonian journey began. Prescott, a small town with the world’s oldest rodeo, is worth an overnight stop for Whisky Row alone. A road full of dive bars and gift shops, you can go and order a whisky based drink (my choice was an Old Fashioned), then dance with locals – who truly do go for it on the weekend, intensely line dancing to live rock bands, at all ages.

Then in the morning, go kayaking in Lake Watson, which has beautiful rock formations to admire as you calmly move along the water. It makes for a sobering start to the day after a night of boozing.

From there, you can drive in around an hour and a half to Cottonwood in Verde Valley, a winery district full of experimental wines. Arizona might not be known for its wines, but I was delighted by the tastings I tried at the Southwest Wine Centre (the rosé in particular) and Alcantara (a full-bodied red had me here).

Admittedly, I got lightly drunk too, and enjoyed parading around in the desert elated, walking through the vineyards, and exploring what was on offer across the wineries – at Southwest Wine Centre, there’s a school for people who want to move into the wine trade (which many do after retirement), and at Alcantara, there’s the option of an ebike tour.

Sip slowly with a charcuterie board, and there you have a fine afternoon spent in Arizona, which, despite the altitude, can be very warm and sunny even in November.

Moving further up Arizona, the next stop was Sedona – and here you must experience a Pink Jeep Tour. In a Barbie-pink Jeep, you’re driven over, not around, Sedona’s stunning red rocks. It’s a bumpy ride to say the least that will have you clinging onto the vehicle, but one you won’t forget as you get up close and personal with the rugged landscape.

I got out at Submarine Rock and Chicken Point for photo opportunities and to simply admire the serenity, which can get lost while being tossed around and laughing in a Jeep. Otherwise, Sedona has a cute Downtown area with shops offering gifts and aura readings from around $30 (£24) (mine is ‘passionate, energetic, excited’, apparently), and the area is known to be spiritual due to its ‘vortex energy’.

Like Glastonbury in the UK, Sedona is on a fault line. Energetically speaking, it’s said to help people feel uplifted. Vortex tours are available, where you can learn more. I sat on one of the rocks during a tour offering a guided meditation – so much so I almost fell asleep and felt my body falling to one side. Our guide warned that tapping into the vortex energy can create a ‘bliss’ state, which you should be careful with when hiking.

And as for hiking, there’s the Red Rock state park, too. I wish I’d had more time in Sedona, as it’s vast natural beauty deserved more attention.

But alas, it was time for Route 66 to get to the Grand Canyon. Stopping in a small town called Williams along the route, I had a diner-style breakfast: a hefty helping of bacon, French toast and berries, and hash brown. You don’t come to Arizona for its food, truth be told, but rest-assured – dietary dependent – you’ll be well-fed.

About an hour from here, you arrive in the Grand Canyon area, in which you can hike, or take a vehicle-led tour. I went with Wild Buck Hummer tours, and highly recommend you ask for Jerry – the company’s only Native American tour guide. As Jerry drove us around, I was in complete awe. No photos or words quite do it justice (though I’ve tried), and driving alongside the vast space, I felt like I was looking at a movie set. Somehow, something being that beautiful felt unreal, impossible even.

Before getting back on the road, I went to Mather Point in the Canyon to watch the sunrise, which, just like sunset, was completely picturesque as the sky and rocks changed from purple to red to blue.

Begrudgingly, I got back on the road, this time another hour or so to Flagstaff, which is home to a shoppable Downtown area, Walnut Canyon National Monument, the Museum of Northern Arizona, and forest hiking trails.

At the museum, I learned more about Native American history, as the curators work with local tribal communities to educate people about their nations, and even sell jewellery made by them. I picked up a pair of earrings made by a designer from the Zuni nation. At Walnut Canyon, more can be learned too, as you can observe up close the way nations used the land to stay both warm and cool across changing climates.

And to close the trip out, I visited Arcosanti, a commune located off the beaten path, halfway between Flagstaff and Phoenix.

No matter how sceptical you are about these ways of living, it’s a fascinating stop to make, and left the group I was travelling in with lots of questions and interesting discussion.

We got an insight into how the community sustains itself, where it’s shortcomings are, and how day-to-day life runs. Beyond that, the architecture designed by Paolo Soleri is impressive to witness on its own.

On the way back to Phoenix airport, I decide that my Grand Canyon adventures aren’t yet over – one day, I’d like to go back and do the Rim to Rim trail. For now though, I’m content with the image of the sunset burned into my hippocampus.

Source: Metro