When I first entertained the thought of an adventure in mid February, I emailed my dear friend Tonya. Three years ago, she’d done the exact thing I was contemplating – quit her job, sold her stuff, drove cross country and found herself in Sedona AZ. She’s been there ever since. I knew that she would relate to what was going on in my life and the reasons behind the desire to leave everything behind and find my true self. I was overwhelmed with emotion when she immediately fired back a two page email completely supporting my decision (in fact she wrote “LEAVE RIGHT NOW”) and inviting me to visit her in Sedona.
After leaving Houston, I drove up to Dallas to have dinner with my nephew, who relocated there at the end of January. After that short visit, I began the long, two day trip towards Sedona. I headed west on I-20 through some of the UGLIEST areas of the state of Texas. Ablilene was alright, but Midland Odessa with its oil refineries was especially bleak, ugly, and stinky. After finally merging onto I-10, I ended up in a little town called Van Horn, just about 120 miles east of El Paso, on the edge of the Guadaloupe Mountains.
The next morning I left at 6am and immediately the landscape changed. More and more majestic mountains appeared before me, and at Fort Hancock I pulled off and took some pictures of the lovely morning.
The city of El Paso appeared next, and shortly after that I drove into New Mexico and though my first border checkpoint. At Las Cruces I started the long stretch into Arizona towards Tucson and Phoenix. As I drove through these two very crowded and unappealing cities, all I could think of was how beautiful Tonya promised that Sedona would be! In Phoenix I turned onto I-17 north and finally started seeing some fantastic scenery. The final segment of the drive on route 179 into Sedona almost blew my mind, as the famous Red Rocks appeared before me. What a great reward for a long 12 hour drive!
Since I’d gone through two time zones, it was only 4pm when I pulled into Tonya’s driveway….right at the base of Thunder mountain! She was sitting out on the front porch and I leapt out of my car and grabbed her in a huge bear hug. She introduced me to her fiance Chris, his adorable 8 year old son Alexander, and her fantastic dog Linus.
At this point, I have to try to describe Sedona. It’s pretty hard for me to put into words, other than this little town is surrounded by the most amazing, stunning, and unique red rock mountains imaginable. It is overwhelming and mind boggling to be sitting in a house or driving along and seeing this incredible beauty surrounding you. Tonya and Chris’ front porch faces Chimney Rock and the back porch of the house overlooks Thunder Mountain, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Coffee Pot and Munds mountains. The first hour or so I was pretty much speechless just taking in the majesty of the surroundings.
Dinnertime was approaching so we headed to Oak Creek Brewery which housed a little place called Simon’s Hot Dogs. As we waited on an assortment of those, and I walked into the bar and picked out a nice growler of a hearty local porter and we headed back to the house. Chris’ good friend Steve joined us, and we unloaded the goodies and enjoyed our gourmet hot dogs. After dinner, I brought out my amazing adventure map for Steve and Chris to look over. Chris is a former marine and experienced hiker and survivalist. Steve is also an experienced hiker and very knowledgeable about just about anything. They took a look at the rest of my proposed route and strongly suggested that I make some alterations in it in order to get to Glacier National Park earlier in the summer before the weather started turning colder. So, I continued to practice letting go of control and changed my route!
After dinner Tonya took me for a drive around the little town and as sunset approached, she took me to Airport Mesa to watch as the sun set behind the mountains. It was crowded with throngs of tourists taking pictures and admiring the beauty. As the sun finally passed below the ridge of the rocks, everyone burst into applause!
I couldn’t wait until it got dark enough to see the stars. Sedona is VERY dark at night, so around 9:30 we went out on the back deck and although a bit cloudy, I saw the most amazing display of stars, along with the bright Milky Way. I wish that pictures could do it justice, but that doesn’t work. Finally the time zones caught up with me and I fell into an exhausted sleep.
In Sedona at this time of year the sky lightens around 5am. I woke early and walked out onto the back deck and enjoyed the complete silence of the morning, except for the song of the birds and the insects. The plan that morning was to hit the local farmers market and then see the rest of the town. Alexander was SO disappointed that he had to go to the YMCA and couldn’t join us! Tonya and I piled into the car and drove the short distance to the Farmers Market. Although very small, it was comprised of some really nice little stands. We stopped at a little French pastry stand and I ate the most delicious little plum tart while Tonya chose a rich buttery brioche. We ended up with a great little assortment of cherry tomatoes, squash, some chard, delicious greens, and a fantastic little hybrid melon. Then we walked through the little shops of TLAQUEPAQUE, a beautiful open air market featuring art galleries, craft shops and other shopping options, walked down to the little Oak Creek, a fantastic duck filled creek that was completely out of place in the middle of the desert!
Our shopping completed, we headed back to the house and the boys joined us for lunch at a great little local place called Nick’s. The change in altitude and the previous day’s long drive was quickly catching up with me, so after lunch I caught a half hour cat nap. I woke feeling much refreshed, which was good since Chris and Steve were taking me on hike that evening. I eagerly brought out my new hiking shoes and backpack and waited for Steve to arrive. Hiking is one of my favorite things to do and I was so stoked to be going on a hike with these two seasoned guys. We drove the short distance to the entrance to Long Canyon Trail and headed out. Steve led the way and I worked hard to keep up with his long strides as Chris took up the rear. About a quarter of the way through Chris said that most folks he takes out start huffing and puffing at this point. I gave props to my crossfit conditioning and we continued on. Further along the trail, Chris broke off the main trail and we hiked through some really rough and rocky terrain. At one point we approached some pretty shear rock and approached a ledge. I looked at it and in my mind immediately thought “I can’t do that.” I didn’t say anything aloud, and when I came up to the ledge Chris coached me up it, saying “keep your hips close” and I found some footholds, and then thanks to crossfit was able to pull myself up onto of the ledge! Just more confirmation that you can do more than you think you can! Past that we came upon some incredible Indian ruins amidst the red rocks. To discover these isolated areas that most people don’t see is an overwhelming experience and I’m so lucky to have seen it.
Darkness was approaching and Chris had headlamps just in case we needed them. Let me tell you, it’s pretty surreal to be hiking a trail in the dusk/dark. It’s interesting that if you just trust your body, you can hike in the dark really without seeing. We made it back to the car around 8:30 in just about full darkness. I was exhausted but exhilarated to have made it through such a challenging hike! We arrived back at the house and I had a big glass of cold beer and Tonya made us the most delicious post hike smoothies. Fantastic first full day in Sedona!
The next day when I woke and looked out off the front porch, I could see dark clouds to the south of us, and I was hopeful that I would see some Sedona rain. Tonya was going to be busy preparing for a welcome home party for her friends Julie and Mike, so I took that opportunity to make a quick little trip to Jerome. Jerome is a little historic mining town located between Flagstaff and Prescott, about 20 miles south of Sedona. It’s at an altitude of about 5000 feet on Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley. Driving up to the top to the town challenged my fear of heights but I did it! I parked my car and took some pictures overlooking the valley. Jerome has several art galleries, craft stores, wineries, coffee houses and restaurants. I perused through several of the little shops and as 1pm approached, stopped at Mile High Inn for some lunch. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a nice dark porter and ordered a breakfast for lunch burger with fries. It arrived, hot and delicious. Thank you Yelp for your fantastic recommendations. I finished up and returned to my car and drove back down the mountain. It seemed to be perfect timing as the sun had just burst blazing through the clouds and throngs of tourists were traveling UP the mountain.
I returned to the house which was prepped for the party. Most of the folks at the party knew each other through Pink Jeep, a local jeep tour company for which many of them worked or had worked (including Chris and Steve). I met some fantastically down to earth people, ate some scrumptious food, smoked a great little cigar from Chris’ humidor, and sat out on the back deck looking up at the clearest night sky yet, picking out the planets, satellites, and several shooting stars. Another beautiful day in Sedona.
Sunday I woke late, had some coffee and started blogging. After several quiet hours on the front porch in the cool breeze, I stretched and prepared for one last hike. I’d been looking out on Chimney Rock off Tonya’s front porch for days and that’s where I was headed. All I had to do was walk out her front door and up the street about 100 yards and I was at the base of the trail. I turned left onto Thunder Mountain trail and started walking. Soon I came upon a rugged path on the right and headed up towards Chimney Rock. After about 10 minutes I got a bit intimidated and headed back towards the main trail. But dammit, this whole trip is about not being scared and getting myself out of my comfort zone. So I told myself to get back up there and everything would be ok if I was just smart and used my common sense. This time I steadily climbed the red rocks, looking for firm hand and footholds, avoiding the agave plants know as “Cowboy Killers”. Eventually I got quite close to Chimney Rock and congratulated myself on conquering my fear of heights!
Now came the hard part…finding my way back down again. I kept telling myself that if I got up, I could get back down again, to just take my time, keep my center of gravity low, use my common sense and everything would be ok. At a couple of spots that I lost my footing, but I just kept low, sliding down on my butt, and after some hunt and pecking for the best way back down, eventually found myself back on the Thunder Mountain trail. I found a great little enclosed spot under a tree that looked like an outdoor sitting area. I took off my pack, ae a Larabar, drank some water, pulled out my journal and just sat listening. It was fabulous. It was absent of all human noise; all I could hear was the cooing of some doves, chirping of the birds, the bugs buzzing past my ears, and the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. Those sounds of nature have always resounding in me. I remember watching CBS Sunday Morning and waiting in anticipation of the last 15 minutes which always comprised a final segment of a clip of nature. This was all that and more….as long as I wanted to sit there. It’s what I have craved my whole life…this silence except for the sound of the natural world around me.
After my rest, I wanted just a bit more of a hike, so I started the other direction down Thunder Mountain trail. I laughed out loud as I came upon a sign pointing up: “Chimney Pass.” I’d gone the hard way up first! This path much more easily brought me up the back of Chimney Rock, and as I got higher I could see that Chimney Rock is actually three separate rocks; hence its other name of “Three Fingers.”
Satisfied with my hike and tiring just a bit (and nearly out of water) I headed back down to the bottom of the trail and back to the house. My time in Sedona is just about at an end. I have found this little town and area to be much of what I’ve been searching for: stunning beauty, peace and tranquility, fantastic opportunities for hiking, a very laid back and easy going attitude among those living there, the most beautiful and spectacular display of nighttime sky and stars I have ever seen, and solitude. I’m very much looking forward to finding more of the same as I continue my adventures out west.