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By Donna Yuen
(for Travel Writers’ Tales)

I have my walking stick, sunscreen, water, and I am ready for some hiking in Arizona! I also have my camera to capture the grand vistas I have until now only dreamt of seeing. My friend and I start with an easy, interesting trail: beginning in Mesa, we hike through history, along the infamous Apache Trail. The jagged peaks of the Superstition Mountains evoke images of cowboys and gold rush miners who lived here during the glory days of the Wild West. Quaint churches and crumbling ghost towns, help me visualize how life used to be for the ranchers, pioneers and the Apache Indians travelling along this trail in the Sonoran Desert.

1: Elvis Memorial Chapel, the Superstition Mountain, Phoenix/Mesa

2: The Superstition Mountain, Phoenix/Mesa

We travel north to Sedona to complete our next hike to Cathedral Rock. It is a well-known vortex location and the twisted trees, unique landscape and easy access make it a popular route. The vertical red rock looks daunting and I begin to worry about my ability to ascend this trail with an elevation gain of over 180 meters. However, despite the rock climbing at the end of the trail, it is surprisingly easy and the views from the saddle area below the pinnacles are stunning. After pausing to absorb the vortices’ energy, we leave the area feeling rejuvenated and energized.

3: Cathedral Rock Trail, Sedona

To escape the crowds we continue north to explore the Flagstaff area. Fifteen miles east of Flagstaff on Navajo Nation land is Grand Falls. The Navajo Nation region covers 27000 square miles across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The landscape is eerily barren and the drive is bumpy and slow across rocky dirt roads.

4: Navajo Nation lands, Flagstaff area

Small herds of cows are seen on the horizon, but there are no people. We arrive at this desolate location to discover the rugged trails down are unmarked and unmaintained. Our remote off-road adventure is stimulating and looking over the sheer cliffs sets my heart racing..

I am struck by the magnificence of Grand Falls. There is no one at the bottom of the canyon and, in fact, not a single soul as far as the eye can see. We carefully attempt numerous descents, sliding on the loose rock each time, and eventually reach the bottom safely, clinging to rocks as we go. Walking along the bottom of the canyon alongside the Little Colorado River, the shallow waters reflect the steep canyon walls and azure sky above. I feel so small.

5: Grand Falls, Flagstaff area

We arrive at a narrow point in the river where the options are to either get wet or go over a rocky hillock. Having swum in Canyon Lake and knowing how cold the waters are, we both opt for climbing across the rocks. When we finally get to the base of the Falls, we have the entire area to ourselves, and are surrounded by a desolate beauty that is worth our efforts. Although the cascading water is scanty during our visit, the Falls are, nevertheless, spectacular. We enjoy our picnic as we sit facing the Falls. The changing hues of the wet gold-and-ochre-limestone shimmer in the sunlight. I snap image after image attempting to capture the true beauty of this natural rock formation.

We explore the floor of the canyon, glad to have it all to ourselves. Then, suddenly my friend draws my attention to something in the dirt. It’s a very large cat’s fresh pug print. I am chillingly aware that in addition to venomous Gila monster lizards, coyotes and bears, Arizona wildlife includes jaguars and mountain lions. We look at each other, and he says, “Do you realize that we are the only readily available food source for miles?”

I laugh nervously. It seems like a good time to leave!

The ascent is much easier than expected. My calloused fingers have become rather adept at rock climbing. As we begin walking back to the car, I look back and pause for one more shot. Yet, as I tuck my camera away, I realize that my images will never fully capture the rugged beauty and true grandeur of our hiking adventure in Arizona .


More Information:

Allegiant offers affordable fares from Bellingham to Phoenix 4 days per week.

Where to stay:

Mesa: Phoenix Marriot Mesa

Sedona: The Hilton Sedona Resort offers comfortable rooms with exceptional service.

Flagstaff: Doubletree by Hilton

Getting There:

Grand Falls: From Flagstaff go north on Highway 89, right on Townsend-Winona Road, left at Leupp Road, and left on Navajo Route 70

PHOTOS by Donna Yuen

1: Elvis Memorial Chapel, the Superstition Mountain, Phoenix/Mesa

2: The Superstition Mountain, Phoenix/Mesa

3: Cathedral Rock Trail, Sedona

4: Navajo Nation lands, Flagstaff area

5: Grand Falls, Flagstaff area

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