Did you know it snows in northern Arizona? I didn’t. In my mind the entire state was a year-round warm, arid, desert landscape with occasional tumbleweeds blowing along in the wind. We somehow missed the fact that Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon are at a 7000 foot elevation, and were shocked to see over a foot of snow in our road trip forecast.
Day 7 of our 10-day western US winter break road trip took us from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon National Park. Because earlier in the week we had been hiking in the 80-degree heat of Saguaro National Park, we now had to brace ourselves for a winter wonderland.
Red Rocks of Sedona
The two-hour drive from Phoenix to Sedona was dotted with Saguaro but otherwise unremarkable compared to the rest of Arizona. The contrast when we arrived at the red rocks of Sedona was immediate and I finally understood the hype. We were lucky to find spots in trailhead parking areas for a quick walk along the scenic path. Many tourists, like us, were just stopping for photos while others were hiking up to walk along the ridges. Our National Parks Pass granted us admission; otherwise we would have purchased an entry pass for at the National Forest at the kiosk.
Because of the busy holiday season, tourists and hikers were encouraged to use the park and ride system from Sedona. There were also fewer places to park compared to large parks, but with limited time we were happy with what we could experience just driving.
Sedona village was filled with touristy restaurants and shops. From the town we drove north through Owl Creek Canyon and the landscape changed quickly from scrubland to pine forest. With more time we would have stopped at Slide Rock State Park.
Next came the switchback mountain climb toward Flagstaff, and as we gained elevation, we caught our first glimpses of snow.
Sedona to Flagstaff
Flagstaff was the perfect stop for lunch at Fratelli Pizza Downtown and from there it was a quick walk to the shops along Route 66.
We had considered using Amtrak for this trip and saw that the downtown station would make it a very convenient means of transportation.
The drive to Grand Canyon National Park was more picturesque due to the return of snowy weather, adding to what had been left by a winter storm the day before. We had read horror stories of long waits to get into the park, but the gate was empty at 5pm. We were able to stay in the left lane to use Alex’s Veteran’s Lifetime National Park Pass for entry, and we started our 18 hour snowy Grand Canyon adventure.