I’ve been behind on blog posts so far this year — and now with the recent quarantine it seems like a good time to get caught up! Today is the first day that I’ve actually felt like doing something “productive” during this quarantine time, so I’m taking that as a positive sign.
Our first weekend adventure of 2020 took place the third week of January — and it almost didn’t happen! We got in a car accident on December 1st and still hadn’t gotten our truck back from the shop. We ended up getting the truck back only a few days before we had to leave. Then, we had a snowstorm.
But we checked the roads and everything seemed to be fine south of Provo, so we went ahead with our plans.
This trip was a huge undertaking for one weekend. Ironically, both of us had thought we had MLK Day off (Monday) so we figured we’d have an extra day to drive back. Turns out, neither of us had the day off so we ended up needing to come back on Sunday night!
We left Friday afternoon at around 2:00pm and drove all the way to Page, Arizona — right by Lake Powell — which was about a 5.5 hour drive. But since we left so early, we got there at a reasonable hour and had enough time to have dinner and pop into the hotel hot tub for half an hour.
Saturday morning, we were up early — 5:00am — for our 3.5 hour drive to Petrified Forest National Park. We got the sense that the landscape was probably very beautiful, but unfortunately couldn’t see anything because it was still dark. Kevin stopped at a gas station that was quite literally in the middle of nowhere.
Then we ended up stopping at the wrong town for breakfast — at a McDonald’s with no dollar menu. By that time, the sun was up and the terrain was boring (sorry, Arizona). Kevin saw a sign that said we were only so far from “New Mexico” and I had to explain to him that we were going to be driving very close to the Arizona/New Mexico border (I think Petrified Forest is about 60 miles away). At that point, I think he realized how much driving this weekend would really entail and his spirit was crushed.
We passed some sort of a meteor crater monument and contemplated stopping in, but it was kind of an all day/take a tour kind of thing, and we didn’t have that kind of time. I’m confident that we’ll be back down there someday and we can check it out then.
Petrified Forest was not what we were expecting. It’s right off the freeway, which was fascinating to me as I watched all of the people driving down the road as we took the exit, wondering if they realized that this cool little park was right here and all they needed to do was take a brief detour. The park is pretty small, compared to some of the other parks we’ve been to, and it’s not as hiking-centric.
Per usual, we stopped first at the visitor’s center to buy some stickers for our cooler and so Kevin could watch the video about the park. Then, we got our map and started our drive through the park. There is an old inn/restaurant called the Painted Desert Inn, which was really cool to explore. It looks more like a regular house than a hotel, and they’ve kept it beautifully restored.
Kevin thought the views of the park were pretty bland initially, which is one of the things that’s hard for us since a few of our first national parks had absolutely stunning landscapes (thanks, Arches), but it definitely got cooler the further in we drove. We did a few short hikes/walks and started to be able to see the petrified wood up close, which is really the entire point of the park. The wood is scattered all around and it’s absolutely beautiful.
One of the things I thought was super cool about the park is that part of route 66 is actually preserved within the park, and you actually drive across the freeway to get to the other side of the park. Again, this made me marvel at how many people just pass by the park during their commute and might never stop here.
All in all, I think it took us about five or six hours to get through the entire park. We didn’t do every single hike/walk, and we didn’t get to stop and look at every piece of petrified wood, but I would say this is one of the smaller parks that you can definitely visit in only one day. We only had one day, so we didn’t have much of a choice, but this park is probably one that we’ll cross off our list and won’t come back to. Whereas some other parks, I think you could go a dozen times and still not see everything.
From Petrified Forest, we had to drive to Williams, AZ (another 2.5 hours, back the way we came). We stopped in Flagstaff and had an amazing dinner at this restaurant called The Northern Pines Restaurant. It had great reviews but I was a little skeptical when we pulled up, because it was attached to a Days Inn — but oh my goodness, what a hidden gem of a place! I highly recommend eating here if you are in the area. They have amazing food and drinks.
But, part of me wishes we had waited until we got to Williams to eat because it’s a very small, tight-knit town and the businesses really look out for one another, especially in the offseason. When we checked into our hotel, they asked us if we’d eaten dinner yet and had coupons for various restaurants in town. We didn’t get to eat any meals here, except the hotel breakfast, but I think we will be back. It was a really beautiful little town. Some of the hotels were closed since it was the offseason but there were plenty of open restaurants and coffee shops — which we did hit up on Sunday morning. We do try and find small, family owned coffee shops to support during our weekend travels. Sometimes the coffee is great, sometimes it’s not so great, but either way, I feel better about giving my money to them instead of Starbucks (Kevin loves Starbucks though, so it’s hard to tear him away).
Williams is about an hour from the Grand Canyon, so we didn’t have too far to drive on Sunday morning. We drove in through the south entrance and surprisingly, it was pretty packed. I don’t even want to know what the parking lots look like in the summer. It was cold and windy, but sunny, and there was still a bit of snow on the canyon. Kevin had been here before, so he took me to all of his favorite viewpoints and even jokingly proposed to me again a few times.
We watched the park video — of course — and immediately started making plans to hike down into the canyon. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to do this, because I think we’d want to have at least a week off for that kind of excursion, but it’s definitely on our list.
We drove out a different way than we came in — to the east — which ended up being really cool, because there were more viewpoints to stop at along the way and they were significantly less crowded than the main areas of the park. It did take us forever to get out of the park due to the amount of times we stopped to take photos and look at the view, but it was worth it. The Grand Canyon is definitely one of those places that I could see us coming back to several times — especially to actually hike down into the canyon.
Once we finally got out of the park, we began the grueling six hour drive back home. Fortunately, it was light out, so at least we could see all of the beautiful terrain we had missed on the way in. We ended up stopping one more time at the famous Horseshoe Bend. It seemed like a good time to check that one off our list — during the offseason — and again, I cannot imagine going there during the peak tourist season because it was so, so crowded on a Sunday afternoon in January.
Several Maverick sodas later, we finally made it home. It was the farthest we’ve ever driven just on a short weekend (Friday afternoon-Sunday). And when I say we, I mean Kevin because he does all the driving. I’m really inconsistent with my driving speed and he likes to drive as fast as he is allowed, all the time, so he does all of the driving on these trips.
But, as much time as we spent in the car, we were stoked to knock two national parks off our bucket list in just one weekend in January. We’ve got several other trips planned in the upcoming months. I think a few of them will be postponed due to the current quarantine situation, but the good news is that they’re just weekend road trips, so we can reschedule them for anytime. I think we will still get to go on all the trips we have planned, even if we have to wait a couple of months.
Last year, we did a lot of traveling in the peak tourist season (i.e. May-September), so traveling in December and January definitely opened our eyes and made us realize that even though the weather might be more unpredictable, it’s so worth it to do some traveling during that time. We get to avoid the crowds and pay way cheaper prices for hotels. I think both of our hotels on this trip were less than $60 per night, and they were both nice hotels (I am very anti-Motel 6 if that’s any indication).
Coming up on the next blog post: our second adventure of 2020, the longest trip we’ve ever taken, and the first time we both traveled internationally (aside from Canada)!