Back in October, my husband and I decided it was time to make a road trip north and show our two children the Grand Canyon. We had visited southern Arizona countless times before always staying with my parents in Tucson. Yet, we had never ventured north as a family to see one of the greatest natural wonders on earth.
Since I am not all too fond of long road trips with the kids, we decided to split our trip up into several different stops along the way. We spent the first night in sensational Sedona where we enjoyed the raw beauty of her legendary red rocks. It was also a perfect midway point to the Grand Canyon from Tucson ensuring our kids (or me) wouldn’t get too stir crazy with all the driving.
The next morning, after an early sunrise hike on the the Airport Mesa Trail Loop we set off for our long drive to the Grand Canyon making several fabulous stops along the way. Our first stop as secretly planned unbeknownst to the kids who were happily watching a DVD and had already been fed a sandwich, was to the trendy, hip college town of Flagstaff about an hour’s drive north of Sedona. We knew that there were tons of delicious foodie restaurants and found a perfect venue for lunch.
After a nummy southwestern lunch and glass of local Arizona wine, we got back into the car and thanks to the informative waitress at Crillo Latin Kitchen we decided to take the more scenic route that is relatively unvisited. Highway 89 North through Sunset Crater Volcano with a couple stops along the way and entering at the East Gate of the Grand Canyon. It was the longest route but worth the drive for the stunning landscape and views.
I am always amazed by the incredible diversity of landscape in Arizona. It wasn’t until I started exploring past Tucson, that I discovered that Arizona has an amazing amount of variation in topography, flora and fauna and sights ranging from the saguaros to the tall ponderosa pines, canyons, no man’s land, red rocks and the painted desert. Landscape that never ceases to inspire the imagination.
As we drove out of Flagstaff and headed north, we passed through some of the tallest peaks in Arizona. Humpreys Peak is 12,637 feet which is part of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness in the Coconino National Forest, about 11 miles (17.7 km) north of Flagstaff, Arizona.
The landscape along the drive is laden in pines and the air is fresh and fragrant.
I wished we could get out and hike but we had a least another four hours of our journey ahead thus there was only time for a brief photo stop. As you continue along Highway 89, there are signs leading to the entrance of the Sunset Crater National Park, the site of an ancient volcano that erupted roughly 900 years ago leaving a black lava field behind.
As you enter the park, the first thing you see is the Lava Flow. It is enormous, black and barren save for the brilliant yellow aspen trees that have sprung up in its fertile path.
A placard at the park tells the history of Sunset Crater Volcano and reads:
“Roughly 900 years ago, the eruption of Sunset Crater Volcano reshaped the landscape and forever changed the lives of those living nearby. People and wildlife were forced to flee, and the vegetation was burned away. Today, the lava flows and cinders still look as fresh and rugged as the day they formed, but among the geologic features you can find sights of life returning to the once scorched earth”.
There is a short path called the Lava Flow Trails that winds through the lava flows and cinder fields at the base of Sunset Crater Volcano. It was fun to explore this harsh yet beautiful landscape. I was surprised by how sharp the lava is! You would not want to slip and fall within the field.
There is not much that remains of Sunset Crater as the entire cone blasted off when the volcano erupted 900 years ago. I tried to get some pictures but the sun was right behind it so none of them turned out. If you are curious, you can click here on the Sunset Crater Volcano website to see how it looks today. The landscape surrounding the volcano however is quite unusual. Here is the view looking north towards the Painted Desert.
Of course my daughter Sophia was thrilled to see the gorgeous pastel-hued Painted Desert off in the distance. It was hard to capture its beautiful pink colored palette but these photos should give you an idea.
We got back into the car and drove a little further through the park to reach the Wupatki Pueblo, an ancient southwestern civilization that lived in this region of scarce water and climate extremes during the 1100s. The eruption of the volcano forced the Wupatkis to abandon their land that they had been cultivating for over 400 years. Today, all the remains are the ruins of a multi-level dwelling.
Per the placard at the sight:
This ruin is one of the most impressive masses of aboriginal masonry. It is visible for many miles, and from a distance resembles an old castle as it looms above the plain. Despite exposure to the elements for 800 years, it stands tribute to the Puebloan ancestors who managed to farm here during the 1100s.
As you leave the ruins, you realize you are pretty much in the middle of no where and wonder how on earth an ancient population of people could ever live in such a remote, barren place. It is amazing!
The views leaving the park are fascinating and we only passed one car the entire hour drive before we got back on Highway 64, the main road taking us to the Grand Canyon.
The landscape was surreal as we continued our drive north. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for photos as it was getting late and we wanted to reach the Grand Canyon before dark. The East Entrance is way at the other end of where we were staying in neighboring Tusayan, a strange pell mell of hotels, mom and pop restaurants and junk. Yet, we found it was very worthwhile to enter at the East End otherwise we probably never would have seen it the next day touring the Grand Canyon.
The kids were starting to get restless and then finally we arrived!
We stopped to catch our first glimpse of the magic…..here is a little teaser to get you to come back and see my next post!
It was unbelievable!!!!
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