Wheels on the Rim: Savoring Sedona, Grand Canyon, & Seligman, AZ
“Why did I never do this before?”
This, or something close to it, is probably a thought most of us have experienced at some point, after being captivated by a joyful activity that we realize we could have experienced far sooner. Twenty-six years after moving to Vegas, that question beat through my head as I bicycled, literally whooping loudly and repeatedly, along Hermit’s Rest Road on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP).
I’d wondered the same thing a couple of days earlier about why it took me so stinking long to take the plunge into Oak Creek at Slide Rock State Park, Sedona, AZ. Bicycling and immersing myself in water outdoors are standout loves of my life, yet somehow these two only-a-few-hours-apart venues of bliss had never penetrated far enough into my radar for me to make this trip happen until age 58.
Several years ago I undertook a Grand Canyon / Flagstaff / Sedona trip (which also elicited the thought, “Why did I never…?”), but on that one, I missed both the water slide and biking and pitched my tent in less-well-located campgrounds. Desire was planted, though, to reserve a spot on the creek someday, and do the trip better next time.
This time, I snagged reservations for a Monday and Tuesday night at tent-only Manzanita Campground on beautiful Oak Creek, between Flagstaff and Sedona. After departing, I drove a couple of hours to the East Entrance of GCNP, where I spent Wednesday at Desert View Campground, a short walk from the canyon rim. On Thursday, after biking along the rim, I enjoyed the relative luxury of a KOA “Camping Cabin” in Seligman, AZ on historic Route 66.
Manzanita, located in the Coconino National Forest and operated by the US Forest Service, is bare bones. Not only did I not pay $4 for a shower, I couldn’t even figure out where they — or a sink, for that matter — were. There was a host on site, but I was mostly out of the campground, so didn’t ask – I did without.
(The showers are in Cave Springs Campground, also on Highway 89A.)
Oh, but the creek.
I resisted the call to wade until the tent was up. When I did venture in, awkwardly maneuvering barefoot through its large stones, a bird squawked, long and loudly, high in a nearby tree. Turned out this tree was the digs of a heron that awed me between 5-6am the next two mornings by swooping down the creek. On the second day, it alighted atop a trunk right across from where I was planted on a rock, offering goodbye thanks to the creek for sharing itself with me. I sat for 20 minutes or so, simply observing.
On both evenings, I drove to Sedona’s Main Street, about six miles south of Manzanita. Though touristic, it’s charming, apparently zoned to stay that way — without typical leering, ugly signage, for example — and surrounded by tall, red rock formations. It’s so stunning that you wonder, “How could I pull off moving here?”
Slide Rock State Park
The pièce de résistance of this leg of the trip was Slide Rock State Park, despite my parking-lot adventure of losing the rear passenger-side corner of my bumper to a man driving a rented RV. Be prepared, when traveling, for unforeseen mishaps…
In this park, surrounded by gorgeous red rock, you are pushed through a natural chute in Oak Creek. It’s located only about a mile north of Manzanita and within six miles of two other forest service campgrounds. During my first afternoon, I noticed that the state parking lot was full and closed. Opening time was not posted at the gate, so I arrived early. It turned out to be 8 a.m.
The slide was 1st Heaven of this trip, my second tenting solo of the summer. About a month previously, I’d visited the Rockies, which I wrote about in “Carping the Diem, Solo-style.” The water was cold on July 17th, so I took about 15 minutes to acclimate before joining a short queue at the head of the chute; then it was an exuberant, rockin’ ride, with various exit points available. I ended my first run thinking, “I’m gonna do this 20 times!”
Turns out I was way off: Over approximately an hour to an hour-and-a-half, I did four or five passes before I was chilled to getting out. There’s also a smallish cliff jump that I skipped. Although this is a popular destination, there’s plenty of room for all and the friendly, happy crowd evokes an atmosphere of shared delight.
That evening, I took my second trip to Sedona’s Main Street, where I strolled and enjoyed a double-scooped (yet small size) waffle cone combo of homemade vanilla malt and prickly pear flavors at Black Cow Café. Sweet. Sedona is also home to the Los Abrigados Resort & Spa, for those looking to take a break from roughing it.
(Incidentally, the trailhead of West Fork Trail is also located in town. A week or so after my trip, a neighbor recommended this creek-crisscrossing hike if / when I return. She told me that once she and her husband discovered it, they hiked it every trip there, and in all seasons.)
Desert View Campground
On Wednesday morning I left around 7 a.m., anxious to reach first-come-first-served Desert View Campground, on State Route 64, about a two-hour drive north of Sedona near the East Entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim. Although I would have enjoyed visiting Flagstaff, I was concerned about finding a campsite at a superstar of national parks in peak season. As it panned out, a 9:30 a.m. arrival offered plenty of open sites, although later in the day the place was packed.
While setting up my tent, I noticed a man walking by and looking back at my site. He didn’t see me, but I greeted him. Dave is about a decade older than I, retired, and lives and travels in a van.
He knew of a path between the campground area and the canyon rim, which also brings one a short distance from the Mary Colter-designed Desert View Watchtower. In my opinion, the tower is a site worth adding to your itinerary on a road trip through the West. Besides showing me the path to the rim, Dave informed me of Walnut Canyon National Monument, cliff dwelling ruins off of I-40, east of Flagstaff, where he camps on national forest land. So many enticing destinations.
The opposite, west end of the South Rim is highly developed and crowded. Desert View Drive, running roughly 25 miles between the watchtower / campground area and this main area, offers several varied and less-congested rim views via a series of pullouts, as well as a small museum and ruin site. Near the West Entrance are services such as lodging, dining, a market, showers, a post office, visitor center information, the mule barn, and more, including bicycle rentals.
(Year-round Mather Campground, requiring reservations March through November, is located in this part of the park, as is Trailer Village RV park.)
Cycling Desert View
Wednesday evening, I drove Desert View Drive to the Visitor Center area to shower and scope out bicycle rental for Thursday. The drive was brutal due to construction; it took an hour and a half, for some distance moving two to five miles per hour. This sort of event is something to consider when you travel; don’t be in a hurry.
At the rental shop, I decided on the five-hour for $30, rather than the full day, as I planned to drive and sleep partway back to Vegas on Thursday. I was advised to arrive the following morning when the shop opened at 8, if possible, as the shuttle buses become very crowded. This would turn out to be an understatement… On Thursday, even though I broke down the tent shortly after sunrise, I didn’t arrive until about 9. I hit a construction delay again; then I took my first coffee of the day when I arrived in the village area.
The bicycle rental shop provides a helmet, damage/theft insurance for a dollar, and a physical model of the shuttle bike carrier you need to be able to load so that you can try it out before you depart. Do try this; don’t just watch someone. For small, aging me, it was doable, but not easy, to lift and place the bike on the rack properly.
I was advised to shuttle to Hopi Point due to steep hills up to that area. I was also informed that I could catch the blue shuttle right outside, in the Visitor Center area, then transfer to the red shuttle to Hopi Point. Delay frustrated me once again when I waited about an hour and a half (!) for the blue shuttle. Once at the red shuttle stop, I waited another half hour.
Although I had been provided with a map, and told it was not to scale, what was not pointed out was that I could have simply pedaled the two-and-a-half miles or so to the second shuttle and skipped that first, maddening hour-and-a-half wait. It was only on the return ride that I noticed the short mileage, shown on the bottom of the map, between the shuttle transfer point and the bike shop. Had I been more mindful, I would have made the far better choice of riding this stretch on the way out, as I did on the return. Much of it is a pleasant bike path, and in one area I saw five mule deer. Even with the shuttle delays, it was well worth the wait to savor my adventure’s 2nd Heaven.
Once on wheels, it was pure glee for the next three hours. I wonder what some of the rim walkers along the way made of the older woman, alone, cycling along while hollering, at the top of her lungs, “Woo-hoo!” repeatedly.
The road is closed to cars (with minor exceptions, such as for handicapped persons), and the shuttle buses that carry passengers to several viewpoints before reaching the end point of Hermit’s Rest are sparse, so the ride is relaxing as well as stunning. Hermit’s Rest offers another Colter-designed structure. Smaller than Desert View Watchtower, it contains a snack bar, gift shop, and fireplaced entry room.
Something that surprised me was that, outside of one bicycle tour group, I saw nobody else biking. I assume that’s not true on weekends, but the views were so wonderful that it’s hard to fathom that it’s not more popular, even on a Thursday — but I sure liked it that way. Truthfully, I hesitated even to write about the cycling, as I don’t want to ruin it by making too many adventurers more aware of it.
From the days of my childhood purple Sting-Ray, I’ve been a bicycle enthusiast.
I still ride a Raleigh Grand Prix that I bought with saved allowance money at age 15. It carried me to driver’s ed classes in high school and on a path along New York’s Mohawk River as a teen; brought me from Providence to Boston and back when I was twentyish; took me on a memorable ride of about 25 miles with married couple friends, one of whom passed recently; kept me fit as a Cornell University student who rode from downtown up the steep east hill to campus; took me halfway up the east side of Cayuga Lake — the upstate New York Finger above which Cornell sits — and back, several times; transports me into downtown Vegas and sometimes to work; recently appeared with me, a featured “area resident,” in a local TV news spot about redevelopment in my downtown-area Vegas neighborhood; and has generally been a beloved companion for about 43 years.
A highlight of a trip to Rome three years ago was a bicycle ride in the Villa Borghese park, but even Rome riding was no match for tooling along gazing out at America’s Grand Canyon for miles. How I missed vacation bicycle rentals for years, I don’t know, but I’ll seek them out in the future.
Before leaving GCNP, I purchased a couple of animal flip books for my grandsons. I’d consulted an old-fashioned paper map (love them!), as well as an ancient AAA CampBook, and determined that Seligman, AZ, on Route 66, might be the right place to spend the night. Since I couldn’t use my phone to check out Seligman online, I asked the shop cashier if she knew anything about it.
She shared a recommendation for German food and carrot cake at Westside Lilo’s on 66. Before dinner, however, I would need to find a place to sleep. Seeking cell service, I stopped, en route to Seligman, in Williams, AZ, a small town with a number of restaurants and shops, and the Grand Canyon Railway that provides daily service on a vintage train between Williams and GCNP. I phoned the Seligman KOA. Tent campsites were plentiful and $25 per night; there was also one Camping Cabin at $50. Tired already, I readily booked the cabin.
Still in Williams, while appreciating the ability to speak with a friend in Michigan while ambling, I noticed a sign for Arizona honey, something for which I’d been keeping an eye out, in order to bring to dear friends in Vegas who chose honey when I asked if there was anything they might like from my trip. I bought two jars then, and another later, while driving north from Kingman to Lake Mead, choosing Cat Claw, Pine Wildflower, and Wild Mountain Pecan, all raw, unfiltered, and no water added, produced by The Honeyman in Black Canyon City.
In Seligman, the Camping Cabin turned out to be cozy wood, with a full-size bed and bunks, electricity, desk and chair, and a porch swing that rocked me while I did bedtime reading of Captivity of the Oatman Girls, recommended by my Michigan friend and picked up in Kingman. It’s about an incident from the 1800s that took place near the route I drove.
At Lilo’s, a few miles away, I told the waiter that a Grand Canyon shop clerk had recommended the place. He responded, “Oh, then you’ll get 10% off.” I’d previously been informed that my KOA receipt would offer the same.
After what I’d been told at the Grand Canyon, I was expecting a German restaurant, but there were only a couple of German items on the menu, bratwurst and schnitzels. I was informed that the wurst is made following the owner’s own recipe. It was excellent, and it came with three mustards, one obviously homemade, in a little cup, dark and sweetish and perfect for the sausage. I had kraut as a side, and I chose a regional beer. The carrot cake was massive; I presented half to a neighbor when I returned home.
The next morning ushered in the last leg, back to Vegas. I’d planned to drive Route 66 to Kingman, but after about seven miles, passing only one other car, I realized that, as a woman alone, I did not relish the thought of driving such a road for nearly 90 miles. Although my 17-year-old Camry ran so well that I decided it had earned love when I returned (and it received $1100+ worth), I knew that a flat tire or other minor mishap could put me at the mercy of whoever happened along, so I backtracked, entered I-40 West, and headed home.
Go, as soon as is practical, wherever it might be, whether solo or social.
There’s a saying, “There’s no time like the present.” Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius mused, “We live only in the present, in this fleet-footed moment. The rest is lost and behind us, or ahead of us and may never be found.”
Don’t put it off until you have to ask yourself why you waited so long — or until it’s too late. Odds are you’ll be delighted that you did.