- Candace Ahlfinger
Road Trip! Phoenix to Sedona
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
Our flight to Phoenix arrived much earlier than we expected, so, instead of showing up at our cousin’s house very early, we checked Google to see what activities were close to the airport and open, especially with Covid restrictions in place.
The Pueblo Grande Museum fit our needs. While the museum itself wasn’t open due to Covid, the 2/3-mile interpretive walk entertained and educated us about some of the area’s history. The 800-year-old platform mound and the ballcourt were actually the ruins of those buildings constructed by O’Odham (Hohokam) Native Americans. The platform mound in the Archaeological Park was constructed for ceremonies and is one of only three still in existence in the area. It is especially striking with the modern city in the background. Hohokam homes are replicas that give visitors an idea of the living conditions of the native people.
We still had time for dinner before going to our cousin’s house, so, using Yelp, we decided to try Cocina Madrigal (https://www.cocinamadrigal.com/ ). The hole-in-the-wall appearance belies the amazing food that awaited us within. We started with great margaritas, guacamole, and Oaxaca Fundido, a melted cheese dip overflowing with mushrooms, sausage, jalapeños, onions and flavorful epazote. I could have made a meal from the appetizers, but we also ordered tacos--and not your usual tacos. After careful consideration we ordered a Oaxacan Shrimp taco and 2 Beef Tenderloin Steak tacos. While both were excellent, the Steak tacos, with pomegranate marinade, gorgonzola cheese and other luscious ingredients, were our favorites. (Note: We did not have reservations. but we arrived early so they were able to seat us. The restaurant filled up quickly, so reservations are recommended.)
I do not have any recommendations for hotels since we stayed with our wonderful relative, but Phoenix has many hotels and resorts of varying sizes. The drive to Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, was an introduction to a desert terrain. Along the road were Saguaro Cacti, seemingly standing as welcoming sentinels over the land, yellow blooming trees, and massive bougainvillea, profusely flowering in many colors.
The next morning we headed out to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, AZ, for an amazing experience in nature. The arboretum was founded by William Boyce Thompson who collected samples from deserts around the world to provide a beautiful learning event for visitors. As we entered the gardens, I was amazed to see a verdant oasis. This was not the brown desert that I expected to see. Instead, cacti in all shapes and sizes were blooming profusely while agave and yucca showed their many colors, also. The diverse plant life, including a rose garden, provides refuge for multitude types of birds which has made the arboretum a birders paradise. (Their website, https://www.btarboretum.org/ , shows which birds have been sighted recently.) Guided tours are available, but we enjoyed wandering around on our own and then picnicking in the shadow of the Picketpost Mountain. We enjoyed the relative quiet of this undiscovered piece of nature on the outskirts of Phoenix.
Boyce Thompson Arboretum
But our tour of the Phoenix/Mesa area had just begun. Our next stop was Canyon Lake in the Tonto National Forest. We were fortunate enough to glimpse Big Horn sheep standing guard over the area as we entered the red cliffs surrounding the lake. We walked around the lake before driving to the Lost Dutchman State Park and the Goldfield Ghost Town which was deserted when we visited—even by ghosts—due to Covid. Our final stop for the day was at Tortilla Flats, a town made famous by John Steinbeck in his novel by the same name. The town, population 6, began in 1904 as a stagecoach stop. We had fun listening to the country music playing on the patio as we ate our gelato. Of course, we had to visit the gift shop and the museum to learn more about the history of the town. (Just a note: We made certain not to spit on the sidewalk since signs are posted that the penalty is $5-$100! In fact, we were careful to follow all laws since we were not certain what the mannequin hanging over the country store had done wrong.) Our cousin had arranged the perfect finish for a long, but fun, day, a special dinner at Las Sendas Golf Club. We ate on the patio where we had a wonderful view of the magnificent sunset to accompany great food and company—the best part of any trip.
Canyon Lake/ Tortilla Flats/ Sunset at Las Sendas Golf Club
All too soon, we headed north, but not before stopping at the Musical Instruments Museum (https://mim.org/ ). The museum houses over 4,300 instruments, both ancient and modern. The Geographic Galleries divide the instruments by country with displays but also with videos so that visitors can see and hear the amazing celebration of music throughout the world. The extremely friendly staff gave us headsets with audio receivers as we entered the museum. As we entered a display, we could hear the music corresponding with that video. We experienced music from countries, such as Togo, that we were not as familiar with, but we also learned more about Cuban and Irish music. It was amazing to see and hear how someone stoking bellows accompanied by the sound of the smithy hitting hot metal was the basis of music in areas. Differences and similarities of music throughout the world is a unifying experience. Another gallery showcased instruments and music by artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Taylor Swift, and Roberta Flack. Unfortunately, we only had two hours to spend at this magnificent museum, but we would love to go back. If we spent more time, however, I would like to take a break for lunch just to avoid sensory overload.
Road trip! The first part of this multi-day trip took us from Phoenix, AZ, to Sedona where we stayed several days to hike and explore. We planned our departure from Phoenix in time to make lunch at Rock Springs Café where we split a salad. (Yes, this fact is important because our goal was to try their world-famous pies!) We drooled over the blackboard choices before settling on a mixed berry crumb pie. The choice was not easy, but we enjoyed every luscious bite. The historic building, founded in 1918, also contains a gift shop that provided a fun break.
A Trip to Rock Springs Cafe followed by Arcosanti
Fueled with sugar—and a healthy bite of salad for balance—we headed up Hwy 17 to Arcosanti. The town was the brainchild of architect, Paolo Soleri, who combined architecture and ecology as the basis for his town in 1970. The idea was to build up instead of horizontally and for all buildings to be environmentally correct. Unfortunately when we arrived, the tours were filled, so we simply wandered around and were able to see very little from the paths that are allotted for non-tour visitors. Many of the concepts introduced by Soleri have now been incorporated into current construction so the crumbling buildings we observed were disappointing for us although they were an innovative idea when Soleri began construction.
Montezuma "Castle" and Well
Next up…Montezuma Castle and Well. (https://www.nps.gov/moca) The path in the National Park winds around the foot of the limestone cliff where the Sinagua’s impressive 20-room apartment is carved into its heights. Mysteries still surround the structures. How did these people survive in the harsh desert climate? Why were the living facilities deserted?
A visit to Montezuma’s Well raised more questions. (You have to drive to the well from the castle.) This area, which has been inhabited since as early as 11,000 BC, has cliff dwellings in one side that are visible as you move along the paved walkway. That the well stays full is amazing. The well gets about 1.5 million gallons daily from an underground spring. The excess water flows out through a cave in the rim. Scientists and explorers found that they could drop an item into the well and it would appear later in the well’s watery outlet. We enjoyed the tranquility of the sinkhole-filled well. (The tranquility from above is definitely not reflective of what goes on below the surface—leeches. Although we were assured that these leeches do not suck blood, I certainly would not want to be the person who tests the theory.
Our museum visit in Phoenix, combined with our stops along the way, took us to Sedona just as the sun began to set. The timing meant that we drove on the Red Rock Scenic Byway as the rocks showed their deepest red colors for a spectacular experience. Stay tuned...Our experiences in Sedona and on to the Grand Canyon will be posted soon.