Into the West: Sedona & Grand Canyon road trip

Fit some of the best Southwest hikes and views into a long weekend.

Photo op from Sedona's Devil's Bridge, about a 6.5 hour drive from San Diego.
  • Photo op from Sedona's Devil's Bridge, about a 6.5 hour drive from San Diego.

For me, the Wild West was never something that piqued my interest. The desert, cowboys, the Gold Rush, saloons; it all seemed rather dusty and trite to me.

That is until I got a chance to actually experience the West. With all of its grandeur and beauty, history and folklore, the American frontier has quickly became my new favorite part of the country. There is a magic and mystery to it all. I get it now.

I set out with a couple of my girlfriends to explore the Wild West.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, AZ: what to see and do

Our first stop was Sedona. This mystical location has been on the top of my list for years now. Sedona is beautiful and serene, and considered a spiritual vortex. That last part has always held my attention. I've always been determined to get all up in that vortex.

Main Street of Sedona feels like a ski town, but without the snow and the skiing, obviously. While this is still a tourist town, it holds a unique appeal. With Red Rock Hills as the backdrop, the streets were bustling with visitors. Quaint and cozy, little shops selling crystals, aura photography (yes, aura photography), and Native American jewelry lined the main strip.

We spent the night at the Manzanita Campground, a small, quiet campground with about 20 sites. We were welcomed by the friendly campground host, John, who assisted us with a situation with our car and invited us to join his family for dinner at his site. Vivid, unpolluted stars above us and the sound of Oak Creek streaming next to us made for a tranquil visit.

On the trail to Devil's Bridge.

On the trail to Devil's Bridge.

The next morning we took to the Devil’s Bridge trail to experience the views of this beautiful place. Devil’s Bridge is the largest natural sandstone arch in Sedona and only a 1.8-mile round trip from the trailhead. If you're visiting with a time constraint or desire for solitude, consider arriving in early morning as the trail and the parking lot fill up quickly. Unless you have a high clearance vehicle, you will need to walk the 1/2-mile dirt road that leads to the trailhead.

You can also rent ATVs or take a guided tour with an open-air jeep, but we decided to earn the promised views of this hike.

Climbing up was rocky and pretty steep in a few parts. Proper footwear is recommended. Along the way to the bridge itself there are plenty of stop-off points to take in the scenery. The views did not disappoint.

Sedona has much to offer, from natural spas to challenging, rewarding hikes. Unfortunately we only had one night there, but I will definitely be back to explore more.

Grand Canyon South Rim

After the hike, we packed up and took the two-hour drive from Sedona to the Grand Canyon. People in Sedona were warning us of snow. The temperature was indeed dropping as we got closer to the canyon.

We stayed at Mather Campground, which is just inside the National Park and only a few minutes from the South Rim of the canyon. The sites are spaced apart and blocked by trees, giving you plenty of privacy. Showers and laundry are available at the entrance. A large general store selling grocery and souvenir items (as well as a cafe) was very close. Visitors who have stayed here frequently report seeing elk cruising through the campground.

We arrived just as the sun was setting and temperature was dropping. Though I grew up in Buffalo, Southern California has spoiled me. I forgot what it felt like to be cold. I quickly added all of the layers and sidled up the fire for the night.

The next morning we hiked the popular Bright Angel Trail. Clean, well-worn and pretty crowded, the trail winds its way down into the canyon. We saw some brave souls with gear on their backs. If you’re adventurous enough you can hike down and camp at the bottom. I see canyon camping and mule rides in my next visit.

It's a short but strenuous hike with really beautiful views. There were plenty of signs along the path reminding hikers to eat and drink double what they normally consume, and to stop if you’re feeling faint. This hike is no joke. Plenty of vistas and rocks to rest on. We took the trail to the 1½ mile rest area and turned around.

Watching the sunset at the Grand Canyon is a popular activity, so we knew that we’d have to carve out our spot early. We packed a picnic and made our way to Mather Point. We walked the trail around the rim of the canyon and found a secluded spot. Although it was cloudy, it was still a spectacular sight. The sun painted sections of rock different colors as it set.

Sunset picnic at the South Rim's Mather Point.

Sunset picnic at the South Rim's Mather Point.

Vast, sprawling, and awe-inspiring, the Grand Canyon was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Only having spent one full day, I know I scarcely scratched the surface of what this natural wonder has to offer.

The West did feel wild. It carries with it the ghosts of cowboys and gold rushers, as well as remarkable landscapes. Even with a short trip of three days, there's tons to see and experience.

Sunset from Mather Point.

Sunset from Mather Point.

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