The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. It’s the worst. I have flown on that day for the past few years and know the horror first hand. So this year I flew on the day of Thanksgiving, and you know what? It was glorious! I had an entire row to myself on the airplane. That hasn’t happened since at least 1998. And I didn’t even care that I am a grown woman in my mid-twenties, I laid down across the entire row and, for once, actually fell asleep during my flight. That is definitely going on my list of favorite travel moments from 2014. Don’t you laugh or roll your eyes at me! Seriously a whole row to yourself is the best! Though I might be waiting another decade for it to happen again…or maybe by then I can just afford first class. #lifegoals
Unfortunately my wonderful flight experience was short lived. My flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico was a mere 1.5 hours. (Note: this is probably the first and only time I was sad about a short flight time.) Upon landing I shuttled east to Santa Fe where I was meeting up with the rest of my travel crew. Spending almost an entire holiday by myself was pretty relaxing actually. To me, holidays don’t need to be celebrated with family or friends ON the actual day. That idea in and of itself incites immediate stress and panic. As long as you are spending time with your family at some point why must it be on the actual holiday? It doesn’t matter when, it just matters with who and how often! So this year I through those plans out the window and decided to go on vacation instead! I did miss eating pumpkin pie though.
My first stop in Santa Fe was to Loretto Chapel. The beautiful story surrounding this quaint church begins in 1878 when construction of the Loretto Chapel finished, but without a staircase to access the choir loft. Carpenters told the sisters that the only way to access the choir loft would be by a ladder because a staircase would take up too much precious space in the small chapel. Well this was not a proper solution for the Sisters of the Chapel, so they made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, to help them find an answer to their problem. On the ninth and final day of prayer a man arrived at the Loretto Chapel looking for work. Over the course of several months the carpenter built an elegant spiral staircase giving the sisters access to the choir loft, and then he left without payment or thanks. The sisters searched for the carpenter, even running an ad in the local newspaper, but to no avail. The sisters concluded it was St. Joseph himself that showed up answering their prayers.
The miraculous staircase was very innovative for the time and to this day still perplexes many visitors. The staircases consists of two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. There are also no nails visible and is said to have been built only with wooden pegs. The staircase is truly a miraculous work and an extraordinary sight to behold. For me as a Catholic it is also a beautiful example of the power of prayer to our patron saints. Whether the carpenter was St. Joseph himself or merely a man extending his talents to those in need, it proves the inherent kindness in people; which is a powerful reminder to the many dark events in today’s world.
If you find yourself in Santa Fe, the Loretto Chapel and its Mysterious Staircase are definitely a place to visit! Not only is the staircase exquisite to admire, but also the chapel itself is beautiful. Loretto Chapel is a private museum and welcomes visitors every day of the week!
After visiting Loretto Chapel, we walked a short couple blocks to Santa Fe’s The Plaza for some local shopping! The Plaza is a great example of the Spanish influence on its settlements in North America and features stores full of Southwest and Native American jewelry, art and pottery. For our mid-morning snack, we stopped in The French Pastry Shop, a local bakery and cafe, to get coffee and a pastry to warm up during our chilly November morning outing. The apricot danish I ate was melt in your mouth delicious!
We window shopped and explored the Plaza some more before our tummies were growling for lunch. We headed to Maria’s, an authentic New Mexican restaurant, where the locals like to dine. I had their specialty, the blue corn enchiladas, and they were incredible! Another specialty of Maria’s is their house margaritas made with 100% blue agave tequila and freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. And speaking of tequila, they had the biggest list of tequilas I’ve ever seen: over 150 selections!
The trouble with time constraints on road trips is you are in the car more often that you are out of it. Thus after our leisurely morning in Santa Fe it was time to hit the road for Flagstaff, Arizona. Of course, with my itinerary, we were not merely driving the six hours straight to Flagstaff. I had some places to see on the way!
We made it to Petrified Forest and Painted Desert National Park at about 4:15pm, later than we planned, so we were chasing the sun to see the sites before dark. I quickly ran into the visitor center and the park ranger gave me a map highlighting the best sites to stop and with a wry smile told me to drive fast before the sun sets. With my map and token for entry in hand, I raced to our car and told my travel crew to get moving to our first stop at Blue Mesa. I am a firm believer in things happen for a reason, and our timing at Blue Mesa is a wonderful example! Watching the sunset at Blue Mesa was gorgeous and the canyon walls demonstrated amazing colors and lighting. Granted we were too short on time to hike farther into Blue Mesa and we barely spent an hour total in the National Park, but seeing the sun set in the park was awesome!
The next destination on our condensed tour was to visit Jasper Forest, which showcases the largest groupings of petrified wood in the park. The sun was nearly gone by the time we reached Jasper Forest, but I was able to hike up close to the petrified logs and examine this amazing phenomenon! Most of the petrified wood in the park is made up of almost solid quartz, weighing in at 168 pounds per cubic foot. It’s so hard, you can only cut it with a diamond tipped saw!
Unfortunately with my minimal amount of time at the park, there was so much I did not experience! Especially the off the beaten path sites, such as the Martha’s Butte Hike and Devil’s Playground (permits required), and I didn’t even have time to hike the whole 4-mile loop at Blue Mesa. But with its super convenient access off Interstate 40, I plan to revisit with dedicated time to roam Petrified Forest National Park!
As we exited the park, night had fallen and our tummies were grumbling. We pulled over to a picnic area and made up sandwiches before continuing on to our hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona. We arrived in Flagstaff about 8p.m. and it wasn’t until the morning that I realized we had spent yesterday in the desert but woke up in the mountains! Since Flagstaff is the nearest “big” city to the Grand Canyon and just an hour south from it, I did not expect to be cuddled up to mountains! The breathtaking scenery provided a beautiful and crisp-air morning for our drive farther south to Sedona, Arizona.
The 30-mile drive from Flagstaff to Sedona surprised me with it’s spectacular rugged and verdant landscapes. I was expecting more Grand Canyon and less Rocky Mountains. The route falls somewhere in between where striking red rocks jut up over the lush tree line and placid streams. As we made our way into the city of Sedona, it was easy to forget the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life and simply be charmed by this attractive city nestled into the surrounding rock.
Our first stop was Red Rock State Park, which is just a few miles outside of Sedona. To be honest I was disappointed, not with this state park, but with myself due to my lack of research. (How many times on this blog have I said, do your research?! haha. Apparently I need to listen to my own advice more!) With my limited time in each park on our road trip, I was only able to accomplish a park’s easiest and/or shortest hikes and vistas. Well this is not how you see the highlights in Red Rock State Park. All the good hikes and views are deeper in the park and require time and more strenuous walks to reach. So my travel crew’s time in Red Rock State Park was very brief, but we did do a short hike along a creek and it was very peaceful. I look forward to returning to properly enjoy this park with hiking gear and more time!
After our leisurely walk in Red Rock State Park, we opted to spend our afternoon at Javelina Leap Winery! This winery is a boutique family winery only a few miles outside of Sedona and tucked away in the hills of Arizona’s Verde Valley. We enjoyed a lovely wine tasting of their Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot and my favorite the Prospector’s Blend while munching on a delicious cheese and meat platter. All the wines are made locally in Arizona! At first we were the only group in their sunny back room area and spent time talking with our server and learning about Javelina Leap’s famous wines and vineyards and that a javelina is type of pig and resembles a wild boar. Never heard of that mammal before! It was the perfect way to spend our early Saturday afternoon and we of course left with a few bottles to enjoy during the rest of our road trip.
With our tummies satisfied, we decided to head back north towards Page, Arizona, our destination for the night. Unfortunately we ran out of time to actually hang in the city of Sedona, but I look forward to returning to this charming town! Sedona is a perfect destination to get away from the hussle and bussle, relax and reconnect with nature. On our drive north, we stopped at our second state park for the day, Slide Rock State Park, which is north of Sedona and south of Flagstaff. We only spent about an hour at this park so we did not venture on any hikes, but there is a beautiful waterfall and river bed area that is perfect for hanging out and relaxing! I bet it is a very popular watering hole (pun intended) during the summer! But it was a little chilly when we were there. Still, I enjoyed sitting amongst the red rock and listening to the water flow. Arizona is a really amazing state that I look forward to exploring more of throughout my life!
After Sliding Rock State Park we continued on north for a few hours to Page, and enjoyed a scenic drive around the Grand Canyon to get there. Arizona features majestic canyons and exemplifies the beauty of rugged nature. I hope you enjoyed reading about my sites to some of God’s miraculous works from a mysterious staircase to the wonders of nature! Make sure to add these places to your bucket list and check back soon for Part 2 of my continued adventures in Arizona!