Featured article in calculatedtraveller.com by Michael Soncina, ITMI Alumni and all around amazing writer and world citizen!
ARIZONA: THE LAND OF COWBOYS, MEXICAN FOOD AND THE GREAT AMERICAN ROAD TRIP!
It may be a strange place for a Canadian to end up for their winter vacation – well, unless you’re a snow bird that is! Due to North America’s sheer size few locals concentrate on their own backyard and instead dream of exotic lands far, far away. So when some fellow tour director friends of mine decided to fly into Las Vegas and drive to Flagstaff for an adventure, how could I say no?
What I found was an amazing part of America filled with stunning beauty, interesting history and more Mexican food than I could eat!
ARIZONA ROAD TRIP ADVENTURE BEGINS
Our trip began with a flight into Las Vegas, not only because this is the city of sin, but also because it makes the most sense as an airport hub, with the other major option being Phoenix. Despite “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and apart from winning $60.00 on the slot machine, nothing really exciting happened to me. I guess I wasn’t trying hard enough!
Our next biggest stop after leaving Vegas was the Hoover Dam – definitely a must-see while in Nevada! To be honest I was not too interested in going to see this engineering marvel, but having experienced it, I could not help but feel awe-struck and was glad I went. What makes the sight even more worthwhile is that they built a new bridge that not only gives visitors a great panoramic view of the dam, but free parking too.
KICKIN’ DOWN ROUTE 66!
The next stop on our trip was jumping on the historic Route 66 and visiting the small town of Kingman, Arizona. The real highlight here was lunch at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner and their famous homemade root beer. The restaurant has great food and the Americana plastered on the walls makes for an enjoyable experience. Across the street at the Kingman Visitor’s Centre is a fantastic museum about the history of Route 66 with a great re-creation of shops, diagrams and a showcase of vintage cars.
THE ARIZONA ADVENTURE CONTINUES IN FLAGSTAFF
After our drive down Route 66 we headed to Flagstaff, Arizona, our base for this trip. Since one of our friends subscribes to time-shares we were able to stay at the Wyndham Flagstaff Resort. This Wyndham property experience was an eye-opener since I had only heard stories of these places. When I signed up to listen to a presentation about the properties – with a reward to get a $100 gift card – my life entered into a whole new dimension of “weird,” with pretty sales ladies trying to flirt their way into my wallet, promises of pristine properties as remote as Sudan and a sales meeting with no escape. Anyway I digress….
As a base location, Flagstaff is amazing! As host to the North Arizona University, this small town is a bustling hub of youthful energy. The downtown has the highest concentration of microbreweries in all of Arizona. I especially loved the selection at Mother Road and I highly recommend their IPA. The seasonal triple blond at the Lumberyard Brewing Company was also delicious, not to mention the amazing selection of food (including this Vietnamese Sandwich), but Dark Sky Brewing took the cake with its creative beers on tap. I personally loved the Juicy Fruit IPA, Chai Stout and something with “Lemon Drop” in the title (sorry I had a flight of eight beers and there’s only so much I can remember!) – all of them totally mind-blowing. Not to mention the cute bartender named Casey. Good beer and beautiful women…. I was in heaven!
In addition to all the beer there is some great vintage shopping, especially at In Cahoots Vintage Clothing and Constumes. They had an awesome selection of steam punk garb and a crazy second-hand clothing depot next to the visitor’s centre.
TREKKING THE NATIONAL PARKS OF ARIZONA
The real highlight of this trip though was the nature. We were only two hours from the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, beautiful hiking at Red Rock National Park, and Wupatki National Monument with its amazing preserved pueblos (Indigenous brick houses created by a variety of tribes who lived in the area). We even visited the site where American astronauts practiced for the first mission to the moon at Sunset Crater Volcanic Park. For those looking for a little more adventure I highly recommend a jeep ride in Sedona. Pick the red (not pink) jeep and maybe you will get a cool cowboy guide like we did! A must-stop restaurant in Sedona is the Barking Frog Grille, where trying their cactus fries and frogs legs was the best culinary choice of the trip!
CORNER ON WINSLOW ARIZONA
The only place on this trip that will continue to perplex me is the stop in Winslow, Arizona to stand on a corner. For all the fans of the band “The Eagles” out there you will understand this! Unfortunately I did not, but I did enjoy teasing my friends who were in their 50’s and 60’s mercilessly for it. Though be warned – except for the corner there is nothing in Winslow, so plan this stop accordingly! Also, avoid the meteor crater… $18 for a giant hole in the ground which the staff would not let us into because we arrived too close to closing – I was not impressed!
Overall I fell in love with Arizona, whether it was the sun shining over the Grand Canyon, exploring the history of Route 66, scrambling along the red rocks of Sedona, chasing tumble weeds and road runners in Wupatki, flirting at the local brewery in Flagstaff or finding new Mexican restaurants along the way … everyday was a surprise! My favourite memory of this trip though was a visit to Ray’s Barber shop after my friends left. Ray’s was your typical local “joint”. It reminded me of a place I went to as a child, not so much a place to get your hair cut, but a place for the community to hang out. Here I spoke to John, an Italian guy from Jersey. We made small talk about our Italian heritage, his family and growing up in Jersey. He was the embodiment of the friendliness I found in the entire trip. His last words before I left was a quote from some gangster movie. John said, “Mike! Remember the Neighborhood; remember it Mike!” Now John was telling me to remember Toronto, the town I grew up in, but I will really forever remember HIS neighborhood and the time I spent there.
About the author, Michael Soncina:
Michael Soncina is a sustainable tourism enthusiast from Toronto, Canada. He has lived in Singapore and spent time WWOOFing and working with youth groups as a volunteer throughout Japan. His love for adventure has taken him to Central Asia where through a series of good and very bad experiences fell in love with the region. Michael has become a self-made ambassador for eco and sustainable travel. When he is not traveling he is leading groups of travelers around the world as a freelance Tour Director.