Arizona Solo Trip Day 1 (Montezuma Castle, Walnut Canyon, and the Grand Canyon)

I decided to take my first solo trip in 2+ years about two weeks prior to the trip. You can read about how long it took me to decide where and when to go in my post here.

Teddy dropped me off at the Baltimore Airport at 5 AM so I could have a direct flight to Phoenix for my first day. I downloaded a few audiobooks on my Libby off prior to takeoff since I knew I likely wouldn’t be sleeping on the flight. I snacked on my favorite in flight food (Combos) and listened to Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lisa Terkeurst and then part of Find Your People by Jennie Allen (which I then finished later in the day) over the 5 hour flight.

I landed in Phoenix, had pre checked in for my rental car through Enterprise so I luckily got to skip the line, and then headed off to my first stop for the day. Teddy had texted me after he dropped me off to check my email, and I found a Dutch Bros. gift card that he sent me for the trip, so my first unofficial stop was Dutch Bros for their chai. Then, I drove the scenic highway north about 90 minutes to Montezuma Castle National Monument.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

I’ve never been to Montezuma Castle before although I’ve visited the Phoenix area a few times prior. During my research, I saw this was on my way to where I’d be staying for the night, so spent about just over an hour visiting the ancient cliff dwellings. This 20 room cliff apartment was made a National Monument in 1906 by Teddy Rosevelt and was the third designated National Monument. There’s also the second part of the monument that’s not a far drive away, Montezuma’s Well, but I didn’t stop there on this trip.

I read about the dwellings in the Visitor Center and learned they were made by the Sinagua people in about 1050 A.D. Sinagua comes from the Spanish “sin agua” meaning without water. There were two people groups that made up the Sinagua, the Northern Sinagua who lived near the Flagstaff area and the Southern who lived near the Verde Valley which includes Montezuma Castle.

There’s various reasons the Sinagua would have chosen to build cliff dwellings. They can protect from invaders. They also can protect from weather and because the cliff faces south, they are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Over time, the Sinagua migrated away from the area.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

After leaving Montezuma Castle, I headed about an hour north outside of Flagstaff to another National Monument with ancient dwellings. Its believed that the northern Sinagua made these dwellings, but many other tribes have called this area home over the years.

I took the 1 mile Island Trail down into the canyon. It is about a 200 foot descent and then you are able to walk among 25 or so cliff dwellings and see many more across the canyon. Similar to how I felt during my time at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, I felt this same peaceful yet magical feeling while walking along this trail. I think it’s such an incredible experience to learn how ancient people lived and visiting sites like this are one of my favorite things to do on trips.

Grand Canyon National Park

About an hour and a half northwest of Walnut Canyon is the Grand Canyon. I headed there which is also where I’d be staying for the night. I checked into the Bright Angel Lodge, which is the same place Teddy and I stayed on our southwest road trip last year. I walked along the Rim Trail and then grabbed dinner in the lodge since I hadn’t had much to eat during the day. I watched sunset from outside my cabin on the Rim Trail and was amazed by the purple colors that descended into the canyon. I had an early night so I could get up early for the next morning’s hike.

Day 1 Recap

I shared the 9 qualities that make up my perfect road trip here a few blogs ago. So let’s recap day one and see how many happened over 4 hours of driving and 250 miles. You can see a map of the locations below.

  • Local Coffee Shop – I’m counting Dutch Bros as local since we don’t have it at home and it was divine.
  • Hike with a great view or end point – The hike in Walnut Canyon definitely had a beautiful view.
  • A few hours to relax – I relaxed for a bit in the room after dinner but I would say overall this one didn’t exactly happen.
  • Learning – Visiting both National Monuments allowed many opportunities to learn about the ancient peoples of the area.
  • Something novel – The cliff dwellings were such a novel experience.
  • Something challenging – The hike into Walnut Canyon was a steep descent and not being fully acclimated to the 7,000 feet elevation yet made it challenging for sure. It was my workout for the day.
  • Scenic drive – Driving north from Phoenix to the first stop was a highway, but so scenic through the landscapes. It was spring and there were various wildflowers blooming and I was shocked by how beautiful it was.
  • Unique stay – Staying in. acabin about 30 feet away from the Rim of the Grand Canyon is for sure unique.
  • Vistas – The whole day was vistas, but one that I’ll never get sick of is the Grand Canyon at sunset.

Overall my first day was such a joy. Once I touched down in Arizona, I was so much less nervous about traveling alone and just excited. I got to feel the warmth from the sun which Pennsylvania hadn’t had much of before I left, got to visit two new National Monuments, and visited one of my favorite National Parks. Day one was a great success.

Stay tuned for day two!

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