Destination: Oak Creek Canyon

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Climbing up from Sedona to Flagstaff, Highway 89A winds along Oak Creek, passing waterfalls, quaint lodges, and beautiful picnic spots.  Surrounded by forest, it’s easy to forget that there’s a desert just a few miles back down the road.  The several picnic areas along the way all require a parking pass, the Red Rock pass works for most of them and can be purchased as daily, weekly, or annual.  Aside from Slide Rock State Park, it’s all run by the U.S. Forest Service so a National Parks pass also works.  If you really want to immerse yourself there’s four campgrounds in the canyon.


Call of the Canyon (West Fork Trail)

That being said, none of the Red Rock or Federal Lands passes work at this spot like they do all the other picnic and hiking areas, so forking over $10 to park here is mandatory.  If you’re looking for a day trip the trail meanders about three and a half miles through the West Fork canyon; I didn’t go all that far but still managed to spend over an hour just taking pictures and drinking it all in.


Mayhew Lodge

On the West Fork Trail, Mayhew Lodge began as a small cabin on the banks of Oak Creek, became the set of a movie and then grew into the vacation destination of presidents and film stars.  The lodge was purchased by the forest service in 1968 and burned to the ground in 1980.  The remaining stone walls and foundations are now being overtaken by trees and ivy, looking like some kind of secret garden.  A more intact chicken coop and a cave used for food storage are located right on the other side of the trail.


Banjo Bill

This was the only other picnic spot I stopped at.  No idea why it’s called Banjo Bill.  It’s a beautiful spot with a waterfall pouring right over the driveway of a lodge up the hill.  I love the rocks along here.  They have the most incredible textures, and this time of year there’s colorful leaves laying all over them.  A lot of the trees have grown the rocks right into their roots.

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Where I Extol the Virtues of Train Travel

Journey: Amtrak’s Southwest Chief

Chicago to Flagstaff, 1,782 Miles


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So I’m in Arizona for the winter, and instead of spending 3 super crappy days or 5-6 somewhat less crappy days in a car, spending hundreds of dollars on gas, lodging, and food, I decided to let Amtrak do the heavy lifting.  For $154 I got to spend two days lounging around reading & watching the world go by while still managing to end up on the other side of the country.  Flying would have been shorter, but almost certainly more expensive (I have better things to do than check prices on 47 different airlines) and a bigger pain in the neck.  I boarded the train with absolutely no hassle.  I didn’t have to show up two hours early, or spend any time at all standing in line to have a stranger pat me down & look at my skivvies through some weird Star Trek machine.  I brought a large backpack, 44-pound duffel bag, purse, blanket, pillow, snacks, outside water, AND nail clippers on board, nobody batted an eye. Try getting all that on a plane.

Along the way I got to see not only my origin & destination, but everything in between.  I wasn’t hurtling along 30,000 feet above it, I got to be a part of it, all the wild animals, little towns, big cities, and beautiful landscapes across nearly 1,800 miles, with no effort involved.  And seriously low-stress travel: wide comfy seats, footrests, legroom, no screeching babies, and there was a whole lounge car to go hang out in if I got tired of my little nest.  My fellow travelers were pretty mellow too, the only time I heard anyone get even a little upset was some guy who didn’t like his upper level seat because he struggled with stairs; the conductor put the smack down on him pretty fast, he’d bought the wrong kind of ticket, and there was no fixing it now.  I never saw anyone being rude to other passengers or staff.  Even the cell-phone chatters were quiet and respectful of the people around them.

The only problem I had was with my second seatmate.  The first one was pretty close to perfect, he sat quietly and we ignored each other for five hours until he got off in Missouri.  The second lady, she wanted to talk.  She gave up on me pretty fast, because I went mm-hm and stuck my earbuds in, but I saw her chatting up other people through the whole trip.  Not one time did I see her sitting alone reading or whatever.  I don’t think she even slept, she was like some kind of chatty vampire, feeding on other people’s exhaustion.  Speaking of sleep, it was surprisingly easy to come by.  We spent the night crossing the plains so there was nothing to look at anyway, the seat leaned back pretty well, with enough space that I wasn’t in the lap of the person behind me, I had my blanket, pillow, and eye mask. I took a drowsy motion sickness pill to help a bit (I didn’t need them for nausea and I need those for small roller coasters) and just passed right out.

Yeah it took forever, but this was a great trip.  I re-read one of my favorite books (Tricky Business, by Dave Barry), saw lots of interesting, beautiful things, and finally got to cross the Southwest Chief off my bucket list.  So many people just want to get where they’re going, they miss a lot.  The difference between planes & trains is the difference between tourists & travelers.  Do you want a journey – an experience?  Or merely a destination?

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