Life on the Road – April Part 1: Sedona and Flagstaff

The Back half of March 2019 saw us make our way from Vancouver all the way down to Sedona, Arizona. While Sedona had always been on our loose list of places to see, we hadn’t originally planned on any lengthy stay, we had other priorities – a laundry list of excursions in Utah. Though plans, being what they are, are susceptible to change. In this case the wet, windy weather that had chased us South looked like it was staying put for the time being over most regions to the North, and the sunny, warm, hiking and biking filled community of Sedona proved a very inviting place to stay and wait it out. Plus, one of our lessons learned in the first leg of our trip was that we needed to slow down and smell the roses, something we were both keen to try out. Sedona went from being a potential pass-through visit, to a wonderful 5-day layover.

The drive into Sedona, is an adventure in itself, descending steeply from the Coconino plateau into the Valley the town is nestled in. The switchbacks are so tight and so steep that you’re not allowed to drive a vehicle over 50 feet either way – even in our 20 foot van, some of the corners were an adventure. Once off the plateau you meander through a beautiful forested valley, before abruptly meeting the bustling tourist strip of Sedona. We pushed on through the tourist trap portion, to find camp in the quieter regions just West.

Sedona proved to be a very easy place for campers like us (Read: people who don’t like paying for campsites), there are vast networks of forest roads through the surrounding Coconino National forest that provide innumerable free campsites spitting distance from town. That said, the camping is busy – expect to have friends nearby. We found a spot for our first night and got rested up for a mountain biking adventure the next day.

One of many beautiful little spots that we called home for the night during our stay in (outside of) Sedona

I am a mountain biker, it is part of my identity, and as much an addiction as it is a passion. Our 7-month road trip almost perfectly overlaps the 7 months of good mountain biking to be had in the Pacific Northwest (roughly April through October). At some point it became apparent that this removal from mountain biking could be hazardous to my well-being, so mountain biking was worked into the overall trip plan. Simultaneously, I managed to convince Alex that learning to mountain bike was a good idea. With that, I purchased two used hardtail cross-country bikes through craigslist, and figured out how to fit the necessary gear into the van. I would not go into withdrawal from mountain biking on this trip!

I had taken Alex on a couple warm-up rides already, and she had proven a natural study, but this ride was going to be the real deal! I used a couple trail info apps (Trailforks and Mountain Bike Project) to string together a 22km blue/green rated cross country loop around the West Sedona Trail Network. The trails meandered through gorgeous scrub land, sparse little pinion pines, cacti, and desert wildflowers. The first half of our loop was appropriately graded, Alex had a blast cruising through the swoopy dirt sections, and tackled some moderate challenges through small rock gardens and ledges. Unfortunately, the back half of our loop proved to be a little much – I’d have pegged it more a black than a blue trail. Our return path took a good deal longer than I had planned, and by the time we got back to the van we were both pretty pooped. I made mental note to do a bit more research on our rides, and maybe focus on either technical challenge OR all-day-epic, not both at the same time, until Alex had a bit more saddle time. To her credit, she trooped the entire day and rode an impressive amount.

Always a good time on two wheels, and Sedona provided plenty of fun for us on our mountain bikes

Our next few days in Sedona we decided should be a bit more relaxing – we deserved it, this is a vacation, after all. We spent an afternoon checking out an inviting swim hole south of town, enjoyed a much more moderate length, beginner friendly mountain bike loop around Bell Rock Park (I hadn’t scared Alex off with that first ride!!), did an evening pilgrimage to the popular Devils Natural Bridge, made use of some of the conveniences of civilization – coffee shops with wifi, well-stocked grocery stores, and laundromats – and each night settled into comfortable camp with some cold beers in the National Forest surrounding town. We were starting to feel like locals!

Some shots from around Sedona. Devil’s Natural Bridge in the evening, the painted mesas surrounding town, some giant blue agave plants. We ventured into the Wet Beaver Wilderness for a hike and a swim.

Our last day in Sedona we decided to knock off one of the highly recommended local hikes – Mount Wilson. The hike treated us to more of the quintessential Sedona scenery, climbing from desert scrub through bands and over shelves of red rock and into the pine forest found on the plateau above town. At the top, we were treated to two separate view points at opposite ends of the large flat top of Mount Wilson, the first Southward over Sedona, and the other facing North up the river valley towards Flagstaff. Finished with our hike, and with our visit in Sedona, we made the short trip North to Flagstaff, where we had an appointment with a mechanic for an oil change and to get some noisy brakes looked at.

Views from Mount Wilson out over Sedona, and North towards Flagstaff.

We dropped the van off at the mechanic first thing the next morning and hopped on our bikes to explore the town of Flagstaff. We took advantage of the rec. center for a workout and showers, had an amazing lunch (breakfast chaquilles are a thing, and they’re to die for), stopped by the REI, and went for some unusual, but delicious, beers at Dark Sky Brewing – my highlight was a BLONDE stout, light in colour, dark in flavour. By the time we were done our tour of the town the van was ready to be fetched from the mechanics with fresh oil and a clean bill of health – thanks Randy’s Downtown Garage! We did one more stop to top up groceries, then made camp in the forest outside town. The next day we’d head up to the Grand Canyon, but that’s a story for another post…

Cheers, Flagstaff. You were kind.

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