APRIL 16-APRIL 19
I received a call one week before the Grand Canyon trip, informing me that I was joining the adventure and needed to clear my schedule. Despite my typically spontaneous nature, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of anxiety. Thoughts of a new job and fresh opportunities crossed my mind, but they were overshadowed by the anticipation of breathtaking vistas, new friendships, and exciting beginnings.
On our first evening, we gathered for a Mexican dinner to meet everyone and discuss the upcoming days' plans and expectations. Safety and the role of our guides were topics that triggered a fresh wave of nervousness. Internally, I questioned my physical fitness for the hike, wondering if I would be able to keep up.
The following morning, we rose early to load our belongings and camelbacks into the spacious car we affectionately called "space car." I always struggled with opening it. After preparing, we embarked on a short drive to Montezuma Castle. The cooler weather in comparison to Phoenix made our time outdoors enjoyable as we completed a brief loop walk. Returning to space car, we continued our journey to Sedona. The drive itself was awe-inspiring, as the red rocks humbled us while we marveled at their beauty.
Arriving at Red Rock State Park, we were warmly greeted by a park ranger who jokingly remarked that nothing had changed since our last visit, causing us all to share a laugh. Opting for the Eagles Nest Trail, we were treated to incredible views of the distant red rocks. We meandered along the river, soaking in the scenery. After the hike, we dined at a delightful Mexican restaurant with splendid views of downtown Sedona and the rocks. Our increased comfort with one another was evident in the copious amount of chips and salsa we devoured. Danielle shared an interesting fact about Sedona—the town's McDonald's boasts a turquoise-colored arch, unlike the traditional golden arches seen elsewhere. Concluding our meal, we briefly explored the town before returning to space car for the drive to the Grand Canyon.
Several hours later, we arrived at our next destination, where everyone but Briana had been before. Witnessing her first glimpse of the Grand Canyon reminded me of nature's profound beauty and its ability to evoke a multitude of emotions. At the first overlook, we spent a significant amount of time taking photos and silently absorbing the magnificent views. We strolled along the rim towards a visitor center, where we learned more about the rock formations and the canyon's geological history. I was surprised to discover that squirrels were the primary cause of injuries in the canyon—a fact I eagerly shared with others. Departing from the canyon, we set off towards our accommodation, but an incorrect route suggested by Google Maps led us down a rugged and bumpy road. Nonetheless, space car handled the challenge admirably. The lodging itself was beautiful, providing a perfect backdrop for us to showcase our experiences on social media, albeit except for a comical mishap involving the roll-out bed. Dinner was a delectable affair featuring steak, potatoes, and an incredible apple dessert. As the sun began to set, we gathered around the fire pit, an intimate and cherished moment of bonding, stargazing, and learning new slang from Briana. We wrapped up the night, seeking rest for the upcoming significant hike.
Morning arrived swiftly, signaling the anticipated challenge of the Grand Canyon hike ahead. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at our accommodation, comprising eggs, pancakes, toast, bagels, and bacon. Upon reaching the Canyon, we met our guide, Brian, and boarded a bus to reach the South Kaibab trailhead. As we set foot on the trail, my nerves heightened. The initial portion consisted of zigzag paths, with Brian sharing interesting facts and pointing out seashells embedded in the canyon walls.
Continuing our descent, we reached Ohh Ahh point, where the breathtaking view of the Canyon justified its name. We marveled at the stunning vistas and glimpsed other trails leading further down. After allowing the mules to pass, we hiked down to cedar ridge, our goal for the hike. Enjoying panoramic views and refreshments, we prepared ourselves for the nerve-wracking ascent. The climb involved conquering an elevation gain of 1,181 feet, a daunting prospect. My competitive spirit drove me to push through the challenging steps, concealing my exhaustion from others. Reaching the trail's end brought a sense of relief and excitement, as only a mere 1% of Grand Canyon visitors hike down. I proudly joined that exclusive group. Following the hike, we relished a satisfying lunch before heading to Flagstaff.
Our next stop was Red Mountain Trail, where my initial reluctance to hike quickly dissipated upon encountering the mesmerizing hoodoos—majestic erosional pillars. Such awe-inspiring moments put life into perspective, making my initial grumpiness about hiking seem trivial in comparison. After a relatively brief hike, we resumed our journey to the hotel, where we enjoyed some downtime before our dinner celebration at Oregano's, complete with a pizookie to commemorate Danielle's birthday. Exhaustion soon overtook me, and I quickly succumbed to sleep.
On our final morning, we had the luxury of sleeping in before our visit to Walnut Canyon. Exploring the ancient Native American dwellings was a fascinating experience, witnessing their impressive ability to climb down canyon walls and construct mountain-side huts. It served as a stark reminder of the convenience and ease of modern living. We embarked on a looped trail, delving deeper into the history and even venturing inside their meticulously crafted homes.
After the hike, we returned to space car and commenced our journey back to Phoenix, making one last stop at Arcosanti. Arcosanti is a unique architectural complex located in Arizona. Designed by Italian architect Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti is renowned for its innovative approach to urban planning and sustainable living. Although our time there was limited to certain areas due to restrictions, the unique architecture we encountered left us yearning for more exploration.
The return trip to the airport passed swiftly as we shared our favorite moments from the trip. I attentively listened as the ladies discussed how this experience would benefit the Autism Community. At each stop along the way, we encountered valuable teaching moments that encompassed essential life skills such as effective social communication, collaborative teamwork during our hikes, and the practicalities of food ordering and budgeting. Reflecting on the trip, my initial concern of how I would physically manage shifted to how I could make the experience memorable for myself and others. I contemplated how best to document the beauty and fun we had, as well as how to embrace the lessons and personal growth that these few days in Arizona had offered. Three days away had provided me with valuable insights, cherished memories, laughter, and personal development. I had successfully completed the journey, eagerly anticipating the journeys others would embark on as well.