My family and I drove the 3,200 miles to the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona and back in eight days. Almost four days were spent in a rented Chevy SUV because we wanted to see the West from a car window. We planned our trip using the Chicago Public Library's rich collection of Southwest U.S. travel books such as Forbes Travel Guide.
Embarking early on a balmy Saturday morning from Chicago, we passed Illinois cornfields, St. Louis and the Gateway Arch, the lush green Ozark mountains in Missouri and finally rolled into Oklahoma City at midnight.
After spending Sunday with relatives, we left for the Grand Canyon very early Monday morning for another 800 miles on Interstate 40 straight west. I-40 basically follows old Route 66. We sped through 200 miles of the Texas Panhandle, stopping in Amarillo for a Denny's lunch. The landscape evolved into rockier terrain and high desert as we entered New Mexico. It was 100 degrees in Albuquerque where we had dinner. A spectacular sunset virtually blinded us and ushered us into a dark Arizona landscape. We reached Flagstaff, gateway to the Grand Canyon, around 2 a.m.
We toured in and around Flagstaff on Tuesday. We discovered the Lowell Observatory late that morning and decided to return that evening to stargaze. The Flagstaff sky was crystal clear and full of stars. I saw Saturn in a large telescope for the first time! Those rings!
Wednesday was Grand Canyon Day for us. If you can, see the Grand Canyon in person. Pictures don't do it justice! Magnificent! We hiked along the South Rim for about two miles. Some crazy kids ventured out onto various ledges and outcroppings. I later learned that over 50 people have died falling from the rim. Don't do this! One wrong step!
On Thursday, we descended 30 miles from the clear, cool 7,000-ft. elevation of Flagstaff south to Sedona, Arizona. Sedona lies in the red-rock strewn Verde Valley region and is reached by using a two-lane, switchback road with some of the most scenic and treacherous landscapes I have ever seen. Sedona is a shopper's paradise of Native American silver and turquoise craft pieces, hand-sewn blankets and great Mexican restaurants.
Early Friday morning we left Flagstaff and began motoring those 1,600 long miles to Chicago. Leaving Amarillo early Friday evening, we drove right into the most frightening, spectacular thunder and lightning storm I ever experienced. The wide-open Texas Panhandle sky was ablaze for more than two hours. We again overnighted in Oklahoma City. The final leg through the Ozarks and Illinois was uneventful.