I’m one of those people who believes that I have athletic prowess. Of course I can run that race! Sure, I can lift that object! I’ve got the strength/stamina/willpower. Truth be told, though I have completed a couple half marathons, I can barely swim a lap across a pool before I need to take a breather, and while I enjoy taking on a strenuous hike, I have minimal upper body strength. And yet I happen upon things like Flagstaff Extreme Adventure (located in Arizona) and am immediately convinced that I can not only beat the challenges they set forth but that I can blow them out of the water. That I can be that guy who whizzes through physical obstacles without any problems
But who am I kidding? Seriously. Just because I participated in gymnastics as a kid does not make me a gymnast, and just because I enjoy being active doesn’t mean I’m invincible when it comes to physical fitness. And Flagstaff Extreme Adventure definitely requires physical skill and mental gymnastics. Don’t be fooled by what you think you can do when you’re standing on a rope suspended 60 feet in the air.
Flagstaff Extreme Adventure is a string of four circuit courses, each consisting of 10 – 17 obstacles. These include barrels, hanging nets, wobbly bridges, difficult-to-reach footholds, rope ladders, zip lines and other assorted things to climb over, crawl through, scramble around and otherwise navigate. The four circuit courses increase in difficulty as you progress throughout the course, beginning with the green course, which has minimum elevation and requires minimal skill level. As I easily made it through these obstacles, I was feeling confident in my body’s ability to muscle, bend and flex my way onwards through the maze of other challenges.
Mid-morning. The sun had risen well above the horizon, but the heat of the day hadn’t yet settled in. It would likely be warmer come the afternoon — even in November, the Sonoran Desert can be warm — but at this time of the morning, the leftover nightly chill mixed with the morning sunshine.
We line up our yoga mats on the deck of the visitors center at Usery Mountain Regional Park facing the desert: a collection of cacti and other succulents, red earth and the occasional creature scampering by — a bird, perhaps, or a small rodent seeking shelter in the plants. The desert is quiet except for the sounds naturally built into its soundtrack. This is Arizona’s meditation studio.
If I get to choose my hotel, I’m likely to choose one with a lot of history, a little bit of class and a touch of personality. That’s how I ended up at El Dorado in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Built in 1960, El Dorado was one of several resorts constructed during Scottsdale’s boom town days as a vacation destination. There’s no question what era this hotel is from with its square stature that is now considered to be vintage. El Dorado recently underwent the knife and got a bit of a facelift, and I’m happy to report that, though it has the potential to be a bit dated, this resort is definitely cool.
There are one– and two-bedroom suites as well as a three-bedroom casita with a private garden available. They’ve all been outfitted with classy, modern furnishings, and no two are alike. Some of the two-bedroom suites are themed, and we happened to get the Frank Sinatra Suite. I’m not sure if that was a coincidence or not, given the fact that we’re from Las Vegas, but it was very fitting and a lot of fun. The suite was incredibly roomy with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a large living room, a dining room and a kitchen.
I love the convenience of an all-inclusive resort. I appreciate the sense of a community at a hostel. I adore roughing it at a campground. And I relish the personal, one-of-a-kind experience and touch found only at bed-and-breakfast accommodations.
Whenever I book a room at a B&B, I have two immediate thoughts: First, it’s going to be so awkward staying in someone else’s home, a stranger in another person’s private space. And, second, I can’t wait to arrive — nothing compares to a B&B.
In Flagstaff, Arizona, we had our choice of chain hotels and staying at The Inn at 410. It was a no brainer. We immediately booked at The Inn at 410, a B&B that’s earned many awards over its lifetime. Gordon Watkins has run The Inn at 410 for many years. He and his staff are friendly, attentive and very knowledgeable about Flagstaff and the surrounding area. They’re available to answer questions during daylight hours, and Gordon lives on the property and is around when breakfast is being served.
We stayed two nights in the Dakota Suite, which was outfitted in a country western theme with Native American patterns, wood furniture and cowboy memorabilia. It had a bedroom and sitting room with a single bed as well as a large bathroom and some kitchen amenities (a small refrigerator, a few dishes, etc.). Flagstaff proved to be a bit colder than we anticipated, and we took advantage of the in-room fireplace to warm up. There is a large library of DVDs available at the inn, and a refreshment table with drinks and snacks is available in the lobby area all night long.
Nothing says nostalgia like spending the night on an authentic 1929 Santa Fe caboose. I love train travel, so when given the opportunity to spend the night in an old-school train car, I jumped at it. I could have chosen any random hotel in which to rest my head, but I love quirky stuff, so why not hop on board for something a bit non-traditional?
Williams, Arizona, sits on Historic Route 66. I’ve visited portions of this famous byway in Winslow, Arizona, as well as other towns, but Williams is steeped in the nostalgia that defines Route 66. The entire accommodation park at Canyon Motel & RV Park exudes this vintage vibe, and while the interior of our caboose was more heavily focused on train culture, there were certainly traces of Route 66 around the entire property.
So what is it like to stay in a caboose? In one word: Interesting. In a few more words: Unique, but a bit awkward. A train car, by its very nature, has a very defined shape, and that pre-defined shape leaves few options for arranging furniture and creating an environment that works well as an overnight accommodation. Caboose #1, which was our train car, can technically fit six people. There is a full-sized bed immediately upon entering the car. A tight hallway leads toward the back of the car, where a queen-sized bunk bed could fit an additional four people (two on the bottom, two on the top). A small bathroom with a shower fits between the two rooms of the car.
A few things I loved about staying at Canyon Motel & RV Park and in Caboose #1:
Need to escape? Looking to be whisked away? Itching for travel inspiration?
Look no further than the backdrop for the Chapel of the Holy Cross, tucked into the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. This is an active church but you don’t have to be a member to peek inside.
Need to escape? Looking to be whisked away? Itching for travel inspiration?
Look no further than the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which easily looks like a painted backdrop. Every time I visit this famed national park in Arizona, I’m still impressed by its vastness and beauty.
I have a confession to make: When I book a hotel, I rarely know anything about it beyond its basic amenities and how much it’s going to cost per night to stay there. As a result, it is often an incredibly pleasant surprise for me to discover the awesome history, quirky characters and interesting nuances that make a hotel particularly special (L’Auberge de Sedona, Alajuela Backpackers Hostel and CostaBaja Resort are three such examples).
As I drove my car up the driveway to the parking lot of Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa, I found myself pondering the curious urban location of this Phoenix-based hotel. In the lobby, I immediately noticed two things: An occupied birdcage and a beautiful old mailbox. Furniture and carpet were a bit dated. The stain on the woodwork was dark. I felt like I had stepped back in time, a definite departure from the minimalist, sharp, white lobbies of some of the newer, crisper resorts that have been arriving on the scene as of late. Within a few hours of my arrival, I learned the following about the Arizona Biltmore, which immediately helped shape my appreciation of the property:
> The Arizona Biltmore is so rich in history, there is an on-site archivist who researches and maintains a record of photography, written records and other artifacts that paint a comprehensive picture of the property’s past.
There is only one place in the United States where four states touch. In the Southwest, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet at a single point, which is marked by a metal placard placed in the cement. The Four Corners is a long way from anywhere, and those wanting to visit have to make this a destination — not just a place to stop on the way to somewhere else.
I was surprised to discover the Four Corners isn’t a national park and that it’s actually on reservation land. As such, it doesn’t have the amenities you might expect, nor is it large, splashy or able to accommodate overnight visitors. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting and fun stop for an hour or so before getting back on the road to head somewhere else.
If you’re planning a trip to the Four Corners, here are a few tips to help keep your expectations in check as you venture to this strange multi-corner place in the world.
> Cost is $3.00 per person, cash only. The closest ATM is five miles away.
> This is a very simple site. Parking is a bit haphazard. Cell service is sketchy. The only bathrooms are porta potties. Use them; they’re the only bathrooms around for several miles.
> It can be hot, hot, hot in the summer! The area is exposed to the sun with minimal shade or space to cool off, and no air conditioned buildings. Carry your own water.
> Avoid desecrating the nearby ruins, and think twice before buying any souvenirs that come from the desert landscape. This is a very fragile area.
> Take some time to browse the vendors around the monument. Items are reasonably priced. Don’t be afraid to negotiate for a better deal.
> Grab a quick snack of fresh fry bread before getting back on the road.
The sound of it is weird: Water sports in the desert. It’s like skiing in Las Vegas or cities spelled only with consonants. Weird, yet possible and strangely appealing.
Driving through the desert and along the roads leading into a valley in the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona, we were surrounded by a carpet of desert dust and a garden of cacti and scrub bushes. Yet, after winding through the desert landscape, we pulled into a parking lot and wandered across a small sandy beach, where I stood toe-to-water with Saguaro Lake. A few men sat in lawn chairs on the shore, fishing poles in their hands. A couple kayakers paddled a bit farther from shore. Beyond that, a speedboat took laps nearly a half mile away, zipping in and out of my sight line as it raced to the far end of the lake, which was hidden beyond a bend in the body of water.
Two people — a man and a woman — steering stand-up paddleboards banked their boards and greeted us on the sand. After a short round of introductions and a refresher course on how to handle one of these self-propelled watercraft (you may remember that I learned how to use a stand-up paddleboard on Lake Tahoe in Nevada and then had to complete a stand-up paddleboarding task during the Urban Adventure Games) I chose a board, pushed off from the shore, stood up confidently (it’s the only way to do it if you’re not going to fall!) and began making my way out into this desert oasis.