The Desert - Week 3


We began our time in Phoenix by getting our windshield replaced after a rock caused a substantial crack in it back in Texas. While waiting, Luke, Beacon, and I ran four miles (which was a great feat for me). To our surprise, when we finished the run, our car was ready and we headed to my Great Aunt Wendy’s home in Scottsdale. We played card games, a few rounds of tennis, joined Wendy and her finace Bob on a hike, visited their church, and shared three wonderful meals together. We were thankful for this rejuvenating time after traveling throughout New Mexico and sleeping in our car.

Well rested, we drove two hours north to Sedona, Arizona. On our way there, Luke saw signs for Arcosanti, an architectural endeavor by Paolo Soleri. Luke was particularly excited about the visit as he knew about Arcosanti through the music festival Form, which is held there each summer.


We arrived in Sedona in the early afternoon, and did our first of five visits to Whole Foods. Once we were filled with food, Luke and I hit the trails for eight miles of hiking. Knowing the incredible view on the first hike, I loved watching Luke take in the vastness at the beginning only to be that much more amazed when we arrived at the overlook. When we were about a third of our way through the second hike, I asked Luke if he locked the car. On high alert, Luke began running back to the beginning of the trail (I knew I should have gone with him, but didn’t listen to my brain saying, “This is a bad idea.”) Thankfully, I found a couple who were hugely into weightlifting (which is how they met), and they happily let me join them on the hike. As the sun began to set, I became concerned that Luke had not joined back with us. After speaking on the phone, I realized that he hiked off trail. I quickly sent him my location, which was by a river. He followed the river, and eventually found me (thank God for technology). Lesson learned: We will never split up while on a hike again.


The following morning, we woke up to a light rain, with dense clouds finding shape around the mountains. When the rain let up, we embarked on a four mile hike to Devil’s Bridge. This hike was much more challenging than the first two, and involved steep inclines that were much more risky due to it being wet from the rain. To my surprise, Beacon took the challenge like a champ. He jumped from rock to rock, not slipping once. Then we arrived to the overlook: a massive natural bridge, multiple valleys with greenery, and red rock jutting hundreds of feet up from the ground. It was breathtaking.

On a high from our time in Sedona, we excitedly made the drive to the tiny home we were to stay at near the Grand Canyon. About one mile from the property, the mud became so dense that there were streams of water throughout the road. As we tried turning around, the back two wheels of our car began to sink into the mud. Over an hour later, Luke swung the steering wheel to the perfect angle and we finally escaped. Back on the paved road, Luke and I were so high on adrenalin that we kept driving north and found a hotel with an available room around midnight. We both collapsed onto the Holiday Inn’s bed, happy that we had a huge bed to sleep in, television, free breakfast, and a hot tub. Luke enjoyed three rounds of meals.


Back in my junior year of college, I visited the Grand Canyon in late spring. It was quite hot and there were loads of people, tour buses, and lines to get your turn to take a good photo. January in the Grand Canyon is very different. The canyon is filled with pockets of snow and there were so few people that you feel the canyon is just yours for enjoyment. Luke and I hiked the red bus trail, which was closed to vehicles due to the government shutdown. Every turn we took was more majestic than the first, especially when the sun came out. The snow illuminated the red rock, and at times it was almost too bright for our eyes to take in. When it was time to head out, we typed in our next destination on Google Maps. To our dismay, the one highway (and only means of travel) to take us there was closed. To get to Monument Valley, we first had to backtrack an hour and a half to Flagstaff, then up three hours into Utah.

Around 10 pm, we began seeing dark masses around us. Because we were out in the middle of nowhere, there was no light to illuminate the rocks, other than the moon, which made the entire scene very eerie. After navigating by map because our phone service wasn’t working properly, we finally arrived at our Airbnb. We were elated to find a king size bed, a cozy fireplace, and glass doors facing East overlooking the Monuments. I woke up early to bright light peaking its way through the curtains. As I pushed the curtains back, hints of a sunrise appeared with clouds stooping lower than I have ever seen. After a quick view of this scene, I announced to Luke that we needed to get up to drive the Monuments. We drove for about an hour, 30 minutes before the sun peaked over the horizon and 30 minutes after. Later in the afternoon, we headed once again to the Monuments to the back road scenic drive. Luke kept saying if felt like we were no longer in the U.S. because it was so unlike everywhere else we have seen in the States.


That evening, we were hoping to split a bottle of wine in our cabin during sunset, but to our dismay, alcohol is prohibited on Native American reservations, and the closest liquor store was about 150 miles away. Instead, we went to bed early, so that we could wake up and hit the road to Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, and then Zion National Park.


We had originally planned to camp on Lake Powell, but after arriving, we were very thankful we extended our stay in Monument Valley. Other than the beach and Horseshoe Bend, there wasn’t much you could do without a boat or committing to a 10 mile hike. Throughout the afternoon, we enjoyed the scenery of turquoise lakes and iconic rock formations, while reflecting on what we were doing exactly a year prior: my victim impact statement at Larry Nassar’s sentencing. It was such a meaningful time of discussion about where we were back then and more importantly, our current journey.


Zion National Park took every desert and mountain view we had seen prior and multiplied it by 20. Everything was more grandiose, particularly the height of the mountains. To our surprise, none of the trails were labeled, so we created our own trail and climbed up the side of a mountain that looked like it would have a beautiful overlook. About 3/4s of the way there, two bighorn sheep emerged and stood their ground for about 5 minutes. Wanting to respect their space, we headed back down the mountain and went on one final hike, where we came across the pictographs of indigenous people who once resided in Utah. As a history nerd, I was very excited to see the pictographs in person (see some in the photos above).

Wanting to calm our muscles down from the hiking, we headed to a 75 minute fascia rolling class at a local yoga studio. The instructor provided heavy duty rollers, and guided us through rolling out each muscle beginning with our feet and ending with our necks. When I stood up after the class was completed, my body felt notably better.

Rejuvenated, we woke up early Sunday morning to drive to Las Vegas. And that’s week 3!

Upcoming travels in week 4: Las Vegas, Joshua Tree, Los Angeles

Melody van der Veen