I’ve now spent about two months living in Rapid City and while I am not overly crazy about it, the scenery and the people have proved it to be a pleasant experience so far. The weather finally hit below freezing a few mornings in a row, a huge relief from the continuous string of triple digit temperatures while living in Tucson, and the first snow of the season is expected shortly.
My road trip from Tucson to the Black Hills took a couple days to plan. I had four days to get to my destination and decided to do some sight seeing on the way. Because I couldn’t travel with my dog due to my Jeep being involved in the most elaborate game of Tetris imaginable, I had much more flexibility with taking side trips and which would otherwise be difficult to do with a very curious husky. The trip took four whole days and I traveled over 2,000 miles, checking off items from by travel bucket list along the way.
I left Tucson early on a Tuesday morning. It was a rough three years living and working in that town and I couldn’t leave fast enough. With monsoon season in full swing, the ground was wet with recent rain as I packed some final few items in my Jeep. The sun was still below the horizon when I checked out of my hotel and hopped on Interstate 10, heading north towards Phoenix. Leaving Tucson was bittersweet. I wasn’t going to miss it. The location, the sights, the food…those things were great. There are some wonderful people who I am going to miss as well. Being in the desert never bothered me, but the work environment made me want to leave and never go back. But I was mentally prepared to leave and to start a new chapter in my life in South Dakota.
It took around two hours to get to Phoenix, one of my favorite cities. I wasn’t planning on staying long but I had to take a quick stop at Ground Control, a coffee and wine bar in Litchfield Park near Luke Air Force Base. Established about seven years ago, Ground Control is owned by an F-16 pilot and his wife and was meant to be a good after-work hang out. With locally roasted coffee and beer and wine from around the world, it’s one of the few locally owned coffee shops frequently visited. Naturally I had to make one final stop and order a Viennese iced coffee. Somehow, I also walked away with six pounds of roasted coffee. Not sure how that happened, but it did make my car smell delicious and I now have enough coffee to last me a while.
I continued my drive north on Interstate 17 and instead of stopping in Flagstaff like I had origianlly planned, I made a quick stop in Seligman, the birthplace of Historic Route 66. The town, while small and a bit touristy, is full of life. I had to grab lunch at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap, well prepared for the shenanigans that took place in the small eatery. Originally a drive-in, it was built in the 1950’s by Juan Delgadillo, a local. The eatery is still run by the family and was a delight to visit.
It was a warm day in Arizona, which was expected in the summer, and I waited in line after futilely attempting to open the door using the dummy door knob. Joke was on me, right? The woman in front of me asked for two cones, and was presented with two small orange traffic cones. She looked at them quizzically before being ‘squirted’ with mustard and ketchup, initially mortified before realizing they were all silly gags. The owners continue to have a sense of humor, offering the woman a tiny sample sized ice-cream when she asked for a small. The jokes were endless…and the line had gotten long quick. Worth the visit and the wait for that hot dog I had ordered (I’m sure the rest of the menu was good as well).
An Arizona road trip isn’t complete without seeing the magnificent Grand Canyon. I had been there 20 years ago with my family on our first family road trip. Memories fade and I don’t think as a kid you really appreciate how large and beautiful the Grand Canyon really is. I mean, just look at it!
The easiest way to see the Grand Canyon was by going through the South Rim. It’s open all year round, where as the North Rim is typically open during the summer. I would have loved to have hiked the Grand Canyon, but I unfortunately didn’t take advantage of it while living in Arizona for three years. Driving through the National Park was a treat, with thick lush trees lining the sides of the road, a stark difference from the desert in Tucson and Phoenix. I was able to find a place to enjoy the scenery by myself in less popular spots without the overbearing crowds. After driving through the National Park, I finally started heading toward Page. It was tempting to take the road that would have led me to the North Rim, but it was getting late and I still had a long drive ahead of me. While it was a beautiful day with clear blue skies, the skies opened and there was a torrential downpour as I continued to drive north, stopping momentarily to peruse some Native American art and jewelry on the side of the road crafted by local artisans.
Finally, after a long day of driving, I had made it to Page. After checking into the hotel, I decided to grab a quick bite at a small local wine bar. A bit difficult to find since the restaurant blended in with the rest of the stores lining a large parking lot, the Blue Wine Bar was a perfect way to end the first day of my road trip with unique alcoholic drinks and a wide variety of tapas. I settled for a dirty tomato martini and the calamari and avocado tacos, beautifully presented and surprisingly filling. Let’s not forget the salted caramel cheesecake, which was amazing!
Stay tuned for Part 2, with a tour of Antelope Canyon, driving through Monument Valley, and viewing the unique rock formations in Goblin Valley.