Winter Break: Into the Vortex
My wife and I made a command decision last month: It’s time for a vacation. Now.
Why the urgency? Well, in addition to each of us running our own solo businesses, we’ve been putting our two sons through school for what seems like an eternity. But since our youngest, Jackson, graduated last summer, the burden of tuition has finally been lifted. It has been a long stretch without a proper break.
We had three rules as we began conceiving this trip:
1) it had to be somewhere where the scenery was the polar opposite of New England, where we live,
2) it had to be somewhere we’d never been, and,
3) it had to give us some relief from yet another looooong New England winter.
It took about a day to settle on Sedona, Arizona. And it was a slam-dunk. Rarely do places exceed the hype. Sedona did.
Apparently, the weather in February in northern Arizona can be a roll of the dice, but our research revealed an average temperature range from 60º – 70º, so we felt good about booking our trip for the end of the month. When we arrived it was perfect. Sunny and warm — and spectacularly beautiful.
. . . . .
Aside from the R&R aspect the trip, I was hoping to use the break to spend some quality time with my sadly abandoned camera. I am by no means a professional photographer, but taking pictures makes me happy. My “big boy” camera, a Nikon d5100, is an older “prosumer” camera that is less “pro” and more “sumer." I have a couple of decent lenses (a very nice 50mm and a decent 70-300mm zoom), but for this trip I really wanted to try shooting with a wide-angle lens. So I went to BorrowLenses and rented a 24mm and a 35mm lens, both primes. Given the crop sensor on my camera, however, I wasn’t going to enjoy the full width of those lenses. But it was a good starting point.
Also nestled in my camera bag was a recently-purchased kit from Moment. My friend Austin Mann, who has done extensive testing of several recent Apple phone cameras, suggested that I try the lenses with my iPhone 6.
To make a long story short, my big boy camera lost the battle.
I took some decent photos (see below), but when I compare my Nikon photos to my Instagram feed, there’s just not a dramatic enough difference that makes lugging that extra bag on the plane (and worse — paying for it). Difficult conditions will teach you just how much of an amateur photographer you are. It has happened before.
But since this trip, I've begun a thorough re-examination how I will handle photography on future trips. We have a big trip to Europe planned for this summer, so I will update my plans for future photography excursions and equipment in a future post.
Instagram photos shot with the iPhone 6
Clockwise, from below left: a cliff face above the West Fork Trail in Oak Creek Canyon; the chapel at Tlaquepaque, a shopping area in Sedona; exteriors of the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art in Phoenix.
Meanwhile, On Canvas (Not Really)
It’s always fun to use America’s favorite painting app, Prisma, to see what it would be like if I had any artistic skills.
Trip Notes: Sedona, Arizona
GETTING THERE: American Airlines has a non-stop fight from Boston to Phoenix. It was pretty quick and painless for a 5-hour trip. We hit the ground running and quickly grabbed our rental car, which we reserved from a company I had never heard of before called Sixt. The process was flawless, and off we went on the 2-hour drive north to Sedona. The scenery gradually changed over from desert and saguaro cactus to foothills to a plateau and then to mountains and valleys.
SLEEPING: If money is no object, stay at Enchantment Resort. It's an all-inclusive, super high-end spot with the best of everything. But money is an object, so we stayed at the Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock. Normally I prefer to stay right in the middle of things when I travel, but Sedona is a little different. There really isn't a middle of things. There's a small-ish touristy area, but we were after a little more peace and quiet. And frankly, the short drive from the Village of Oak Creek to Sedona that we made at least twice daily was one of the highlights of our stay. The scenery is spectacular.
As for the Hilton, it was perfect for us. Our room was a “Red Rocks View” room, which I’d highly recommend requesting. We had a suite of sorts, with a galley kitchen area and dining table, a nice-sized bedroom, recently-renovated bathroom, and a nice living room area with a giant adobe fireplace, which we used every night. The restaurant was meh, but we didn't plan on dining there anyway. Sedona shuts down pretty early at night, so we set up our own bar (of sorts) in the room, where we chilled most nights.
Note: On the way home we enjoyed a night in Phoenix at The Clarendon Hotel & Spa, which we found using my favorite travel website, Tablet. It was very convenient to the Heard Museum and the airport. They've got a really good restaurant, Café Tranquilo, and a roof deck bar that overlooks all of Phoenix.
DINING: While there are some very nice restaurants, Sedona is not known as a culinary capital, and that's ok. I doubt food is the main reason anybody goes there. It wan't why we went, either. I was surprised, though, to learn that Mexican cuisine was not a bigger deal. Javalina Cantina was a perfectly good Tex-Mex spot. It reminded me of many of my favorites from growing up in Dallas. For the most part we didn't plan our meals and therefore had no real “destination” dinners. A very nice surprise was our lunch at Indian Gardens Cafe & Market just north of town. We went there after a spectacular morning hike, and sat outside gazing up at the sheer cliffs of the canyon overlooking Oak Creek, which trickles through Sedona. We also visited Whole Foods frequently.
Note: We unwittingly participated in the current burger war meme that’s raging on Facebook. As we headed out of Phoenix after landing, we stopped for a quick lunch at Whataburger, where I had not been since I was a kid in Dallas. (It’s a Texas institution). At the end of our trip, on our way back to the airport, we made the trek to In-N-Out Burger in Phoenix. It was a first for both of us. The winner? I have to hand it to In-N-Out, but with the caveat that their fries absolutely suck.
WHAT TO DO: Hike. Aside from solving the mysteries of life in its famed vortexes, this is really why you go to Sedona. There are endless trails that offer a huge variety of scenery and wonder. Also, I was super-excited for the day trip we had planned to go to the Grand Canyon, which is two hours north of Sedona. But when the day arrived, several inches of snow had fallen on the South Rim, cancelling our plans. I was crushed.
Pink Jeep Tours is ubiquitous in Sedona. Those pink jeeps are everywhere. They’re so ubiquitous that you might feel compelled to ignore the hype. Don’t. The Pinks do a really great job getting you to places you otherwise might never see. The guides are fun and knowledgeable and those vehicles can get you anywhere. We took the Ancient Ruin Tour, which is described thusly: “this tour takes you on a wild archaeological excursion through cliff dwellings from the Honanki Heritage Site. You’ll learn the hidden meaning found in the rock art and hear about the history, wildlife and geology of the area.”
Note: On our way home, we set aside a day in Phoenix because we wanted to visit the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art. After getting inundated with Native American culture in Sedona, the museum was a great closer for our trip. It is really well done and the grounds are beautiful.