I'm not a very good passenger.
I have literally given myself a foot cramp from stepping on an imaginary brake. I get stressed when the real driver moves too slowly or is not driving in the correct lane—correct being the lane that I would be in, were I sitting behind the wheel. I have had one of my dearest, kindest friends say to me, "Why don't you shut the fuck up and let me drive?"
My wife understands that it's often best, when we go out together, to let me drive. I'm happiest, and less critical, when I'm in control of the vehicle.
There is a great drawback when I'm the driver and we're on a road trip, exploring new territory: I can't take a lot of time to gawk and take in the full beauty of what is laid out before me. If I want to fully appreciate the landscape, I have to pull over. Once, while driving through Snowdonia, in Northern Wales, I was literally brought to tears by the beauty about me, and pulled over at my first opportunity, to get out of the car, take some photos, and, as I told my partner, "to drink in the majesty of it all."
Driving through Oak Creek Canyon, along Highway 89A, from Flagstaff to Sedona, I was filled with awe and regret: awe, at the beauty of the thick forest, tall cliffs, and rock outcrops, and regret, at the switchbacks and oncoming traffic that compelled me to keep my eye on the road for most of the journey.
From time to time, however, I was able to find a part of the roadway that allowed for room to pull over, and I was able to get out of the car, snap some photos, and drink in the majesty of it all.
If only I had been able to pull over along the switchbacks or in some of the more scenic vistas, but such is the life of a driver. Also, I wished that we had either driven through Oak Creek Canyon earlier in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the light would have been more magical, rather than near noon, when the light was harsh, depending on the direction that I faced.
The 89A leads into the small, tourist town of Sedona, with its souvenir shops, cafés, and restaurants, complete with a Pink Jeep Tours company, where you can be driven to the buttes, hills and scenic vistas, allowing you to capture the landscape while someone else does the driving (I wonder what kind of passenger I'd be?). If we had actually planned to spend any time in Sedona (more than a couple of hours), I would seriously have taken one of these tours.
My first impression of the town, apart from the fact that it is situated in a truly breathtaking part of Arizona, is that the town itself seems artificial, that it exists purely for tourists, that its only interest is taking in visitor dollars. I'm not saying that promoting tourism is a bad thing: but when all I see in the town core are businesses that are created solely for tourism, I can't wait to leave that town.
And that's what we did. We pulled into a parking spot, next to the pink jeeps, so that we could get our bearings and so that the kids could use the washroom. We considered finding a restaurant, but because the tourist-filled sidewalks and bumper-to-bumper traffic didn't appeal to us, we resorted to Plan B.
Get out of Sedona.
We discovered a Whole Foods, open but still under construction, on the outskirts of the heart of Sedona, as the 89A heads west, and we picked up some take-out food and drink. We then continued on the 89A for a short distance and then turned onto Red Rock Loop Road, which gives you a commanding view of Cathedral Rock. We pulled over into a small parking lot for a small, hilled park and found some shade under a short tree. From there, we sat on the red earth, ate our lunch, and marvelled at... you guessed it...
The majesty of it all.
It would have been great to sit there, all afternoon, and watch the sun change the exposure and colour of that rock outcrop, to see the sunset light flood the landscape, but we had places to be later in the day. We finished our lunch, took a few snapshots, and then got back on the road.
Leaving Sedona, heading southwest on Hwy. 89A, the hills quickly fade away and you are returned to desert landscapes, until you reach Jerome, the mile-high ghost town, which is also filled with tourists and the businesses that come with them—or exist for them. Jerome is an interesting town, but I was more interested in the climb up the winding roads to get to the town than in spending any time in it. After a bathroom break and a quick look in a couple of shops, we jumped back in the car and made our way, via the I-17, back to Phoenix, where we spent some time at the Desert Botanical Garden before meeting up with my brother and his family, for dinner.
For the drive back to Phoenix, my wife insisted on driving. Her only demand was for me to shut the fuck up.
I buried my face in the maps and travel guides, biting my tongue the whole way.
Our journey continues tomorrow, in Tucson.