The kids’ passports had just arrived for what might have been a sunshiny, bikini-clad week in Jamaica, but we opted out. There were still so many areas of our country yet untapped by us that were perfect for exploration. And with two teens (Ava 15 and Calvin 13) who sometimes need a little coaxing in conversation and daily adventure to rise them from slumber, staying active stateside was beginning to look more appealing than lounging poolside.
Our planning for spring break 2019 began in earnest about five weeks out from March 29, the first day of the break. We had toyed with the Southwest before, considering distances, sights to see, weather and accommodations. We gave it a strong look for a five-day MEA vacation over the past few years. It lost out to Riviera Maya, Mexico, for spring break 2017. Now, in 2019, the Southwest stars aligned.
After a refresh on the loop we intended to travel, we landed on a seven-night trip that broke down into a 4-2-1 schedule (four nights in Sedona, two nights in Zion National Park and one night in Las Vegas). We purchased MSP flights into Las Vegas, not Phoenix as many would suppose given our first destination was Sedona (two hours north of Phoenix). We reserved our lodging for Sedona at Casa Dacotah in West Sedona, then the Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale, UT. We left one night in Vegas up for grabs for a few more weeks before booking the family-friendly Delano.
It’s a five-hour drive from Las Vegas to Sedona, where we’re staying for the first four nights of our trip. After traveling all day and it’s only noon, we are happy to get out and stretch in the sunshine at Hoover Dam. We marvel at the man-made wonder for 25-minutes before we swirl down the layers of the parking ramp and get back on the road.
Hours later we roll into Sedona after bypassing Peach Springs on Route 66, climbing I-40 W to Flagstaff, and winding down Oak Creek Canyon Road with a midway stop at the Butterfly Garden Inn. Us wintered Minnesota souls mimic the red rock and absorb the sunshine as we wander through Uptown Sedona to Casa Dacotah, a one-story home in West Sedona were we’ll have the pleasure of staying for four nights.
The next morning, refreshed in our desert oasis, the grown-ups kick back with a couple pour-overs of Pete’s Coffee. Soon Cathedral Rock, one of the area’s most challenging hikes, is calling two of the family’s most ambitious hikers. The others are persuaded. It’s a climb indeed – one that innocently starts on two feet, then moves quickly into all-fours terrain when we hit the narrow crevice that requires articulate placement of hands and feet. When we finally arrive at the vista, I have to kibosh the kids’ pull to venture out onto the path with no railing and a sheer to death drop off for the photo opp that our fearless co-hikers are taking.
Pete’s pour-overs once again start our day before heading out around 8:15a.m. We retrace half of our day one route west of Flagstaff on historic Route 66, then venture a new direction – north to the Grand Canyon. Around 11:00a.m. we get our first breathtaking vista of the canyon on the South Rim by the first bus stop to Hermit’s Rest. We take the bus up along the canyon for a few stops, then continue on foot. The experience is awe-inspiring!
On the way home, we stop in historic downtown Flagstaff to catch the end of a Final Four game at a bar. It is decidedly a fun walkabout – to a bookstore, shops and the place where Fillmore, the blue hippy van from Cars, has a home. Five-ish we are back at the Casa with appetites for various cuisine. Sushi loses out over Italian and we dine at Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen, where I immensely enjoy a kale salad, an enormous ginger beer and a slice of sausage and mushroom pizza. Others seem way less pleased.
Day 4 (April 1):
Rise and shine family! …or maybe just the girls. Ava books a noon manicure and pedicure for us and we are off to the shops at Tlaquepaque! We buy chocolate and candy, listen at length to a shopkeeper’s story about Sedona’s acceptance or non-acceptance of people. It’s a very spiritual place. I silently wonder if She would accept me. Well, the bakeries and coffee shops sure do. A visit to Sedona Cake Couture yields a matcha green tea latte, a sea salt caramel latte and a $9 luxurious red velvet cupcake.
Next up is Predator Ziplines at 3:00 in Camp Verde. It’s Jurassic in approach, placing my safety radar on high alert. We gear up with four other families and Calvin is the first to zip off, followed by Ava, me, Dad and the rest of our crew. We pause at the tower stations and check out the active tigers, lions, grizzlies and more in the wildlife park that we’re zipping over. Silly humans. As if it wouldn’t be tragic enough to fall to our deaths, our loved ones would witness our mauling by wild animal. April Fool’s!
En route to the Desert Pearl Inn by 10:50a.m., we’re reminded of the time change from PST to MST. We lose an hour. Around 5:00p.m. MST, we roll through the east entrance of Zion, which is so scenic. We stop in our tracks, compelled to explore the red waves of rolling rock that felt unlike the planet earth – could’ve been Mars. In the Acadia and back on earth, we travel to Springdale, the closest town with lodging near the entrance of Zion. So cute and quaint – we’re going to love it here for a few days.
Rise and shine in Zion! I head for a hot tub then a solo trip up to Deep Creek Coffee for a chocolate muffin before a family breakfast at Meme’s Café. We’re fueled for our novice hike, Emerald Pools, and what’s to come: Angel’s Landing. Angel’s is a serious hike. With switchbacks, lack of railings, a mix of concrete and rocky trails that are generously wide in most places, the hike can instill a dangerous confidence as hikers get swept away in views and photo opps.
When we near the major landing where most families stop, we’ve conquered steep switchbacks and wandered through flat areas next to water – a welcome break. We take a moment at the vista, noting the brave and crazy souls taking on the single file, post and chain link trail to the summit, another 500 feet. I am intensely relieved I don’t need to persuade the group not to push forward. Everyone saw the sign that seven have died since 2004 on this hike. It’s no joke.
After an afternoon siesta and with a short timeframe in Zion, we venture out on another shorter hike with promised vistas of 2,000ft elevation. We drive up through Mount Carmel Tunnel around 6:15p.m. This hike is the perfect balance of elevation, length and varying terrain. We move from steps to bridges to alcoves to the vista point with plenty of rocks to climb and views to take in. We take some family pictures and enjoy the most expansive view to the West as the sun is starting to work its way down.
After a good night’s sleep and a two-hour drive to Las Vegas, our first stop is to snap a family photo at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. The Delano Hotel is pretty sweet! We change into suits and pack our things for the day to head to the pool area, which is actually at Mandalay Bay. It’s a beach. Easily Ava’s favorite day, we sun, swim, read, Sudoku and enjoy some snacks and drinks.
Around 6:00p.m. we are ready to take on the strip. We take a short tram from The Luxor to the next stop and walk through endless entertainment, shops (the Hersey Shop), casinos, restaurants and lights. We’re headed for sushi at The Cosmopolitan. With no reservations, Zuma – a sushi-focused shi-shi restaurant, takes us to table tucked into an elevated space that’s swanky and set for sushi. We order mocktails that Ava and I love, spicy tuna rolls and negiri. It’s an amazing meal and a way to end the vacation on a high note.
To this morning we say, boo… we don’t want to go. Not just yet. We encounter another family from Minnesota on spring break in the elevator. Many families are maximizing their stay until Sunday. At the airport I tell myself we’ll be happy to arrive home and have a few days before re-entry. I spend the flight recapping the highlights of our vacation and the paths we chose, the decisions we made and the experiences that would be etched into our family history for a lifetime. I am happy we stayed stateside (and squeezed in one afternoon poolside).
Back in Minneapolis, we arrive with planeloads of Final Four fans, whose anticipation of arriving in Minnesota looked much different than ours. At a cold and drizzly 56, I am already longing for the sun and warmth of the Southwest. Our Uber drops us off at home and we’re greeted by the sunny disposition of my parents and our tail-wagging Goldendoodle, Copper, whose excitement implies we’ve been gone way too long.