Well, at least we’re not going backwards this time. Not quite, anyway. When we arrived in Flagstaff, bruising and pain down the front of Glenn’s leg screamed “SHIN SPLINTS” (or a “hiccup in his giddy-up”, as he calls it). Knowing from bitter personal experience that trying to tough them out just makes them braver, we decided to act grown up, rent a car and go do some walk-free exploring until we bored the shin splints into going back to where they came from.
We’d just missed one bus into the centre of Flagstaff, so we decided to take the opportunity to check out the Museum of Northern Arizona, which was beckoning to us right next to the bus stop. In the parking lot, by complete coincidence, we bumped into mountain biker Flint, who we’d met on the trail earlier that day and who, along with his wife, very sweetly insisted on using their guest passes to get us into the museum for free. Full of interesting geological facts, fossils and beautiful Native American pottery and jewellery, it’s on our list for a future second visit.
Most places, catching a bus is no great feat, but in Flagstaff it should earn you a badge of merit for every successful attempt. After 50 minutes waiting for a late bus as the sun set and the temperature dropped, it finally showed up, informed us that you have to have the exact change to ride, and we hadn’t been carrying any change because it was too heavy, finally and happily didn’t charge us for the ride (it was 50 minutes late afterall), and having successfully managed to navigate the longest way round to drop us at our nearby destination, finally delivered us several blocks from being able to finally put down our backpacks.
We spent that night at the historic Weatherford Hotel in the student-throbbing heart of Flagstaff, did glorious justice to Mitzi’s beers (see previous post) and to 2 more drinks each – enough to get two lightweights like us a serious hangover – and spent the night wondering why the band seemed to be playing full volume, right next to our bed until 03.00 AM. Wow, was it loud! Luckily, though, the music rocked and we were able to enjoy it without having to move our heads from our pillows.
After filling our hike-starving bellies with copious amounts of food in Flagstaff, we hit the road to Sedona, which had been built up into a majestic and wondrous place in our imaginations by a long list of people with good taste. You know what happens when someone’s expectations are too high, though, and we were initially underwhelmed by the tourist crowds, shops selling more eccentrically-coloured, sparkly tourist junk than we’d ever seen gathered together in one place before, eye-watering prices, flocks of Pink Jeep tour 4x4s and other sad products of the modern world. And yet, we didn’t seem to be able to leave… The longer we stayed, the more we strayed from the tourist rut. The more we strayed from the tourist rut, the more gems we discovered: some of the best pizza we’ve ever had (fig, rocket, gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar hand-tossed, thin-crust, oven-baked pizza at Picazzo’s) beside an outdoor fire pit, great Mexican food (after a 1.25-hour queue at Elote’s), stunning red rock mountains and chimneys defying gravity, hikes we wished we could go on, Spanish and Native American-style chameleon buildings painted to blend in with the landscape, and homemade breakfast chorizo at Oak Creek’s Red Rock Café (twice). In fact, we fully intended to leave twice, packed up and checked out once, yet ended up staying for four nights. Sedona can definitely get under your skin.
We headed back to Flagstaff to swap our Fisher Price-feel 2×2 car for a Fisher Price-feel 4×4 and an extra week of car rental, which we hoped would allow us to get the into-the-wild feeling without the shin splint burn and give Glenn’s leg some more time to heal. A night at Flagstaff’s Monte Vista Hotel, where we realised that late night loud Flagstaff music enjoyed from hotel rooms was not unique to the Weatherford, especially given the holes in the window around the air conditioning unit, had us looking forward to our back-of-serviette-outlined Route 66 and Native American historical sites adventure.
After a missed turn to Walnut Canyon and an ill-timed, putative visit to Sunset Crater, which we plan to see properly on our way back to Flagstaff at the end of this break, and armed with an artillery-worth of great tips from the lady at the Visitor Center, we headed down Route 66 to the La Posada oasis in the middle of the desert which is the town of Winslow.
La Posada turned out to be a Spanish-style 1930s hotel, appetisingly sandwiched between the Santa Fe railroad and Route 66. We were so distracted by the unexpected spectacle of Spanish architecture playing host to a funky fifties and an otherwise eclectic modern art collection, cheaper-than-expected room rates and good food, that we didn’t immediately recognise Mitzi’s friends Denise and Brent sitting behind us celebrating their anniversary in the dining room. We last saw them riding mountain bikes a few miles from Grand View Tower about 2 weeks earlier. Yet again, what a coincidence!!! Great to see you guys!
By the next morning, we’d realised that La Posada makes most of its profit on the food and not the room rates, so we decided to do the cheapskate thing and have lunch across the road at the Navajo-popular and, as it turned out, aptly named and ostensibly Mexican Brown Café. By crossing the road, we went from great La Posada food to possibly the worst meal I’ve ever had. To make my burrito, they must have found a wild animal to chew up and regurgitate brown bean goo into a pre-licked wheat tortilla. Doubtless, this is quite a feat, but somehow still undeserving of our 20 USD lunch bill. While we think the Navajo are great people, we suspect our taste in Mexican food and theirs will never be reconciled…