This Thanksgiving, my family and I flew from two separate Northeast airports to the Grand Canyon State to spend the holiday week together. With my brother, Dan, now living in Flagstaff, we figured it a perfect opportunity for a Griswold-style vacation in the desert. Here are the week’s highlights:
Saturday: Day 1.
We landed in Phoenix. Dan picked up my parents, sister and me in a sleek black minivan from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and we headed for Flagstaff. We wouldn’t have made it the two-hour drive, though, without stopping for a delicious Mexican dinner en route. Besides the salted margarita and homemade salsa, my favorite part of the dining experience included a sign on the restaurant’s front window that read “NO FIREARMS ALLOWED.” You can carry guns on your person in Arizona, but not all restaurants want them brought to the dinner table.
Sunday: Day 2.
We began this day at a popular Flagstaff restaurant called MartAnne’s Burrito Palace, where the food portions seemed to triple that of one recommended feeding. Of the menu’s extensive options, most of our party ordered the same choice: Chilaquiles, Christmas Style (with red and green sauce). This Mexican delicacy had the same sloppy, but flavorful qualities as Rochester, New York’s famous Garbage Plate. To avoid a heart attack, I suggest never indulging in these two tasty treats on the same day.
After breakfast, we walked through town to the Flagstaff Coffee Company, where we enjoyed a few patio beverages in the 36-degree sunshine. Our drink choices included a Fire Chai (hot chai with a shot of Fireball whiskey), Apple Cider (hot cider with a shot of rum) and a Whiskey Smoothie (yes).
I noticed three common themes in the two hours we sat at our patio table: 1) Everyone seemed to know everyone. 2) It was noon, but most passerbys appeared drunk, stoned or hungover from what appeared to be a good time the night before. 3) Everyone was smiling.
Monday: Day 3.
The Griswolds see the Grand Canyon. It was my first time visiting this mighty canyon, and it did not disappoint. Because we know people in high places, we pulled our minivan through the front gates for free, as Dan’s friend, the self-named “Moonshadow,” used to work as a ranger in the park’s backcountry office. We visited various lookout points, hiked leisurely along the canyon walls, and ate sandwiches and Triscuits off the van’s open trunk. Nothing beats sober, family-style, minivan tailgating with a scenic view.
Tuesday: Day 4.
Welcome to Sedona, a gorgeous valley town where the rich go to retire and everyone else goes to hike. The temperature climbed into the 60s this day, and we took advantage of a mostly relaxed two-mile hike to a point called “Devil’s Bridge.” The trail’s end turned steep, however, leaving us climbing red rock steps and straddling boulders to reach our destination. Dan, his dog pal, Khumbu, and a few other crazies hiked all the way onto the unprotected “bridge’s” top (basically a narrow rock path extending over the open canyon) – since, you know, they “made it this far.”
I made it to the ledge adjacent the rock bridge before my chest clenched up. I snapped two quick photos, then climbed immediately back to the ledge below where my mother waited, trying not to pee her pants in fear. While critics said the bridge’s ledge “wasn’t that bad,” I confirmed my cliff anxieties at Machu Picchu in 2010 and left perfectly content not risking my life for a rock.
Wednesday: Day 5.
It was a typical day before Thanksgiving…in Arizona. My dad and brother canoed into the middle of a lake and paddled around aimlessly for a few hours. My sister and I made two trips to Safeway, the local grocery store, and tried not to hate everyone who got in our way. My mother spent the afternoon at home cooking about three dishes at once to prepare for the next day’s feast.
We ladies did take a break from the prepping for a few happy hours, when we met the boys in town at the historic Hotel Monte Vista for some beverages. We also introduced my dad to Thai food for dinner. Who doesn’t go to Arizona for their first panang curry?
Thursday: Day 6
Thanksgiving. A festivus for 10 of Dan’s closest friends – and the rest of us. We cooked, we drank, we jumped on the trampoline in the backyard of our rented Airbnb house. We ate too much…and then we ate dessert. On this day, I was thankful to sit on a patio in November, be with my family, meet new friends and then go to bed on a stomach so full that it hurt.
Friday: Day 7
Arizona has legalized the use of medical marijuana, and a few of Dan’s friends work at a local Flagstaff dispensary. Again, since we know people in high places, we received our own personal Griswold-family tour of the dispensary. That’s right, my mother, father, sister, brother and I received a guided tour of a medical marijuana clinic.
To be serious for a moment, I’ve been on board with legalizing marijuana possession for a while now. That’s right, I’ll say it. As a social worker practicing in the court systems for several years, I’ve seen more time, money and headaches wasted on these leafy greens than they’re worth. But, this tour solidified the medical argument for me. The facility was clean, professional and informative. I saw a range of patients – from young to old – waiting to be treated for conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis (MS) to PTSD to seizures. And, after working daily with clients who struggle to control these inhibiting issues, the tour was eye-opening for me. I will continue educating myself. But, I’m officially on board with bringing weed to the legal side.
Saturday: Day 8
At 7:30am, we began the two-hour trek down I-17 to Phoenix. The ride was relaxed and scenic. That is, until we entered Sky Harbor International Airport, a sea of mostly socially unaware travelers wandering the floor with their food comas and oversized suitcases. The security line was so long (aided by TSA pulling my suitcase to check for explosives), that my sister and I rushed the first to-go restaurant register we saw before lining up at our gate. The food was Mexican, of course. And, we were those assholes who opened our burritos on the plane for all to smell.
We had a great trip. And, we brought it to a full-circle close with Mexican food. See ya later, Arizona.