Our plans to go camping that weekend were thwarted when the
weatherman (falsely) predicted rain on Sunday. Though John and I wanted to go
out of town and enjoy a night in the outdoors, we also didn't want to camp in
the rain or get stuck in the mud. Instead, we decided to take a day trip on
Saturday and play it by ear on Sunday.
Until recently, it had been a very dry winter in Arizona - so dry that none of
the ski resorts had enough snow to open. Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff, for
example, had no snow whatsoever until March, when finally, about three feet
fell during the course of two weeks. Now that the dry spell was over, I
suggested to John that we go to Flagstaff to play in the snow, since we hadn't
had the chance to do so all winter long. John agreed, adding that we could
probably even do a short hike like Red Mountain or the
Kachina Trail in the
San Francisco Peaks.
So Saturday morning, at 6:30 a.m., we headed towards Flagstaff to begin our
day's adventure. We really didn't have anything planned - we didn't even have
the GPS with us! - but we figured that when we got there, everything would
fall into place for us. And indeed it did.
We arrived in Flagstaff shortly after 8:30 a.m., and almost immediately we hit
a traffic jam, at the point where Milton Road merges with and becomes Route
66. As we approached the underpass, we began seeing emergency vehicles, and
our first thought was that there was a terrible accident up ahead. Instead, we
saw the most humorous site: a dump truck had become lodged underneath the
bridge because the driver failed to lower the arms of the truck! Several
police officers were standing about the truck, trying to figure out just how
they were going to get the dump truck out of there.
After we got through the traffic jam, we continued through town until we
reached US 180, which would take us to the turn-off for Snowbowl, only a few
miles out of town. As we drove down the highway, I was disappointed to see
that there wasn't much snow on the ground at all. There were only a few
patches in the forest, but that was it. However, as we began to ascend towards
Snowbowl, the snow patches became thicker - and, at the very top, the
landscape was completely covered with a thick blanket of white.
We parked at the Kachina Trailhead and prepared to go on a short hike along
the snow-covered trail, just to see how far we could get along the Kachina
Trail. (We weren't expecting to be able to hike the whole six-mile trail that
day, so we only planned for a mile or two.) As we began hiking, we found that
the first few yards of the trail was especially slippery because of heavy foot
traffic. There were a lot of visitors who hiked only a few yards then stopped
to play in the snow. After passing through this area, we found that hiking
became easier as the snow was not quite as icy as before.
The trail itself is rather easy, with not much elevation change at all, and
with the snow cover, the scenery was absolutely breathtaking! There were acres
upon acres of snow-covered fields, untouched by human feet, under a forest of
leaf-bare aspen trees and a clear, blue sky. Living in the desert, this is
something that I see very rarely, and for that reason that I am always
enchanted by the beauty of a winter landscape.
Though the trail was very easy to hike, the snow did slow our pace
considerably. In some places, the snow was up to our knees, meaning that each
step entailed making our legs work harder than normal. Then, after only a mile
into the trail, we were forced to turn back when I ended up with a case of
hypoxia. It was rather interesting - and even a little scary - how it came to
be. I had been getting a little tired from the hike, and I felt as though I
was out of breath. Then, all of the sudden, I stopped dead in my tracks, with
an overwhelming urge to close my eyes and lie down in the snow to take a nap.
At the time, it just seemed like a wonderful thing to do. Realizing that
something was wrong, I sat down on a stump and tried to clear my head. John
came up to me and said, "Guess what, honey! You have hypoxia! Welcome to my
Though my head remained a little foggy until we got back to the car, I started
to feel a little better once we started hiking back to the trailhead. About
halfway there, though, we stopped to play in the snow. John had found a large
snowball a few yards off of the trail, and he decided to use it to build a
snowman. Of course, this was no ordinary snowman: this was a hiking snowman,
complete with a hiking stick! (What else would a couple of avid hikers build?)
He turned out to be a very good-looking snowman, so we took plenty of pictures
Upon reaching the trailhead, we stopped briefly so that John could do some
sledding...on his butt, just as he had done while we were in Glacier National
Park, on our honeymoon. He climbed to the top of a steep hill then sat down
and slid to the bottom on his...well, on his bottom. He did this twice, much
to my amusement. Then, satisfied that he had had a chance to go sledding, we
returned to the car.
It was almost lunchtime when we were done with our hike, so we took our food
to the park at the base of Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff. Then, John
suggested that we spend a few hours up at the observatory - that would be
something that we would both enjoy, since we were so fascinated by science and
astronomy. When we arrived at the observatory, it was 11:55 a.m. - just
minutes before opening time - but at noon, the curator emerged to inform us
that they would not be able to open for another fifteen minutes due to
technical problems. It wasn't worth it to wait, because we had other things to
do, so we decided to skip the observatory and save it for another day.
At that point, we left Flagstaff and turned to Plan B: a scenic drive along
Schnebly Hill Road, which is just off of I-17 outside of Munds Park. John had
read about Schnebly Hill Road in a book about Arizona's back roads. He
explained that it is supposed to be very beautiful, but he wasn't exactly sure
what to expect. Of course, the sign we saw at the beginning of the road wasn't
very comforting: "Passenger cars are not recommended after 5.5 miles." But
since we were in the Oldsmobile, we didn't have anything to worry about,
The first few miles of Schnebly Hill Road were on a good dirt road that wound
through the forest. At times, however, the road was a little muddy, and that
made us nervous because we really didn't want to get stuck! Then, at 5.5 miles
- the point at which passenger cars were warned to turn back - we crested
Schnebly Hill and found the most stunning view of Sedona's red rock country!
For miles and miles, the bright red spires and monoliths of Navajo sandstone
that made up Oak Creek Canyon were spread out in front of us. I insisted that
John stop the car just so that I could take some pictures of it, because it
was an incredible sight, and when I climbed back into the car, John once again
said his famous line: "I try to take you to pretty places!"
Now we could have heeded the signs and turned around, but where would the fun
be in that? Instead of going back, we continued along Schnebly Hill Road as it
began to descend into red rock country. As it turned out, the road wasn't so
bad after all. Except for two or three ugly sections (where we had to watch
out for the oil pan), we found that the road was indeed suitable for passenger
cars - or at least for the Oldsmobile! It was no worse than the road to Childs
or the road that goes over Four Peaks. More importantly, the scenery was
amazing! I couldn't help but sit back and enjoy the ride.
After twelve miles, the road ended in Sedona, near the junction of SR 89A and
SR 179. Since the day was still young, there was still time for us to explore
another back road, but we weren't sure which one to do. Then, John remembered
reading about Cherry Road, another dirt road that was supposed to be very
scenic. It began just outside of Cottonwood, along SR 260, and it would take
us all the way to SR 169, just miles outside of Dewey and the junction with SR
Finding Cherry Road along SR 260 is a little tricky. We had to keep our eyes
open for it because we weren't sure exactly where to find the turn-off.
Fortunately, there was a sign to indicate Cherry Road, so we didn't miss it.
Again, we weren't disappointed by the scenery. Cherry Road took us through
some of the pretty grasslands of the Prescott National Forest. Along the way,
we found the trailhead for the Grief Hill Trail, which had been used to herd
sheep from one place to another. After passing the trailhead, the road began
to climb towards Cherry. As we climbed, we found that the views of the
grasslands below us were quite pretty. The highlight, though, was the quaint
little town of Cherry, which was quietly nestled away along the road. It was
not what I expected from a back roads town. Cherry was much cleaner than
places such as Dugas and Cleator, and it even had an antique shop and a Bed
It was during our journey on Cherry Road that trouble struck - fortunately, it
was only a mild problem at the time, but it would soon become a major, costly
problem come Monday morning. While coming up on a switchback, the Oldsmobile
suddenly died! Fortunately, it started right back up again, so we thought
maybe it was a fluke. After the second time it died, though, we began to
wonder what was wrong with the car. By the time it reached Cordes Junction,
the car would not idle at all. If John took his foot off of the gas, the car
would die. Now we were getting worried. We managed to get the car home, and
that following Monday, when I drove it to work, it broke down. That was when
we learned that we had blown three fuel injectors. I guess that is just
another example of the rigors that we put our vehicles through every weekend,
by driving them long distances or on dirt roads. But if we didn't do it, we
would never get the chance to see the things that we have seen, nor would we
be able to hike in the most remote regions of the state. I guess you could say
that it is worth it to put our cars through the abuse.
Despite the car problems, though, John and I shared a wonderful day, and when
it was over, we celebrated with a lovely dinner at home.