• Hanifah Jones

Girl Meets Nature: A Week in Arizona

Sometimes adulthood can feel like a repetition of work, bills, anxiety… rinse and repeat. The cycle was becoming a bit too much and I needed to clear my head. After months of staying in the house, I really wanted to venture out to a new location. A vacation doesn’t always mean sandy beaches and drinks with mini umbrellas, sometimes it’s getting some fresh air and appreciating the beauty of the world – and that’s exactly what I did during my trip to Arizona.

Day One: Grand Canyon

After landing in Phoenix and getting settled in our Airbnb, my friends and I headed north towards the Grand Canyon. There are multiple entry points to the Grand Canyon, but we decided to visit the South Rim. If you’re thinking of staying overnight, the South Rim is your best option. There are visitor centers, lodges, restaurants, cabins and accessible campgrounds. It’s also a great option for people like me who didn’t want to endure an intense hike.

We left our Airbnb at the crack of dawn and embarked on the three-and-a-half-hour drive to our destination. We loaded our campervan (Bertha-Edith) with food and blankets to keep us warm(ish) throughout the night and hit the road. During the drive, it was interesting to watch the landscape change throughout our journey. As time went on, the desert cacti switched places with forest trees and you could feel the chill in the air.

Once we made it to our campground and parked Bertha-Edith, we caught the free shuttle to the entrance of the South Rim. And there it was… THE Grand Canyon. The mile-deep, 277 miles long and 18 miles wide National Park that’s bigger than the state of Rhode Island was right in front of my eyes and I couldn’t believe it. We spent some time walking through the paved trails and learned more about its history.

Once the sun set, we headed back to our campground and set a fire. Spoiler alert: we weren’t exactly experts at lighting campfires, but it was still a great experience. I would recommend bringing lots of layers if you plan to visit overnight. Due to the higher elevation, the temperature is typically 15 to 30 degrees cooler compared to Phoenix. Staying in a campervan was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I was willing to give it a try.

As I snuggled in my blanket and looked toward the sky, I was mesmerized by the star-filled sky. If you’re in a big city, the light pollution prevents you from seeing more than a few at a time. But when you’re out in the open, the night sky is like a dark canvas that highlights every constellation and its celestial beauty. Illuminated by the stars and the moon, I fell asleep and looked forward to the next day’s adventures.

Day Two: Sedona

The next morning, we woke up early to see the sunrise from the Grand Canyon and made our way over to Camp Verde. If you’re into archeology and history, you’ll love this spot. We visited Montezuma Castle, a preserved dwelling that was built by the Sinagua tribe between the 12th and 14th centuries. Arizona has a very rich Native American history, and I really wanted to explore a piece of indigenous history while I was there.

In recent years, Sedona has become the shining star of Arizona and it was definitely my favorite part of our trip. The red rock landscape is absolutely breathtaking and I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this but … *whispers* It's much better than the Grand Canyon. If you had to choose between the two, I would recommend Sedona.

Next, we headed to Soldier Pass to find “Seven Sacred Pools.” Did we initially go to the wrong mountain? Yes. Were the “Seven Sacred Pools'' a little smaller in person? Yes. But, it was so worth it. Soldier Pass was an easy hike and the views on our way there were 10/10. It’s also a pretty popular destination, so I would recommend getting there early for parking (unless you want to hike an additional 30 minutes as we did.)

Later that night we went to In-N-Out (West Coast staple) and ran into a famous UFC fighter (whose name I don’t know, but it’s still a great story either way.)

Day Three: Scottsdale

Next, we headed over to Scottsdale, the 4th richest city in the state. From luxury car dealerships to fancy golf courses, there’s no doubt that the people who live there have $$$. During the day we went to the mall, took pictures at Selfie World and ate lunch at a local Mexican restaurant.

Once the day ended, we walked over to the waterfront to check out Canal Convergence, an interactive art installation. It was also the place I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. Sunsets in Arizona just hit different and pictures are unable to do them justice.

Day Four: Phoenix + Tempe

Another day, another sunrise to catch. This time we headed over to Papago Park to watch daybreak over “Hole in the Rock.” It took us 15 minutes to reach the cave that overlooks Phoenix and it was a great way to start the day.

Later that afternoon, we went horseback riding at Ponderosa Stables. If you’re looking for horseback riding in the Phoenix area, I highly recommend them! You could tell the staff really cared about the horses and the stables were fashioned like the Old West. I had a brief moment of panic when I first mounted my horse, Mississippi, but once I felt comfortable it was a great ride. Definitely, a must-visit if you’re ever in the area.

Day Five: Phoenix

Our last day in Arizona was more lowkey and relaxing. Just what I needed after our many adventures. After breakfast, we visited the Phoenix Art Museum and it really exceeded my expectations. From contemporary art to photography, it had a little bit of everything. I also loved the way they showcase their employees’ work in an exhibit and everyone in their community has a chance to display their work.

For our last meal in Arizona, we went over to the Churchill in Roosevelt Row. The Churchill is a courtyard that features different local entrepreneurs and eateries. If you know me then you know I love places like this.

Before we all went our separate ways, we went on our final excursion to the Desert Botanical Garden. This garden features thousands of flora and fauna – including the famous Saguaro cactus that can only be found in Southern Arizona. After watching our last Arizona sunset, we went back to our Airbnb and packed our bags for our journey home.

Lessons learned

As I wrote this blog post, I had time to truly reflect on the experience and what it meant for me. Since Covid, I’ve been trying to spend more time in nature. As a life-long city girl, I didn’t understand the allure of the great outdoors until recently — and I’m not the only one. Out of the millions of people who visit National Parks, less than 2% are Black. However, things are starting to change. According to BBC News, 40% of people reported that the pandemic has increased the importance of nature in their lives. With organizations like Outdoor Afro and Black People Who Hike providing Black adventurers with a digital community, it’s safe to say we’re making space for ourselves in the outdoors. We all have to appreciate nature’s beauty while we can. Looking to book a nature-filled experience? Check out Travel Noire’s list of 25 Black-Owned campgrounds and let me know what you think!

Now that I’ve been camping on the West Coast, it’s time to plan my next adventure. Let’s just say I’ve never been on an island and my passport is ready to be stamped again.