I’m Italian and in two years that I’ve been in the States, I’ve never had the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving. Last year I was back home, in my hometown. This year I decided that since it is one of my last months in the States, I wanted to travel somewhere. I had 5 days off and I called my travel buddy Giusy and we decided that we wanted to road trip again. The first idea was New Orleans and Texas but it was too expensive because of the Thanksgiving holidays. Brainstorm after brainstorm we found another idea. We went already to Arizona, we saw the Grand Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend but we didn’t see all the other national parks between Utah and Arizona. So we decided to fly to Phoenix, AZ (the cheapest option), rent a car and then drive back to Wisconsin.
We drove about 2,741 miles (4,385.8 km), 50 hours driving total, we drove thru 7 States, 4 nights spent in 4 different hotels, 1 night sleeping in the car. Crazy, right? Yep, but amazing at the same time. A lifetime experience. Not everything went like we wanted, we had to come to the agreement that we had to avoid one stop because of time and miscommunication. After an hour of fight, we realized that there was no need to argue, that we had to make the best out of our vacation and find other ways to make the best out of it and we did it.
Nov 22, 2017 – flight to Phoenix, AZ.
Our flight was at 7:20 pm from General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, WI. After a rush to catch the last available bus from Madison at 3 pm, we arrived there around 5:15 pm. Perfectly in time to pass thru security. We were flying with Allegiant and our flight was slightly delayed but we arrived in Phoenix, AZ, at the estimated time, around 10 pm. Allegiant lands at the Mesa airport, a 40 minutes drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport where our rented car was. We had to grab a taxi (55$ + tip) because Uber wasn’t available in the area.
We rented our car with Enterprise. Even though we said that our trip was going to be long and the car would have been returned in Madison, WI, they gave us one of the tiniest car possible. The other one smelled like smoke and the guy didn’t want to give it to us before it was cleaned up. We got our tiny car and we headed to our first stop: a 24-hour Walmart. I know, it may sound like a horrible first stop but we needed food for our road trip. We managed to get everything we needed and we didn’t grocery shopping for the rest of the road trip. Obviously, we had a couple of dinners out (McDonald’s and Denny’s) but we finished pretty much everything we bought during our 5 days.
After Walmart, with the car that looked more like a dump in the back seats, we started our 4 hours and a half trip to our first stop: Lower Antelope Canyon.
Nov 23, 2017 – Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley.
We arrived in Page, AZ, around 5 am. Since our tour at the Lower Antelope Canyon was at 8:50 am we decided to sleep for a couple of hours in the Walmart parking lot (a lot of Walmart around the States allow overnight parking). We woke up around 7 am, had breakfast at McDonald’s and then headed to the Lower Antelope Canyon.
It is possible to visit the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon just with a ticket. We got ours at Dixie Ellis’ Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. It was 25$ plus 8$ to enter the Navajo Reservation. The tour was pretty awesome. The guide, a young Navajo, gave us a clear and long introduction while we were waiting to descend the stairs at the entrance of the canyon. He was really helpful with our pictures too. If you go there and you have an iPhone, use the filter VIVID to capture the real colors of the Canyon on camera. He showed us the most photographed spots while we were walking along the tiny canyon road.
After the tour, that lasted around one hour, we headed back to the car and drove to the Monument Valley. It took around two hours to arrive at the core of our destination. I had one picture in my mind that I really wanted to take but, the more I looked around, the more that picture seemed like a photomontage. I had in my mind this picture of someone in the middle of a straight road that passed thru some of the “monuments”. We drove from Kayenta, AZ, and the view was amazing but not like we thought or imagined. So, we decided to keep going. We didn’t enter the Visitor Center and we didn’t do the Scenic Drive which is 10$ (I believe). We drove along the Route 163, ended up in Utah and the more we drove, the more I started to get frustrated until I saw a part of the highway going straight for miles up and down a hill. I looked at Giusy and I finally realized that it was just about a point of view. We drove down the route and we stopped at one of the scenic viewpoints. I turned around and my picture was there. We spent at least half an hour there, trying to take the perfect shot without being killed by passing cars. We nailed some good pictures and we had lunch with that amazing view.
After our long stop, we headed back along the same route to Ash Fork, AZ, on Route 66 where our hotel for the night was. The hotel was really nice, with a lot of Route 66 stuff in the lobby. I didn’t take any picture because, after a 7-hour drive, the only thing that you want is to dive into the shower and then into the bed. The alarm for the next morning was set at 2 am, well night maybe. It took us a while to fall asleep, 6 pm is definitely not our bedtime and we were so excited for the next day.
Nov 24, 2017 – Supai, AZ and Las Vegas, NV.
Our day started at 2 am when our alarm went off. We finished packing our stuff, we put everything in the car and we started driving to our top destination for this trip: Havasupai Falls. For who don’t know, Supai is a census-designated place in Coconino County, AZ within the Grand Canyon. It is an Indian Reservation pretty popular and pretty difficult to visit because of permits and a few people allowed inside the reservation at the same time. Why we wanted to go to Supai? Because of the five waterfalls around the village that is home to only 208 people. We really wanted to go, we had the permit to stay at the campground and a plan. Day hikes are not allowed anymore because, from the Hilltop, where you park the car, you have to walk 10 miles to Supai, the actual village, plus other miles if you want to arrive at the actual waterfalls. It’s a heck of a hike but there are some days in which there are 7 minutes helicopter rides from the Hilltop to the village. Our plan was to the take the first ride at 10 am, land in Supai, get the permit and then visit the falls. After that, walk back before sunset and drive to our next destination.
Unfortunately, our plan got destroyed when the lady at the check-in point told us that the helicopter rides weren’t available all weekend. I’m not going to tell you how the next few hours went by. We just slowly figured out that hiking now was impossible, find a tent to camp there was impossible and shifting everything to see the waterfalls was impossible too since we had just other two days to drive back to Wisconsin. So, after a moment of sadness, we drove to Lake Mead, Nevada, to get some tan on our skin and get some Vitamin D that could lift our spirits.
To enter the Lake Mead State Park is a 20$ fee per vehicle and the lake is so dry that the level is really low and you can clearly see that where there’s a beach, there shouldn’t. We stayed there for about an hour, then we started to drive to our hotel for the night. We arrived there pretty early and we just chilled out, grabbed dinner at McDonald’s and watched Friends till bedtime called us into Morpheus arms.
Nov 25, 2017 – Zion National Park.
From Las Vegas, NV to the Zion National Park, UT is just a 2 hours and a half drive so we decided to wake up around 4 am, so we would be at the park pretty early. Unfortunately, we didn’t remember that Utah is one hour ahead and we ended up at the park, still early but not as much as we wanted. We paid 30$ to enter, we parked at the Visitor Center. There were spots still available since we arrived around 8 am. It is usually full around 10am on busy days. We took the shuttle that took us to the Grotto, the start of our 5- mile roundtrip trail to Angels Landing.
The first two miles, from the shuttle to Scouts Lookout, follows the West Rim Trail. It follows the river and it is pretty much easy. Following this part, there are a series of steep switchbacks that allows climbing the Canyon wall. It follows the Refrigerator Canyon that allows everyone to relax a little before the last climb up.
Once at Scouts Lookout, if you have kids or you are too scared of heights, I suggest you stop here before it becomes too dangerous. Stop here even if you have shoes with not good traction, you will need hiking boots for the last part. The last 0.5 miles the trail follows the ridge across a saddle and up the hogs back. There are chains that will help you to feel more secure and to which you should hold up, but always be careful, sometimes people tend to leave the chain in front or behind you and you can lose balance. We went during the Thanksgiving weekend, the last day where the Shuttle service was available for this year (we found out there so, for once, lucky us) and it was packed. It took us only one hour for the two miles, it took us another hour just of the half-mile left because there was literally a line to go up the saddle. I was actually glad for the wait, it allowed to find breath during the difficult climb up. Once at the top, we felt like we could achieve anything. It was one of the most amazing views I’ve seen in my life and the idea that I made it, that my body allowed me to be there, made me feel invincible. When I was in Italy, I really had problems climbing up mountains, after a little bit I was always without breath and I had to stop several times. This time I made it without too many stops and sweat.
The hike down made my legs a little jelly but it went smooth. After relaxing at Scouts Lookout we walked down and this time I took pictures of the Refrigerator Canyon and the valley. With the sun going down and the last fall leaves the colors were perfect, impossible not to fall in love with this place.
After a 5-hour hike, we decided to relax for a bit and put our feet into the icy cold Virgin River. Since we were there we decided not to take the shuttle to the Zion Lodge but to walk passing thru the Emerald Pools. Now, I’m telling you, don’t expect a lot of water coming down the waterfalls but it’s still a pretty nice walk. I would have done without any problem if my legs weren’t asking to stop. We went to the Upper, Medium and Lower Emerald Pools.
A stop at the gift shop was our little reward. After that, with the sun going down behind the peaks, we took the bus and we went back to our car. Since we had just one day left to drive back to Wisconsin we had booked our hotel in Grand Junction, Colorado. We drove 6 hours, with a stop at Denny’s for dinner, till Colorado. That bed was a vision after a 5-hour hike and a 6-hour drive.
Nov 26, 2017 – Denver, CO, and a long drive home.
Next day, what a news, we woke up pretty early. A long drive was ahead of us. The first stop was the Red Rock Amphiteather close to Denver, CO. It took us 4 hours drive thru the snowy Rocky Mountains to get there but it was really nice to see that Winter Wonderland. Our destination surprised us. We parked in the North Parking Lot and we walked down the amphitheater where a lot of people were running, jumping, doing push-ups, yoga, and CrossFit. Whatever physical activity you can imagine, someone was doing it there. It was amazing seeing how people can use an amazing space like that for other purposes other than listening to a concert. The view from the top was definitely breathtaking with Denver in the distance with its skyscrapers sparkling in the sun.
We didn’t have time to stop in Denver but we drove along downtown and my breath got took away. With the Rocky Mountains in the distance, Denver looked a lot like my hometown. I would have loved to stop but the time was against us. We had a 13-hour drive to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where the cheapest hotel in all the state was (#aupoor). We drove thru Nebraska which was a really interesting state with a lot of cows, manure and its nice smell that followed us for the 5 hours we spent in that state. I have one picture of Nebraska and, guess what, it’s cows grazing in a field. The drive knocked me down. Thank God Giusy had drunk an entire pint of coffee because I couldn’t stay awake, even though I was drinking a Red Bull. At 2 am we finally arrived in Iowa and we crashed on the hotel bed.
Nov 27, 2017 – Madison, WI, at last.
At 6:30 am we were already hitting the road. I took the wheel and I guess the Red Bull started to work because I drove the last two hours and a half till Madison, WI, home. We dropped off the car at the airport car rental and at 10:30 am I was finally taking a shower in my house.
This road trip has been crazy and amazing. When I make one of those “crazy” trips, I always feel alive, free, happy. No matter how mad can I get for something, no matter how many bad things can happen, no matter that we didn’t make it to the Havasupai Falls, I always felt happy, like that was one of the best things in life. Nothing is meant to be perfect. There was never a road trip that I did in which everything went perfectly as planned. There’s always something that goes wrong but the trick is not to let that thing bring you down. Always find a solution, a bright side. No matter what happens, nothing can be bad enough to ruin a road trip thru America with an amazing human being that now I can easily say is my best friend: Giusy.