Leaving Chicago’s blistering cold and blinding snow to land in a place of mountains, cactuses and desert sand was a shock. Granted, when my partner and I landed, it was dark; we couldn’t see a thing. But here’s the thing: when we pulled into the driveway of the Airbnb, I just happened to look up and what I saw amazed me. The stars and constellations seemed to go on forever. There wasn’t any light pollution. I was able to spot the big dipper and Orion’s belt. It was magical.
Central Arizona has a lot of hidden treasures. I’ve read so many news articles about shocking things happening to queer people, which made me half-expect that I would have to confront something similar. Luckily, we didn’t have any problems.
The following is a list of the fun things we saw and great places we ate at during our 48-hour trip.
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
My partner and I woke up early to capture some golden hour shots at Dead Horse Ranch State Park. The hiking trails were easy to moderate to walk and beautiful; a perfect combination for great golden hour photos.
Things to note: the state park is located at 675 Dead Horse Ranch Rd, Cottonwood. At the time of this post, it was $7 to enter.
The Grand Canyon – South Rim
We were able to get in for free because the park wasn’t collecting any money during the government shutdown. The park workers were nice considering the situation they’re in. Due to the shutdown, a lot of the facilities were also closed.
Yes, the Grand Canyon is a huge hole in the ground, but it’s so astounding and breathtaking— and I’m not just saying that because I’m out of shape and the altitude was killing me. The view is beautiful; there isn’t a picture in existence that does the Grand Canyon justice, it’s something that you need to see in person.
My partner and I walked around the park for several hours, stopping to look down from various angles, trying to identify the animal tracks and taking it all in. Although there was snow on the ground, the weather was relatively nice and both of us even took off our jackets at one point.
Things to note: watch where you’re walking because you’re in nature, so there’s animal poop everywhere.
On our way home from the Grand Canyon, my partner surprised me with driving down Route 66. Driving down Route 66 has always been something that I wanted to do since I learned about it as a young kid; the portion we drove through was a less exciting than what one would expect, but the nostalgia of it all was worth it.
Goldie’s Route 66 Diner
Located off on 425 E Rte 66, Williams, there’s a tiny diner tucked away on the side of the road. Williams is a very small town and I was slightly apprehensive about stopping, but diners are sort of our thing, so inside we went. Upon walking in, the woman behind the counter gave us a strange stare. I was internally preparing myself to be turned away; however, I was too quick to judge. The woman who served us was pleasant the entire time. My partner ordered the corn beef hash and I ordered a grilled cheese with onions – both of us enjoyed our meals. I would even go as far to say that it was the best damn grilled cheese I’ve ever had.
This tiny, vertical town just outside of Cottonwood, Arizona, was easily my favorite part of the trip. We decided to drive up this way after reading a post on Atlas Obscura (AO) how the town was once a gold mining town turned ghost town then revived. However, what piqued our interest was the abandoned postal office from the original town.
We drove around and around and around the mountain until we reached the top, as the AO post instructed. Once at the top, we were to walk about a quarter of a mile up the road then (moderately) hike to the destination. The photos and videos posted online by others made it seem so easy— it’s not. The post office is actually really far down the edge of the hill and is quite difficult to get to… it’s also on private property. The people who visited the post office before may have not cared about getting shot for trespassing, but my partner and I definitely didn’t want that scenario to happen, so we opted to turn back towards town instead.
While exploring the town, we stopped in Jerome’s café, the Flat Iron, not to be confused with the building in New York City. It. Was. Magical. The sign on the door said, “when we’re open, we’re open. When we’re closed, we’re closed.” Those are my kind of work hours.
The ambiance of the café was so welcoming; a lot of natural sunlight, artwork and a calming energy. There was a weathered old man sitting at a table in the corner playing an acoustic guitar and softly singing to the woman across from him. After his song, the woman began to recite her newest poem to him. It felt as if we were in a movie. I’ve never seen anything like that in Chicago before.
The café’s baristas were funny. Apparently, Flat Iron receive their ice from the bar up the mountain and at the time of our arrival, they had not received any ice yet. I am a grown child and can’t drink my coffee piping hot, so I ordered an americano made with cold mountain water. When it was ready, the barista called out: “room temperature americano.” It’s really not that funny, but we thought it was hilarious.
Sadly, our trip to Arizona wasn’t long enough. I hope to return to Arizona, specifically Jerome, sometime in the near future and stay a little bit longer.