Last September, my mother-in-law told my husband about a trip they were planning to Arizona. They were flying out to Phoenix and driving two hours to stay in the beautiful, red rock saturated city of Sedona. And then, they invited us to join them. Our initial response was a polite decline. “That’s so sweet, but you guys go and enjoy it! We can’t wait to hear all about it” And then we thought, why not? In some ways we have deemed this our year of travel, having recently returned from an anniversary trip to Charleston, SC. So we retracted our “thanks, but no thanks” and booked our tickets. I am so glad that we did. Not only did we fall in love with the beauty that is Arizona, but we also had an irreplaceable experience of traveling with Chris’ parents.
Here are some of our favorite parts of the trip.
My mother-in-law did an excellent job selecting our hidden Sedona Gem from the gazillions of listings for vacation rentals in Sedona, Arizona. This sweet little two-bed, one-bath home located in “Old Sedona” just 10 minutes outside of the town of Sedona and Red Rock State park was a perfect getaway spot. Nestled on 2 acres of private land this rental boasts outstanding views of the red rocks, right from the backyard, as well as a private hot tub for stargazing. Waking up in the morning to soak up the sun on the back patio as hot air balloons popped over the red rock ridge, and sipping on a glass of champagne while relaxing in the hot tub at night are two of my biggest highlights of the trip. Away from it all but close enough to the action - this place was perfection. Be sure to check out this rental.
When the hubby and I head off on vacation, one of our highest priorities is to eat and drink well. We love trying local hotspots. Mile High Grill in Jerome and Tortas de Fuego in Sedona were two recommendations that lived up to the hype. But everything paled in comparison to our experience at Elote Cafe, an upscale Mexican restaurant created by James Beard award winner, owner and executive chef Jeff Smedstad. It was worth the special effort it took to arrive 35 minutes before the restaurant even opened to wait in line. (People on TripAdvisor mentioned having to wait an hour and forty-five minutes, so be prepared to wait if you head here). With dishes like Pork Belly tacos, smoked brisket enchiladas and duck carnitas, Elote Cafe did not disappoint.
Another highlight, scoping out a few wineries on the Verde Valley wine trail – Paige Springs and Oak Creek Vineyards. Our favorite was Oak Creek where we snagged 4 bottles of their lightly oaked chardonnay. We were pleasantly surprised when we got home to find each bottle made it in one piece – no wine-soaked luggage.
It wouldn't be a Larsen getaway if we didn't stop at a local brewery. After hiking in Red Rock State Park we rewarded ourselves with a game of cribbage and a Snake Charmer IPA.
Jerome – Our first day in Sedona was a rainy one, so we decided to plan that day around food and drink. Having heard that Jerome was an old mine town home to beautiful views, history and a plethora of much-liked restaurants, we headed to check it out. It was worth the 35-minute drive for the veggie hash at Mile High Grill alone. After brunch, we walked the streets, checked out a few of the shops, and enjoyed the views from the Sliding Jail; after some underground explosions in 1938, the jail slid 225 feet from where it originally stood! Crazy, right?
Grand Canyon – It is way bigger than I imagined. That probably sounds silly, but really – there is no way to grasp the immense depth and width of the canyon until you stand in front of it and realize how small you are in comparison. We hiked our way along the paved path of the South Rim, grabbed lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge and drove to climb the stairs of the Desert View Watchtower. My favorite part, no matter where we were on the trail the view was completely different but equally epic.
Our Grand Canyon experience was unique because our hike along the rim was accompanied by the soundtrack of my mother-in-law constantly yelling “Get back!” “Stay on this side of the trail!” “That’s close enough to the edge!” She got extremely nervous any time we ventured towards the abyss because she is deathly afraid of heights. We joke about her anxious yelling now, but it still amazes me that she was even willing to visit this creation. I give her enormous credit. I can’t fathom having to face your fear on such a monumental level; she was a rockstar for being a part of this adventure.
Red Rock State Park – There is no way we would’ve been able to see everything in Sedona in the 5 days we were there. With limited time, we decided one way to get a great scope of the well known red buttes was to visit Red Rock State Park. It was a great way to get a lay for the land, and see some of the infamous Red Rocks I’ve read about. We started on the Bunkhouse trail, stopped at the House of the Apache Fire, and wove our way to the Red Hawk Overlook with this stunning view of Cathedral Rock and Seven Warriors.
None of us are big hikers (although I would like to expand in this area) and so we decided Red Rock State Park was a great spot because not only were the trails a reasonable length, they were also easy terrain and doable from a fear-of-heights perspective. Although the trails were simple, the reward was high – the views were outstanding. If you’re heading with family who are not big hikers, this would be a great spot to visit.
Chapel of the Holy Cross – The magnificence of this church nestled into the red rock was captivating. Inside, the tiny church consists of several rows of pews, lots of red candles, and a stained glass window that is held together by a giant cross overlooking the Verde Valley. Although we didn't spend much time here, it was worth it for this gorgeous view and the overwhelming peace that was felt. Fun fact- the church was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright! If you're headed here, snagging parking is a bit tricky - we found a spot at the bottom and walked up the hill to the entrance of the church and it worked perfectly. Snag a spot at the entrance if you can.
Our hot tub – Okay, so clearly this isn’t an attraction but it was one of the big highlights for me. A private hot tub on 2 acres of private land, with a grand view of the stars above? I mean, come on. After our full day at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the hot tub looking for the big dipper, Orion and Cassiopeia, and watching shooting stars flash across the sky with a glass of champagne in hand was miraculous. We started our day with one grand display of creation and ended it with another. Plus it was a perfect way to restore my tricky, hypermobile body after hours and hours of walking/hiking.
Traveling with in-laws
When I told people that we were heading off on a trip with my in-laws, I often received a smirk and a response like this - “Ooh interesting… how do you think that will go?” I think there’s an odd stigma in our culture that says everything about this would be a recipe for disaster; that having a positive relationship with in-laws is near impossible. That makes me sad. I know that might be true for some, but that is definitely not a true reflection of all of our culture – and is absolutely untrue of my relationship with my in-laws.
Before getting married, before I even met my husband, I hoped that I would have in-laws that I loved. That I would feel comfortable in their presence, could talk about things like poop or anxiety and know that they weren’t judging me. That we could laugh together and someday travel together – that they would feel like an extension of my family. I am so blessed to say that my hopes came true.
Being with my in-laws on this vacation was wonderful. They were so easy to be with, we shared a lot of laughs, and had a blast exploring a new city together.
Thank you, Lisa and Harlan for inviting us on this adventure.
It was wonderful making memories with you. Love you!