Bucket List: An Arizona Road Trip

Bucket List: An Arizona Road Trip

Why it took me so long to explore Arizona… I’ll never know! This has to be the most underrated state in America. I know that’s a big claim, but I’ve seen some very impressive sights and I still found myself awestruck and truly at a loss for words. I was completely blown away by the natural wonders we saw on our four day road trip. I really just can’t say enough good things and if you call North America home – then this absolutely must be on your 2018 travel list.

As per usual, I crammed as much activity as humanly possible into my long weekend getaway. Joined by one of my tried and true travel buddies, Megan, we were on a mission to do some major bucket list checking.

Phoenix

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We started off in Phoenix, somewhere that I had actually been once before as a child. Megan had some work obligations, which she quickly wrapped up so that we could “play” in the desert. I’m definitely a Pacific Northwest girl through and through and prefer the evergreen trees and mountains to the cactus and red sand of the Southwest. That being said, I truly love seeing a landscape that is so unlike what I’m used to… and the palm trees never cease to make me smile. We visited two parks in our one afternoon – Papago to check out the famed Hole in the Rock and the Sonoran Preserve to see some massive cacti up close and personal.

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Sedona

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Our second day was as perfect a travel day as any I could have dreamed. We left our Phoenix hotel bright and early at 7am to make the two(ish) hour drive to Sedona, which ended up being one of my new favourite places on earth. The photos don’t do it justice, but the scenery is jaw dropping and the town could not be more adorable with its coordinated terracotta buildings. Our main activity was to hike Devil’s Bridge, a fun and easy hike with a major pay off. My phone is still full of photos that I refuse to delete.

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Grand Canyon

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After Sedona, I could have gone home and called the trip a success but we still had the biggest bucket list item yet to come. We ate a delicious patio lunch and then got back on the road to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We arrived at 4pm and quickly started our rim walk, trying to soak up as much daylight as possible. This place was so magnificent that I couldn’t fully comprehend what my eyes were seeing. We were also thrilled that most of the rim was unfenced, allowing us to crawl out onto every cliff we dared. I’d really do almost anything for a good photo.

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Lake Powell

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After watching the sun set over the Grand Canyon (pinch me!) we still had to drive several hours up to the Utah Border and the little town of Page. Arriving in pitch black, we were thrilled to wake up to the beautiful Lake Powell. Our resort was a little oasis in the middle of nowhere and the perfect launching pad to explore a couple more big-time sights.

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Horseshoe Bend

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Again, we had trouble photographing the incredible Horseshoe Bend but we had a great time scrambling around just the same. I’d love to come back with a drone someday…

Antelope Canyon

After Horseshoe Bend we made our way to Upper Antelope Canyon for a guided tour, which is required as the canyon is on Navajo land. I have to be honest that the tour was not a pleasant or comfortable experience. We were herded like cattle through the tight walkways and yelled at almost continually to keep moving. We were instructed that we could take photo (no videos) on the way in only and on the way out we would be made to put our cameras away. Megan and I were highly stressed trying to capture photos with people everywhere and the pressure of constantly having to keep moving. Not exactly an experience I’d like to repeat. That being said, we got some epic photos and the canyon was stunning. I can’t imagine what it was like fifteen years ago before social media and the Internet turned it into what it is today.

Our last day was spent making the five hour drive back down to Phoenix with a couple rest stops along the way, that also proved to be quite scenic. It was a weekend that I won’t soon forget. If you haven’t taken the time to explore Arizona yet, make it a priority. It is the most high value trip I’ve taken yet – affordable and worthy of any highlight reel.

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Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

Maui’s Famous Road to Hana

When I was initially looking into this trip to Maui, there was only one thing that I HAD to do. Ok – maybe I had to go to a beach, and eat pancakes with coconut syrup, and eat fish tacos, and drink Mai Tai’s, and photograph palm trees but really the most important activity on my radar was the famous (and sometimes infamous) Road to Hana.

The Road to Hana is really just the Hana Highway, which is a 64.4-mile long stretch connecting Kahului with the town of Hana in east Maui. But don’t be mistaken, this is not your average highway. Although, Hana is less than 100km from Kahului, it takes about 2.5 hours to drive when no stops are made as the “highway” is very winding and narrow and passes over 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide. You heard me – ONE lane! This means that every few minutes you may be required to pull off to the side to let a vehicle, that is coming straight towards you, pass.

This winding road is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many people experience extreme car sickness or anxiety due to the 620 curves along Route 360. Fortunately, I did not experience any of the negative side effects on my own trip to Hana. I was deliriously happy to be driving through lush, tropical, rain forest, snaking along the coast, and passing by beautiful waterfalls. Simply put, Maui is paradise!

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With so many potential stops and view points along the way, I enlisted my friend Natasha (a Maui expert) to help me nail down a kick-ass itinerary. With only one day, we needed to make it count.

These are the 5 main stops we recommend on a one day return trip to Hana:

Stop #1: Twin Falls Farm Stand

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The Road to Hana starts near the town of Paia. After following highway 36 for about 20 minutes you should come across this easy to spot Farmstand with a small parking lot. We got there bright and early (8:30am) so we easily found a spot to park. We spent an hour strolling along the path and enjoying the jungle-like atmosphere. This is also a great spot to buy fresh local fruit (although you will pass tons of vendors along the way) and sample some coconut candy on your way out.

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Stop #2: Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread in Ke’anae / Halfway to Hana

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We were eagerly anticipating our second stop because BANADA BREAD! Maui is famous for the stuff and I was told that Aunty Sandy makes the best. After another 45 minutes of driving we pulled off in Ke’anae and our jaws hit the floor. The view was so spectacular that we were barely phased by the unfortunate closed sign on the store front (it was Easter Sunday). We had a mini photo shoot and then continued on our way before quickly running into a giant Halfway to Hana sign. We pulled over and discovered that we could still purchase banana bread at this snack shack instead. And it even turned out to be home of “the original” banana bread. Our lucky day!

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Stop #3: Waianapanapa State Park

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Yet another 40 minutes down the road was Wai’anapanapa State Park where we were excited to see our very first black sand beach! While the hot sun beat down on us, we enjoyed photographing the blowholes and climbing over the volcanic rock. I especially loved the colour contrast of the black rock and the vibrant green plant life against the blue sea and sky.

The park is a great rest stop; It’s set up for camping, picnic lunches, or just a relaxing day at the beach. We could easily have spent the entire day here but we soldiered on.

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Stop #4: Hana & Red Sand Beach

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Following our leisurely stop at Wai’anapanapa, it was only another 10 minutes to our excursion’s namesake. We reached Hana Bay and found the town a bit small and underwhelming. Many people decide to stay in Hana overnight or camp nearby but we needed to get back to the other side of the island by nightfall. We originally planned to visit the Red Sand Beach here, but opted to skip it in order to spend more time at our final major stop of the day. We’d been warned that the best stops were past Hana.

Stop #5: Kipahulu Area of Haleakala National Park

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You can’t miss Kipahulu – It’s a very obvious stop and has something for everyone. Upon arrival, I quickly darted into the visitor’s center to seek shelter from the sudden rainstorm. The weather on the eastern side of the island is milder and wetter, prone to sudden heavy rains and winds. Unfortunately, the Seven Sacred Pools at the Oheo Gulch were not open for swimming during our visit. So instead I opted to hike the Pipiwai Trail in search of Waimoku Falls (pictured above), the great Banyan Tree (below) and the Bamboo Forest.

I began the hike knowing full well that I was going to be completely drenched by the end and that flip flops (the only footwear I had with me) would not be ideal. I was mildly concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make it all the way when I saw everyone coming down decked out in proper hiking gear. But I surprised myself and managed the 2 mile trail and 800 ft elevation gain with relative ease, although I wouldn’t recommend it. Check out Go Visit Hawaii for detailed tips on hiking the Pipiwai Trail.

Even though I was soaking wet and covered in mud by the end of it, I felt elated. This is what it means to be alive! I loved how it felt to be alone in nature with the elements and nothing to think about but where to put my feet next. I returned to the car rejuvenated and thankful for a body that can move and for the opportunity to travel to places like Maui.

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The Way Back

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Most people return from Hana by going back the same way they came.

If you continue on past Kipahulu around the backside of Haleakala and around, the road gets really rough. Not only is it one lane for a major section but it is unpaved and rocky with blind turns and drop offs. We had been warned about the road conditions but were promised that the road does get better and that the view is worth it. And it was!

My photos do not do justice to the awe-inspiring landscape we drove through in near isolation for the 2 hour return trip. The road did get better and the landscape was completely different from the tropical rain forest we had passed through on the other side. We drove through rolling fields of long grass, seemingly untouched by civilization. We presume that tourists are told not to travel this way so that the locals can hoard this place to themselves.

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So in conclusion I leave you with a few words of advice if you plan to do the Road to Hana for yourself.

Top 8 Hana Survival Tips:

1. Pull over for faster vehicles

This one is more about etiquette and the aloha spirit. On one lane roads, it is just better for everyone if you let the speeders pass you by.

2. Plan for a full day and leave early

We left our condo just after 7am and returned just after 7pm (post-sunset). I’m not a fan of driving those roads in the dark and it really is a full day. Beat the crowds and start early.

3. Leave with a Full tank of Gas

There are no gas stations between Paia and Hana so do not make the mistake of expecting to find gas on the road.

4. Find good music

My favourite part about road trips is singing loudly and car dancing with friends. Katie and I fell madly in love with the station 99.9 Kiss FM – Maui’s Best Mix of Yesterday & Today. One minute you’re belting it out to Sam Smith and the next minute you’re dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun! What could be better than that?

5. Prepare for Rain

Hana is lush and tropical for good reason. It is one of the most rained on places on Earth, so be prepared with something to dry off with and some protection if you plan on walking around a lot.

6. Eat the Banana Bread

I don’t care if you don’t like bananas – eat the bread! Yes, I am bossy. You’ll thank me later.

7. Don’t Stop Everywhere, but do stop where you want

As I mentioned, the best stops are past Hana so if you stop at every bridge and shoulder with a view you are never going to make it in one day. We definitely made some unplanned stops because the view was just too good not to but we definitely passed on a lot of spots. Trust me, you will see amazing things no matter what!

8. Bring snacks and water

There are not a lot of restaurants between Paia and Hana (and basically nothing on the backside) so we packed a full day of snacks and water so that we would have enough energy to tackle all of the awesome sights on the way. Plus we never had to wait in lines to buy food. Efficiency is sexy people!

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Our little engine that could – 2014 Ford Focus

If you can stomach up the courage to rent a car and drive the Road to Hana, I highly recommend it. In this case it really is (as cliché as it sounds) all about the journey, not the destination.

What about you? Have you ever consider driving the Road to Hana?