Monday, February 14, 2022

Flagstaff, An Incredible Journey

This article first appeared in May, 2017. Alyssa began a job with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians as their Activities Coordinator at the Tribe's Community Center late last year.  She loves her job.  Part of her employment involves her employer financing the expansion of her skills through an annual seminar of her choosing.  This year, she chose to attend a Native Youth Fitness Leader Certification seminar in Flagstaff, AZ.  She asked if I would ride along as her navigator.  Of course, I said yes and took it as an opportunity to plan her first road trip...

On the Road Again...

...I began by mapping driving directions to her hotel, which she chose and the company booked.  Her hotel choice was a Courtyard Marriott located within walking distance of Northern Arizona University, where the seminar takes place.  We'll get to that though...

I then found meal stops along the way, evening activities, and stops along the way back.  We even opted to stop at another hotel, at our cost, on the way home, but I digress.

I created one of my famous TripBOOKS and it was set.  Want to experience the journey with us?  Read on...

We left San Bernardino, CA at 7:00 am and stopped for gas.  We continued on the 215/15 North to Barstow before branching East on the 40.

On the I-40


We made a quick pit stop at a Chevron in Ludlow, 120 miles into our journey, to use the restroom and stretch our legs.

Continuing on...

We passed through Needles, the border town reminiscent of Old Town California, before crossing the Colorado River into Arizona.

Border Crossing.

157 miles after our last stop, at around 11:00 am, we arrive in Kingman, AZ for lunch at a place we regularly saw advertisements for in California even though this WAS OUR NEAREST LOCATION...

...that's right!  We finally got to a Cracker Barrel!!!!!

I see it!  I see it!

About to enter the Golden Goose!

We opted to each do a sampling of their sides.  We are dieting after all!  It turns out that sides didn't help our calorie counts.  We sampled fried apples, baked sweet potato, macaroni and cheese, cornbread muffins, biscuits, and a side salad.

Nom nom nom!

The atmosphere reminds me of Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant at Knott's Berry Farm.  The service was on point.  Yes I just said that.  Our waitress was standing by with baited breath waiting to take our order.  I felt like her only customer.  Within 3 minutes of ordering, two additional staff arrived with our meals.  I am not exaggerating.  The food was delicious and worth the trip.

Full, but not stuffed, we grabbed gas at the dirt cheap Smith's across the street and continued on...

The I-40 is stunning
Along our journey, we got to drive through the lush Kaibab National Forest.  I lived in Arizona for some time in my youth and I don't recall Arizona being known for such green beauty.

Kaibab National Forest

Greenery in the desert.

After passing through Williams, we take a Northbound detour so Alyssa can get her first look at the Grand Canyon.

The 64 North to the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Entrance Plaza

It's $30/car to get in and I would have paid more.  This was, in my memory, my 3rd trip to the Grand Canyon.  I was a child the first time and recall only the petrified forest on the North Rim.  My second time was as a very very young adult and it was a forgettable turnaround trip.  I literally recall jumping out of the car in the pouring rain, looking in the canyon, and leaving.

This trip was different.  We parked at the Visitor's Center at the South Rim and we were immediately treated to deer. While there, we also saw squirrels, chipmunks, and condors.

I am not zoomed in.

Grass is apparently tasty.

After a quick stop inside, we walked out to Mather Point which offered Alyssa her very first glimpse.

From Mather Point

Looking East.

"It looks fake.  Like a painting." was her comments followed by gasps and stunned silence.  I was also taken aback by the sheer beauty.

We decided to hike the Rim Trail and stop as often as possible to safely hike to rocky outcroppings.


It's huge!

Another rock, another selfie.

Kind Strangers took this.

And this.

We are pretty far out and Alyssa is gripping me tightly.

After hiking out past the Yavapai Geology Museum, we turned around to grab the car and explore farther West.  We made a stop at the Yavapai Lodge for dinner.  Dinner included an Oak Creek Nut Brown and a Four Peaks Kilt Lifter.  Both beers were delicious as was the tasty salmon burger.

Nom nom nom

We decided to go pick up the Rim Trail on this end near the Verkamp's Visitor Center.

Still stunning...

...still beautiful.

Back on the road South towards the 40, we enjoyed the fresh air by riding with the windows down.

First shot of Humphreys Peak

With the sun setting, after 8.5 hours of driving and 12.75 hours after we left our home, we arrived in Flagstaff at the Courtyard Marriott.

Courtyard Marriott

Courtyard Marriott

What a stunning hotel.  Our room is beautiful and well appointed.

From the entry hall

Seating area

Dresser, closet, television, and desk


Kitchen area




This room has 11 free outlets.  11.  There's also free wifi, cable, coffee, and ice cold AC.

In the lobby is a restaurant and a separate bar along with a fitness center, laundry area, and indoor pool.

We grabbed some drinks at the bar and took them outside to the courtyard fire pit.  The drinks aren't terribly priced and the bartender was generous in his pours and friendly in his demeanor.  He more than earned his 55% tip!

I have a tall Grey Goose and  tonic and Alyssa has a Peach Bellini.

Feet up, don't care.

I closed my tab out with a Woodford Reserve.  He poured me a double, no charge.

Well, that's day one of this journey.  Do you want to continue?  Read on to Day 2!

We woke up early and took a walk on a local suburban trail.  We were treated to this stunning view of Humphreys Peak.

Humphreys Peak

I dropped Alyssa off at her seminar, which is across the street and spent the morning writing this blog.

I then took to the streets and discovered a gorgeous trail.

Urban Trail System runs throughout the city

The Urban trail system runs throughout the city.  Trails are well maintained and a great way to get around on foot.  I actually forgot I was in a city and that's saying a lot because at this particular trail head, there's a freaking Walmart next door and eventually I crossed under the 40 while hiking parallel to the 17.  Every city should have these!
Stunning hike!

Even found a cute bridge to cross.

After hiking for 4+ miles, I grabbed lunch at Freddy's.  My calorie count is at 1150 for this awesome and frankly, delicious meal.  Good thing I am still exercising on vacation!


Combo #4 is 1150 calories

Apparently, they are a nationwide chain but this is my first time.  I got the Combo #4 which comes with shoestring fries, a hot dog, and a single burger.  I had a diet beverage and a side of "fry sauce" which is a tangy 1000 island.  1150 calories guys!  1150.

I spent the afternoon relaxing, including enjoying a cigar in the courtyard.

Courtyard from the bar balcony

Hotel from the courtyard

After picking Alyssa up, we headed up to historic Old Town Flagstaff for dinner and drinks at the Historic Barrel + Bottle House. This is a fantastic tasting room for two different companies.  The Historic Brewing Company serves up some delicious beer and the Grand Canyon Winery makes blends to die for.

Awesomeness indeed!

Our Spread

We had a flight of six beers including "Bear Arms" (both standard and barrel aged), which is an Imperial Red, "Bank of Favors", a Dry Hopped Sour that I could inject into my veins, "Blair Bitch Project", a Sahti Ale that is summer, and two guest beers; Deschute's Black Butte and Wanderlust's Pan American Stout.  All the beers were spot on.


We enjoyed a generous flight of 4 wines including the 2012 Wanderlust Chardonnay, 2014 Pink Blend, the 2012 Voyager Red, and the 2014 Traveler Red.  All the wines were exactly what wine should be: delicious.  We grabbed a bottle of the Traveler to bring home!


By the way, their flights are served on modified books.  Awesome, right?

On to the food.  We opted to split a bunch of Happy Hour appetizers.  Pulled Pork Sandwiches, fried avocado, and macaroni and cheese.

Pulled Pork Sliders and Fries

Fried Avocado

Macaroni and Cheese

The food was stunningly delicious.  It came out fast and hot.  We, admittedly, ordered too much, but at Happy Hour prices, why wouldn't we?  Our server took excellent care of us and earned her 30% tip.  I should also mention that the sliders came with a pickle slice.  I love pickles.  Especially ones made in house.  I asked if they sold them by the jar and she said no but she'd see if they would.  They didn't want to give up a jar so she just gave me a to-go container of the best pickles I have ever tasted.  The tasting room is cute and the patio is the place to be.

Old Town

Looking South

After dinner, we walked around Old Town Flagstaff for a bit until we came upon Lumberyard Brewing Company.  This place was packed and reminded me of a BJ's.  Since we were only there to sample the beer, we sat at the bar.  2 bartenders took great care of us, even allowing me a sample of a whiskey I had not had before.


On to the beer...we split a flight of six including "Railhead Red", "Diamond Down Lager", "American Wheat", "Kaibab Kolsch", "Pumphouse Porter", and "Red Rock Raspberry Ale".  None of the beers were bad.  Our favorites though were definitely the latter two.  Yum yum yum.  We grabbed a bottle of the Red Rock Raspberry to go.


After walking town a bit more, we headed back to the hotel for a little night hike on one of the Urban Trails followed by drinks at the fire pit and a night swim in the indoor, heated pool.  Not too bad for Night #2, huh?

Night Hike



Are you tired yet?  I sure am!  While I am thinking about it though, every town should have signals like Flagstaff.  The left hand turn lanes flash yellow when they are not green or red, meaning you can go if it's clear.  So efficient.  There's nothing worse than missing your left hand green and knowing you have to wait a full cycle before you get to go.  They've eliminated that here!

Yield when flashing

On to Day 3...

I am tired. I ended up hiking 7 miles the day prior.  Elevation sickness hit Alyssa last night and myself this morning.   I won't be hiking today.  I am doing some work for Arcadia and napping today.

Once Alyssa returns from her final conference day, we head back to Old Town Flagstaff to check out two more breweries...

We built a flight

The first of the breweries is Mother Road Brewing Company.  They are dog friendly, make amazing beer, and partnered with Pizzicletta down the street to have table-side service.

Let's start with the beer.

We had 10 ounce glasses of their Kolsch, their American Pale Ale, and their Alt Beer.  All 3 were tasty and refreshing.  I then went on to discover that I like Black IPAs.  I found this out by trying their Mother Road Lost Highway, both on and off Nitro.  Both ways were amazing.

Mother Road Lost Highway

On to the pizza.  We had the House-Made mozzarella, roasted garlic, pearl onion, and oregano special.  I dare say it was the best pizza I have ever had.  It paired nicely with all of the beers and didn't leave us feeling bloated.


We walked up to Dark Sky Brewing and ordered a flight.  They kindly offer custom flight sizes.  This means if you only want a flight of 5, they do it.  Six?  Sure!  7 or 8?  Absolutely!  It means you only try the beers you want!

Our flight

We did a flight of 7 though had I read properly, we would have only done 6.  The beers we tried were:

1. Let It Ride Grapefruit Saison-A delicious summer beer.  So subtle.

7. Peaches and Cream Peach Sour-My favorite of the bunch.  Just the right amount of sour and peach cobbler.

11. Banana Split Belgian Stout-Tasted exactly like you think it would.  Where's my campfire?

13. Voodoo Lady Black Ale-Brewed with habenero which I didn't realize.  It's not that it was a bad beer.  I just don't like spicy beers.

14.Roasted and Toasted Oatmeal Stout-This is Alyssa's favorite.  This is a breakfast beer through and through.

15. Thai Phoon Imperial Spiced Porter-Brewed with Thai basil, coconut and curry.  It was oddly satisfying.

3. Rouge de Fleur Hibiscus Pale-A shockingly refreshing pale ale with just a hint of floral.

Taco Tuesday

The Merge truck is a permanent fixture on their patio and serves up delicious street tacos.

After second dinner, we walked back to the car.


Beautiful City.

Life on the Rails

Back at the hotel, we grabbed a drink at the bar and took some cigars to the fire pit for our final evening.


While there, we met two couples from Mexico and shared 3 bottles of wine and a charcuterie board.  They were an interesting group but generous.

We woke up on Wednesday, packed up and headed 45 minutes Northwest to hike to a lava river cave.  The drive was exciting dirt and gravel roads.




Upon arrival, we took the short hike.

Cold, but not freezing

We got to an educational display.


That's deep

The entrance

The ice

Sadly, we were ill prepared for the ice inside and decided that without proper gear, it wouldn't be wise to hike any farther inside than the 100 feet or so we had made it.  Perhaps next time!

Back on the road to Laughlin, we said goodbye to the cool weather and prepared ourselves for 100+ degrees!

Getting warmer

Crossing from Arizona into Nevada

We pulled into the Colorado Belle, a place I had stayed at as a child many many times.  Nostalgia goggles do many wondrous things.  More on that in a bit...

It's a boat!

We immediately went in to grab lunch at their Big Easy Deli.  Alyssa had a salad and I had one of the best club sandwiches in my life!  This is a good start indeed!

Big Easy Deli

Of course, that was all about to change.  After checking in, we grabbed our luggage and headed up to the room.

What's that?

Who you gonna call?

Yes, that's an opened phone book leveling out the entertainment center.

An adequate bathroom

A decent bed

 But wait, that desk looks odd there in the corner...somehow out of place...and what's that?


That lamp isn't even plugged in!  There's not even an outlet in this corner of the room.

I thought that maybe I was holding the Colorado Belle to too high a standard based upon the previous nights in Flagstaff, but come on?!?!?!

Oh well.  It's just a bed, right?

Colorado River

 We gambled a bit before walking on the River Walk, in 110 degree heat!


We dipped our feet in.

It's cold in the water but hot outside.  We went into a few hotels, drove to a few more.

The Riverside

We checked out the car collection inside the Riverside.  That was cool

Time for dinner.  We headed to the Loading Dock at our hotel for Happy hour.  This includes $2.50 pints of their micro brews and $4-$6 plates!

$5 worth of beer

Street tacos, steamed clams, and bbq shrimp

Hot wings

This is one of the best deals in Laughlin.  The food was amazing and the beer was tasty.  The view is nice and the air is cold.

After dinner, we walked around town some more and visited some more casinos before grabbing shrimp cocktails back at the Big Easy and turning in for the night.

I just think this is funny.  No context.

It looks like Vegas...

All in all, Laughlin sucks.  The entire town has given up.  When I was young, Laughlin was the slightly closer, family friendly version of Vegas.  Now it's where people go to die.  If you have to drive through here, grab some great food at the above mentioned restaurants, but then leave!

The next morning, we packed as fast as we could to head home.  We drove 20 minutes South to a casino called Avi, just to check it out.  It's owned by a tribe so Alyssa called it research.


It turns out that this place is still technically in Laughlin but it is miles above in terms of quality.

For starters, they built a beach on the river!  The also have a gorgeous pool area, large casino, plenty of dining options, a movie theatre, an arcade, a kids club, a museum, and gorgeous rooms.

We did a room tour and found out that their peak season, Saturday night rates are only $99.  This is a place we will come back to.  We joined their club and won free lunch!  We opted to use it at the Subway so we could take it to go.

The beach

After enjoying our morning here, we stopped at 3 points before driving home.  It's unmarked, but only about a mile South of Avi.  It's where California, Arizona, and Nevada meet.

Most would find this patch of rocks and dirt unappealing, but we liked it.

We're in 3 states at once!

We then endured the 3 hour drive home and happily cuddled our fur babies.  Thanks to Ava and Richard for sitting!

Back in California

Alyssa's first road trip was a success!  I hope you enjoyed following along!