Natural Wonders of Arizona: Day Five

This was our last day in Arizona and I had a flight to catch in Phoenix at 8:45 PM. The idea was to start driving south and stop in Sedona for lunch before continuing on to Phoenix and visiting some places in Phoenix before heading to the airport.

We took the US-89 heading south and stopped for gas and a bathroom break at Cameron Trading Post about halfway between Page and Flagstaff. It is just before you pass the AZ-64 highway which takes you to Grand Canyon National Park. In hindsight, we probably could have made a quick stop over at the Grand Canyon but we did not think of it until we were well past the area. The Cameron Trading Post was a great stop though because it has a lot of stuff. They have a gas station, motel, restaurant and a fairly large store with convenience store items and a bunch of souvenirs. There was also someone weaving blankets when we were there.

After buying a few souvenirs, we continued south, passing Flagstaff and eventually switching over to the US-89A which takes you through the Coconino National Forest to Sedona. We got to Sedona just around lunch time and headed over to Creekside American Bistro for lunch.

Creekside American Bistro

251 AZ-179, Sedona, AZ 86336

The view from the restaurant’s outdoor back patio is quite beautiful with red rock views but it would have been a 30 minute wait for a seat there so instead we sat in the front patio facing the street. It was a little chilly outside, they did have outdoor heaters and blankets for you to use (in the front, I’m not sure about the back). We ordered the Chef’s Umami Burger Bowl, Lamb Chop Lolli-Pops and the Ahi Tuna Tartar Nachos. It was all so good and we finished it all off. The portions were decent and everything was flavorful. I would definitely recommend coming here and especially if you can get a table in the back patio.

After lunch, we walked around a few of the nearby shopping plazas. They look small from the outside but they had a ton of shops. There was a lot of art-type shops from jewelry to hand-blown glass to clothing. A great area to wander around. In fact, Sedona in general looked like a great place from the views to the stores and the food.

Alas, we did not really have the time and instead continued south on the AZ-179 then connecting onto I-17. Not long after switching onto the I-17, we decided to make a stop at Montezuma Castle National Monument which was recommended by my cousin. She also recommended Tuzigoot National Monument but that was in the other direction (to the west).

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle Road, Camp Verde, AZ

Montezuma Castle is not actually a castle in the sense of a European castle-like structure. Instead, they are dwellings from the Sinagua people (indigenous people of the southwest US). The five-story dwelling is built into the cliff and fairly high up. It is a VERY impressive sight. There is also a secondary dwelling next to it.

When visiting this national monument, you drive in and there is a parking lot that is next to a visitor center. You do need to pay park fees (covered by the national park pass if you have one) and then you can enter a paved 0.3 mile loop trail that passes by the “castle”, the other dwelling and the creek. The trail is pretty much right next to the dwellings though the “castle” is high up. This is a great short stop if you are passing by and it is such a short easy walk so great for all ages.

After completing the loop trail, we went back on the road, continuing on I-17 all the way into Phoenix where we then went back to Papago Park (where the Desert Botanical Garden is located).

Papago Park

625 N Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008

This is a fantastic park in the city of Phoenix with tons to do. Inside is not only the Desert Botanical Garden we visited but also a zoo and tons of hiking trails. It is also only about 10-15 minutes away from the airport.

Last time we were here I noticed people standing inside a rock and when I looked it up, I found out it was called Hole-in-the-Rock which is very apropos. There is a short 0.3 mile trail from a parking lot that leads you “into” the rock. The trail is a little bit steep but once you are up there, you have a great view of the city (and all the planes flying in and out of the airport). The trail basically leads up to the back of the rock and then there is a small staircase carved into the rock to enter inside it. A lot of people were also scaling other parts of the rock (props to them because it looked quite dangerous).

While we still had time, I think my dad was tired from all the driving and worried about rush hour traffic (which we hit on the way to the park). While Papago Park is close to the airport, we still had to gas up the rental car and then return the car. The park was only about 11 minutes from the main airport terminal but the rental car center was on the other side of the airport so it took longer to head over there. The return was quick but then we had to wait for a shuttle bus to the airport and there were a lot of people already in line. In the end, we just barely made it on to the next bus which is something to be cognizant about when returning a rental car. It may take some time to get on a shuttle bus and then the drive over to the airport terminal since the rental car center is not super close.

We had plenty of time so it was not really an issue. We got to the airport terminal and headed over to security. Because we got to the airport well ahead of schedule, we were planning to visit a lounge (or two in my parents’ case). Normally I would go to the American Express Centurion Lounge since they tend to have the best food (and I had never been to the one in Phoenix) but they do have a time restriction where you are only allowed in 3 hours prior to your flight. This worked for me but my parents were departing even later and would not have been allowed in. Instead, I read online that there is also an Escape Lounge we could get access to (via my American Express Platinum Card) that does not have a time restriction and shares a kitchen with the Centurion Lounge. Also, the Centurion Lounge closes at 7 PM while the Escape Lounge closes at 8 PM. Since my flight was departing at 8:45 PM, the timing of the Escape Lounge was perfect.

Escape Lounge – PHX Airport

Terminal 4, Gate B22, 3400 E Sky Harbor Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ 85034

The Escape Lounge is in Terminal 4 in the B gates area across from Gate B22. It does share a check-in lobby with the Centurion Lounge however, once you exit the elevator, the Escape Lounge is around the corner to the left.

When I checked-in, the staff member gave me a card with the number of people and told me to give it to the bartender upon entry as there is no staff member greeting people upon entry. I am not really sure what the card does since no one was actively asking for it and when I handed it over, the bartender just put it in a pile of others and did not pay much attention to it.

Upon entry, there are chairs and tables meant for relaxing in and then as you move forward you will see the bar facing the windows in the back. To the left is the food and drink area where they serve food tapas-style in small single portions. There was an array of different foods and the small portions were great for tasting everything and then coming back for more. Since the lounge shares a kitchen with the Centurion Lounge, most of the food was quite good and flavorful.

You could also order drinks from the bar and I am not really sure how pricing works. Looking at the menu, it seems some items are comped for American Express card members and some are not but in reality they never asked for payment even when I think I ordered a cocktail that was not supposed to be comped? It was a bit confusing.

By the food and drink area were tables and chairs more suited to diners as well as two single mixed gender bathrooms. .

The lounge was not overly crowded though I read that it can be when there is a British Airways flight. On the night we flew, I looked it up and the flight had been delayed to the next day. Even better was the staff members came around to tell us the kitchen would be closing at 8 PM but the actual lounge itself would stay open until 2 AM if we wanted to stay there to rest.

However, since my flight was at 8:45 PM we decided to leave. My parents probably could have stayed since their flight was not until 11:25 PM but this lounge was also a bit far from their gate so they chose to instead walk me to my gate and then walk over to an American Airlines Admirals Club that would stay open until 10 PM and was a bit closer to their gate.

While the lounge was on the slightly smaller side, the food and drinks were great and it stayed open late (even past the originally stated closing time of 8 PM). The only drawback is maybe the service as they did not have many staff members working and could be really slow about clearing tables. A lot of times people just moved used dishes elsewhere and in the seating area in front of where we sat, someone had left a $10 tip for whoever cleaned up but the dirty dishes and tip were still there when we left and we were there about 2 hours.

Final Thoughts

This was a great introductory trip to Arizona and also to all the national parks surrounding the Arizona-Utah border. I definitely would not mind coming back again although maybe in slightly warmer weather. I would still want to avoid the blistering heat of the summer but could do without the snow in Flagstaff on this trip. Also, we merely passed nearby or saw them from afar but I would love the opportunity to see Zion, Vermillion Cliffs, Bryce and all the other parks in the area between or around Kenab and Page. I would love to see Lower Antelope Canyon or Canyon X next time as well. As for southern Arizona, if you plan to go to Saguaro National Park, I would recommend during the bloom season since I think it would make it a lot more worthwhile. And in general, Sedona looked like a great place to visit but we did not spend much time there and would make a great trip.

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