GRAND CANYON: Tips on having a 3-day adventure in the West

I honestly didn’t care where we went, I just wanted to go.

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Words and photography by Nicole Price

Whether it be Destin, Pah-ree (Oui! Oui!) or a bed-and-breakfast in small-town Georgia, generally anywhere besides home would’ve been sufficient to commemorate our fifth wedding anniversary, a significant event considering the handful of failed marriages we’d witnessed since agreeing to put up with each other’s crazy for life.

Our intense deliberation went like this:

My husband Reginald: What do you think about Arizona?
Me: Sounds good.

A few weeks later, we stroll into the chic lobby of the W Scottsdale (www.wscottsdalehotel.com), a decidedly more glamorous option than the upscale tranquility of the Westin, the chain’s sister hotel and my preferred lodging choice.

Upon check-in, a hotel employee proudly shares that they hosted Playboy’s Super Bowl XLIX party.

While that little nugget of information isn’t the first notable I’d think to share with a hotel guest, it fits the “Wild and Crazy Kids Celebrating Marriage Wooooo!” narrative we’re sorta kinda going for.

DAY ONE

We begin our first full day in Scottsdale with the most important meal of the day at Butterfield’s Pancake House and Restaurant (www.butterfieldsrestaurant.com), a casual breakfast and lunch spot.

Hubby opts for the Sante Fe Scramble, a protein-rich plate topped with blessed chorizo, red jalapeno pepper, onion and cheddar, while my sweet tooth won’t allow me to pass up a Banana Crème Crepe, to which I add a side of bacon so I can claim a somewhat balanced meal.

We don’t do much else besides sight-see via rental car, indulge in Whataburger (I need them to open an Atlanta outpost, stat), and chill out by the pool, as we have to rest up for what is hands down the highlight of our trip: an all-day Grand Canyon tour booked with Arizona Tour and Travel (www.openroadtoursusa.com).

DAY TWO

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Though the 6:30 a.m. pick-up time is a bit brutal, we cheerfully join passengers from Oregon, Connecticut and as far away as Australia, stopping first in Red Rock Country, also known as Sedona. My colleagues warned me of the city’s mystical reputation, jokingly insisting I try peyote, a cactus known for its hallucinogenic effects, but I decline, knowing a psychoactive will likely lead to me teetering on the edge of the Grand Canyon and result in the saddest wedding anniversary ever.

After an hour in Sedona, we head to the Cameron Trading Post, a motel featuring a restaurant, small museum and gift shop housing Native American jewelry, arts and crafts.

We enjoy a brief lunch, then it’s on to the main event. Though my husband visited the Grand Canyon as a child, I’ve never been and am, of course, astounded by the view. It truly resembles a painting, the colors changing as we visit various vantage points throughout the day, and reminds me of the country’s vast beauty. About 6:30 p.m. we board the bus, drained and ready to head back to Scottsdale. I lie on Reginald’s shoulder and we hold hands.

“Thanks for scheduling the tour. This was nice and a great deal,” Reginald says quietly.

So as not to ruin the moment, I fight to keep a self-satisfied grin off my face. He’d initially insisted he’d drive us there and back, all in one day. That’s three hours up, three hours down, not to mention the time spent at the Grand Canyon.

Frankly, it was a terrible idea I knew would exhaust him and me because I’d be worried about him, and I try to avoid vicious cycles whenever possible. I searched the LivingSocial (www.livingsocial.com) site for discounted deals in Arizona and booked this one lickety-split. For $200 total, we enjoyed three destinations instead of one, with the benefit of a chauffeur.

“You’re welcome,” I reply.

DAY THREE

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I’m convinced Segway and/or food tours are two of the best ways to explore a city. While every destination won’t have the culinary flair of New Orleans or San Francisco’s scarily steep terrain, Segway and food tours offer a more in-depth perspective.

Unfortunately, I inadvertently chose the hottest day of the week — 96 degrees! — to schedule a tour with Taste It Tours (www.tasteittours.com) in downtown Phoenix. I find no solace in that fact that it’s not even as hot as it can get, as my brain can’t comprehend a discernible difference between 96 and 120 degrees.

At a certain point, hot is hot.

But we dress lightly, brave the heat and again join folks from around the country to dine Phoenix-style. Our guide promises to keep us in the shade as much as possible between stops, for which I’m grateful.

I figure we’ll come across Southwestern cuisine at some point but, surprisingly, we do not. Instead, Italian, barbecue, Thai and more are on the menu. We sample bruschetta, tortellini and Bolognese at The Strand Urban Italian (www.thestranditalian.com), bordered by Milan, Italy’s Piazza del Duomo (city square) in wallpaper form on our right and a sleek bar to the left.

We wolf down pulled pork sliders at Tom’s Tavern & 1929 Grill (www.tomstavernaz.com), a watering hole for the local political elite, and share pizza at Valley Bar (www.valleybarphx.com), a chilly covert basement music venue where we linger until we can avoid the heat no more. In between stops, our guide gives us short history lessons and facts about the city, combining two of my favorite things.

We depart from our last stop, Phoenix Public Market Café, with the cookie of our choice and iced tea (sadly, there’s no such thing as sweet tea outside of the South), and head back to the hotel to prepare for next morning’s early departure.

“Wait!” I shriek. “I have to take a picture next to a cactus before we leave!”

Reginald looks at me crazily but, being the wonderful life partner he is, helps me search for a suitable cactus, all while driving. He spots one, does what I’m sure is an illegal U-turn and parks the car on the side of a busy stretch of highway, turning the hazard lights on. He jumps out, hurriedly beckoning me.

“Come on before we get caught!” he explains.

We jog a considerable distance to the cactus and he snaps several pictures of me in my state of Georgia tank top that I try to wear whenever traveling to inform people of where I’m from, though I’m not sure it’s doing a good job after a front desk representative asked me if I was from California (I don’t know if that’s the illustrator’s fault or the representative’s).

But I also wear it to remind me that of all the places I’ve gone and will go to, there’s no place like home.

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