This spring, I was given a chance to visit the Grand Canyon while staying at the hotel Little America Flagstaff. The hotel had just remodeled a number of their lodges and I’d been eager to see the area and its very famous main attraction for ages. I leaped at the opportunity.
If I’m being honest, I’ve this very millennial idea in my head that I was going to go “find myself at Grand Canyon” for years now. I’m not entirely sure why I thought staring down into an enormous hole was going to answer all of my life’s questions, but for some reason I went expecting a “Eureka!” moment. Months earlier, I’d even booked an Arizona flight on my own dime, but canceled hours before takeoff. At the time, I couldn’t get over being stuck on a plane for six hours. I’m barely okay after three. Six would’ve had me on the news.
Another reason or the cancellation? I get scared of the unknown (though, ironically, I hoped travel would cure that). Wanting to reclaim this fear is why I rebooked months later. It’s why I braved a long plane ride, head full of ideas about the sorts of realizations my big adventure.
I arrived at Little America Flagstaff on a Monday evening and was pleasantly surprised with the hotel. For starters, I never heard of the hotel chain before the trip and thought it was going to be a motel-like situation. I was happy to be wrong. The lodges are located in Ponderosa Pine forest, giving it the true outdoorsy vibe for people sick and tired of seeing skyscrapers all day. Even the spacious rooms make you forget about the big city. The desk is literally a giant piece of wood, as is the headboard of the king-sized bed.
With the hotel on 500 acres of wooded land, there were miles of trails to hike. That’s fantastic news… if you like hiking.
As a city girl, when I hear “hike,” I think, “The MTA’s raising MetroCard prices again?!” not “Let’s go walking for fun.” Still, with my personal mandate to try new things, I took a hike through the forest the next morning before breakfast. I figured I’d at least work off the pasta and array of desserts I’d eaten at the hotel’s Silver Pine restaurant the night before.
Here’s a fun fact about Flagstaff: Just because it’s in hot, dry Arizona doesn’t mean temperatures don’t dip below 400 degrees. In fact, Flagstaff experiences all four seasons — with lows in the winter that could rival the Northeast. During the fall and spring, temps are brisk in the morning, as I found out during my trek.
The morning chill was real, but burnt off quickly. Then the pendulum swung in a new direction. Walking became a little bit laborious as the sun warmed up. Tie in the high elevation, and I started wondering, “Does anyone who says they like hiking really like it?” I don’t think people do. I don’t care if this theory sounds insane, but I think Big Outdoors has been training our brains into thinking walking miles on rough terrain is “fun” when it really isn’t. That’s my take.
Point being, after two miles, I was over it. Still, I have to admit, I felt that same sense of victory I often feel when I perfectly parallel park on the first try.
Post-hike, we had a quick breakfast at Silver Pine before going to Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course later that day for some ziplining fun.
I’d never been ziplining before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Apparently, it’s much more than climbing up a tree, clipping onto a wire and going “weeeeeeee!” as you soar through the pine forest. Although it’s that, too. We had a thorough lesson before trying, but of course, I still messed up. I was too busy paying attention to how bright the sun was (we’ll talk about that in a minute).
Anyway, as I weeeeee’d my from tree to tree, I failed to grab on to whatever the hell I was supposed to grab on to when I got to the final platform. Instead, gravity pushed me back to the middle of the zipline where I graciously dangled like a cat on those “Hang In There” motivational posters.
I fought the gravitational force and pulled myself toward the tree before pulling myself up, climbing down the tree and swearing off ziplining forever. That really doesn’t mean anything. I swear off brown liquor every time I get white girl wasted, so I’m sure I’ll be back ziplining in the near future. Minus the part where I was literally hanging out, it was fun. Fun in the way “scary” things usually are but then you do them anyway because flirting with death is exhilarating.
Speaking of flirting with death… Remember when I said I tuned out our zip line instructor because I was too busy making notes of how bright the sun was? That’s because — like a few unlucky humans and way too many stars of young adult romances — I’m allergic to sunlight.
Quick backstory: One winter’s day over a decade ago my body decided that ultraviolet light was the enemy and it must protect me from the harsh rays at all cost. Since then, I’ve been in serious trouble whenever the UV index reaches 5 and above and I’m outside for more than 20 minutes. In a bitter twist of irony, I’m also allergic to most sunscreen. Spoiler alert: The UV index spends virtually every second above five in Flagstaff.
Naturally, I knew that going in but I also believe in self-sabotaging and didn’t let it bother me when I accepted this assignment. I was going to see the Grand Canyon, remember?
When we reached our lodges post-zip line to prepare for lunch at Beaver Street Brewery, I took some liquid Benadryl in an effort stop the allergic reaction from coming. By the time we made it to the brewery, I was ready to collapse on a bed and go comatose for the rest of the day. Instead, I stayed at the restaurant and tried my damndest to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut as the Little America Flagstaff, general manager Fred Reese spoke about the hotel.
Through a dense brain fog, I heard Reese mention the hotel’s three-diamond status with AAA and how he’s aiming to get the hotel to four-diamond status. That’s a lofty goal because less then five percent of the 28,000 hotels AAA reviews joins the elite four-diamond club. But Little America Flagstaff seems well on its way thanks to their ongoing renovations. Hell, if they throw in a spa as we discussed at lunch, they might score the super exclusive five-diamond.
We were scheduled to go for a walking tour of town immediately after lunch, but with a rash blooming and a Benedryl-food coma combo knocking me out, I had no choice but to go back to the hotel.
The next day I was amped to go to the Grand Canyon. But oops, my face was swollen. Dramatically swollen. Like Will Smith in Hitch. The allergic reaction had blown right through my Benadryl defenses. This totally dashed my dreams of visiting the Grand Canyon as I looked like someone beat me up in my sleep. Moreover, I felt miserable.
I had to protect my face from even an ounce more sun exposure and protect the good people of Flagstaff from my grotesque appearance. So I stayed in bed all day, taking in more Benadryl every couple of hours in an effort to get my face back to normal for my flight back home the next day.
When the frustration got to be too much, I ordered a drink, as one does.
Oddly, staying in bed all day sort of made sense, because the whole point of the trip was for me to see the hotel. I didn’t get too far, but for what it’s worth, the bed was super comfy and made sleeping with an itchy, swollen face as cozy as one might possibly expect. I respect a high thread count and will always shout that out in a travel piece. I also appreciated the spacious bathroom and huge well-lit mirrors. They allowed me to examine just how terrible my face was before dropping to my knees and asking, “Why god? Whhhhhhhhy?!!!!”
Of course, I’m still bummed out that I wasn’t able to visit the canyon. If not for the “Eureka” then for the Instagram shots. But it was still an adventure. I hiked, zip lined, ate great pizza, and caught up on sleep. Maybe I’ll try visiting again this year. If I can have as much fun as I did — while staying in bed and agonizing over a swollen face — just imagine my trip without those elements and with one of the seven natural wonders of the world.