The Second Half of a Westward Adventure

Big Projects, Beginning to End, Inspiration, Lift, News from the Shop

When we spoke last we had just finished crating and shipping Lift back to Florida. A side note on that- Lift was delivered in good condition last week, so we can officially count this adventure a success!

Once our hard work was done it was time to explore and hike big red rocks below a bigger yellow sun.

My folks had never been to Arizona. Karen had spent some time in Scottsdale and Pheonix for an NCECA conference. I’d been in the neighborhood three times now and wanted to show everyone some of the best hiking spots I’d ever been to.

We set out for Sedona. Only an hour and half drive north from Pheonix and brimming with dramatic rock structures. The low desert, speckled with cacti turns to plateaus and prairie swaying with blonde grasses, and begins to rise into hills and mountains. By the time you roll into Sedona it’s hard to stay focused on the road, as these huge structures rise all around you.  The most magnificent have names and all the locals have their favorites.

We chose to hike Cathedral Rock, located just behind an upscale neighborhood off highway 179.

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Arizona09. Photo by Leslie Tharp

Mom and Dad are up for adventure, but have never been much for hiking. In fact, all growing up it was misunderstood that when I suggest we go “hiking” on a family trip I was suggesting we go rock climbing. In retro spec, this may have been due to their Florida upbringings. After all, what do people in the mountains do for fun? Probably really extreme and dangerous things right?

On past trips they had never supported this seemingly strenuous activity suggestion.  However on this trip, they granted me permission to plan some hikes.

 I saw this as the perfect opportunity to trick them into rock climbing.

Arizona06. Photo by Leslie Tharp

Arizona010. Photo by Leslie Tharp


They caught on to my little plan once we got to the part of the trail with hand holds carved into boulder faces.

They split off and took a flatter trail around the rim of Cathedral Rock, while Karen and I skipped off red faced, giggly, and determined to climb to the top.

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Let’s pretend it was the thin air going to our heads that encouraged this silly photo shoot part way up the mountain.


Arizona030. Photo by Leslie Tharp

We made it to the top and blue sky poured over into the other valley. A cool breeze from the other side swooped in and lifted the sweat right off us!

What a feeling!


We ate lunch perched in the shadows of the rocks, then began our hike back down to find Mom and Dad.

Arizona05. Photo by Ed Tharp

Back in town we met a waitress who  pointed us to a local watering hole. A cold stream was tucked in the valley just west of Cathedral Rock, and a quick  dip into the icy waters before hitting the road made our day in Sedona absolutely perfect.

Arizona09. Photo by Karen Tharp

We drove north through winding mountain roads and arrived in Flagstaff 45 minutes later. The speed at which the landscape changes in this area amazes me.

Flagstaff is a small, outdoor focused town surrounded by black mountains and alpine forests. Can you imagine how good it felt after spending the week in 110 degree heat to find ourselves in the mountains, where the temperate starts it’s rise in the 50’s and the air smelled like Christmas.

I wish I was still there.

Arizona040. Photo by Karen Tharp

Despite the gloriousness of Flagstaff we had to go. We were on a mission to see the Grand Canyon!

Have you ever been in a car full of family members and everyone thinks they know which way to go and where to turn and when to stop and they all talk at the same time, but really have nothing to say?

Has this ever happened to you?

Nothing will silence a car full of arguing like the first site of the Grand Canyon.

No, for real, it really works. You should try it.

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Arizona03. Photo by Sandy Tharp

This place is absolutely stunning. Photos can’t touch it. If you ever can, you must come here.

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FLASHBACK: On my last adventure to the Grand Canyon I hiked in and camped at Indian Gardens. You can see the river of green in the center of this photo, and that’s where the camp is- below the canopy of big, lush trees. On that trip my hiking mate and I hiked down for 3 hours, dropped our packs, took a nap, made cowboy coffee, ate some chocolate (duh) and hiked another 3 hours down to the river. We dipped our tired feet in the rushing ice water  before heading back up. Holy Wow. What a trip. It took us 4 hours to hike back up to camp, where we were greeted by Mule deer and their babies strolling through our camp (tiny little deer not much larger than jack rabbits and speckled with spots.) The next morning we set out to hike back up to the rim. 4 of the most difficult hours  of my life, followed by days of hobbling around and laughing about the soreness of our legs.

On this trip we’d planned to hike in to the first water station. 1.5 miles down.

Arizona02. Photo by Leslie Tharp

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We all set out for a 2-3 hour hike. Karen forgot a sun hat and was forced to wear the visor of shame.

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In a couple places the trail cuts right through the rock.

Arizona01. Photo by Leslie Tharp

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My primary goal on this hike was to see the rock formation change along the canyon walls. You can see here when the rock transitions abruptly from beige to red.

This place is so incredibly large and unlike anything I’ve ever seen that it’s difficult to fathom it, but taking a couple hours to hike through some of it’s history has helped me begin to understand it. I wanted to see this again and to share it with my family.

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After about an hour of walking down the path we arrived at the first water station. There are three points along the trail before you reach Indian Gardens where a water spigot, bathrooms, and shelter from the sun welcome hikers.

We sat on the floor of the first rest station and carb loaded, giddy in our triumphs.

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By the bathrooms we saw this posting for a bobcat that was lingering near the trail. A quick and effective reminder that tourists may flock here, but this is not Disney World.

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Another reminder of the “wild” world we were walking through- can you see the rattle snake in this photo? Luckily we were told by hikers coming down that this pink rattle snake was hiding in the rocks by the trail. We wouldn’t have seen it otherwise and it sat in an area I would have easily stepped to if I were allowing someone to pass, or taking a quick break. We stood near taking photos and warning people. One child sprinted in front of his family and began playfully walking on top of the rocks, oblivious to the snake. We caught him in time and hoped others would continue to pass the message as we began walking up the trail.


Mules carry people up and down all day long. On this road the mules have the right of way, followed by the hikers coming up, and lastly those going down.

Arizona01. Photo by Sandy Tharp

We really wished we were on the back of mules as we huffed it up and out of the canyon.

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Finally out and fed, we went for a drive around the area to take photos at different look-outs. It was an absolute treat to see elk on the side of the road along our drive! They’re HUGE!


Arizona010. Photo by Karen Tharp

We made it back to Flagstaff, where the air is crisp and landscape full of wild flowers.


What a trip. I hope I can go back soon.

Arizona04. Photo by Sandy Tharp

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I create large metal sculptures for public art, smaller items for you and your home, and teach hands on metal workshops in Gainesville, FL. Visit

3 thoughts on “The Second Half of a Westward Adventure”

  1. Karen Brown says:

    I love that area, too, and enjoyed your photos and commentary. Florida has been miserably hot and wet. We miss you and Casper at the dog park! Karen and Duffy


  2. sandytharp says:

    Love love love this! I wish I was still there also!PS Could not believe the picture of the snake- I did not have my glasses on the first time I looked at it on Karen’s phone and thought it was the stick between the rocks (did not realize that it was BEHIND the rocks. Duh.)We will make it back (I will hijack Dad’s lifetime admittance card so we can get in free)


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