When I decided there was no way in hell I was going to spend my 40th birthday in Cleveland, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day than it turned out to be. From waking up to the warm Phoenix sunshine, to hiking in Sedona, to falling asleep in a funky hotel on Route 66, it ranks among my top ten favorite days of all time.
I couldn’t believe all the little ways my Uncle Mark and Aunt Cindy made this trip–and especially my birthday–exceptional. I was eyeing the chocolate chip cookies Cindy baked for our road trip when my uncle plugged in his iPod, said, “I hear you like these guys a little bit,” and started blasting Foo Fighters. Like the Foo? I LOVE the Foo! I love them so much I had the FF inked into my flesh, for christ’s sake. Mark had done his homework (and his source, my daughter, is a very good secrets-keeper, which should probably scare me a little bit). If there’s one thing I want to hear on a road trip, it’s Foo Fighters (and Guster, but now I’m off topic).
Our first stop was Bell Rock, near Sedona. Although I will never end my love affair with trees, there’s something starkly beautiful about the desert. The contrast between the red rock and the brilliant blue sky was so spectacular, it almost looked fake, like an oil painting. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen such a deep, rich, blue sky before.
After an hour or so we decided it was lunchtime, so we headed into Sedona. We sat down at Sedona Pizza and Pasta Co. and, though we were warned by the hostess about a bee issue, we enjoyed a delicious, leisurely and relatively bee-free lunch on their patio.
After lunch it was time for more hiking. We headed to the West Fork trail to do some more hiking. The trail follows the West Fork Oak Creek and, although heavily trafficked, is a lovely trail that offers the perfect mix of red rock views and lush forest. In late October, the entire trail was bursting with fall colors.
At the start of the trail is an old homestead, the Mayhew Lodge. It was once a popular retreat for the likes of Walt Disney, Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable, and other early 20th Century icons. Little remains of the lodge now but the fireplace and a few crumbling walls, all crawling with ivy. Considering the view, and what must’ve been complete solitude in the early 1900’s, it’s not difficult to see why the rich and famous would choose this place for their getaways.
We hiked for a couple of hours until we were running out of light, and then headed to Williams, where we had rooms reserved at the Grand Canyon Hotel. Located on Route 66, according to its website, it opened its doors in 1891, and is the oldest hotel in Arizona. Once a busy establishment (at one point renting rooms by the hour), it closed its doors in 1970 after Interstate 40 bypassed the town. It remained empty until being purchased in 2004, renovated, and reopened to the public.
We were in the WWI room. It had a bunch of war memorabilia, including a creepy portrait of a soldier, whose eyes seemed to follow us no matter where we were in the room. Between that, the age of the building, its extensive history, and the long, dark hallway next to our room, it felt, for a second, like a small scale version of The Shining. I was expecting to see a set of twin girls at the end of the hall, begging me to play with them forever, and ever, and ever . . . We were convinced the hotel was haunted. So convinced, in fact, that when the lights in that long, dark hallway suddenly turned on, I almost leapt right the hell out the window before realizing they were on a motion sensor.
After we got settled it was time for dinner. There was a steak house next door to the hotel, but we had an hour to kill before our table would be ready, so we headed to Barrel House for a cocktail. An old saloon dating back to the days of the Wild West, when Williams was a logging and fur-trading post, they now serve craft beers and cocktails to locals and tourists alike.
Dinner was divine. I ordered the filet mingon, which was cooked to perfection. They even had my favorite wine, Chateau Ste Michelle’s Riesling. I ordered a glass, at which point my uncle said, “Don’t you want a bottle?” Why yes, yes I do. My uncle is a genius.
We laughed and talked, and I kept drinking wine, and by the time we’d finished our meal, I was pretty drunk. We were all tired, but it was the last few hours of my 40th birthday, and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I had a sort of Cinderella-like complex, I think. The day had been so perfect, so magical, so memorable (and I was so drunk), that it almost seemed like a dream. It felt like, if I went to sleep, I’d wake up in the morning, back in Ohio, going to work, and coming home to clean up cat puke, while my children communicated with me only in grunts and interpretive expressions. No, calling it a night was just not happening. Not yet.
So, while Mary and Mark headed back to the hotel like responsible adults, I kept the party going at the bar across the street. It was a dive bar, as one would expect in a small town, and it was karaoke night. Bonus. Bring on the prime people watching.
There were only a handful of people in the bar, including a straight-up cowboy. I mean, this guy had the hat, the boots, chaps, and a long, leather trench coat. Dude was legit. I was sorta disappointed he didn’t say “Howdy, ma’am.” with a tip of his hat, to be honest.
Being such a slow night, the two bartenders were left to pick up the mic between karaoke “performers.” I sat on my bar stool, watching as they sang country (of course) songs, wiped down the bar, poured beers, and checked their phones, seemingly all at once. These women were master multi-taskers.
After they finished their rendition of The Dixie Chicks, “Cowboy Take Me Away,” I ordered a double lemon drop and a water (balance, people). I watched her pour the vodka over ice in the cocktail shaker, then pour it into a glass. And then I watched her pour the excess into another glass, and put them both in front of me. This was no double shot, folks. These were two glasses of vodka. Try as I did, I couldn’t get anyone to help me drink them. These were beer people who, when offered vodka, looked as if I’d just offered them up their first born child to eat. But I wasn’t about to let good vodka go to waste, so I drank it all and started making friends (I’m a very happy, social drunk).
It was about 45 minutes later that it started to really hit me. I was wasted. Those shots were unnecessary and ill advised. I went to the bathroom and somehow couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. I literally just stood there for a solid minute, looking around, utterly confused as to how I’d even gotten in there to begin with. There was a door that was locked, and it took a conscious effort to find the beaded curtain around a corner (which you’d think I would’ve remembered) that led back to the bar. By the time I found my way out I was stumbling and dizzy, and I knew it was time to call it a night.
I walked outside and sat on a bench on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the absolute desolation that is Route 66 at 2am. I half expected tumbleweed to start rolling down the street. In the end all that passed me by was a pickup truck, which seemed so cliché, and after sending out a drunk Snapchat of myself lip syncing to a Miley freaking Cyrus song that was playing on the bar’s patio (like I said, definitely time for bed), I headed back to the hotel.
My 40th birthday had been as epic and wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, and then some. I’d spent it under the bluest sky, hiking along a canyon creek, eating my favorite foods, listening to my favorite music (the Foo, not Miley), drinking my favorite drinks, and spending time with some of my favorite human beings in the entire world. As I fell asleep under the watchful eye of the WWI soldier, my heart was filled with gratitude. I mean, my head was spinning from all those favorite drinks, but as my friend Shawna would say, my love tank was overflowing.
Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back for LadycationSunday to check out the next installment in my Arizona adventure as we head to the Grand Canyon!
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