Updated: Dec 3, 2020
We're doing a blog! Yes, something we used to do in our early days. We think it's time to bring this back, so we hope you enjoy this restart of a personal favorite. Something that allows us to tell a little more story and—more importantly—show some of the imagery that we can't stitch together anywhere else.
If you haven't listened to episode 46 - M M M My Sedona, you can listen to it here.
Without further delay, let's get started. Sedona, AZ is a trip that has been on our list for a very long time. A trip we had honestly hoped to do together, but circumstances prevented Ali from going so I was forced to take this one alone. Alone is not accurate... I went with two others. First up was good friend, trip planner, and Head of Marketing for Rebel Off-Road, Evan Gage. Evan would be behind the wheel of the Rebel Off-Road Gladiator Overland Build. Our second name on the trip was Austin Foley, a former tech at Rebel Off-Road and someone I was meeting for the first time. Austin brought along his 1986 Land Cruiser, which I was stoked to see, since lately I have been outnumbered by Jeeps. Austin would also be acting as photographer (in addition to Evan and myself) and videographer. And I was in Trucky, the FJ Cruiser.
A pure pleasure cruise, we see what we want, we camp when we want, and we roll out when we want.
We all agreed from the planning stages that first and foremost, this trip would be one thing: loosely planned, at our own pace, and no hurry to get anywhere. A pure pleasure cruise, we see what we want, we camp when we want, and we roll out when we want. The last year had been an adventure but we were all too aware of how tiring and stressful it can be trying to keep to schedules, and trying to get "the shots." It became more about hitting the marks than it did about the adventure, the experience, the escape. And so we began our trip. 5 days, 4 nights into Sedona, a place none of us had been to since our youth, and a place we knew would deliver epic views and wonderful trails.
Day 1 - On The Road To Sedona, AZ!
6 AM, we roll out! Evan and I meet up in Corona, CA, the gateway to the east for those of us on the coastal side of southern CA. We begin our trek east which, for anyone who doesn't know this route, is about 5 hours of highway in a straight line with some fuel stops to break up the monotony, stretch your legs, and use the restroom. Our goal: get to a stop just outside of Lake Havasu where we would meet up with Austin, who now lives out that way after his days at Rebel. From here on out it would be miles, fuel, coffee, restroom, miles fuel, coffee, restroom... .
All said, it was a smooth trip and we arrived in Sedona later that afternoon—about 3pm, which was perfect. Time to have a meal and head out to find our first campsite! Food tip, if you have a moment, go visit Sedona Beer Co. Excellent Beers on tap and some great food! Especially after a long day of driving.
After our meal, we decided Camp #1 would be close and easy. Schnebly Hill! A mere 6.5 miles, we should be arriving about sunset! You would think that 4.5 miles of dirt would be pretty quick. It was not. It was a brutally slow road up the hill as we made our way through potholes and ruts and kidney killing jolts. We arrived well after dark averaging below 5 mph up the mountain. Then we had a few good size rock gardens that we were concerned about with the mostly stock Land Cruiser. So the mandatory trail walk was done to be sure we didn't get ourselves into a tight situation that would prolong our race to camp. Getting to the top late meant to 2 things. First off, all the easily accessible sites were gone. Secondly, we would need to go deeper and further to find a site. Luckily this paid off for us and found a great site just out of reach of the other family soft-roaders. This would prove to be a common theme throughout the trip.
We picked out a good corner of the world that night and began to unload, set up, and relax. There was a ban on campfires this time, so we had some good camp lights and beers to help forget the "road" we just traveled. Then we decided we would not be doing ourselves any favors if we didn't break out the cameras for some astrophotography! So we got our gear and began aiming it at the dark night sky. It was awesome! We didn't finish up until after midnight.
The next morning we wake up to an incredible view and decide IT WILL NOT be an early start to the day. We need to make some coffee, take in the epic views, and enjoy being alive another day.
This morning would set the mood for the rest of the trip. We rolled out of camp about 10:30 AM all smiles, fed, and ready to take on the day! We decided to take our chances and not backtrack the trail of the night before, but rather head out the eastern side to Highway 17. This proved to be a smooth dirt road all the way out. I HIGHLY recommend you come in and out from the HWY 17 end should you head out to Schnebly Hill.
Day 2 - Time To Hit The Dirt, Broken Arrow!
On day 2 we had one goal: do Broken Arrow. If we had time for more, great. It was a short jaunt around HWY 17 and back into Sedona to the Broken Arrow trailhead. You cruise through a neighborhood, which is common in Sedona, so be respectful and mindful of your speed. If you plan to air down, I highly recommend you pull over in a safe and legal place in this neighborhood since the trail gets very tight. The parking lot is tiny, not offering much room to turn around. Here we met a friend of Evan's, a local who would guide us on this trail making sure we hit all the great spots—and didn't get lost on the trail network as it does crisscross itself a few times. This trail is a must-do! It's not hard. Any properly modified vehicle can do this. The biggest concern is clearance and approach/departure angles. 3" and 33" tires were just fine for the FJ. Even the longer Gladiator did fine, although it's got a big lift and 37" tires.
Continuing with our theme and new goal, we deployed the awnings in a nice spot away from traffic. We watched the parade of pink jeeps—broken up by tourists—take in the sights as we hydrated and made new friends. This trail was a ton of fun and I am super appreciative of how our trail guides led us through the trail and made for great company! Big shout out to the guides of the Pink Jeep Tours. They were super fun and joked with us on the trail and even offered up some history. They were great representatives for Sedona. From this spot, we made our way to our next campground, in search of a place we did not know of yet with one of our new friends in tow.
Evan had planned a spot on the edge of a river for us to camp and take a swim. But, as most well laid plans, being on the ground and on-site would change our plans. Turned out the area was day use only and campsite after campsite on the way back to the highway was full. We finally pulled into one of the last campsites near the highway that was nestled up against a hill. This campsite was also full, but there was a small doubletrack heading out the back up into the hill, covered in lava rock about the size of soccer balls and beach balls. We asked a couple that was hiking if they had been up there and they said no, but that it was a road and wished us the best of luck. It was about 4 pm at this time, so we had about 2 hours of light left. Up we went, slowly rolling over the rocks on this narrow trail, the whole time dreading this would be a repeat of Schnebly Hill. The road got worse with every turn. It had been about 30 minutes and we'd maybe gone a mile at best. I took off ahead to scout, to make sure this would pay off. Thankfully for us, it did. When we reached the top, only a few hundred yards more and the road smoothed out. We found an incredible campsite that looked more like the Serengeti than Arizona. We parked, set up camp tables and tents, and began to unwind, making dinner with drinks in hand and making jokes with our new friends. They were not camping and would head out soon.
This spot offered us incredible views and privacy. We spent the evening in deep conversations of musical history, our experiences which in turn triggered life memories and more experiences. We went down a serious multi-genre rabbit hole. The kind you only get when you're 100% in that singular moment.
We went down a serious multi-genre rabbit hole. The kind you only get when you're 100% in that singular moment.
The next morning we awoke at first light to an awesome surprise: an armada of airships floating across the golden skies. It was a fleet of hot air balloons out of Sedona. Again, I made some coffee—this time I was the only one up. I sat in my chair enjoying the view as these balloons passed by in slow motion, the silence broken up by the irregular and distant rumble of their giant burners lifting them further into the skies.
After enjoying our private show of balloons, we set out once again to explore the Arizona desert. We were crisscrossing highways and trails as we made our way among the giant rock pillars and ancient landscapes coloring the horizon. I couldn't tell what trails we were on, we just kept driving and—in the truest sense—exploring our surroundings. We struck out at a few known trails, since closures were pretty common this season. We ended taking a gamble on the far west end of town, very close to Verde, AZ.
This is a good spot to drop in Part 2 of the podcast for this trip. Give it a listen!
Day 3 - The Home Stretch of an Epic Trip
This last section ended up being the best of all. We literally had no idea what we were in for. And sadly, it's the section I took the fewest photos of. Luckily Austin shot some awesome video, and I will attach it at the end. This trail was phenomenal. The kind of track you hope to find when out exploring. Too challenging for most stock family wagons and too far into the bush for day-trippers. This was a track that hadn't been traveled in months, at best. Winding double track, barely wide enough for the vehicles—a true "jeep" trail in the classic sense, not the branded badged sense. Winding up through the valley on shelf roads, then on loose rocks and small steps just loose enough to require some steady negotiation. This was THE ROAD! We had so much fun on this trail we forgot to take pictures and shoot video for most of it. You'll have to take my word for it. By the time the sun was low and we began looking for a campsite, we had already found a half dozen we'd happily turn back for. But the day was not over. We went through some old ranching gates—the kind made of branches and barbed wire. With tin signs hand-painted that let us know access was OK but to please make sure we closed the gate behind us. We were all too happy to comply.
We decided to take a spur that took us to a peak. We had no idea what to expect but we knew the view would be epic. Again, a trail less traveled. Grass was beginning to grow back on the tracks. We were once again greeted with lava rocks.
What we rolled up on was by far the best campsite and an epic place to finish off our nights of camping in Sedona! Enjoy the view.
We couldn't resist! It was at this point the cameras came out again we started shooting through golden hour and well into the night!
I made my bed first this time, it's no fun doing that at 1 am, even if it's this simple.
We had such an epic time. This is the one we didn't want to end.
Day 4 - The Home Stretch of an Epic Trip
The next morning we were greeted to our surprise by the balloons again and an epic sunrise! We made breakfast, packed it up, and made our way down the mountain for one final night in Sedona.
Heading back down the mountain we did run into one issue and it wouldn't be a trip if a wrench didn't come out. Luckily it was just a single bolt that needed some gentle guidance back to its home. Austin made sure we were quickly back on our way.
Just one more gate to close behind us, and we were on our way back to the highway.
We spent one last night in Sedona. We decided to do a hotel on this final night to get a shower and get some food in town. It was the right call. We had an absolute blast. We didn't overdo it. We enjoyed every second of it. And we did it on our own terms for our own reasons, and with great friends. This is how trips should be.
Thanks for reading and we'll catch you on the next great adventure! Don't forget to listen to the episodes and DON'T FORGET to tell your friends. Help us spread the stoke!
Enjoy this awesome wrap-up of the trip put together by Austin Foley.