Operation Arrowhead

The Plan: Cover all the national sites in the northern half of Arizona

The Challenge: Hike the Grand Canyon from Rim to Rim

The Dates: 5/31-6/9 (2014)

The Lineup: (L-R) Telly Kostidakis, John Keelan, Travis Waltsak, Randy Smith

Here’s the four of us just after church concluded as we prepared to board the limo for the airport.


Below is a snapshot of the gang before the welcome signs of each of our twelve destinations in the order we visited them!

We landed in Phoenix late in the afternoon. After we secured the rental car we drove north and stopped off at McDonald’s for dinner. Telly remarked, “Where’s my fries, bro” (ask him about that one!) and we moved on. As we were approaching our campsite we were driving on dirt lanes through the pitch-black desert. As you can see in the picture below, thankfully the minivan did fairly well on the “primitive roads.” What you can’t see in the picture was the massive elk? deer? we spotted alongside the road with a rack the size of our windshield.


In the morning we left our campsite (seen below) and found the closest Walmart. We stocked up on all the food and camping supplies we’d be needing for the duration of our trip. We were tempted to buy those pink BB guns, but thought they wouldn’t make much of a difference with the mountain lions we might encounter along the way.

Sunset Crater National Monument

Estimated 900 years ago, this volcano erupted. Remnants of the blast can be seen all over the place, most noticeably in the lava rocks still left behind. First, we hiked the “Lenox Crater Trail.” It was a significant uphill climb with John and Travis leading at a rapid pace (seen in the picture below – “let’s go guys!”). It was a wake-up call for Telly to now gauge the physical intensity that was going to be expected on this trip (I believe it was a little more than he anticipated). Later we did the “Lava Flow Trail,” a one-mile loop that took you through the lava rocks (you can see me standing in a hill of the hardened lava below).

Wupatki National Monument

The many settlement sites scattered throughout the monument were built by the Ancient Pueblo People who first lived here around 500 AD. Archaeologists believe the site was abandoned around 1225 AD. We drove around and viewed a few of the dwellings. Although people were forbidden from climbing on the structures, I was surprised that you were still permitted to enter and walk about the existing remains. It sure was hot there, but not too hot for all of us to eat some warm peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.

Walnut Canyon National Monument

A long loop trail descends from the visitor’s center 185 feet into the canyon. It passes 25 cliff dwelling rooms constructed by the Sinagua (Spanish for “without water”) that lived in Walnut Canyon from about 1100 to 1250 AD. You can see in the pictures below that the ancient people built their shelters in the alcoves located within the canyon walls.

Sedona, AZ

New destination: Sedona, Arizona. Now the question: Normal road or shortcut that is over half the distance? We opted for the shortcut. It’s called Schnebly Hill Road and once we pulled on to it, we noticed it was a dirt road with a sign that highly recommended passage only with four-wheel-drive vehicles. It was rough, but at a slow speed we thought we’d be fine. Unfortunately half way into the trip, navigating the road went from bad to almost impossible. We were too far to turn around, yet seriously wondering if we’d be able to continue, much less finish the five miles downhill necessary to reach Sedona. It was very slow going. Telly spent most of the time directing me inch-by-inch and Travis and John were running around filling in potholes. To add to the excitement, we were riding on empty for the majority of this trip. The pictures below help illustrate this story.

We can now Relax! Happy campers to have made it!

Sedona Red Rocks


Following several recommendations, we drove up Airport Road to observe the sunset that evening. You can see we met a cowboy and cowgirl and has a pleasant time in conversation with these very friendly and hospitable folks.


Got to love the story imparted from Telly to the Cowboy regarding our episode!

Meteor Crater

At $18 a head, it was a lot of money to see a massive hole in the ground! Doubt I’ll go back again, but I have to admit the crew that owns this facility did their best to make you feel like you got your money’s worth. We had a wonderful tour guide named Eddie (you can see him in the group picture with us). The visitor’s center was nice as was the introductory video explaining the crater. There were also several good viewpoints for observation. It’s too bad they no longer permit people to hike to the bottom as that would have been a neat experience.

I threw John up as high as I could so he could snap this one! Can you see us in the picture?


One of the small sections that still remains of historic Route 66!

More remnants of Route 66!

Petrified Forest National Park

Declared a National Park in 1962, Petrified Forest preserves large deposits of petrified wood over an area covering 146 square miles. The park extends into the Painted Desert. It was a first of its kind for all of us, providing huge petrified trees and a colorful landscape.

Probably not the best place to be goofing around, but…


Historic Route 66 intersects with the Petrified Forest. You can see on the map below how this road originally ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. Souvenirs and artifacts and signs that commemorate the route can be found scattered all over this location.


Below are some pictures from our campground that evening. You can observe that we ended the day with the “Cowboy Cookout” and started the following day with the “Cowboy Cookout” (pancakes this time). The campground also had a nice pool that we kind of took over. Later in the evening we enjoyed using phone apps to locate stars and planets in the dark skies.

Indian dancing (you should have seen Travis out there!) and blizzards in the desert!

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

This was considered a meeting ground for the Navajo and settlers who came to trade. In 1878, John Lorenzo-Hubbell purchased this trading post, ten years after Navajos were allowed to return to the Ganado region from their U.S.-imposed exile in Fort Summer, New Mexico. We had a tour of Hubbell’s house that was on the grounds and frequently the Native American narrator spoke of what her ancestors called “the long walk.” The place is still an active trading post selling general food items and articles of clothing and weaponry indigenous to the region.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Exceeding my expectations, I have to admit that this was one of the most beautiful sites in nature my eyes have ever seen. The pictures fail do do justice to the rich colors and magnificent rock formations.

Just a stop along the road!

Welcome to Utah – Life Elevated!


Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Though I’ve been to this area twice before, this was the first time I have ever entered inside Monument Valley, which is run by the Navajo Nation. You can get a fairly good view of the iconic monuments from the highway, but this entrance to the grounds provides an up-close look as you travel by car on a dirt road weaving in and out of the landmarks.


We got stuck a few times and kicked up a lot of dust throughout the trip. We stayed out until the sunset (actually until they kicked us out) and then returned to the highway in the dark. That was quite an adventure on those primitive roads! And yes, that jumping picture is the real deal, although it looks like some serious “photo-shopping” was applied!

The picture on the left below shows our campsite when we arrived. It was dark, really dark! Travis is checking out the stars and Telly has a look like, “What in the world did you guys get me into?” When the sun rose in the morning we got to see what the place looked like. Also, it bears mentioning that this campground was free. Often those places draw some interesting people – we had one camping to our left.

Navajo National Monument

Since our free campsite was at this monument, we stopped by for a quick look. About a half mile down the trail you can see cliff dwelling homes in the alcoves of the canyon. We were on tight time constraints due to our appointment for the antelope canyon tour. I had no desire to go down since I have seen this before with Kayla a year earlier. I told the guys they had ten minutes to make the round trip – running would be necessary. Telly stayed with me. Travis and John went for it.

Antelope Canyon

This place was great! A shuttle truck takes you out to the canyon. From there, your tour guide takes you through explaining the geological and historical significance of the canyon. Ours was fantastic (you can see her in two of the pictures below). She even helped us get the best photographs, not to mention putting up with (and even laughing!) at our many jokes.

Here we are registering and riding out to the canyon.

The canyon entrance.


Inside the photogenic canyon.

More shots from inside.

With people…

Double-back-bicep pose at the mouth of the canyon!


After the conclusion of our trip.


Mexican food for lunch!


Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is a unique part where the Colorado River in Page Arizona does almost a 360 degree bend. The water is actually going around a peninsula, but to the eye at the observation point, the center stone actually looks like an island. After about a mile walk from the parking lot you are there; but don’t go too close to the edge! That cliff is straight down…a long way down!

They’re not just trying to scare you!


Grand Canyon National Park

We made it! Saving the best destination for last!

So here is the plan. The permit is secured. We’ll camp out on the South Rim and then take a shuttle in the morning from the South Rim to the North Rim – about a four hour drive. From there we’ll hike about seven miles down the North Kaibab Trail to Cottonwood Campground. In the morning we’ll hike another seven miles to the Colorado River (the bottom of the canyon). We’ll do some swimming, eat dinner at the Phantom Ranch, take in a ranger program and sleep at the Bright Angel Campground. In the morning we’ll hop on the Bright Angel Trail and take it the nine and a half miles back up to the top of the South Rim. Three days and two night to do the famous “Rim-to-Rim” or “R2R” hike!

Since everything we’ll be needing will be on our back, we did some shopping for supplies at the store located in Grand Canyon Park. Electrolytes, power bars, granola, salty snakes, beef jerky, dried fruit and tuna fish were our predominate purchases.

Securing a dinner at the Phantom Ranch at the last minute!

IMG_1384Our shuttle ride with four others to the North Rim. We had a great time with these guys talking about the Lord!

This picture below was taken not long after we were dropped off. This parking lot services the North Kaibab trail-head. The four of us were beginning our hike. The four of them had just concluded their hike and were returning to their cars.


Here we go!


This slideshow represents our walk from the North Rim to Cottonwood Campground.

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This slideshow represents our walk from Cottonwood Campground to the Colorado River.

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Ribbon Falls – a neat stop along the way! Notice how we were able to crawl inside the waterfall.

The bottom of the canyon – the Phantom Ranch, the Bright Angel Creek and jumping for figs!

Inside the Phantom Ranch to cool off and enjoy several glasses of their famous lemonade!

The Colorado River!

Some tired campers!


This was able to wake Telly up!


After dinner we returned to this. Some strong winds did a number on our tent!


This slideshow represents our walk from the Colorado River to the South Rim.

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The final few steps!


Celebration time!

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Here’s the final steps as we completed this memorable journey!

Look at that man’s determination in the picture below! “Get out of my way, I need some food!’

I can remember Telly grabbing two sandwiches from the deli counter, looking at the long check-out line, feeling sick to his stomach and just sitting down and eating them!


After the hike we made the three hour drive back to Phoenix. John treated us to a steak dinner at the Australian Outback. Our bodies were shot. Trying to navigate the bathroom in the middle of the night, I mistook the shower curtain for the wall and fell into the bath tub. Thankfully I was fine, but it was enough to startle all the guys.

A short video recap of our trip entitled “Operation Arrowhead!”

Praise God for some great guys and a great trip!