I recently overheard a lady in my local bookstore describing a monastery in southern Arizona that she had visited. I googled St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ. This oasis in the desert is about 72 miles southeast of Phoenix.
This sanctuary is a true garden of Eden- flowering bushes, fountains, fruit and olive orchards, with scattered small chapels.
First thing, when you stop at the gift shop entrance a nice lady provides a map and lets you know that you are free to roam the gardens and chapels at no charge (a donation is good). Photos are OK, just don’t take any of the monks. And most important you must be dressed appropriately. Since is was 90 degrees that day we visited we were wearing short sleeves and shorts. Baskets of long sleeve shirts and long pants and skirts were provided to put on over your existing clothes. Women need to wear a headscarf.
The day that we were there, we saw no other visitors walking the grounds. We did however see a few monks. The gift shop was more busy, probably because they sell fresh baked breads, fruit preserves, olive oils, and baked goods like baklava. Of course, we did buy an armload.
I’ve always considered myself somewhat outdoorsy, and the idea of 7 days on the Colorado river— rafting, hiking, and camping– made me a little nervous. I like camping and hiking, but rafting–not really. I will tell you things I loved, and the things I found challenging.
What I loved—
Living literally outdoors for a week, no tent, sleeping under the wide open full-moon sky. No showers, no bathrooms, matted sticky sandy hair, it all felt so primitive. I loved the idea of knowing we were so far from civilization. Your world truly revolves around the sun (up at 5 am in bed at 8 pm) and weather.
Camp food is always good. We had steak, salmon, fried potatoes, brownies and cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven. Eggs and pancakes for breakfast, and lunch was a table buffet of sandwich fixings, chips, candy and cookies.
Getting to know your raft-mates, people that instantly became family. You become fairly intimate with strangers when you live so closely together for a week. We all worked together on the “duffel line” loading and unloading the raft each morning and evening. Evenings were nice sitting in our camp chairs with drinks discussing the day and being entertained by ravens circling and stealing camp snacks. After the trip our raft-mates exchanged and shared photos on Facebook.
We did not raft 6 solid hours a day, we had lots of hiking and swimming adventures throughout the day. We hiked to hidden waterfalls and natural pools to swim. One day we hiked up to the confluence of the Little Colorado River, a tributary where the water is an unusual beautiful color of turquoise caused by alkaline and high mineral content, a refreshing place to swim. One stop was a short hike to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We walked to the canteen in 100+ degrees to get cold drinks and sit on a picnic table under a shade tree. This was special since I have no desire to ride mules or hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (the only other ways to reach this “resort”). I figured this was the only chance I’ll ever have to see this hot infamous oasis.
What I found challenging—
Hot, Hot, Hot! 100+ degrees in the canyon. Hot sand and rocks and next to no shade when we stopped for lunch and late afternoon camping. In the evening the hot wind would blow sand, I was covering my head with a sheet but sand was in the sleeping bag, my duffel bag, and caked to my wet sandals.
Some of the hikes were strenuous. I’m not in the best of shape for climbing hot steep rocks and walking along ledges looking down below at the pools in Havasu Canyon. We were all wearing slippery water shoes and sandals, while the guides were jumping from rock to rock, and climbing in flip flops, yikes!
And of course– the main event of the week rafting! I did it and after the first 2 days I was feeling more comfortable with it. In the beginning being hit with that shocking cold water was really uncomfortable. But with the heat and the hot-to the-touch rubber raft, it became refreshing. The front of the raft is nicknamed the “the bathtub,” which is where you really get soaked. In the few times that I did sit up there going through rapids– you get hit (and hard) by a wall of ice cold water–I would gasp, and it took my breath away, and then I’d immediately get hit again with hardly anytime to catch a breath in between. Our raft went through a few rapids rated “9“ and “10”. Hitting rapids would be a cross between riding a roller coaster and a bucking bronco. I was scared to death, but all I could think of was to hang on for dear life.
What did I take away from this trip?
It’s amazing the scary things you push yourself to do. Now, in my older years I’ve become a little wimpy to this kind of adventure. I hiked trails I would have never done on my own, nor would I have ever volunteered to sit in the “bathtub” of a raft… thank goodness for peer pressure.