Desert Delights: an Epic Road Trip from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon at Mather Point
The Scholars pose for a group photo around the Grand Canyon park sign
SUSI Scholars 2023, Grand Canyon, Photo by: Ronnie of AZ Limo

On June 10, 2023, at 8 in the morning, all of the SUSI scholars gathered and boarded the bus. Our first destination was a gas station surrounded by magnificent Arizona cactuses. With our driver, Ronnie, cautioning us about snakes, we captured stunning photos of these unique and beautiful plants.

A group of scholars poses under a tall saguaro cactus; the sky and desert stretch out in all directions
Somewhere in the Arizona Desert, Happy SUSI scholars Angela (Suriname), Alejandro (Costa Rica), Sokhen (Cambodia), Carmem (Brazil), Tamanda (Malawi), Myat (Myanmar) and Tirşe (Turkey). June 10, 2023. Photo by Dawn Gilpin.
A group of smiling scholars stands in the Arizona desert amid the saguaro cacti
Somewhere in the Arizona Desert, smiling SUSI scholars Rakib (Bangladesh), Mariana (Ukraine), Elastus (Zambia), Elira (Kyrgyzstan), Firly (Indonesia) and Rachna (India). June 10, 2023. Photo by unkNown photographer 😊
Two smiling blonde Scholars turned cowgirls with newly purchased hats
Anida (Bosnia) and Mariana (Ukraine) with cowboy hats, June 10, 2023. Selfie by: Mariana Kitsa

At our second stop, the Rock Springs Cafe welcomed us with its rich history and mouthwatering pies. Established in 1918, this iconic bakery has stood the test of time, serving over a million people with their delectable American pies filled with peach, apple, blueberry, and more. After savoring our pies and enjoying coffee, we explored the cafe’s charming gift stores and purchased small gifts for our loved ones back home. One store owner was very kind and applied special discounts to our purchases. All scholars found something to bring back as souvenirs. Tiny cactuses were a popular choice, and Tamanda was lucky enough to find one. Meanwhile, some scholars purchased cowboy hats, adding a touch of Western flair to our adventure.
(See Juxtapose created by Tirşe Erbaysal Filibeli, June 10, 2023. Photo by Rock Springs Cafe)

A smiling Scholar stands in a shop, wearing a Western hat
Rachna (India) wears a cowboy hat. June 10, 2023. Photo by: Unknown photographer 😊

The third stop was the fascinating city of Flagstaff. With the excitement stirred by the city’s beauty, everyone quickly disappeared into its vibrant streets. As Flagstaff is a small city, most of us easily found one another and enjoyed a delicious Hawaiian barbecue lunch together. Others ventured off to discover various restaurants, ranging from Thai and Japanese cuisine to classic hamburger joints. On our way into the city, we stumbled upon a local open market and eagerly explored its offerings. When Angela and I arrived, the marketplace owners were in the process of closing up shop, but Angela was fortunate enough to acquire a package containing sage, a natural stone, and wood—an ideal combination for cleansing negative energy from her home. Notably, as it was pride month, the city adorned itself with an abundance of rainbow flags and vibrant colors. Situated near the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff may have some spirit in common with the city of San Francisco, California,[1] which served as the epicenter of the gay rights movements in the 1970s. The city boasted an impressive array of excellent restaurants, bars, and coffee shops, leading us all to unanimously agree on one thing: we would absolutely love to reside in this charming town.

A group of scholars smiles into the camera in downtown Flagstaff
Flagstaff, SUSI Scholars Elastus (Zambia), Eman (Egypt), Rachna (India), Tirşe (Turkey) and Peter (Slovakia). June 10, 2023. Group selfie by Elastus.
Collage of images from Flagstaff, Arizona
Flagstaff Arizona, June 10, 2023. Created by Alejandro Vargas Johansson

Our fourth and final stop was the inspiring Grand Canyon, truly one of Earth’s greatest natural wonders. The breathtaking sight of the Colorado River, canyon walls that have endured for over 5 million years, and the dance of clouds across the blue sky left us utterly speechless. As SUSI scholars, we eagerly captured these remarkable sights, realizing that the Grand Canyon exceeded all our expectations. These unforgettable moments, immortalized in photographs and etched into our memories, will forever occupy a corner of our hearts.

A group of smiling people stands in front of the Grand Canyon
Just arrived to Grand Canyon, SUSI Scholars Tirşe (Turkey), Elira (Kyrgyzstan), Angela (Suriname), program coordinator Amy and our driver Ronnie. 10 June 2023. Photo by: Unknown friendly tourist
A woman stands in a "ta-da!" pose on a rock overlooking the Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon, SUSI scholar Eman (Egypt), Photo by: Anida Sokol
A women sits, arms outstretched as if in benediction, on a rock overhanging the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon
SUSI scholar Anida (Bosnia), Grand Canyon. June 10, 2023. Photo by: Unknown 😊
Two women stand leaning against a railing in front of the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon
Dr. Dawn Gilpin and SUSI scholar Tamanda (Malawi), Grand Canyon. Photo by: Tirşe Erbaysal Filibeli

After a long road trip, while I’m blogging on the bus, everyone is fast asleep. We had an incredible day filled with countless enjoyable moments. Rachna developed her photography skills and became quite proficient at taking selfies, almost rivaling Hassan. Angela proudly posed for several photos with her Suriname flag, catching the attention of French tourists. Anida, Hassan, and Emane fearlessly captured a few spine-chilling shots. During our journey, seven individuals momentarily lost their way in search of the bus, but thanks to Dawn’s diligent efforts, we were soon reunited. As foreigners, organizing this road trip would have been impossible without Amy and Dawn. Holding onto these remarkable memories, we returned to Gordon Commons. This experience is truly once in a lifetime.

[1] To gain more insight,  I recommend watching the movie “Milk” (2008). Gay right activist and politician Harvey Milk is potrayed by Sean Penn.