Last Monday we left the comforts of civilization when our seven days were up at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams. We unplugged the electrical cord, the water faucet, the sewer hose and the cable TV cord and pulled out of the park about 10:30 AM. While Andy drove Lizzy (the RV) over to the Love’s station to top off the propane tank, I took our empty drinking water jugs to the nearby Safeway to get them refilled. After that, we were on the road.
Our new campsite is one that we found when we were scouting last week. We are located on Forest Road 320 off Highway 64, about 20 miles south of the entrance to the Grand Canyon. It’s one of several pull-offs on the gravel road, and it’s totally off-grid with no hook-ups, and not even a trash dumpster. The space is large enough to accommodate several RVs or campers, but in the five days that we’ve been there we’ve only had one other camper join us at this pull-out, and he was on a motorcycle.
The area is a beautiful place to enjoy the outdoors. The most prominent feature is nearby Red Butte, which is especially striking in the late afternoon when the setting sun lights up the red rocks at the top of the mountain. There is also a great view of the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks from the road, although we can’t see them directly from our campsite.
Red Butte is a popular hiking destination. You can drive to the trailhead, and from there it’s about a 1.5 mile hike to the top where there is a fire lookout station. The trailhead is also the best spot in the area to get good Verizon cellular service. The worst thing about our camping site is the really poor Verizon signal–first thing in the morning I might get two bars of LTE, but by 8:00 AM it drops to one bar, and then it goes to one bar of 1x, essentially no connection. But at the trailhead, I can get two or three bars of LTE consistently.
On Wednesday I drove up to the trailhead with my laptop because I needed to work on the bookkeeping and get some bills paid. When I pulled into the trailhead turnaround, I saw a guy standing there with two goats. I rolled down the window and introduced myself, and found out that his name is Bruce, and he is the guy that works at the fire lookout station at the top of the butte. The goats, Josephine and her billy kid (unnamed) showed up at his station about a year ago. He posted their pictures on social media trying to find the owner, but was not successful, so the goats have been with him ever since. However, he says he knows it’s just a matter of time before “regulations” catch up with him, so he decided to find a new home for them.
Bruce located a woman in Williams who raises goats and also does animal rescues. When I met him on Wednesday, he had just hiked down the mountain with the goats to meet the woman who was coming to pick them up. You could tell that he was so attached to them, but thankfully he was able to find them a good home. As I was driving back to the campsite, I met the woman driving up the mountain in her truck. Later as we were in our campsite, I heard a goat bleating, and then I saw her truck go by with the two goats in large crates in the back. Josephine was saying goodbye to Bruce, and it was a little sad, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy their new surroundings with lots of other goats.
As a side note, Bruce told me he had been working at the lookout station for over twenty years, but that his job was gradually being phased out with the implementation of drones. He’s an artist (landscape painter), so the gig at the top of the mountain has been perfect for him. His wife is a singer and she’s on the road a lot. He said he gets about ten visitors a week in the spring and fall, hikers who brave the 1.5-mile trail to the station. He said he really enjoys getting visitors!
The weather has been very nice this week. We built a fire pit and gathered some of the plentiful deadwood in the area, so we were able to have a good campfire on Tuesday night. We even made s’mores!
Besides the poor cellular reception, the only other drawback to this beautiful camping spot is the distance we are from groceries and services. We knew that there wouldn’t be many options for groceries and that they would be expensive, so we stocked up with extra food before we left Williams. But we still need to dump the tanks at least every seven days. The two closest options for doing that are an RV park in Tusayan, or the dump station at Mather Campground inside the National Park (about five miles further).
We did some research online and found that the dump station at the RV park in Tusayan does allow non-guests to pay to dump, but that they do not allow non-guests to refill their water tanks. However, they do sell propane. We also found out that the dump station in the National Park is free, and we could also refill the water tank AND get free drinking water. So we decided we would be using the facilities inside the park, especially since we can enter the park for free with Andy’s senior pass.
Yesterday we decided to drive into the National Park in the pickup truck to make sure Andy could find the dump station–when you’re driving an RV it helps to know the lay of the land ahead of time. We found it easily enough, and were immediately grossed out to find a guy with his RV parked there, dumping his black tank without the proper attachment to the ground receptacle, so the sewage was just flowing out onto the ground around the hole. Disgusting!! What is wrong with people?? Thankfully he had enough sense to hose down the area and wash everything down the sewer hole before he left.
We took the time to visit the Marketplace in the park and found that they have a lot more grocery options (even vegan groceries) than are available at the small market at Tusayan. Of course, they’re not cheap–a large avocado was $1.89, but those were over $2 each in Tusayan. I bought a new water bottle since my old one had broken that morning, and we bought a loaf of bread and two avocados (yes, we’re addicted to avocados).
After that, we dropped by the Park Headquarters and talked to a ranger about the camping options in the park. As we expected, they would charge us as two vehicles instead of one, simply because we are not physically towing the truck. If they were connected when we drove in the park, they would only charge us for one–this is a policy that really needs to be addressed. Anyway, she was nice about it and offered us some options for reducing the cost, mainly by getting an $80 annual pass for me until I turn 62 and can get my own lifetime $80 senior pass.
Next we decided to take a short hike from the Headquarters building to the rim of the canyon. We’ve been there many times before–in fact, we tent-camped in Mather Campground back in the day–but it never fails to leave me awestruck. We took a few photos and met some nice people from Pennsylvania, heard lots of different languages, and tried not to freak out when all the schoolkids were running around near the rim.
We didn’t stay too long, as we do plan to return next week and spend a longer day seeing more of the canyon. On the drive back to camp, we stopped in Tusayan for lunch at a local pizza place–had a veggie pizza and a Peroni. We brought half the pizza home with us for another lunch this weekend.
As we were leaving the pizza place, we decided to stop by the local RV park to find out what they charge for their propane and dump station. When Andy talked to them he found out that they actually DO allow non-guests to fill up their water tanks for $7, and that the dump fee is $7. They sell propane for $4.80/gallon (as she said, they’re the only game in town!!). Since they do provide all the services we need, Andy will probably just dump the tanks there instead of driving into the Park as we originally planned, even though it will cost us $14 extra.
Yesterday we had a cold front move through and it was extremely windy all day. Today (Friday) it’s about 15 degrees cooler, and it’s supposed to get even cooler next week, dipping below freezing each night. We actually considered leaving our camp and moving over to Kingman for a few days, but then decided we could deal with it, as long as we have propane in the tanks for the furnace. We’ll just have to be careful to make sure the water lines don’t freeze overnight.
In the meantime, I’m really enjoying going for regular hikes each morning. The surroundings are beautiful with lots of flowers still blooming. We’ve had a large jackrabbit come through our camp several times, but we haven’t had any more sightings of elk around our camp since we were there on our original scouting expedition, even though there are elk tracks everywhere.
So our immediate plans are to stay where we are for the full fourteen days we are allowed, and then we’ll move, most likely to a different free boondocking spot closer to the Grand Canyon entrance at Tusayan. In order to get one of the first-come, first-serve campsites inside the Park at Desert View Campground, we would need to be there by 8:00 AM, and one of us does not do mornings very well. But as usual, plans are subject to change, especially when it comes to the weather. We’ll also need to make a re-supply trip to Safeway in Williams when our fresh produce runs out, but otherwise we are pretty much committed to living in this area for the time being.
On a side note, this blog hit a milestone this week with our 100th subscriber! Thanks to everyone who is interested enough to follow along with our adventures by subscribing!
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