It’s another beautiful morning here in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona. Our current location is just over 8100′ in elevation, so the weather is pretty near perfect. The highs have been in the 70’s and the nighttime lows in the high 30’s and low 40’s, with very low humidity and just an occasional shower to add some interest.
It has been really interesting watching the vegetation change in the time that we’ve been here (almost three weeks). When we first arrived, the aspens were still almost bare, with just a few leaf buds on them. Now they are fully leafed out, providing summer shade. The small yellow flowers that blanketed the ground when we got here have died out now, and have been replaced by wild irises, bluebonnets, and other species of flowers.
Since we chase 70°, we move with the weather, so we have been treated to an extra long springtime. In fact, we were camped on Bloody Basin Road just north of Phoenix in early April when the bluebonnets started blooming there. Now, two months later, we’re being treated to the same springtime bloom, but at a much higher elevation. It’s one of the things that I have come to really appreciate about this lifestyle.
When we first arrived here, there was still a good snowcap on the top of the San Francisco Peaks, visible from our camp, thanks in part to a freaky late winter cold front that moved through the area just before we arrived. As the weather has warmed up, the snow has begun to melt and now it is almost gone from the western slopes that face us (although as we found out yesterday, there’s still quite a bit left on the cooler eastern side). Last week we decided to visit the Arizona Snowbowl and ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain.
The Arizona Snowbowl is a ski resort just north of Flagstaff and just a few miles from where we’re camped. After ski season ends, they remain open for summer activities including chairlift rides, disc golf, and lots of kid-friendly activities, and they also have a restaurant and bar at the base of the lift.
We had decided to purchase our lift tickets online on their website to save a few bucks, but when I went to order them the morning of our visit, I found out that you couldn’t order online on the same day you were going there. So it looked like we would have to pay full price, which would be $24 for me and $19 for Andy (senior rate). But when we got to the parking lot and were walking up to the lodge, we struck up a conversation with a couple who were returning to their car.
I asked them if they had been to the top of the lift already, because I wanted to find out if it was cold enough up there that we would need to carry our jackets. They replied that they had decided not to take the ride because they were afraid that the high altitude (it’s about 11,500′ at the top) would cause them to get dizzy or sick. We found out that they were from Ohio, and since Andy lived there for a short time, they compared notes about various locations. Finally as we were getting ready to part ways, the lady asked me if we had already bought our lift tickets, and I told her we had not. She then handed me a folded sheet of paper, and said “Here, you can have this, we won’t be able to use it.” I took a quick glance at it, and thought at first it was a coupon that would save us a few dollars, and I thanked her for her generosity.
But when I looked at it more closely, it was a Groupon, good for two tickets on the chairlift, plus two free premium drinks at the lodge bar! They had paid $39 for the Groupon, and they gave it to us freely–such generous people!
We used the Groupon to get our tickets and then we enjoyed a beautiful ride to the top of the ski lift. The ride takes about 30 minutes each way. On the way up we were treated to views of the mountainside that still had a good bit of snow remaining on it, especially in the areas under the pine trees. The sun was pretty warm and the the wind was at our backs, so the jackets that we wore actually became a little too warm.
We reached the top and took some time to admire the view. From the area at the top of the lift, you can primarily look toward the north and the west. We could see all the way to the Grand Canyon and beyond, and we could also see several plumes of smoke where the Forest Service is conducting some controlled burns to maintain the health of the forest. Fortunately for us, the smoke was traveling away from our location so we had a clear view.
When it was time to make the return trip on the chairlift, we were extremely happy that we had brought our jackets. This time, we were facing into the cool breeze that was blowing over the snow, and it was a pretty chilly trip to the bottom of the lift, even with our jackets. But we were also facing the expansive view of northern and western Arizona that very few people get to see outside of an airplane window.
Once we reached the bottom of the lift, we stopped by the lodge to redeem our drink tickets, and then we sat on the patio, soaking up the sunshine while enjoying our Bloody Mary’s. It was a perfect way to spend a day!
Here’s a short little video of our ride on the chairlift. If you’re ever in the Flagstaff area in the summertime, we highly recommend that you visit the Snowbowl and take the chairlift ride!
Yesterday it looked like it was going to be another sunny and cool day, so we decided to visit the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. I knew very little about it and didn’t do any real research–we just decided to drive over and check it out since it was only about 45 minutes away.
It turned out to be an amazing experience, and we learned a lot at the same time. Sunset Crater Volcano is relatively young, as it last erupted sometime between 1040 and 1100 A.D. We found out that there are actually about 600 old volcanoes in the area, including what are now the San Francisco Peaks. The unique thing about Sunset Crater is that, because of how recently it erupted, there were people living in the area whose lives were disrupted, and who left behind artifacts of their daily lives as well as oral stories and traditions of the eruption event. The Hopi, Zuni and Navajo tribes all have these stories as part of their connection to the land where they lived and worked.
Another unique thing about Sunset Crater is that the landscape around it still bears the scars from the eruption, even though natural erosion from wind and water continuously and gradually erase signs of the damage. We walked down two different trails through the lava flows, which looked like something from another planet. The ground was covered in rough, black rock that was both porous and hard at the same time. Huge boulders were stacked on top of each other, and there were places where the hot magma had squeezed to the surface almost like toothpaste from a tube, and had cooled so quickly that it was frozen in place.
One really cool thing was getting to see how the plant life has taken hold in the lava fields after 1000 years. The cinders and lava actually made the area better for growing things because they allow moisture to penetrate, but then prevent it from evaporating. I always thought that volcanic soil was good for growing things because of nutrients or minerals in the soil, but it’s actually this ability to hold moisture that makes the difference here in the high desert.
The landscape around the crater is actually very fragile. Back in 1928, filmmakers wanted to create a landslide at the crater for their movie. Local activists were afraid that the volcano would be irreparably damaged, so they petitioned the government for protection. In 1930, President Hoover established the area as a National Monument, part of the National Park Service. The volcano itself has since been closed for hiking, after years of foot and vehicle traffic left their marks. Hiking is now only allowed on the official trails that are maintained by the park. NOTE: Other volcanoes and cinder fields in the area are open to hiking and even off-road vehicle use, and the difference in the landscape is readily apparent. I’m thankful for the oversight of the National Park Service in preserving areas like this for future generations to enjoy.
One unexpected benefit of our little daytrip to Sunset Crater was that we got a different view of the San Francisco Peaks. We were able to see the eastern slopes and were happy to find that there was still a good bit of snow still on them, even in mid-June.
Other than our daytrips to the Snowbowl and Sunset Crater, life has been pretty peaceful and quiet here in our camp. We’ve done the usual grocery shopping, some hiking in the forest, cooking and cleaning. We’ve also found a local pizza place that we are totally hooked on now–Fratelli’s Pizza. We go there for their lunch special which is two slices of pizza and a fountain drink for $10. Their pizza is to die for, and they have super-fast wi-fi as well! They have been voted best pizza in Flagstaff every year since 2002 and we can see why!
So, what are our plans? Right now, we are perfectly happy where we are, as long as the weather holds. If it starts getting too warm (or if they run us out of here for staying too long), we’ll probably head to New Mexico State Parks (we still have our yearly pass) or maybe up to higher elevations in Colorado. But right now, we have no specific move date in mind.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been on the road for almost ten months now. Time is really flying by! Don’t want to jinx anything, but right now all the systems in the rig are performing well, the truck is still in good shape, we’re all healthy (including the cats), finances are fine, and we’re extremely satisfied with our lifestyle. I know it’s not for everyone, and a lot of people probably think we’re strange for choosing to live this way, but just the thought of having to move back into a sticks-and-bricks house in a permanent location gives me anxiety. I know that someday that will likely happen, but right now we’re doing life our way, as nomads, chasing 70°, and it’s what makes us happy!!
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