A Day at the Grand Canyon, Move to Higher Elevation Near Flagstaff

The last couple of days have been busy and fun, which was a nice change after being limited in our activities due to the unsettled weather.

We had been parked in the same spot on Forest Road 320 south of Tusayan for over two weeks, waiting for a day of perfect weather to spend inside Grand Canyon National Park. We finally got that perfect day on Wednesday. Andy even woke up at daybreak (and that’s almost unheard of!) so we could get an early start and beat the crowds.

We decided to stop for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s in Tusayan instead of making breakfast in the rig, in order to save a little time. Andy had the pancakes and I had the oatmeal, and we each had two hashbrowns plus coffee. The total bill came to $26.23. When did McDonald’s get so pricey?? Yeah, I know, these are tourist prices.

We arrived at the entrance to the park about 8:00 AM, at which time they only had two of the five gates open, but there was only one car in front of us. That was a good sign! We decided to park in Lot A, which is centrally located next to the Park Headquarters. At that time, probably 70-80% of the parking spaces were empty.

From the parking lot, we walked the short half-mile trail that leads directly to the Rim Trail. It’s always such a rush to walk out of the trees and suddenly be confronted with this unimaginably beautiful vista of stone and sky–layer upon layer of multi-colored rock, with a ribbon of green vegetation at the bottom and a clear blue sky with a few fluffy clouds above. We’ve been to this spot many times, and it never fails to leave us speechless.

View of the canyon from the Rim Trail near Park Headquarters

There was a time in my younger days when I would go to the very edge, sit down and dangle my legs while taking in the view. Now that I’m older and wiser, I stay at least a foot back from the edge–yeah, I know that’s not much better, but it’s the only way to really come close to grasping the magnitude of what you’re seeing.

Andy looks so tiny at the top of this chasm

We walked westward along the Rim Trail, taking in the view along the way. The Park has created an exhibit along the trail, called the “Trail of Time“, to help visitors get a grasp of the time scales involved in the formation of the different layers of rock in the canyon walls. There are brass markers embedded in the walkway about 1 meter apart, each representing 1 million years in geological time. At the point in “time” that each new layer appeared, they have a big sample chunk of that rock on display that you are encouraged to touch and examine. Of course, with Andy being a rock hound, we enjoyed that interactive display immensely.

When we arrived at the Village, we went into the El Tovar Hotel to take a little break from the walking. The inside of this historic building looks like an old hunting lodge, with taxidermied animal heads hanging all over the walls. We rested our feet in the lobby, used the facilities and then headed out to catch the shuttle bus to Hermit’s Rest.

Inside the El Tovar hotel in Grand Canyon Village

Before we got on the shuttle bus, however, we decided to hike a short ways down Bright Angel Trail, along with the hordes of other visitors. Keeping in mind that “what goes down must hike back up”, we didn’t descend too far, but we did get far enough to see the canyon from a different angle.

Checking out the scenery on Bright Angel Trail

View from our vantage point. You can see more of the trail below us.

The Red Line of the shuttle bus service connects the Village to Hermit’s Rest, with about nine stops along the way. It’s free, and it’s pretty much the only way besides hiking or biking to see the west end of the canyon, since that route is closed to vehicle traffic. You can hop off and on the bus at any of the stops, spending as much time as you like at each location before moving on.

Hanging out at the overlook at the Powell Memorial

The view from Hopi Point, with a glimpse of the Colorado River far below

We made it to Hermit’s Rest a little after 11:30 AM, where it was cool, overcast and windy. We visited the snack bar and got a cup of what was listed as “hot apple cider” (pretty sure it was an instant mix with boiling water poured in). The sandwiches and snacks were outrageously overpriced, so we passed on those. It took awhile to finish the “cider” since it was so hot, but we enjoyed a nice conversation with a woman from Iowa while we waited for it to cool.

Enjoying a hot drink at Hermit’s Rest

We arrived back at the Village around 12:30 and decided to have lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge. They had some nice vegan and vegetarian options on their menu. Andy had the veggie quesadilla and fries. I had the “protein bowl” which was a mix of quinoa, grains, shredded carrots and parsnips, blackened chickpeas, avocado and brussels sprouts, with a delicious lemon vinaigrette dressing. We finished the meal with their house-made bread pudding that was scrumptious!

The protein bowl at Bright Angel Lodge’s restaurant

After we finished lunch we caught the Blue Line shuttle that took us back to our parking lot after winding through the Village and giving us a view of some of the areas we hadn’t seen before, such as the train depot and the mule corral. It was almost 3:00 by then, and although we had planned to drive to the east end of the canyon, we decided it was too late in the day to do it justice, so we’ll save that adventure for another day.

It was a beautiful day, and a fitting finale to our stay on Forest Road 320. It’s been one of our favorite places to camp, and one that we plan to return to in the future.

The clouds at sunset over Red Butte

Yesterday (Thursday) it was time to leave this camp after 17 nights, and move on to higher altitudes as warmer temperatures are forecasted for the next couple of weeks. We wanted to get back to the North Flagstaff area, so we did some research on FreeCampsites.net and Campendium.com to identify some potential camping spots. We found two that sounded good–always nice to have a backup.

So we got everything packed up and stowed away, and pulled out of camp around 10:00 AM. Andy drove the rig back into Tusayan to dump the tanks and fill up on propane and fresh water, and then we headed toward Flagstaff on Highway 180. We ran into some rain along the way, and came through one area that had just had a hailstorm that had left hailstones in drifts on the road.

Our first potential campsite was just off Snowbowl Road, the road that goes from Hwy 180 up to the ski area. Because we weren’t sure what condition the road to the campsites would be in, we decided that Andy would park the rig at the base of the road in an empty parking lot and I would take the truck on a scouting expedition. It was a good call, because the forest road to the campsites was extremely rocky, rutted and wet. Additionally, the campsites were pretty much just small clearings tucked among the pine trees, and would have been hard to get the rig into, much less have any sun for our solar panels. I drove back and reported to Andy that we needed to keep looking, so I then drove to our second option.

The second choice that we had found on the apps was on a forest road accessed from Shultz Pass Road just inside the Flagstaff city limits. I found Shultz Pass Road, but when I got to the forest road, it was closed due to logging activity in the area. So that was a bust.

Fortunately we have learned the secret of Forest Roads–the entrances to the roads are well marked on the highway, and many of them are very well maintained, and they have dispersed camping spots cleared out all along the way. We had passed a few Forest Roads (a.k.a. “fire roads”) on our approach to Flagstaff, so I decided to head back north to explore some more.

The first Forest Road I came to was FR 151 and it looked to be in great shape in spite of the recent rains that had come through the area in the morning. I started driving down the road which turned into a climb up the mountain, passing several potential camping spots along the way. Finally, about two miles up the hill, I found it–the perfect spot!

Found the perfect camping spot on FR 151, with a view of Humphrey’s Peak

In fact, it was so perfect that I didn’t want to leave it and risk someone else taking it. So I texted a photo and the GPS coordinates to Andy for his approval, and he signed off. He then drove the rig to the nearest gas station to fill the tank (it was a short drive but we want plenty of fuel to run the generator if needed), and he finally arrived at our new campsite around 1:45 PM.

We got everything set up and had a late lunch of leftover pizza, and then just relaxed for the rest of the day. There were a few very short light rain showers, typical in the mountains where we are, at about 8100′ elevation.

All set up and ready to enjoy our new home for the next few weeks

I got up on the roof of the RV and recorded a short video showing a 360° view of our surroundings. I posted it to YouTube, so you can catch it here:

We’re looking forward to spending more time here in Flagstaff. It’s funny, we always wanted to live in Northern Arizona, in the Flagstaff or Prescott area, but we knew it would probably be prohibitively expensive. And now, here we are, living in those very areas, but only at the time of year when the weather is the absolute best. How cool is that?? Today we’ll do some exploring of the area on foot (there are some geocaches nearby!!), and tomorrow we will most likely need to do some grocery shopping and other errands.

Speaking of tomorrow, it’s hard to believe that May is coming to an end and June starts tomorrow. And since it’s the end of the month, it’s time for our latest expense report on our full-timing life. Be sure to watch for that report in our next blog post if you’re interested in what it costs us to live on the road.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Weekend Sunshine, Old Lady Climbs Red Butte, More Snow (Really??)

We’re still camped on Forest Road 320 about 20 miles south of the entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. After all the rainy and snowy weather we had last week, we finally caught a break. This past Saturday and Sunday were absolutely beautiful! The skies were clear and blue, and while it was a little cool and windy, it was still so nice to be able to spend some time outdoors for a change.

Finally able to catch a glimpse of the snow-cap on Humprey’s Peak

We were finally able to get a clear view of the San Francisco Peaks without them having a blanket of clouds over the top. We could clearly see the additional snowfall that the peaks received over the past week–the view was really stunning! We hope to get an even closer view of the peaks next week when we move closer to Flagstaff (spoiler alert!).

I was able to talk Andy into taking a walk with me along the Forest Road to see the retention pond that I had found earlier. It was an enjoyable walk in the sunshine to where the pond rests at the base of Red Butte. I was hoping for a good photograph of the reflection of the butte in the water, but the surface of the pond was so choppy due to the wind that the photo idea didn’t pan out. It was still a lovely scene!

Andy checks out the retention pond at the base of Red Butte

That evening the winds died down so we were able to once again have a campfire after dinner. There is an abundance of dry, dead wood lying around to use as fuel. It burns quickly, and it’s mostly cedar so it has a wonderful smell as it burns. We had the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars for s’mores, but we got lazy and just toasted the marshmallows instead. That’s the best part anyway! 🙂

Andy gets the fire going for some toasted marshmallows

On Sunday morning I woke up feeling especially energetic for some reason, even though I had not slept well the night before. I decided it was time to tackle the Red Butte Trail.

Trailhead for Red Butte Trail

The trail is an out-and-back climb up the west slope of Red Butte, a distance of about 2.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 890 feet. The average time to complete the hike is 1.5-2 hours, and it’s rated as “Moderate” with steep switchbacks during the last 0.5 miles.

The prize for the climb, other than the amazing views, is reaching the Forest Service fire lookout station at the top of the butte. If you remember from one of my previous posts, I met Bruce, the lookout ranger, when he had hiked down from the station to deliver his pet goats to a lady from Williams who was adopting them. I was hoping to see Bruce at the top of the butte so I could find out more about how he handles life as a hermit in a station with no access other than by foot or helicopter.

I started the hike about 9:00 AM, climbing steadily along a well-marked path that was mostly open but which also passed plenty of trees that offered occasional shade. By about 30 minutes into the hike, I was really starting to feel the burn in my quads, but surprisingly I wasn’t as short of breath as I thought I might be. Fortunately we’ve been camping in this higher altitude long enough that I’ve become acclimated to the thinner air, so I wasn’t too bothered by oxygen deficiency. But I definitely felt challenged as I climbed higher and higher, and began to stop more often to enjoy the views, take a few photos and rest for a moment.

About halfway up, gorgeous view of the San Francisco Peaks from Red Butte

Just before 10:00 AM, I finished the last switchback and emerged at the very top of Red Butte–SUCCESS!! The trail continued across the level ground past some trees to the fire lookout station and the associated structures. As I approached the station, I shouted “Hello” several times to announce my presence, but it soon became apparent that no one was home.

Red Butte fire lookout station

Fortunately, the metal deck on the second floor of the station was unlocked, so I was able to climb the stairs and get a look at the view that Bruce gets when he’s on duty. The station is on the north side of the butte, so he has a direct view of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. From the southeast corner, he can also see those beautiful San Francisco Peaks. And he can see for miles and miles in every direction, especially on a clear day such as it was on that day.

View of the top of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from the lookout station

The second floor of the station has big glass windows facing in every direction, and although I didn’t get to talk to the ranger, I was able to snap a photo of the inside of the station:

Inside the fire lookout station (photo taken through the window)

I spent almost a half hour at the top of the butte, just enjoying the scenery while re-energizing myself with a Clif Bar and some water. I also took a little time to look for a geocache that is supposedly hidden in the area, but according to the navigation on my app, it was located on a rocky ledge, and I just wasn’t comfortable getting that close to the edge when I was up there by myself. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some.

View of the San Francisco Peaks from the lookout station deck

It took me about 35 minutes to make the descent from the top of the butte to the trailhead. Going down was definitely easier on my lungs, but it took a toll on my left knee and my right foot, which have always bothered me on tougher hikes. Regardless of the discomfort, I had an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after completing this hike–it’s the toughest one I’ve attempted in some time, and at the age of 60, it’s good to know that I can still complete challenges like this to see sights that most people will never experience. Besides, that’s what ibuprofen is for, right??

So that was Sunday. A beautiful, clear day in the outdoors.

Monday morning — different story.

As usual, I woke up early in the morning while Andy slept late. It was partly cloudy as the sun rose, but in the west I could see some dark clouds building. I knew the forecast called for some off-and-on light rain for the day, so I wasn’t surprised.

I fed the cats, and settled in at the dinette to enjoy my coffee and my breakfast while Andy snored away. The only sound was the occasional hum of the furnace fan as the heater kicked on.

All of a sudden, it sounded like a dump truck was depositing a load of gravel on our roof. Andy shot straight up in bed, the cats scattered, and I nearly spit out my coffee. A sudden hailstorm had started without warning, and when you live in an RV with plastic vent covers on your roof, it can scare the bejesus out of you. Fortunately the hailstones weren’t too large, but there were a lot of them, and we held our breath that they wouldn’t get any larger before the hail turned to rain.

That was Round 1.

Round 2 of the weird weather started about 30 minutes later after Andy had gone back to sleep. I started hearing little tapping noises on the roof again, and noticed that the rain was now mixed with sleet. What the heck?? It wasn’t supposed to be that cold! But sure enough, I could see it starting to accumulate under the trees and bushes.

“Well, that’s interesting!”, I thought.

Another half hour or so went by, and by then Andy had gotten up and was in the bathroom when I noticed another change.

Round 3 – Snow! Big, fluffy, wet flakes of snow were falling, and it was getting heavier by the minute. With the winds blowing about 25 MPH, it was quite impressive. And even though the temperatures were slightly above freezing, the snow had no problem sticking to all the vegetation and anything elevated off the ground. Before long we had another Winter Wonderland, the second one in a week.

The second snowfall in a week–this one totally unexpected

And just in case you’re reading this at some time in the future, please note the date that this happened: May 27, 2019, on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. That’s just wrong!

Anyway, just like the previous snowfall, this one didn’t last long. It was completely melted away an hour after it had appeared, and all that was left was mud. By the middle of the afternoon, the clouds broke up enough to let the sun shine through a little bit to start drying things up. Today (Tuesday) it’s going to be cloudy for most of the day, though, so we still have a little drying to do.

So right now, we’re sitting in Starbucks in Tusayan, enjoying some free wi-fi with our coffee (the cellular service at our campsite is poor, so I come here to take care of our online life, doing the bookkeeping, and downloading books to our Kindles). Earlier we drove into the National Park to refill our drinking water jugs. We get free entrance to the Park with Andy’s senior pass, and once inside, the drinking water is free. We enjoyed lunch in Tusayan at a local pizza place we’ve visited before. In fact, they gave us the “local’s discount” of 20% since we were return customers–score!!

Pizza and Peroni in Tusayan – nice break from cabin fever

We’re winding down our stay in this area now. At this point we’re just waiting for a day with great weather so we can do a full day inside the Grand Canyon National Park, and after that we’ll be moving on, most likely to the Flagstaff area. The weather forecast is calling for temperatures to start moving into the more normal, warmer range over the next week, so we’re starting to think a little further into the future when temps start rising into the 80° and 90° range in this area. Our two most likely options are:

  • Go to New Mexico for awhile, using our annual pass to stay in state parks where we can get electrical hookups and run our air conditioner, or
  • Head to Colorado to higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler even in the summertime, assuming that we don’t run into problems with altitude sickness

We’ll probably do some combination of those two things, or maybe something totally different, who knows??

Anyway, this has been a lot of fun staying in this area, and we’ll definitely return here at some point. The boondocking options are plentiful, and being close to the National Park offers a lot of things to see and do, even if it means that we have to drive further to shop for groceries or do laundry (which is really starting to pile up now!!). 🙂

Red Butte. Yeah. I climbed to the top of that!!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Boondocking Again, Close Encounter With Goats, Grand Canyon Quickie

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.

Topping off the propane at Love’s in Williams before heading out for more boondocking

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.

Our campsite on Forest Road 320 near Tusayan AZ

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.

The San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff are visible from FR 320

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.

Red Butte lives up to its name when the sun goes down

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.

Josephine and her billy kid, who have been living at the fire lookout station with Bruce

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!

We had a beautiful campfire and 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.

Beautiful day to be at the rim of the Grand Canyon

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.

Some of the beautiful blooms in the Kaibab National Forest right now

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!

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Towing vs Driving, Plans Change Again, Scouting Near the Grand Canyon

Happy Mothers Day to all you wonderful maternal people out there! Today is one of those days that I really miss being near my family, especially my own amazing Mom. I hope you all have a beautiful day with all the happiness you so richly deserve!

Today is our last full day here at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park in Williams, Arizona. We’ve been parked here for a week while this freaky weather system moves through. We’re finally getting more hours of sunshine than rain and the temperatures are starting to warm up a little bit. It’s been nice to have the full hookups here with unlimited electricity, water and sewage dump. We hooked up to the TV cable, but haven’t used it at all–we just don’t watch TV anymore.

On Friday we decided to check out some other camping options in the Williams area. We first drove down a Forest Service Road to look for some free boondocking sites. We found a lot of people camped out there, but it was extremely muddy from all the rain. There were some large ruts in some of the empty campsites where it looked like folks had struggled to get their rigs out. It’s a beautiful area, and after the sun warms up and dries it out, it would be a nice camping option.

Next we drove through the Kaibab Lake Campground, which is also part of the National Forest. The lake is beautiful, and they have a lot of first-come, first-served campsites available, as well as sites that can be reserved. When we pulled up to the information kiosk, we were immediately met by the campground host. In our conversation, he told us that we would have to pay an extra fee for our pickup, since we aren’t towing it. The fee schedule for the campsites state that if you are in a motorhome towing a vehicle, you’re considered one vehicle for fee purposes. However, since we aren’t physically towing the pickup, we don’t get the same treatment.

We’ve run into this same rule before, both in New Mexico and in other campgrounds in Arizona, and in every case, they understood that the motorhome is where we live and it stays put, and the pickup is our daily driving vehicle. We have never been charged for an extra vehicle before. It makes absolutely no sense that a 40′ Class A motorhome towing a Jeep can camp for less than we can in our 24′ Class C, driving our pickup separately.

I called the local Forest Service supervisor’s office to try to get some clarification, and they said they would check into it for us. All they did was call the camp host (who is actually a concessionaire), who told them the same thing they told us. The person at the supervisor’s office agreed with me that it didn’t make sense, but said they didn’t make the rules.

We do get a 50% discount on the camping fees in National Forest campgrounds, but that isn’t the point. We shouldn’t have to pay anything extra for our truck just because we aren’t physically towing it. So, long story longer, we won’t be staying at that particular campground, even though it is beautiful.

After keeping a close eye on the weather forecast, we could see that it was going to be quite warm in Golden Valley, where we had already made reservations at an RV park for Monday through Wednesday (13th-15th). It’s also supposed to start warming up and getting more sunny here where we are, so yesterday we decided to drive up Highway 64 to check out some boondocking possibilities close to the Grand Canyon National Park.

Generally, you can do dispersed camping for free on National Forest land as long as you are at least 1/4 mile off the main road, and you don’t camp in any area that is specifically prohibited by signage. Once we got into the National Forest about 15 miles south of Tusayan, we started driving down the Forest Roads to see what was available. And there are a LOT of beautiful, empty campsites that are currently a little damp, but are fine for camping. They are generally large pull-outs on the side of the gravel road, and they have fire pits already built that indicate the best spots to camp. We were looking for a site that had some vegetation for privacy, but not so much shade that we can’t get plenty of solar power.

Each road we went down was a little different. The first one we explored was the least muddy, and we saw some elk along the way (and we also found a large skeleton of one in one of the campsites we looked at). We found a campsite that was absolutely perfect with a beautiful view of nearby Red Bluff, the only downside being that the cellphone signal was pretty weak.

Not sure if this is a good camp spot or not–looks like this elk wasn’t too lucky.

The second road we drove down was interesting with an old stone and adobe structure at the entrance, but the campsites were more muddy and there were power lines running down the side of the road. We didn’t see anything that really excited us on this road, although it would do in a pinch.

Not sure what this structure was meant for but it has a small room in the base.

The third road had some beautiful sites, but was even muddier still, and there was even some snow still on the ground in the shadier areas. Even so, there were more people already camped in this area, and it will be a great possibility after it warms up and dries out some.

The fourth road we checked was a complete bust. We found a large camping area right inside the entrance, but then we looked over and saw what looked like a dumping area. When we checked it out closer we found that it was a shooting range and the ground was covered in trash and empty shotgun shell casings. People, if you want to go out on public land and shoot your guns, that’s your right, but at least pick up your garbage, you lazy bums!!

Rant over.

After leaving there, we reached Tusayan, the small village at the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. We stopped at Starbucks for some coffee and to review what we had found. While there, we checked out the adjoining market to see what our options would be for groceries and supplies while camping in the area (very small selection of produce at high prices). We quickly determined that if we camp there, we’ll need to stock up well ahead of time and be prepared to drive at least 50 miles to Williams or Flagstaff for real grocery shopping.

After we left Starbucks, we checked out a couple more Forest Roads, found some more elk and some more beautiful camping areas. Of course since this was closer to the National Park, there were more people already camped in the area, despite the mud, but we decided that we might move there in a couple of weeks when things are drier.

We were lucky enough to see several elk on our explorations. These were not shy at all.

So after a long afternoon of exploration, we definitely decided that we are NOT moving to Golden Valley, and that we are going boondocking again. We’ll start out at the first campsite that we found on Forest Road 320, and then as things dry out we’ll probably move north, closer to the National Park.

Today (Sunday), we’re getting prepared to leave the amenities of this very nice RV park, and head back to the woods. Andy has already fixed one of our kitchen drawers this morning, as it wasn’t latching properly and we didn’t want it to fly open while we’re driving. After lunch we’re going to drive to Flagstaff to hit up Walmart for groceries and supplies for about the next 10 days. Tomorrow morning we’ll enjoy one last shower with unlimited hot water before we hit the road to go north.

We’ve definitely enjoyed our stay here, and certainly recommend this park to anyone who is traveling through the Williams area. But it will be nice to have some privacy and open space around us again for a change. And of course, we plan to visit the Grand Canyon at least once while we’re in this area. With Andy’s senior pass, we get free entrance to the park, so we’ll probably go more than once.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Forest Boondocking, Moving to Williams, Watching the Weather

In our last regular blog post, we had just arrived at our boondocking spot on Forest Road 237 in the Coconino National Forest just southwest of Flagstaff. The day we arrived (Monday, April 29) was rainy and cool, and we even had hail on our first night there. The next day was overcast but didn’t rain, and after that the sun came out and dried out the area pretty well for the rest of the week.

Arriving at our campsite on a rainy day

Our camp was in a beautiful setting of ponderosa pine and Kaibab limestone rock outcroppings. It was located on the rim of a good-sized canyon with a creek flowing at the bottom. I did several hikes through the forest along the creek (couldn’t talk Andy into going with me), and made my way down to the creek in several different locations.

Pumphouse Wash is a beautiful stream flowing through Kaibab limestone cliffs

My hikes weren’t very long, but I did a lot of climbing on the rocks, especially when I was searching for one particular geocache that I never did locate.

I saw several caves in the cliffs but wasn’t brave enough to explore them

On Thursday we took one of my favorite drives in the world, from our campsite down Oak Creek Canyon on Highway 89A to Sedona. The lower we went in elevation, the greener the vegetation became until it was so lush with spring growth that everything had an emerald glow. The contrast between the green of the trees, the red rocks towering above, and the blue sky was just as beautiful as I remembered.

We’ve visited Sedona as a couple many, many times since we married in 1991, but Andy, having been born and raised in Phoenix, remembers when Sedona was just a small crossroads with a few stores. I can totally understand why so many people want to visit or live there, but the unrelenting increase in traffic and tourists is gradually over-powering and hiding the natural beauty of the area. (And yes, I totally “get” that I’m a part of the problem whenever I visit there.)

Iconic view of Sedona from the airport overlook

So many of the places where we used to spend time hiking or just sitting on a rock enjoying the peace and solitude are now fenced off and regulated, and many require payment of a fee to visit or to park. The airport overlook next to the Sky Ranch Lodge where we always stayed when we visited Sedona now has a $3 parking fee. And when we tried to pull in at Slide Rock State Park simply to visit the market and buy some fresh apple cider, the entry fee was $20 just to drive through the gate, so we declined and left without our cider.

Walking around uptown Sedona on the hunt for the perfect t-shirt

We still love Sedona–we have so many good memories of our time spent there. But we much prefer to get out of the city limits and visit the red rocks or Oak Creek where it’s less congested. We knew about a popular boondocking area on Loy Butte Road about nine miles west of Sedona, so we drove out that way to check it out. It’s a long gravel road that gets pretty bumpy in places, but the further you go, the more beautiful the scenery becomes. Just as we decided we would be hesitant to bring Lizzy that far back on a bumpy road, we came upon a campsite where there were three very large, very nice Class A motorhomes camped together. If they can make it back there, I know we could too!

The rest of our week in camp was pretty quiet. We drove into Flagstaff a couple of times for groceries and supplies. Andy spent a couple of days doing some maintenance on the rig, sealing up some places where water was seeping in. He replaced one of the running lights on top of the cab, just to make sure it wasn’t the source of a leak.

Handy Andy doing some rig maintenance while the sun shines

Our original plan was to stay in that spot for the full 14-day limit, but as the weekend approached the weather forecast became wetter and wetter. We were parked at the lowest part of the campground, and we knew that if we got several days of rain in a row, it was just going to become a mud-pit. And perhaps the biggest discouragement was that there was almost no internet access in that spot–most of the time it was one bar of 3G on Verizon. If we were going to be stuck in the rig for several days of rain, thunderstorms and hail, we wanted to at least have good internet so we could entertain ourselves.

So we decided to cut our stay short in the forest, and head to civilization. We have a Passport American membership that allows us to stay at certain parks for half-price (subject to the usual black-out dates and other restrictions). I checked around and found us an RV park in Williams, Arizona, about 30 miles west of Flagstaff. So on Monday morning we packed up and moved west.

We’re now staying at the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park. With our discount, and after taxes and fees, we’re paying just over $28/day for our full-hookup site which includes electricity, water, sewer, cable TV, and surprisingly fast wi-fi. There’s a laundry room, along with very nice showers (unlimited hot water!!), and we have access to the fitness room at the hotel which is also part of the property. Technically we have access to the pool and hot tub also, but they just happened to be down for repairs this week. Just our luck.

Our campsite for the week while we wait for the nasty weather to blow through

We have a love/hate relationship with RV parks. One the one hand, we thoroughly enjoy the amenities. The showers are amazing (yes, we can shower in the rig, but our water pressure is lower, and plus, we have to move the big litter box out of the shower every time we want to use it, so why not use the park’s showers?). I was able to get our laundry done yesterday, and the cost of the machines is much lower than if we went to a typical laundromat. We’re saving money on propane since we can run the hot water heater and refrigerator on the electrical hookup, and we can use our small electric heater instead of the propane furnace to heat the rig. We’re not having to run the generator to power the microwave or convection oven, or to top off our batteries because of the clouds, so we’re saving on gas. Of course there’s much less privacy and a little more noise, although this park has been very quiet so far, except for the thunder, hail and the occasional train that goes by. It’s not nearly as scenic as our spot in the forest, but we’re within walking distance of all the restaurants and shops along Route 66 in Williams, as well as a nearby Safeway grocery store.

Awesome shower facilities at Grand Canyon Railroad RV Park

Since we’ve been here, the nasty weather has delivered as forecast. We’ve had thunderstorms with heavy lightning, along with a couple fairly heavy hailstorms. Fortunately the hailstones were small enough that I don’t think they’ve done any damage, but it’s awfully noisy inside the rig when they’re beating on the roof and especially the plastic vent covers. We’ll have to check those covers carefully for cracks after the rain stops.

Another hail storm, makes me so glad we’re not tent-camping!

On our first evening here, we walked to the nearby Grand Canyon Brewery for a happy hour beverage and some dinner. We started with an order of fried dill pickles, then Andy had the veggie burger and I had the fish and chips. The fries were excellent, but the battered cod was just so-so.

Beer-battered cod and fries at Grand Canyon Brewery

Yesterday there was a break in the weather during the afternoon, so we got out and explored downtown Williams. We started with ice cream and coffee at Twisters 50’s Diner, a super-cute soda fountain/bar/diner/souvenir shop on Route 66. Then we spent another hour or so just walking up and down the street checking out the various shops and restaurant menus. There are a surprising number of veggie options here in town, so we’ll probably take advantage of some of them before we leave.

This town has more Elvis memorabilia than any town we’ve seen since we left Tupelo. There are Elvis statues all over town, along with Elvis fortune-tellers and an animated Elvis sitting behind the wheel of a vintage automobile, waving at passers-by.

Andy and Elvis in the Twisters 50’s Diner

When we booked our stay in this park, we booked for four nights, expecting the weather to clear up by the weekend. However, the most recent forecasts show continued rain and cooler weather, so we contacted the office this morning and extended our stay through Sunday night, so we’ll spend a total of seven nights here (that’s the limit for our Passport America discount). Then we booked three nights (next Monday through Wednesday) at another Passport America park in Golden Valley, near Kingman, where the weather should be drier and warmer. By then, this freaky cold, wet system should be moved out of the area, and we plan to return to the Flagstaff area to spend more time before it warms up for the summer.

But, plans are just invitations for the gods to laugh at us, so they say. But that’s the advantage of having our home on wheels–we can move it when the weather changes, so we don’t have to stay in a place where we are uncomfortable or unhappy. Yes, we have rain and hail here, but we have all the utilities we need, we’re warm and dry, and between rain showers we have plenty of entertainment. And we have high-speed wi-fi, so what could be better? 🙂

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Fighting Allergies, Lynx Lake, Back to Yarnell, Generator Maintenance

This is our last full day in the Hilltop Campground in the Prescott National Forest just south of Prescott, Arizona. It’s a really lovely campground ($9/night with the senior pass) and we have enjoyed our stay here, with the exception of my seasonal allergy flare-up. Ever since I first visited Arizona in 1991 when Andy brought me here on our honeymoon, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with springtime and early summer in the high country. I’m not sure if it’s the pines, the cottonwoods, or some other plants, but something indigenous to Arizona gets me every time I visit this area around this time of the year.

Our first week here, I had just a little dry cough, but by last weekend it was getting a lot worse with congestion starting to settle in my chest. I knew better than to try to wait it out, so on Monday I went to the local NextCare Urgent Care clinic in Prescott and got a couple of prescriptions to help control the cough and congestion. According to the staff, they’ve been swamped with people just like me who are fighting allergies this time of year, and we met quite a few of them in the waiting room. After taking the meds all week, I am feeling better but still not 100%.

Nothing like a visit to the urgent care to make your Monday special

It really made me sad because there’s so many beautiful hiking trails around here and I really wanted to explore more, but I just did not have the energy or the breathing capacity to do a lot of hiking and climbing. I did take a couple of short walks around the campground, and discovered a beautiful stream called Lynx Creek at the base of the hill where there is a small dam and waterfall.

Lynx Creek in Prescott National Forest

The creek empties out into nearby Lynx Lake which is a very popular destination for fishing and water sports. We drove over to the lake on Friday just to look around. There’s a small marina and store where you can rent boats and canoes. There are some very nice hiking trails all the way around the lake, although the trails on the east side of the lake are closed to foot traffic in the springtime because it’s breeding season for the bald eagles that nest on that side of the lake. (Also, that’s where the wildfire took place that caused us to be evacuated on our fifth day here.)

Lynx Lake in Prescott National Forest

Yesterday (Saturday) we drove a little over an hour to Yarnell, where we met our friends John and Helen for pizza at Gilligan’s. We took the scenic route along AZ Hwy 89 which is a twisty, winding road through the mountains that requires a driver’s full attention. Fortunately, Andy was driving so I got to look at the scenery along the way. It was absolutely stunning, and worth the white knuckles!

We really enjoyed getting to see John and Helen again (you might remember that we camped on their property about a month ago). After enjoying some tasty pizza, we followed them over to their construction site where they are building their new home among the beautiful Yarnell boulders. The project is moving along nicely with a lot of progress having been made since we were last there.

We’ve made a couple of visits to downtown Prescott while here. We found an ice cream shop that we really like, Frozen Frannies, that we sampled twice. When we went downtown on Friday everything was very crowded due to a big bike race that was taking place this weekend. We still really like Prescott, but it’s definitely out-growing a lot of the small Western-town charm that it used to have, and it’s becoming more and more commercialized. Rather sad in a lot of ways, but even smaller towns like Yarnell are starting to “benefit” from the desire of people to move further and further away from the larger cities. Now, if only we could read the future well enough to know where we should invest in real estate!!

We did get a little bit of rig maintenance done while we’ve been here. Our onboard Onan generator seemed to be running a little rough, so Andy changed the oil and the air filter in it. The generator also has an adjustment knob that can be changed according to the altitude, so he tweaked the setting on that as well since we’re currently at about 5,600′. It does seem to be running a little smoother since the maintenance was done.

The generator gets an oil and air filter change

So here it is, Sunday afternoon, and the campground is quiet again after all the weekenders have already cleared out. Tomorrow it will be our time to move on as we will have hit the 14-day limit.

Where to next?

We’re headed further north and higher up, chasing 70­°. We’ve done our research and have identified four potential boondocking spots in the Flagstaff area, ranking them in order of preference. We’ll head out tomorrow morning toward our first choice, and see what happens. If all goes according to plan, we should be about 1400′-1500′ higher in altitude, with about a -6° temperature differential. Tomorrow is supposed to be a little rainy, which doesn’t make for the best traveling weather, but after Tuesday the weather is supposed to be outstanding.

And supposedly the tree pollen isn’t as bad up there!!!

Beautiful Sunday afternoon in Hilltop Campground, our last day here

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Fun in the Desert, Agua Fria National Monument, Back to the Forest

Wow, didn’t realize it had been ten days since my last post! Time to catch up!

Yesterday was moving day, and we’re in a new location now, but first I’ll share some of what we’ve been up to for the past ten days at our camp on Bloody Basin Road BLM land near Mayer, Arizona.

First of all, we got some maintenance items taken care of. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we almost lost our sewer hose (a.k.a. the “stinky slinky”) when the homemade storage pipe came loose from the underside of the rig while at the dump station. Andy decided to replace the old one with some PVC pipe which should hold up better to the rigors of travel. It took a little ingenuity, but he got it done (as he always does).

Handy Andy installs PVC pipe to hold our stinky slinky under the RV.

I did quite a bit of geocaching while we were at the Bloody Basin camp. There is a person or persons who go by the handle Cactusart Kids who have placed hundreds of caches in the area. The ones I found were all in tins of different shapes and sizes, most had swag for trading, a few were pretty rusty, but in every case it was a fun hunt and not too hard to locate. I’m still pretty new to geocaching, so I appreciate the ones that don’t totally stump me. I did have to be extremely cautious, though, as it’s rattlesnake season, and digging around in the rocks can be a little iffy. I saw one live rattler in the middle of the road as I was walking back from a hunt, and another rattler was run over by a vehicle at the entrance to our campsite. Just a little something to add a “thrill” to the hunt (sorry, Mom!!).

My very first time to see a rattler in the wild, and fortunately it was in the middle of the road.

On Saturday, we drove through a good portion of the Agua Fria National Monument, which is just across the interstate from where we were camped. The Monument is comprised of 70,900 acres, including the 55,200-acre “Perry Mesa Archaeological District”, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It takes its name from the Agua Fria River which flows through the Monument, and features one of the most significant systems of prehistoric sites in the American Southwest.

Agua Fria river flowing by Horseshoe Ranch in Agua Fria National Monument

Our goal was to reach the Pueblo la Plata archaeological site, located about eight miles from the entrance to the Monument. That was probably the roughest eight miles that our little Tacoma pickup truck has ever traveled. Not only did we have to go up and down steep inclines, but the road got progressively more “primitive” the further we drove.

Epic view on Road 9269 in the Agua Fria National Monument.

When we finally reached the turn-off to the pueblo site, we decided to just park the truck and hike in. It was about a mile-and-a-half to the archaeological site across the top of a mesa, so it was a fairly flat hike. The pueblo site itself was less impressive than I had hoped, as it’s pretty much just piles of rocks that at one time made up the walls of the homes and other structures where people lived. Over time, the dirt and clay “mortar” has washed away, and now there’s a lot of vegetation growing around the stones, so it’s a little harder to see the outline of the structure. But it’s there, you just have to use your imagination a little bit.

Remains of Pueblo la Plata. They had a beautiful view!

And about 20 yards away is the rim of the canyon where Silver Creek flows by, which was their major source of water at the time. The view from the top of the canyon was really stunning, and worth the hike.

Andy on the edge of Silver Creek Canyon near the Pueblo la Plata

We made several trips to civilization while we were camped at Bloody Basin. I drove to Mayer one day to pick up our mail, which contained some unexpected good news–the dentist office in Yuma that we visited is refunding almost half of what we paid them for Andy’s crown and my filling. Our dental insurance paid more than they expected, so we got a nice chunk of change back. Hooray!! We also had a laundry and grocery shopping day in Prescott Valley, so we took advantage of the trip to have lunch at Chipotle. And on Sunday, we drove south to Anthem to pick up a package from Amazon at the Amazon locker in the Chase bank lobby (we love Amazon lockers!!), and stopped by Starbucks for some free wi-fi and a treat.

So, yesterday (Monday), we hit the fourteen day limit at that particular BLM campsite. As you might remember from our previous post, we have ordered a new mattress (HALLELUJAH!!) for the RV, and it’s scheduled for delivery to the Prescott Valley Fedex facility this Thursday, so we need to stay in the area. We were considering just staying put for a few more days as the BLM doesn’t actively track how long you stay in most of these boondocking spots. After we had breakfast, we got on the computer and started looking at spots where we might want to move to later in the week, all around the Prescott Valley area. Since we also needed to dump the tanks yesterday, we finally decided that since we had to move the RV to go to the dump, we might as well just relocate at the same time.

So we picked out a US Forest Service campground located between Prescott and Prescott Valley where they have eleven campsites that are first-come, first-serve. We decided to take a chance on there being a spot available at the Hilltop Campground, and if not, we would just cross that bridge later. All the reservation sites were gone, as we expected.

So we packed everything up and pulled out of camp around 11:00 AM yesterday. We stopped in Cordes Junction to dump the tanks and fill up on propane, gas, and fresh water, and then made the short 35-mile drive to our new campground. And sure enough, there was one campsite available that we were JUST able to squeeze our rig onto–and this is just another example of why we decided to keep the small RV for now instead of trading up to a larger one.

Our newest home in Hilltop Campground (USFS) near Prescott AZ

The campground does not provide hookups, but they do have vault toilets as well as drinking water available. Each site has a picnic table and a fire-ring, and the sites are asphalt pads. There’s a camp host on duty to keep things clean and orderly. The sites are $18/night, but with Andy’s America the Beautiful lifetime senior pass, which cost us $10, we get half off the camping fee, so we’re paying $9/night.

The elevation here is 5,682′, about 2,000 feet higher than where we were, so the vegetation and climate are very different. We’re surrounded by Ponderosa pine and hardwood trees, and the temperatures are about ten degrees cooler. The humidity is still low, and the trees offer protection from the wind, making it very pleasant to be outside. The one downside to the trees is that it makes it harder for our solar panels to charge the batteries. We may wind up depending more upon the generator for a few days. We’re supposed to get a little rain today, but otherwise the weather looks to be beautiful while we’re here.

So our plans for the rest of the week include picking up our new mattress, finding a place to dispose of the old one, doing some hiking and geocaching, visiting downtown Prescott again, and generally enjoying this beautiful location. We have always loved the Prescott area–in fact, when we were living in Glendale we were considering buying property in Prescott or Prescott Valley, but wound up moving to Tupelo, Mississippi instead to be near family for awhile. We are still seriously considering making this area our final retirement destination once we get off the road, whenever that may be.

Sunset at our camp on Bloody Basin Road

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Blog Changes, Geocaching, Drive to Crown King, RV Mattress Upgrade

Welcome back to the blog! You may notice a slightly different look this week. I’ve made a few changes that I hope you’ll enjoy.

  • I’ve added a new page to the blog called “Where We’ve Been“, which is a chronological list of the places we’ve camped since we hit the road on September 1, 2018. The page is accessible from the menu.
  • I’ve added a tag cloud to the sidebar, along with a “Recently Posted” section that lists the five most recent posts in case you want to go back and catch up. NOTE: If you’re reading the blog on a small device like a smart phone, the sidebar is actually located at the very bottom of the page you’re viewing.
  • I’ve changed the header photo to show our campsite on Vulture Mine Road south of Wickenburg. We enjoyed it so much, I wanted to feature it more prominently on the blog.

We are currently parked on Bloody Basin Road BLM land just off I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s a beautiful area with lots of little pipeline roads which make great hiking trails through the hills. And there are plenty of geocaches hidden in the area, which makes it even more fun and interesting to explore. So far I’ve hunted for four and found three, but there are plenty more to be found. These have been good caches with lots of trade items stored inside. According to the logs, some of them haven’t been touched for well over a year. The ones I’ve found so far have been stored in Christmas tins, so the tops had almost rusted shut, but the contents were nice and dry.

Contents of a geocache off Bloody Basin Road in Arizona

While out exploring we’ve found some things that were not so nice. Someone dumped some old furniture by the road and the animals have pretty much torn it up so white stuffing is scattered everywhere. There was a tire lying in the middle of the road, still on the wheel. And believe it or not, there is actually a boat out here–it’s been stripped down and left on a downslope off the side of the road so that it’s only visible from one direction.

Old stripped-out boat someone dumped by the pipeline road

People who do this kind of thing are responsible for the BLM’s recent decisions to restrict all access to public lands in certain areas around Cottonwood. Those areas have become so trashed and overused by off-road vehicles that it will take several years to be restored. There have recently been several large groups of full-time RVers who have taken it upon themselves to hold large “clean-up” events where they go to a trashed-out area and spend several days hauling out debris, working directly with the BLM and local authorities to have the trash disposed of properly. Many times it’s the locals that are leaving their trash, but if RVers want to continue to have access to these free camping sites, we almost have no choice but to clean up the mess left by others.

Furniture dumped in the desert off the pipeline road

OK, rant over.

On Wednesday, we made the 23-mile drive on Bloody Basin Road from our campsite up to Crown King, an old mining town in the Bradshaw Mountains. The road is dirt and gravel, and most of it follows the old abandoned railroad bed. In some places the road is wash-boarded and bumpy, and there are plenty of one-lane stretches that go straight through the rock. But the scenery is spectacular as you climb about 1,400′ in altitude to get to Crown King.

Enjoying the view just outside Crown King, AZ

The town of Crown King is small and quaint, with a general store/post office, a fire station, saloon, a few restaurants, several cabins and AirBnB’s to rent, a church, and housing for the few permanent residents. The day we went it was pretty quiet, but the guy who runs the general store told us that they often get hundreds of visitors at a time on the weekends who ride up on their ATVs and 4×4 vehicles. It’s a beautiful setting in the pine trees, and we enjoyed just hanging out on the deck, snacking on chips and cream soda and homemade fudge.

Antique store and saloon in Crown King

The drive up to Crown King took us about two hours, and the drive back down took about an hour and a half. That includes stopping to look at scenery and take pictures. I put together some video clips and photos from our excursion and posted them to our YouTube channel–there was just no way that still photos could capture how bumpy the road was or how vast the landscape is. It is well worth the drive if you have a high-clearance, dependable vehicle, and you go on a sunny day. I would not try the drive in a passenger car, or on a rainy day.

In other news, we finally got around to making a major upgrade to our RV–we’ve ordered a new mattress. This RV was never designed for full-time living, and the mattress began to sag and compress pretty quickly after we moved in. It has become very uncomfortable to sleep on, and we desperately needed to replace it.

Unfortunately, it’s an odd size known as a “full XL”. Additionally, the bottom right corner is chopped off to allow easier access to the bathroom. Therefore, we couldn’t just buy a mattress off the shelf, but instead we had to order a custom-made one. We placed the order yesterday (Friday) from MattressInsider.com, and will have it shipped from their manufacturing facility in South Carolina to the Fedex hub in Prescott Valley where we will pick it up. The estimated production time is 7-10 business days, and the shipping time will be 3 days. That means we’ll be in this general area for at least another three weeks, which we had already planned on anyway. I can’t wait to get our new mattress!!

On Thursday we drove over to nearby Cordes Junction at Cordes Lakes to locate a dump station (for future reference) and a water dispensing machine. While there we stopped in McDonald’s to use their wi-fi so we could back up our iPhones and download the latest operating system update. The only two places we could find to dump our tanks near here are both small RV parks, and they charge $20 for the privilege. But you do what you have to do. We’ll need to dump the tanks on Monday.

And that’s what’s going on in our world. We need to make a run to the grocery store this weekend, so we’ll be driving up to Prescott Valley. In the meantime, we’re enjoying our stay here in this beautiful area.

View of the area where we’re currently parked on Bloody Basin Road

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Weekend in Yarnell, Almost Lost the Stinky Slinky, Bloody Basin Road BLM

We thoroughly enjoyed our weekend parked on the property of our good friends John and Helen in Yarnell, Arizona. We weren’t actually “moochdocking” since we weren’t hooked up to electricity or water–we were simply “driveway-surfing”. And yes, these are highly technical terms used in the RVing community. 🙂

View of our driveway-surfing spot in Yarnell, AZ

Andy and John were part of the same church group when they were young kids, although John, being several years younger, didn’t really know Andy all that well and was more acquainted with Andy’s younger sister, Liz. However, through the power of Facebook and the Internet, they reconnected years later. John has been following this blog and our Facebook posts as we’ve been on the road, and reached out to us to offer us a place to park for a visit.

After we arrived on Friday evening, John and Helen stopped by to make sure we were settled in. John’s wife, Helen, is from England, and the two of them together are an absolute riot. We talked and laughed so much that my jaws were aching the next morning. Sometimes you meet people that you just “click” with, and this was one of those times.

On Saturday morning we met them at the local bakery/coffee shop, Cornerstone Bakery (featured in Arizona Highways magazine), where they sell some of the most delicious pastries we’ve ever eaten. Andy had a huge Apple Caramel Cinnamon Roll, and I had a pineapple cream cheese pastry that was to die for. The shop is small and cozy, and there was a constant stream of locals stopping in for breakfast. Another couple that John and Helen knew came and sat with us since all the tables were full–it’s the kind of place where you just scoot over and make room for everybody.

Hanging out with friends at Cornerstone Bakery in Yarnell

After getting our sugar and caffeine rush, we went back to the property where we were parked. John and Helen are in the process of building a new home on the site which looks out toward a mountain of huge boulders with a running creek at the bottom. Their property, as well as many of the surrounding lots, were victims of the 2013 wildfire that killed nineteen Hotshot firefighters that were defending the city. (John and Helen bought the property after the fire.) They gave us a tour of their construction site and the surrounding landscape, describing their vision for their dream home. I can’t wait to come back in a year or two and see how it turns out!

In the afternoon, they gave us a driving tour of Yarnell, pointing out the interesting businesses, the quirky artwork and the path that the fire took through the town. Yarnell is primarily a town of retirees and is not particularly well-to-do. There are a lot of antique stores and some artists’ shops, several restaurants, a hardware store, a Dollar General store, along with other various small businesses. After the drive around town, we went back to John and Helen’s house where they are living while they build their new home. Another friend of theirs, Jeanine (sp?) joined us, and Helen fixed a wonderful vegetarian meal for us to enjoy.

On Sunday morning, Andy and I took care of a few things around the rig, took showers, and then after lunch we did some sightseeing on our own. First we visited a local landmark, the Shrine of St. Joseph of the Mountains. We’re not Catholic, but we did enjoy viewing the stations of the cross in such a beautiful setting.

The Crucifixion, one of the stations of the cross at the Shrine.

Next we drove down the mountain to the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, which is dedicated to the nineteen lost firefighters.  It’s located on Highway 89, right on the side of a mountain. There are thirteen parking spaces next to a small display which is actually a trailhead. From there, you must hike if you want to see the rest of the displays and the actual site where the guys made their last stand (description of trails here). It was late in the afternoon, and who are we kidding, neither of us are in the physical condition to do a seven mile mountain hike, so we only climbed up to the first marker and paid our respects there before hiking back down. But I have added this hike to my bucket list, and I’m determined to complete it someday.

The hiking trail at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park

On the way back, we stopped and had a pizza at a new place in Yarnell called Gilligan’s that just opened four weeks ago. It was some of the best pizza we’ve ever had, and we enjoyed the outdoor setting even though it was a little cool. Later we went back over to John and Helen’s house for another visit before calling it a night.

Pizza and beer at Gilligan’s in Yarnell – highly recommended!

So, yesterday morning (Monday) it was time to move on. John and Helen stopped by to say goodbye, we got things stowed away, and pulled out around 9:30 AM. We headed down the mountain back into Wickenburg and made our first stop at Safeway to stock up on fresh produce and to also hit Starbucks in the store.

Next we stopped at the Fast Mart to get gas, top off the propane and fresh water, and dump the tanks. Of course, it was one of those days when something breaks. We do not keep our sewer hose (a.k.a. the “stinky slinky”) stored in the back bumper, which is actually designed as a hollow tube for that purpose. Instead, the previous owner of the RV mounted a length of dryer vent hose under the RV, and the sewer hose just slides into the dryer vent hose for storage. Why, you ask? Well, a lot of RVers do this type of hack so that the moisture from the sewer hose doesn’t rust out the bumper from the inside.

The dryer vent hose is secured under the rig with plastic cable ties, and yesterday was the day that those ties decided to break, so the hose was lying on the ground. Fortunately it happened while we were parked at the dump station and not while driving down the road. Andy had to crawl under the RV and get it re-secured enough to continue the drive, but now it’s another item on the project list to get the dryer vent hose (which is starting to crumble) replaced with PVC pipe. And for right now, the stinky slinky is stored in the bumper.

Reattaching the tube that holds our stinky slinky under the rig

When we got ready to leave Wickenburg and checked our Google Maps navigation, we found out that there was a one-and-a-half hour delay on I-17 north due to a traffic accident, so we decided to stop for lunch along the way. We found a little pullout on New River Road, north of Phoenix, and had our usual salad for lunch while we took a little break. By the time we finished eating, the app said that traffic was starting to clear, so we continued on.

Our route from Yarnell to Bloody Basin Road BLM land

Our destination was some BLM land on Bloody Basin Road just west of I-17. We scouted around a little bit and found a great spot that only required six leveling blocks. We’re surrounded by desert hills that are emerald green right now. Between two of the hills we can see all the way to Sunset Point (which you Arizonans will recognize as a rest area on I-17 at the top of a mesa). We can just faintly hear some highway noise, but otherwise it’s quiet. And we actually have four bars of Verizon LTE service–fast internet in the desert, you can’t beat it!

All set up at Camp Sunset, our new home on Bloody Basin Road.

We got all set up, I cooked a good veggie dinner, and we turned in pretty early. We were all tired from traveling. When we went to bed, there was no one within sight, but when I got up this morning, I noticed there is another rig parked across the road from us. Looks like a small Class B, which is about all that could fit in that small space.

And speaking of small spaces, we are definitely reaping the rewards of having a smaller RV. We were able to easily fit on John and Helen’s property, and we were nimble enough to get into our current site which involved driving over some pretty uneven ground. We love it out here!!

So the plan is to hang out here for a little while. There’s a fourteen day limit, and we may or may not use that entire time. Just depends on the weather, mostly. There are a lot of geocaches to hunt nearby, and a lot of trails to hike. Arcosanti is nearby (even though we’ve been there a couple of times before). The only downside to this spot is that it’s so far away from a decent grocery store. But that is a small price to pay for being able to have such an awe-inspiring yard!!

Our front yard. In the far distance is Sunset Point.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

And if you’re interested in the costs associated with the full-time RV lifestyle, we do post a monthly expense report. You can find the most recent report here.

Safe travels!

 

 

Exploring Wickenburg, Leaving Camp Vulture, Moochdocking in Yarnell

All good things must come to an end. Our fourteen days were up on our BLM campsite south of Wickenburg on Vulture Mine Road, which I named Camp Vulture. It was certainly one of our most favorite camping locations, and we were sorry we had to leave, but the weather is starting to warm up and it’s time to head toward more northern latitudes and higher altitudes.

Before we left, we spent part of a day exploring downtown Wickenburg. It’s kind of a quirky town with lots of little touristy shops with an Old West flair. We found a neat display at the old “Jail Tree” where prisoners were actually chained to a tree since the town had not yet been able to afford a proper jail building. The display had an audio feature where the “prisoner” related the history of the Jail Tree. While we were listening to the story, a lady came walking up with a GPS device in her hand and started closely examining the old metal safe under the tree. Yes, she was a geocacher (we’re so obvious!), so we helped her look for the cache, but none of us ever found it.

Old Town Wickenburg’s “Jail Tree” display

We ate lunch at Anita’s Cocina, a neat little place with good service and some of the best salsa we’ve ever had. The rest of the meal was just OK, in my opinion, but that salsa was worth the visit.

Entrance to Anita’s Cocina in Wickenburg AZ

After a little more exploring, we made one more trip to the grocery store. This time we went to Basha’s instead of Safeway, since it was downtown. Basha’s produce section is really lacking compared to Safeway, and we didn’t find the vegan items that we normally find in Walmart and other large grocery stores. In general, our food costs were significantly higher while staying in Wickenburg, which does not have a Walmart store.

So yesterday it was time to move on. We decided to leave after lunch, so I took advantage of another beautiful morning to take one more hike into the hills behind our campsite. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to hike in the desert on a marked road (sometimes more of a trail). This time I went a little beyond where I normally turn around, and I’m glad I did because I found a big medicine wheel that someone had constructed from the stones in the area. If you’re in the area and looking for a good hike, look for BLM Road #9065/9065A.

Large medicine wheel I found at the end of the hiking trail

After lunch, we packed up and headed north on our way to Yarnell, after stopping in Wickenburg to dump our tanks and fill up with propane and fresh water. The drive to Yarnell was a short one, but it was all uphill. We gained almost 2000′ feet in altitude (that’s probably going to kill our gas mileage!), and when we arrived we could immediately feel the difference in temperature.

Our route from Camp Vulture to Yarnell

If Yarnell sounds familiar to you, you might remember in June/July of 2013 there was a devastating wildfire here where 19 Hotshot firefights lost their lives when they became trapped in the canyon near Yarnell. The property that we’re staying on this weekend is on a street where several houses burned in that fire, including the house that was originally on this site. Our friends, John and Helen, purchased this property after the fire and are building a new home on the site.

Driveway-surfing with friends in Yarnell AZ

The property is in a beautiful location, with huge granite boulders strewn all around. It’s right next to a creek that is currently flowing with the residual moisture from the late winter snowfall several weeks ago. John said that deer and javalina regularly walk through the property, and there are a multitude of birds hanging out in the trees around us. I’m not going to show a lot of pictures of their property to respect their privacy, but they are going to have a beautiful place here when their house is completed!

We’re going to visit with John and Helen at the local donut shop/bakery this morning and then check out the local surroundings. Fair warning, there will be lots of photographs involved on Instagram/Facebook!

It’s hard to believe that March is almost over. I’ll be crunching the numbers on Monday and releasing our monthly expense report in the next blog post, so stay tuned for that.

Thanks for taking time to read our blog! Feel free to share it with family and friends who might be interested in full-time RV living. If you want to keep up with our adventures, please subscribe. And you can also find us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads if you want to keep up with us between blog posts.

Safe travels!

Last hike at Camp Vulture