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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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