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? 🙂

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Safe travels!

Boondocking – From Asphalt to BLM

As you know, we spent the first three months of our full-time RV life connected to electricity and water hookups, with an occasional sewer connection. We stayed in state parks and private campgrounds where there were dump stations and showers, but also camping fees.

Well, we’ve changed things up considerably in our fourth month. We’ve now graduated to boondocking!

As I reported in our last post, after leaving New Mexico on Sunday, we spent the night in the back lot of a Chevron station in San Simon, Arizona, along with a lot of eighteen-wheelers. We actually got a pretty good night’s sleep in spite of the traffic noise from the interstate. We ran our generator all night in order to use the electric heater, so it all became white noise after awhile.

On Monday morning Andy made some phone calls to locate a source for new house batteries, and we decided to go to Camping World. They had the batteries that we needed, the warranty would be good at any Camping World in the country, and they would also allow us to park overnight in their parking lot until they could work us in on Tuesday morning.

So after having breakfast in the back lot of the Chevron station, we pulled out and drove across the street to the Shell station to top off the gas tank in the RV even though we had filled the tank the night before at Chevron. We just wanted to see how much gas the generator had used overnight. Turned out it used 6.4 gallons in 15.1 hours, so we’re getting about 2 hours and 20 minutes per gallon of gas. We were also going to top off our propane there, but they ran out when they were helping the customer in front of us.

We drove on into Tucson, arriving at Camping World around 11:00 AM. We went ahead and picked out the batteries that we wanted and set up our service appointment for 8:30 AM the following morning. They have a pretty small parking lot, but we got a good space and settled in, having a good lunch in the RV while we watched customers come and go.

Boondocking in the Camping World parking lot in Tucson

After lunch we decided to do a little exploring in Tucson, primarily to get some ice cream. We drove downtown and parked at Broadway and 6th Avenue. By the way, have you used the ParkMobile app yet to pay for your parking? We first used it in Santa Fe, but found that Tucson also uses it. Very convenient!

We got some delicious ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street. I had the Sweet Cream Honeycomb and the Rough At Sea. I don’t remember what Andy had, but it was all very good, and the guy that waited on us was very friendly and professional. We highly recommend The Screamery!

Ice cream at The Screamery on Congress Street in Tucson

Afterwards we took a stroll down Congress Street to the Veinte de Agosto Park to see the statue of Pancho Villa. I never realized old Pancho was such a popular character in the area, but he seems to be everywhere! We walked back up Broadway to get back to our parking space, and found this area of Tucson to be full of restaurants, condos, small shops, even a downtown grocery store. If I were in the mood to live in a sticks-and-bricks again, I would definitely consider looking for a condo in this area of Tucson.

Statue of Pancho Villa in Tucson

We returned to Camping World and then spent about an hour looking through some of the RVs they have for sale on the lot. They mostly had travel trailers which didn’t interest us, but we did go through some Class A’s and fifth-wheels, just to check out some floor plans. We’re not planning to trade in Lizzy for awhile, but it doesn’t hurt to stay up to date on what’s out there.

Touring RVs on the sales lot at Camping World

Camping World closed at 6:00 PM so the parking lot cleared out except for us and a big Class A rig that was also spending the night. We cooked dinner, cleaned up the dishes and settled in for the night. Once again we were right off the interstate, and there was plenty of security lighting in the parking lot, so it was almost like napping during the daytime instead of sleeping. We still managed to get some good rest before rising early for our service appointment.

They had told us we could pull the rig around to the service area at 8:00 AM, and sure enough they knocked on our door at 7:55 to make sure we were ready. We verified that it was okay to leave the cats inside the rig while they were swapping out the batteries, and they even agreed to let one of us stay inside with them. So Andy stayed in the rig while I waited inside the store. They were finished with everything by 9:00 AM, to the tune of $285. We got two new deep-cycle, 150 amp-hour batteries, and also were told that the previous batteries had been hooked up incorrectly. That, combined with the fact that we rarely drew down the batteries at all since we were always hooked up to electricity, probably contributed to their early failure. Now we have our electrical system in good shape and ready to work with the new solar panels that we have ordered.

New batteries installed to make boondocking more comfortable

We weren’t ready to leave Tucson just yet because we were waiting on an Amazon delivery to a nearby locker. The item was scheduled to be delivered “before 9 PM”, and we were hoping for something on the earlier side. Since we needed to pick up a few groceries, we left Camping World after topping off the propane tank, and drove to Walmart, taking a spot on the far edge of the parking lot. We fixed a cup of hot tea and settled in with our books and iPhones. Around 11:00 AM we went inside and did our grocery shopping, then put the groceries away and had lunch.

Since our destination for the night was on BLM land in an unfamiliar area, we decided that we needed to leave Walmart by 1:00 PM to allow time for dumping the tanks and finding a camping spot, even if our Amazon package had not arrived by then. We located a free dump station using the Campendium app (yay!) on Flowing Wells Road in Tucson. A big thanks to Merrigans Arizona RoadRunner RV for providing free sewer dump and fresh water fill-ups to the RV community. I did spend a little money in the store to say “thank-you”.

Free dump station in Tucson

Our destination for the night was a BLM campsite commonly known as Cactus Forest Campground on Cattle Tank Road, just northeast of Red Rock, AZ. It was a good thing that we left Tucson when we did, because when we got off the interstate and started east on East Park Link Drive, we found the road was totally closed for construction. It’s out in a rural area, so there aren’t a huge number of alternate routes to get where we were going. We tried a road that looked promising and wound up on a small dirt road that led to someone’s ranch where we turned around. A friendly guy came out to the rig and directed us to an alternate route using Missile Base Road.

So we turned around and went back toward Tucson until we found Missile Base Road and turned east. This route would bring us into the campsite from the south instead of the north. Unfortunately, Google Maps didn’t know about the brand new paved extension of Cattle Tank Road. Instead, it directed us to another dirt road that was horrendous–we wound up turning around in someone’s driveway again (Andy’s getting really good at that).

We went back to the new paved extension, and even though it wasn’t on the map, we decided to go for it, and it brought us right to the campsite.

New paved extension on South Cattle Tank Road, not yet on Google maps

After living in developed campgrounds with hookups for the past 18 months since we bought the RV, we were in for quite a different experience. The only indication that we were in the right place was a brown metal post that had the BLM logo on it and said “No Dumping” and “Camping 14-Day Limit”. There is a good-sized lot at the entrance where a Class A was parked next to a primitive corral that contained a couple of watering tanks. The dirt and gravel road that leads further into the area is narrow with cactus on each side. Within the first 100 yards are several pull-outs where you can park your rig, and there are obvious signs (i.e. fire ring) that it’s meant for camping. We found a good spot and were set up very quickly since there are no hookups.

BLM sign marking the camping area

We fell in love immediately with our surroundings. It truly is a cactus forest with towering saguaro, jumping cholla, teddy bear cholla, barrel cactus, and prickly-pear, just to name a few. There are also palo verde trees. We took a sunset walk down the road in both directions and were so happy that we didn’t give up on finding this place. Besides us and and the Class A parked up at the entrance, only one other camper was in the area, a van-dweller that arrived after we did and parked further down the road. The campsites are so far apart from each other that you literally feel alone out here.

Our first BLM campsite is in a cactus forest. Beautiful!

After being in such noisy places for the previous two nights, it was such a relief to be here in the desert where it was almost totally quiet and dark. Every once it a while we would hear a car go by on the paved road, or a plane fly overhead toward the Tucson airport, but it was so peaceful, and the sunset was gorgeous, even though it was a little overcast. We waited until it was totally dark before starting the generator to run the Instant Pot, just so we could enjoy a quiet sunset.

Sunset out our front door. Glad to be back home in Arizona!

I wish I could say I got a good night’s sleep. I actually did until about 3:00 AM when the kitties decided it was time to eat–Maggie does that a lot. I held her off until about 5:15 but I was awake the entire time.

By the way, for those of you who were asking, Molly seems to be doing fine at the moment after that one bad day that she had on Sunday. We’ll continue to monitor her, but at the moment her plumbing doesn’t seem to be bothering her.

So here it is, Wednesday morning, and I’m watching the sun rise over a cactus forest in complete silence except for Andy’s snoring–he is impervious to the antics of the cats during the night. 🙂

We’ll need to drive back to Tucson today to pick up the Amazon package that finally made it to the locker about 8:00 PM last night. Have you ever used an Amazon locker? This will be our first time. It’s located at a Quik Trip store, so this should be interesting. It’s a great option for full-time RVers who need a place to have things shipped while not having a permanent home address.

Otherwise we’ll do a little hiking and just soak up the good vibes from our surroundings today. I feel like we’ve graduated from RV prep school to boondocking college!! There will be a new set of challenges to solve camping this way–conserving water so we don’t have to take the rig to a dump station as often, conserving our battery power–but being able to have our home in a place with this kind of view is definitely worth it!

If you have any questions about our RV life, be sure to leave a comment and we’ll address it in a future blog post. You can also follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for updates between blog posts.

Happy holidays, everyone! Safe travels!!