After a week in Zion National Park we drove to the Las Vegas Airport, where Margo caught a flight home to Minneapolis. It was a hot, sunny day in Vegas with temperatures pushing 100 degrees. As we drove toward Red Rock Canyon, our next stop on the trip, we joked about how sweaty we would be the next couple days with no electric hookups (no A/C) at the campground.
Normally, we have no problem dry camping, but with temps reaching 100 degrees it sounded less appealing. So, as we were driving West on the Vegas freeway, we made the last minute decision to scrap our plans, turn back East and find an affordable place to stay in Vegas with electric hookups.
With a quick search on Campendium, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Las Vegas RV Resort, just 10 minutes from the Vegas strip was only $29 per night. The RV park had full hookups, a pool, spa, laundry and great reviews! It was the perfect place to beat the heat, get caught up on work, laundry, etc., relax by the pool and enjoy a night out on the Vegas strip. We hadn’t done a lot of relaxing up to this point so it was welcome break! Overall, it was one of the best value RV parks we’ve stayed at in terms of the amenities, cleanliness, location and price.
Of course, being on a budget, our Vegas strip cruising is a bit different now than in past years. Two years earlier in Vegas, we ate at Nobu for Max’s birthday, which ended up being the most expensive dinner to date! In our thriftiness this year, we ate at In and Out Burger and bought drinks at the local drug store. Classy, we know…lol.
The juxtaposition was not lost on us as we had a good laugh about it that night! The rest of the night we walked the strip and window shopped along the way. We also stopped by the Peter Lik Gallery to check out Max’s competition. 😉 All in all, we didn’t buy or do anything fancy in Vegas, but had a great time anyway!
Las Vegas Part II
On our 2ndloop through the Southwest this past January, we stopped in Vegas again to get caught up on work, etc. before driving to Death Valley. Again we stayed at Las Vegas RV Resort, but this time rather than spending time in the pool, we enjoyed using the hot tub as the temps were in the 60s. No time for the Vegas strip on this stopover, but we did eat out at Poke Heaven which was delicious!!
While Margo was with us for a week in Zion, we took a day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. Though it’s only an hour away, the landscape is completely different from Zion. Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its beautifully sculptured pinnacles and fluted walls carved from millions of years of water erosion. The colorful blend of orange and red in the rock make it all the more striking.
We started our day at Sunrise Point hiking the Navajo Loop and Queens Garden Trail. It was a fairly easy 3 mile hike that offered gorgeous views from the canyon rim as well the opportunity to hike into the canyon and get an up close view of the hoodoo formations.
After our hike into the canyon, we drove the park road toward Rainbow Point stopping at many of the scenic vistas along the way. Once at Rainbow Point, we hiked the Bristlecone Loop Trail which passes through a grove of ancient Bristlecone pine trees. Bristlecone Pine are the oldest living thing on earth, with the very oldest being 4000+ years old! They are neither the tallest or the largest, but are a super hardy tree that can withstand intense wind and temperature over thousands of years.
In our short time there, Bryce Canyon certainly left an impression on us. Looking forward to our next visit, hopefully in winter after a light dusting of snow!
Ever since Max’s first visit to Zion National Park, it has ranked as one of his all-time favorite National Parks. This time, on our second visit there, we invited Max’s mom Margo to join us for a week.
At the time we booked Zion, we were on the National Park reservation website looking for availability at the Grand Canyon. That’s when we noticed the Watchman Campground in Zion had a surprising amount of availability for the following month of April. We didn’t know why so many had become available, but we wasted no time booking a site on the river for 7 nights! It turns out Zion holds back a number of campsites each year due to potential flooding. Once the Spring flood risk passes they release them, so it might be worthwhile to check the reservation site in mid-March!
To get to Zion National Park, Max and I drove “Big Red” from Page, Arizona, while Margo flew into Las Vegas, Nevada. We had Margo take the shuttle from Las Vegas to St. George, Utah saving us 4 hours of additional driving. After picking her up, we stopped for lunch at the Hawaiian Poke Bowl which was highly rated lunch spot on Trip Advisor. In talking with the owner, we learned she opened the restaurant because she missed the flavors of Hawaii after moving to Utah for her spouse’s job. Each one of us got a different poke bowl and all three were phenomenal!
From St. George, we had another hour drive before reaching Zion National Park. Upon arrival, the ranger told us we had reserved one of the BEST sites in the campground (Site #B054R) as it was right on the Virgin River and offered more privacy than most. The Watchman Campground has electric hookups and flush toilets, however it does not have shower facilities or water/sewer hookups. With three of us staying in Big Red for a full week, we knew we’d need to utilize the paid showers available at several outfitters just outside the park in Springdale, UT.
The first time Max and I visited Zion in 2016, we did two of its most famous hikes: The Narrows and Angel’s Landing. The Angel’s Landing hike is all on dry land, but has an elevation gain of 1,600 feet over 4.1 miles. The last mile of the hike is completed with the assistance of steel chains due to the steep cliffs and sheer drop-offs. Needless to say, this hike is not for the faint of heart or for those afraid of heights. With Margo having an extreme fear of heights we knew hiking Angels Landing was out of the question this time around.
Hiking the Narrows on the other hand, means hiking 3-9 miles in the waters of the Virgin River through a giant slot canyon. While the elevation gain is minimal, the water flow rate and temperature can vary dramatically, so it’s important to consult a park ranger and/or outfitter for the most up to information and necessary gear.
When we hiked the Narrows in 2016, the water flow rate was at 149 cubic feet per second – the highest possible before closing it for safety reasons. At that flow rate, the hike was absolutely amazing, but tough! After a long day hiking 9 miles in the waist deep, 60 degree water, we were completely exhausted and could barely move our legs. Knowing how physically demanding the hike was, we figured it would be too strenuous for Margo, but we stopped by an outfitter anyway to ask about current conditions.
After talking to several employees at Zion Outfitters, we learned 2018 had been such a mild winter that the water runoff was extremely low – only 50cfs. This meant hiking difficulty was significantly lower than when we had first done it in 2016. With this new information in hand, we now just had to convince Margo she could do the hike too. Zion Outfitters was extremely helpful in answering all of her questions and after watching a short video about the Narrows hike, Margo agreed to do it! All three of us rented the appropriate gear (dry pants, canyoneering boots and a walking stick) and prepped that night for our big hike the next day.
The next morning we woke up early and caught the first bus to the Narrows. Margo & I were thankful for the fleece layer under our dry pants as the water was a bit chilly starting out. However, after a mile of hiking, our blood started pumping and we warmed right up. It was a beautiful spring day and the first rays of sunlight reflected like gold on the canyon walls. Max stopped frequently to take pictures, while Margo and I kept a fairly constant pace.
The three of us hiked into the canyon until the water got deeper than our dry pants would allow us to go. After a 9 mile roundtrip hike in the Virgin River, we made it out of the canyon with another world class hike in the books. Margo did such a great job and we were really proud of her for pushing herself to accomplishing something she never thought she would do!
After the Narrows hike, the rest of the week was a bit more relaxing. One evening we had an early birthday celebration for Max at the Bit & Spur, where they had amazing prickly pear margaritas on the menu! Another day we ate delicious burgers at Oscar’s Cafe.
We also ventured out for a few more hikes such as the Emerald Pools Trail as well as the Canyon Overlook hike where we saw several families of mountain goats along the way. As expected, Zion did not disappoint on our second time there. We were so glad Margo was able to visit this incredible place and experience its most epic hike!
After a six and a half hour hike out of Havasu Falls we still had a five hour drive ahead of us to our next destination of Page, Arizona. Roughly three hours into our drive, the winds started to pick up gusting over 35mph. We thought about stopping somewhere to spend the night, but found no camping options anywhere between where we were and our destination. So, we downed some instant coffee and listened to several true crime podcasts to keep ourselves awake.
With only a few miles left until Page, the winds started gusting between 50-60 mph. Exhausted after the long day of hiking and driving, we finally made it to the Horseshoe Bend parking lot at two o’clock in the morning! As soon as we got out of the truck we were pelted with sand and dirt. We quickly ran inside our RV and slammed the door, but with the wind howling and the trailer shaking, all we could think about was the potential damage being done from the debris outside.
At 2:30AM, we made the decision to pack up and drive to the next closest overnight parking option – Walmart. This was our very first Walmart overnight experience and while we were a bit leery of the whole idea, we had no other options this early in the morning. Upon pulling into the parking lot, we were surprised to see 30+ other RVs parked overnight. Was that normal or was it just because of the windstorm? We weren’t sure, but it made us feel better seeing other RVers there too.
In search of a spot protected from the wind, we figured our best option would be parking next to the cement wall. It was more protected than back at Horseshoe Bend, but the winds still rocked the trailer the entire night. We were just happy our RV wasn’t getting blasted by sand and dirt any longer! As soon as we got inside our RV, we closed the blinds and crashed.
The next day after sleeping in a bit, we stocked up on groceries and searched for another place to stay. At first glance, it didn’t look like Page had many free camping options, but one of Max’s photographer friends suggested a free site 10 miles away called Glen Canyon Corral. On our drive to this new campsite the winds were still blowing intensely. About 3 miles from Glen Canyon Corral we looked out the truck window to see a huge flap hanging off the side of our RV.
We immediately pulled over on the side of the road to find that 10 feet of our RV side paneling had come loose and was flapping in the wind. I helped bend the panel back in place, while Max drilled a new hole and screwed it on. The wind and sand was blowing so hard that Max had to put on protective goggles to do the repair. With only one screw holding the remainder of the panel on, we were lucky the whole panel didn’t fly off our RV while driving! The bad news is we now have a big dent where the panel bent in half. Later that evening we met up with Max’s photographer friends Matt Meisenheimer & Cody Wilson and had a delicious fajita dinner at El Tapatio restaurant.
The next morning while Max, Matt and Cody went off photographing slot canyons, I stayed back to get some work done on the blog. At some point while I was back at the trailer, I noticed a wet area forming on the floor directly under our sink. When Max returned home I showed him the issue and we determined it was coming from one of the pipes underneath the sink.
While we were investigating the cause of the leak, Max heard what he thought sounded like a mouse. All of a sudden he jumped as he saw the mouse running to the other side of the cabinet. As Max searched underneath the cabinet with a flashlight, the little critter popped up through the stove top and stared straight at me taunting me. I shrieked when I saw him as I’d had never experienced a live rodent in my house before!
Max took off for the hardware store leaving me and Mr. Mouse alone in our 28ft trailer. The whole time Max was gone I sat still listening for the mouse and could hear small squeaking noises coming from the belly of our trailer. An hour later, Max returned with hose crimps and several varieties of mousetraps. We set the traps in various areas of the trailer and waited. After a bit of trial and error, Max was able to reseal the pipe, eliminating the leak. With no action on the mousetrap front, we went to bed hoping for better luck in the morning.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Max awoke to a Velcro-like sound. He jumped out of bed, opened the cabinet under the sink and sure enough it was the mouse stuck to the sticky trap. As the mouse was trying to get unstuck, it began frantically chewing and shredding the plastic coating off wires nearby. Thankfully Max was able to remove the mouse before it chewed through the entire wire, but we did have to make another trip to the hardware store for electrical tape to cover the newly exposed wires.
On our last day in Page, AZ while the guys went off to shoot another remote location, I decided to take a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon. Over the last few years, Lower Antelope Canyon has become extremely popular, expensive ($50 per person) and has some very strict rules for entry. If you plan to go with a few people you would want to book a tour in advance as they often sell out. However, since I was going by myself I figured I might have a chance at scoring a last minute spot. I packed a small daypack with a GoPro, iPhone, money and water bottle and headed off for Lower Antelope Canyon.
When I arrived, I lucked out and got the very last spot on the tour that was leaving in 15 minutes. I paid the $50 entrance fee and was all set to go. After handing my ticket to the lady at the entrance, she told me they didn’t allow packs unless they were for hydration and the hose was visible. Mine technically was a hydration pack, but on this day I put a water bottle in there instead of the bladder with hose. So, I ran back to the car, dropped off my pack and took with me my wristlet (containing money), Go-Pro and iPhone.
Once I made it back to the entrance, they told me I couldn’t bring in my wristlet or Go-Pro as they don’t allow purses or camcorders. When I asked if I could use the Go-Pro strictly in photo mode, she said Go-Pros were not allowed period. She did say I could bring a regular camera or smart phone, but that was basically it. So, I ran back to the car for a second time, dropped off everything except my half-charged iPhone and made it back just as my tour was leaving.
Each tour group had roughly 15 people in it and followed the leader single file through the mile long canyon. Unfortunately, they don’t give you much time to linger in any one spot as there is another group of 15 people right behind you. This makes it tough to take any good pictures as a casual photographer, much less a professional one. Regardless, the canyon was beautiful and definitely worth seeing at least one in your lifetime. You can still take a decent selfie in there, but good luck trying to get a photo without other people in your shot!
After several days and night of crazy wind, we spend one last night wind (and mouse!) free in Glen Canyon Corral. The next morning we headed towards Utah to pick up Max’s mom for a week in Zion National Park.
One of the Southwest’s most spectacular locations, Havasu Falls, is also one of the most difficult places to get to. This desert oasis, known for its spectacular bright blue waterfalls, sits deep in the Grand Canyon on the Havasupai Indian Reservation which is one of the most remote Indian Reservations in the US. It is 8 miles from the nearest road and 65 miles from the nearest gas station. There are no roads to the campground; the only way to get there is to hike 10 miles one way into the canyon. Though the hike is not for the faint of heart, the hardest part in getting there may not be the hike itself, but rather obtaining the elusive permit. Each year thousands of people attempt to get Havasu Falls permits, but only a few succeed.
Havasu Falls had been on our bucket list for several years, but due to the limited number of permits and difficulty getting them, we had been unsuccessful obtaining them up to this point. After two years of calling to obtain a permit, we thought we were ready for opening day of the 2018 reservations. Max had marked our calendars for February 1stwith the phone number(s) to call and asked me to call since he had all day meetings at work.
I am usually really good at executing plans like this (dialing with multiple phones, calling back again and again) but for some reason on this day…I totally forgot! Yep, just completely spaced out on this one. I have no good excuse other than it was a whirlwind of a week having just said goodbye to my job, moved out of our townhome (we rented it out) and was still packing up our truck and trailer with everything we needed for 14 months on the road. But yeah, when Max got home from work he wasn’t too happy to hear I forgot to call and I felt terrible.
So the next day, February 2nd, I called and called and called and called until finally someone answered. Upon answering the guy informed me they had already sold out all permits for 2018. “Every single day for the whole year?” I asked. He said with the new online permit system the entire year sold out in roughly two hours on February 1st. I said, “Wait, you have an online reservation system!? When did that change?” He stated that over the last year they implemented a new online reservation system so you can now book online or call.
At this point, as much as I felt bad for not calling on February 1st, in a weird way I felt better because neither Max nor I had knowledge of the online reservation system so we likely would not have gotten a permit anyhow. Sensing my disappointment, the guy said you can always try calling back in a few weeks to see if we receive any cancellations. I thought…right, how often does that happen?
We left on our 14 month road trip on February 6thand every week I’d call to see if there were any cancellations. Several weeks went by with no success – half the time I couldn’t get a hold of anyone and the other half was told there was no availability. Roughly two weeks prior to us being in Arizona I stepped up my game. I called every day, multiple times per day, calling all numbers associated with the Havasupai Reservation office. Day 1 – no answer. Day 2 – no answer. Day 3 – finally someone answered, but said they were full. Day 4 – no answer. Day 5 – someone answered. When I asked if there were any cancellations for April she said “When do you want to come and how many nights would you like?” I could not believe what I was hearing!
I quickly picked dates for the second week in April since my sister Kalie was visiting with us the week prior. “Alright that will be $400 for three nights” she said. My pure joy immediately turned to shock. “Excuse me, how much?!” I asked. I mean after all we are talking tent camping here! The lady must have heard the shock in my voice as she explained that they recently hired new management who raised prices given the increasing demand. Not knowing what to do since we had been trying to get permits for so long, I reduced the reservation to two nights in an attempt to save a little bit of money. It wasn’t until after I hung up that I realized the new pricing structure was tiered so the longer you stay the cheaper it was per night. In hindsight, I should have stuck with the original three nights, but oh well – at least we finally got the permits we had been after!!
In addition to planning everything we needed to pack, we also needed to figure out where to park our truck and trailer. There is a parking lot at the Hualapai Hilltop trailhead, but we weren’t sure if it was large enough for an RV. One of the tools we use to see if a parking lot has enough room for our RV is the satellite view on Google Maps. This lets us visualize how big the space is, if there is enough room to turn around and if other RVs are shown parked there. When looking at the satellite image for Hualapai Hilltop, we saw multiple RVs parked along the roadside, so we decided to take a chance on it.
After a long day of driving, we arrived to Hualapai Hilltop after dark and saw that the parking lot was 75% full. The lot itself was too small to fit our rig, but we found one spot on the side of the road that was just large enough for us. To make sure we wouldn’t be boxed in, we unhooked our truck from our trailer and placed large rocks in between so nothing could park there. We then went to sleep in anticipation of our big hike the next day.
We started our hike at sunrise to beat the midday heat and still have time to enjoy the afternoon at Havasu Falls. Before we left, we ate a big breakfast to make sure we would have enough fuel for the long haul. The first leg of the hike was the steepest, dropping 1,000 feet into the canyon in roughly a mile. From there the hike winds for several miles through a dry, rocky and dusty canyon bed. It’s not until 8 miles in that you begin to see signs of a water. Just before reaching the campground at the 10 mile mark the arid desert turns to a blue water oasis showcasing the main attraction – Havasu Falls. From this 100 foot waterfall gushes turquoise blue water that seems to appear out of nowhere. Below the falls, the turquoise water continues with beautiful cascading pools beckoning you to come take a dip.
The hike into the canyon was moderately difficult, not because of elevation gain (its all downhill), but rather that it is hot, dusty and long. Since we ate a full breakfast before we left, I didn’t feel particularly hungry on the trail, so ate only one granola bar as a snack. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep my energy level up for the duration of the hike and I completely crashed when we arrived to the campground. After taking a much needed nap and eating some lunch, I felt alive again.
Now I was finally ready to explore Havasu Falls and swim in the bright blue pools. We unpacked our bags to grab our swimsuits and towels. I had trouble finding my swimsuit, but knew for sure I had set it out in my pile of items to pack. Twenty minutes later, after checking every single pocket on my entire bag, I realized it was nowhere to be found. It may sound like a silly problem, but I was so upset in that moment that I started crying. I mean what girl doesn’t want a cute photo or two in her swimsuit at Havasu Falls? I certainly hadn’t come all the way there to swim in my clothes! Max tried to make me feel better by saying no one would know if I wore my underwear as a swimsuit, but let’s be real – everyone would know. So I made do with my sports bra and shorts, but every time I saw a girl wearing a cute bikini I had instant fomo of all the pictures I was missing out on. We spent the rest of that day hanging out around the falls and swimming in the pools.
The next day we headed out on a 10 mile roundtrip hike to Mooney and Beaver Falls. The most challenging part of this day’s hike occurs at the beginning on the decent toward Mooney Falls. In order to hike to Mooney or beyond, you have to scramble down a narrow tunnel carved into the side of the canyon using fixed ropes and metal rungs. It’s not so much physically challenging as it is mentally challenging for those that are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights. Being that I am very claustrophobic, there was one section of the tunnel where I almost had a panic attack because of the way people were crammed in front and behind me like sardines. As soon as I was able to move to an area that had a little more space, I let a whole group of people pass and waited until there was a lull in the flow. Ten minutes later we were on the ground in the mist of magical Mooney Falls.
At 200 feet, Mooney Falls is the tallest of the waterfalls in Havasu Creek. We stopped to take some photos at Mooney and then continued on our way towards Beaver Falls. This section of the hike was my absolute favorite as you hike both in and out of the water, over logs, over little bridges and there are plenty of pools and cascades to stop and swim in along the way. There is really no way to hike this section without getting your feet wet, so make sure to bring comfortable shoes you don’t mind getting soaked.
After stopping for photos at almost every turn on the trail, we finally made it to Beaver Falls! At this point, we were starving so we took out our favorite Pad Thai from Backpackers Pantry, boiled water on our camp stove and served up some lunch. It’s definitely a half day hike to Beaver and back, so make sure to pack a lunch and plenty of water when you go. We spent the rest of the day swimming in Beaver’s cascading pools until it was time to head back to camp. From Beaver Falls, you can continue on to the confluence of the Colorado River which is another 4 miles. We didn’t have time to continue on, but the next time we make it to Havasu we definitely want hike all the way to the Colorado River.
Our time at Havasu Falls felt like a whirlwind and before we knew it the last day had come. Many people start the hike out of Havasu Falls before sunrise to beat the heat, but we chose to linger a little longer. With all our stuff packed up and ready to go, we spent the morning swimming one last time at Havasu Falls as well as exploring Upper and Lower Navajo Falls.
The best thing we did before setting off on our hike out of the canyon was to get our clothes completely soaked with water. This kept us fairly cool for the first few miles under the midday heat. By the end of the hike, we were really glad we had filled our large capacity camelback bladders (2-3 liters each) as we drank almost all of the water in them. We also learned from previous experience and stopped for snack breaks every few miles to keep our energy levels up.
If the hike in was rated moderately difficult, I’d say the hike out was difficult, especially carrying large backpacking packs. The hardest part came at the very end when we had to hike up 1,000 vertical feet in a mile. It was all about just putting one foot in front of the other and keep it moving until we reached the hilltop.
Upon reaching the hilltop, we were exhausted and so happy to get back to our trailer. Our trailer was safe and sound and no one had tried to park between our truck and trailer. Max did noticed huge clumps of horse hair on the greasy part of the hitch so we may have had some horse visitors. After being gone 3 days our trailer battery was dead, so we pulled the generator out, recharged it and were able to take some very welcome showers. We had a 5 hour drive to our next destination, so being clean felt AMAZING!
So, was Havasu Falls worth the price of admission and effort of hiking the 20 miles? Yes, for sure! However, if we were to do it again we would spend three nights instead of two. Oh and I’d triple check that I actually did pack my swimsuit (which I found on the bedroom floor when I got back)!
Our “highlights” tour of Arizona would not be complete without a visit to the main attraction – the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon National Park is the 2nd most visited national park with over 6 million visitors per year. It has two distinct areas to visit – the North Rim & the South Rim. The South Rim is the most popular, has more amenities and is open all year long, while the North Rim is more remote, sees far less traffic and is only open from mid-May through mid-October. Which one should you visit? More info on the differences between the North Rim vs. South Rim can be found here.
Since we were visiting in April, the choice as far as which one to visit was made for us as only the South Rim was open. Reserving a campsite at such a popular park is difficult, so we knew finding one over Spring Break would be next to impossible. Instead, we opted to dry camp on BLM land just 15 minutes outside of the park. We found a spot off of Forest Road 688 that was quiet, woodsy and had a fire pit already setup from the previous campers. One nice thing about dry camping so close to the National Park is that if you need to use a dump/fill station, you can drive to the park campground and use theirs for free.
After getting setup at our campsite, we drove to the South Rim Visitor Center where we caught our first glimpse of the Canyon. It was Kalie’s first time seeing the Grand Canyon and she was amazed by how grand it really is. We spent the rest of the evening walking along the rim trail until it got too dark to see anything.
The next day, our plan was to do a day hike into the Grand Canyon as far as our legs would take us. After researching a few trails, we chose to take the South Kaibab Trail down into the canyon. Several signs at the beginning of the trail warned to bring plenty of drinking water and not to go to the bottom of the canyon (Phantom Ranch) and back up in the same day because of the intense heat and elevation gain. With that warning in mind, we planned to hike three miles into the canyon to Skeleton Point, where we would re-assess our final turnaround point.
The trail was dusty and dry with lots of switchbacks along the way, but it had some spectacular views of the Grand Canyon. The first mile was crowded with people, but the farther down we hiked the number of people lessened until it was just us and the occasional backpacker ascending from Phantom Ranch. Hiking into the canyon seemed fairly easy for all three of us, however we had been warned that hiking up the canyon is 3-4x harder than hiking down. In other words, make sure to turn around when you still have 75% of your energy (and water) left!
We made it to Skeleton Point faster than anticipated and agreed we still had energy to hike to the next viewpoint another 1.5 miles away. As we got closer to Tip-Off Point, we could start to see the blue waters of the Colorado River. The river looked so inviting on the hot, dusty trail, but with it being 2 more miles down to the canyon floor it would have added 4 miles to our already 9 mile roundtrip hike. We thought better of it and made the decision to turn around at Tip-Off Point.
It was a good thing we did, because the hike back up kicked my butt! Hiking up 3,300 feet of elevation gain in just 4.5 miles is no walk in the park. Kalie and Max were trailblazers that almost never stopped to rest, but with the sun being so intense I preferred to stop for quick water breaks whenever I could find a sliver of shade. In retrospect, we should have started the hike much earlier than 11 am to avoid the mid-day sun.
After a grueling but rewarding hike, we were ready to plan the next day’s adventure. Max found a little known trail called Comanche Point Trail that promised an incredible 9 mile view of the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon. The hike report said it would be 6 miles to the viewpoint (12 miles roundtrip) and roughly a 1,000ft elevation gain. I said my preference would be a shorter, slightly less intense hike, but ultimately lost in the popular vote.
We started the day’s adventure by driving our truck as far as we could down an old four wheel drive road. Once the trail became too rutted and rocky we began our hike. There were no signs for the trail, so we just followed the washed out road for several miles. The views along the trail weren’t anything special, but we were excited to see what lay in store for us ahead.
Five miles into the hike the washed out road ended leaving us to bushwack our way through the desert brush. With no trail or signs to go off of, we used Gaia GPS as our best guide for where to hike from there. Without any views of the canyon up to this point, we were starting to feel the monotony of the trail. We needed to get to the viewpoint soon to give us the mental fuel to keep going. Finally, after another mile of hiking off trail through the desert, we started to see the ridge where Comanche Point would be.
It wasn’t until we had hiked 500 vertical feet towards the top of the ridge that we realized it was a false peak. I felt totally defeated. We’d hiked 6 miles in and we still hadn’t seen anything spectacular…oh and by the way we weren’t even 100% sure where Comanche Point actually was!?! Argh, I knew I had been right to vote for a shorter, less intense hike. Or at least a visually pleasing hike to make it feel like it was shorter!
We then had the pleasure of going down the 500 vertical feet we just came up in addition to hiking up the next ridge which we still weren’t 100% sure was correct. While hiking towards this second ridge, the winds were so intense that we had to get on all fours in order to get close to the edge. From this vantage point, we could finally see a segment of the Colorado River! With winds gusting 45-50 mph, Kalie decided to park it at this spot and not continue on to Comanche Point. I was on the fence for a while until Max convinced me that I’d regret it if I didn’t go. In retrospect, he probably knew the only way to get me back to the car was to give me the mental boost I needed by seeing the viewpoint.
Max and I continued on slowly for another half mile bracing against the wind and trying to stay as far from the edge as possible. Taking a few last steps toward the top, we finally saw what we had come for – the most beautiful stretch of the Colorado River running through the Grand Canyon we had ever seen! We took a few pictures to capture the view, but with the wind being so fierce it made it a bit difficult to get crisp photos. After taking in the beauty for roughly 30 minutes, we had to start heading back in order to reach the car before dark.
There’s really no other way to put it…the hike back was a SLOG. Not because it was more physically draining than other hikes, but rather because it was mentally draining. There’s not much to look at other than desert brush and a washed out dirt road on the way back. I was so glad I got to experience the beauty of Comanche Point as it gave me just enough mental fuel to keep going. This hike, more than any other I have been on, made me realize how important visual stimulation from the views, flora and fauna are to fueling your journey. When all was said and done, we ended up hiking a total of 14 miles with 2,300 feet of elevation gain and made it back to the car just before dark.
So, would I recommend this hike? My first instinct would be to say “Hell No.” Not because the view wasn’t worth it, but rather because of the monotony of hiking 14 miles with only 1 mile of it being visually pleasing. However, after thinking about it more I’ve come to the conclusion that I would do it again, if and only if, we could get backcountry permits to camp near Comanche Point for a night or two. This way, you’d only have to hike 7 miles in a day and you could spend both sunrise and sunset at Comanche Point. Just make sure to check the weather forecast before you hike or camp out there. We weren’t kidding about the 50 mph winds as somewhere along the hike back Max’s sunglasses blew off his head never to be seen again!
My sister Kalie is a teacher so the only time she could come visit us was on her Spring Break. Unfortunately, it was also Spring Break for lots of other families which meant campsites were booked! The good news is that Arizona has quite a bit of BLM land, so you just need to research the best spots and hope they aren’t already taken.
For our Sedona campsite, we chose a highly rated albeit very popular BLM spot on Loy Butte Road. If you want to camp there, you’ll have to drive 5 miles down a bumpy dirt road to get to the site, but as long as you take it slow you shouldn’t have any problems. The views from the site were beautiful but we didn’t spend much time there as we had a lot to see with only two days in Sedona.
Hiking was the central theme for Kalie’s visit with us in Arizona, so we started Sedona off with a hike to one of the “must see” places – Cathedral Rock. We parked at Crescent Moon Picnic Site as Max had seen some pretty photos of Cathedral Rock from that vantage point. Crescent Moon is on national forest land; however, it’s managed by a third party so we still had to pay the $10 entrance fee (National Park passes aren’t valid here). As soon as we parked we realized it was going to be difficult for Max to take photos as there were people everywhere, including two separate wedding parties! So, we scrapped that plan and started looking for the trail that would lead us to Cathedral Rock.
After unsuccessfully searching for the trail for a few minutes, Max used Gaia GPS to locate the trail. If you do a lot of hiking or are out in the backcountry for any length of time, I’d highly recommend downloading the Gaia app on your phone. Not only can you find hiking routes, but you can record the routes you hike as well as track your elevation gain. As a photographer, Max also uses it to mark photo locations by taking pictures within the app to mark the GPS coordinates. This way he can look back at all of his marked spots on the map to remind him what it looked like and what trail he took to get there.
Sure enough Gaia showed us that the trail was close, but that it was on the other side of the creek! Since we had already paid the $10 entrance fee to park we chose not to drive elsewhere, but instead to cross it. In order to cross the creek, we had to take our hiking shoes off, and wade through the muddy thigh high water. Then on the other side was the dance of trying to rinse off each muddy foot and get our socks and shoes back on.
We made it to the top of Cathedral Rock just before sunset and were enjoying the gorgeous views when I got the idea to explore a narrow walkway on one side. After slowly walking to the very end of the walkway I realized it would make for a great photo, so I yelled at Kalie and Max to come over and check it out. Kalie ended up taking this awesome photo of Max & I from this spot just as the sun was lighting up the sky.
The next day we did a few other hikes such as Soldier’s Pass, Cibola Pass and Bryn’s Mesa, all with burnt sienna colored rock which is common to Sedona. A feast for the eyes!
Living on the road presents its own unique set of challenges. One of them being how to order what you need from Amazon! Back home we had Amazon packages arrive on our doorstep at least once per week, but on the road it takes a bit more planning. While we love Walmart for groceries, it doesn’t always have the brands or specific things you may want while on the road. The good news is Amazon now offers locker pickup, so as long as you are near a decent sized city they likely have an Amazon locker you can order to for convenient pickup (Whole Foods for example). Knowing we would be near Phoenix we placed our order two days prior to arrival and picked it up at a locker on our drive to Lost Dutchman State Park.
Located in the Superstition Mountains 30 minutes outside of Phoenix, Lost Dutchman State Park offers incredibly scenic desert camping with gorgeous views of the mountains. The landscape is covered in several different types of cactus such as prickly pear, giant saguaro and cholla to name a few. If you visit, be careful as the cholla in particular seem to jump out at you! Max found out the hard way when we were hiking as a cholla got stuck to the rubber sole of his hiking boot and after taking a step forward it got stuck to his other leg. They are so prickly that it took us a bit to get it out of his leg, but we finally were able to rip it free with the help of a rock.
Phoenix is where we had our first visitor of the trip – my little sister Kalie! She had never been to Arizona before, so we wanted to give her a sampling of the “Best of Arizona” in one week’s time. Our itinerary was to spend two nights at Lost Dutchman State Park, two nights in Sedona and three nights at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Kalie LOVES to hike so we made sure to pack our itinerary with lots of great hiking trails.
The first hike we did with Kalie was Flatiron via Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State Park. It’s a challenging 6.2 mile hike with an elevation gain of 2,933 feet. Halfway up the mountain it feels more like rock climbing than hiking as you have to scramble on all fours. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but Kalie was more than up for the challenge as she lead the three of us almost the whole way! At the top, the views were incredible and we were able to spot our bright red RV at our campsite a few miles away.
After making it safely down the mountain, we washed up, grilled hamburgers and had a few brewskies around a relaxing bonfire. Then it was time to hit the hay as we wanted to get an early start on driving to Sedona and finding the perfect dry camping spot for the second stop on our itinerary.
White Sands National Monument located in southern New Mexico houses the largest gypsum dune field in the world. What makes this so special is that gypsum is rarely found as sand because it dissolves when in contact with water. However, given the isolated location and unique weather of the area, as the water evaporates the minerals are left behind creating gypsum deposits that eventually form these glistening white sand dunes.
As we were researching a place to camp using Campendium, we found a FREE dry camping spot only 5 minutes away from White Sands National Monument. The spot was located on a small lake right next to Holloman Air Force base. It was common to see the jets fly overhead and about once a day you would hear a sonic boom which my husband absolutely LOVED! Don’t worry, the jets don’t fly at night so it did not affect our sleeping. If you like things fast, shiny and loud (and free) this is the place for you!
The next morning as we drove to White Sands National Monument, I kept looking out the window thinking “Where are all the dunes”? If you see pictures of White Sands National Monument you see endless sand dunes, but as you drive to it, you don’t see much of anything. It’s not until you go through the entrance and keep driving down the main road that the dunes slowly start to appear. The farther in you go, the dunes continue to multiply and grow larger until you come to a dead end with dunes surrounding you in every direction.
The landscape was completely mesmerizing and other-worldly, like being on the moon! Something about the place made it feel like we were living in a state of “make believe” as opposed to real life. It felt like a giant playground for both kids and adults, with people of all ages sledding, sliding and jumping off the dunes. Close to the road, footprints cover the dunes, but if you hike a little ways out you can get away from the crowds and find fresh dunes without any tracks. Max and I had a blast running up and sliding down the dunes – especially the ones with no footprints as we competed to claim “first tracks”.
It was an incredible place for taking photographs because of the texture of the ripples on the bright white sand. We planned to stay after sunset for Max to shoot blue hour, but found out the park gate closes 30 minutes after sunset. With the hike back to the car being a minimum of 30 minutes, the only feasible way to shoot sunset/blue hour is to camp overnight. White Sands does not allow any RV camping, but rather has 10 backcountry (tent) camping sites which are obtained on a first come/first serve basis.
Given the limited number of sites, I’d highly recommend being in line before the Visitor Center opens to ensure you snag one. I got there 20 minutes before they opened and was the 4th party in line. You can camp for one night at a time, so if you want to stay more than one night you have to be in line the following morning to reserve the next night. This gives more people the chance to enjoy this unique backcountry camping experience. It also may be a safety feature too, to make sure people have enough water and food as there are no amenities out in the dunes.
We had such a fabulous time camping in the dunes and Max came away with some great photos as well (most are still in his backlog)! Some places you hear about, you know will be incredible, but this one was and we had no idea how great it would be. It was definitely an unexpected highlight of the first few months on the road and one I can’t wait to go back to!
After a five and a half hour drive, we finally reached the first big city (El Paso) since leaving Big Bend National Park. Our destination for the evening was White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, but first we had to get Max’s phone repaired/replaced after having dropped it in the Rio Grande.
We called ahead to the Apple store and got the last appointment of the day for his phone to be repaired. Unfortunately, after taking one look at the phone, they said if it sustains any water damage they do not repair but rather will quote the cost of replacing it. Since it was Max’s business phone, Apple suggested we take it to a Verizon dealer as they typically offer better replacement deals when linked to business accounts. At that point, it was about 10 minutes to mall closing time, so we booked it over to the Verizon kiosk to see if they could help us.
The two guys working the kiosk were extremely courteous and got to work right away trying to figure out how to they could offer Max the best replacement deal. They spent the next hour with us, long after store closing, to see us through and send Max home with a brand new phone.
While we were waiting for them to activate the new phone, we asked about places to eat knowing El Paso has excellent Mexican food. They both highly recommended going to Taco Tote saying their families are super picky about Mexican food and they all love this restaurant. We weren’t sure what to expect as they said it was sort of like Chipotle where you order at the counter and then choose your own place to sit, but they said it was a local favorite.
We showed up to Taco Tote close to 9PM on a Sunday night and the place was packed! We ordered 7 tacos between the two of us and went crazy at unlimited chips and salsa bar. So many kinds of fresh salsa and taco toppings – it was like salsa heaven! Both Max and I agreed it was the best tacos we ever had, so delicious and our bill only came to around $25 dollars for the tacos (no drinks). They have other locations in AZ, TX and NM, so we will definitely keep our eyes peeled to find another one on round 2 as it was sooo good!