Zion National Park, Utah

So we conclude the last leg of this itinerary at Zion National Park. We went to the visitor center in Kanab to inquire about boondocking options and were pointed in the right direction. There is no name for the road, however if you are heading north from Kanab, it is right before Carmel Junction right after coming down the steep grade. GPS coordinates are 37.208999, -112.687259. AT&T works great here but not so much for Verizon. We are parked right next to a narrow section of the Virgin River, which is nice for being able to wash off after hiking in the red, Utah dirt. For groceries, I recommend going to Honey’s Marketplace. The prices were more reasonable than the other major store and they have fresh, smoked, finger lickin’ ribs. For those of you who know me know how much I love BBQ.

We attempted the lottery for a permit to go to the “Wave”, aka Coyote Butte north. This is a very famous 2 mile hike through a protected stretch of sandstone that looks like a wave. Only 20 permits are given a day. Ten of which you can get through the daily, walk in lottery in Kanab. We weren’t lucky enough to win the lottery, but we did get to do some pretty cool things during our visit here.

In Zion, we entered through the east entrance. As far as scenic drives go, it is up there with the best of them. However it takes about an hour to get to the park from our boondocking site due to the tunnels. The first tunnel is big enough to fit large vehicles but the second tunnel is only wide enough to fit one large vehicle at a time. This makes for a longer drive to get to the park since you may have to wait for traffic to clear through the tunnel. You don’t have to pay the $15 toll unless you have an RV or large bus.

Like all the other National Parks we’ve been to, Zion is crowded. Like the Grand Canyon, you have to take a shuttle to get to most of the hikes. Parking is a problem. Unless you get there super early or are lucky, you will most likely have to leave the park through the west entrance and find a place to park in Springfield. Then you will have to walk back, through the west entrance, to get to the visitor center to get to the shuttles.

We hiked the Emerald pools loop one day and the Narrows another. The Emerald pools loop was nice, my favorite part was the Upper pool. We saw a large tarantula perching itself in the shade atop a large boulder. We also saw some great panoramic views. The original name for Zion, Mukuntuweap National Monument, means “straight up land” in the local Indian dialect. Lets just say you may have a kink in your neck from constantly looking up at the towering mesas. The Narrows trail is a famous slot canyon in the park. Like other slot canyons, it can be dangerous is there is a chance for a flash flood. After all, this is how the slot canyons were formed, water slowly slicing its way through the sandstone rock. After a few thousand years, voila you have a slot canyon. We tromped through the virgin river for about 2.5 miles until we, well, basically got bored and kinda cold so we just turned around. It isn’t all that great. I personally prefer keeping my feet dry when hiking. One thing they do not mention is that you should have hiking poles. Sine you are walking through the river, in some areas you can’t see your foot placement. If you have a walking pole or stick it is easier and you will be less likely to fall.

The city of Kanab has some really great trails too. We hiked the K-Hill Trail and parts of the Cottonwood and Bunting trails. The K-Hill trail was the best. It is easy and only 3 miles in and out. The other two were not marked well so we couldn’t complete them. We also hiked Lick Wash, a slot canyon about 20-30 min outside of Glendale. We wanted to experience a slot canyon without being around hundreds of people like in the Narrows. It was totally worth the drive. Just a hint to get there through the town of Glendale you turn onto “300” road.

We had a great trip, it was the best road trip yet. This east coast girl got a taste of the west, and, well- it was awesome. I will never forget the stars at night in the western sky, the unique rock formations of the Painted Desert, or the ease of boondocking with the right set-up. I am going to have Tim create our itinerary for y’all to see where we went, step by step, on the map. Thanks for reading.

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Bryce Canyon National Park + Kodachrome and Escalante State Parks

It was a pretty long  (and desolate, but beautiful) drive from Moab. I actually set a new record, there is a sign on I-70 that there are no services for 110 miles. My previous record was coming through eastern Wyoming ten years ago with my buddy Justin Mercer where there was a 70 mile stretch on I-80 without services. Luckily it was the usual divided highway that everyone knows as an interstate, there were places in Wyoming and Kansas on that previous trip where the interstate went to a two lane highway(I haven’t see that on this trip at all)! It was quite a mountainous drive on I-70 and I hope to come back and do some boondocking in that area. It seems like you might really be able to get away from other people 😉

Anyways since it was late we missed going to the BLM visitors center in Cannonville. Luckily we had picked out an area in the Days End Directory. You just continue south past the BLM visitors center on main street for ~2.5 miles and then turn onto a good gravel road called Yellow Creek. However when we got there you could see where a number of pullouts had been but they were not usable anymore. A little further down the road we were able to find a spot but I’m still not 100% sure that it wasn’t private land. We were in for a great sunset though(check out the pictures).

The next day we went to the BLM visitors center because you need a free permit to camp in that particular area. When we got there the ranger(BLM people are called rangers too, right?) informed us that it may rain and that the road can get real sloppy if it does and we could be stuck till it dries back out. That didn’t sound good so we went in search of another spot, this time scouting without the trailer since we’d already dropped it. We ended up choosing a spot off of FR117 a few miles outside of Bryce Canyon, there were a number of good spots for any size rig along here. If we were to do it again I would have went a bit further up and taken the second left, there was a sweet spot about 0.25 mile up that road, also suitable for any size rig. As a plus this area was not in that red clay and would be just fine to drive on if we got rain(We didn’t).

Once we got situated we decided to go ahead on to Bryce Canyon National Park. For whatever reason Victoria wasn’t expecting it to be as spectacular as the previous National Parks. However it ended up being her favorite. The views from the rim are simply spectacular and the hiking is very easy. The trails down into the canyon are moderately difficult but you feel like you’re on another planet hiking among the Hoodoos. Victoria said she felt like a goldfish in a fish tank, lol. An interesting fact about Bryce Canyon is that it’s not actually a canyon, it’s a series of giant natural amphitheaters along the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Either way, it sure is unique.

The next day we went to Kodachrome Basin State Park. They have 10 or 15 miles of fairly easy hiking with both spectacular views and geology (as usual for around here). Lucky for Marilyn since it was a state park she was allowed on the trails so she could get some exercise after sitting around all day after we were at the National Park. There are 67 large “Sand Pipes” plus a short slot canyon. The slot canyon made a fantastic place to eat lunch. It was roasting outside but in the canyon not only was it shaded but it was also damp and cool. An interesting fact about Kodachrome Basin State Park is that after it was named the state changed it to  Chimney Rock State Park because they were worried about Kodak suing them. However a few years later they were able to change it back after Kodak gave them permission to use the name of their famous film. The name was fitting because the colors here were just amazing, the red and white of the rock, the green of the plants, and the blue of the sky all combined into a shocking display of color.

The last park we visited was Escalante State Park. It was about an hour drive from where we were camped but Victoria had been dying to see a petrified forest since we set out from Jacksonville. The hike was fairly short and easy but there was plenty of petrified wood to see. Make sure you do the second loop, it’s steeper but it also has the majority of the petrified wood. The variety of colors contained in the petrified wood is amazing. It was quite hot out while we were hiking and it was great to be able to jump into the lake afterwards. They had an interesting display in the visitors center filled with letters and pieces of petrified rock that they had taken and then sent back because it brought them bad luck. It apparently did it’s job and kept Victoria, a rockhound, from trying to take any home, lol.

Utah is an amazing state with an amazing variety of scenic landscapes. No where else has such a concentration of National Parks, 5 all within an hour or two of each other. On top of that most of the land around the National Parks is also public land providing an amazing array of places to hike and camp. We’ll be back here for sure!

 

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Arches and Canyonlands, Utah

On your way south to Moab on highway 191 you can find LOTS of boondocking spots on Willow Springs Road (left turn if heading south). At the beginning the sites are more rocky but if you go down only ¼ a mile the sites are more level. This road is popular for ATV’s and campers in general so don’t expect to be all desolate in the desert here. Also, the gentle hum of cars on the highway can be heard, but the scenery offsets that I believe. In some sites you can have a 360 degree view of the surrounding canyons and sandstone rock formations that change colors throughout the day. Among the usual warm colors of the rocks you can also see tints of green and blue in the layers. It is absoultely beautiful. We are able to get Verizon and AT&T voice/data service here. There is so much to do but on the first day we had to do our bimonthly laundry trip, pick up mail, and work on this lovely blog of course. The visitor center in Moab has decent free wifi.

We visited Arches National Park on our first day of exploring. After passing the visitor center, it feels as if you are entering the ruins of an ancient civilization. Vertical walls of red sandstone jut up like pieces of demolished buildings. Like all the other popular national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon) there are lots of people, all sizes, ages and ethnicity. Even on the longer, more strenuous hikes we couldn’t escape the crowds. The first hike we did takes you to the base of the Delicate Arch, you have probably seen a picture of this arch as it is an iconic symbol of Utah, and National Parks in general. It was a hot and steep 3 mile hike. I was surprised to see so many people, young and old, that roughed the trail instead of settling on one of the easier and shorter viewpoint hikes. To get to the base of arch you have to walk around a caving sandstone hole. It is at a slant so I imagine it can be dangerous after a good rain. I will never forget the moment of standing under that arch. We also hiked to Devil’s Garden where there are a lot of other arches. Another famous one is the Landscape arch. It is a long, slender stretch of an arch at 306 feet. People are no longer allowed to stand under this arch as it is slowly starting to erode, go see it while you can!

It took about 45 min to drive from our camping spot to get to Canyonlands National Park. We hiked Murphy’s Trail. A portion of the trail was very strenuous as it descends 1400 feet within one mile. There is a drop off on one side of the trail as you descend the vertical cliff. The entire trail in and out is 10.8 miles. After descending the cliff, you walk through semi-desert terrain which eventually gives you a great view of white rimmed canyons.

On Saturday we took Marilyn on a short hike since she was cooped up in the RV the past two days. It’s called the Negro Bill Trail and it takes you along a stream to a large natural bridge. When we reached the natural bridge, we got to watch some rock climbers repelling down the wall. Tim and I took advantage of the water and went swimming in a deep part of the stream. I laid on one of the large boulders and let the cool water wash down my hair and body.

Our last day here we went kayaking in our inflatable kayak on a calm section of the Colorado River. We put in at mile marker ten on the way to Potash dock off road 278 and took out at Potash dock. This equaled a 11.5 mile trip. We attempted to arrange for a shuttle but it was damn near impossible. One company I talked to (Porcupine) wanted $100 for a 15 mile shuttle (sans gear by the way – he said they don’t shuttle gear…wtf??) So we said eff it, just going to ride the bikes back to the truck like usual. After kayaking we attempted to ride the bikes but then Tim’s pedal fell off. We didn’t have tools so I asked a group of people from South Dakota if they could give us a ride back to our truck and they kindly obliged. What a great world we live in.

Before we left, we showered and dump and loaded at Slickrock Campground ($5 per shower and $5 to dump and load). The showers ran out of hot water pretty quick…so I would go somewhere else next time. Also, the dump station is at a lean, those of you who understand this process will get that this is not a good thing.

Our week trip here was AWESOME! There is so much to do here – hiking, kayaking, white water rafting, mountain climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering, and ATV trails. I can’t wait to see more of this Painted Desert. Next stop, home of the hoo-de-hoooooossss, Bryce Canyon. 🙂

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Wind River Range, Wyoming

After we left the Tetons I really wanted to go check out the Wind River Range. I had planned a backpacking trip to the Cirque of Towers(Google some pictures!) years before and it didn’t end up happening. So this was my chance to get a look. We stopped at Rim Station for a night on the way to dump, shower, and refill our water and propane (The only night we’ve paid for in over a month now!). It was a nice park right on the border of the national forest. From there we drove into Pinedale to stock up on groceries again.

From there it was back to the boondocks 🙂 We stayed at a spot about half way up Skyline Dr(740) and the road lives up to it’s name with some pretty spectacular views. Our spot was at the Nordic Ski area, during the summer there are 5 to 7 spots there all very well spread out and several of them would fit almost anything. I found the spot indirectly through FreeCampsites.net. The road was mentioned as having nicer spots than down by the lake. We confirmed this with the ranger whose station is actually on the way up(convenient or what?). Even better it’s a paved road all the way up to the nordic ski area (and beyond to Trails End), then it’s a good dirt road. Unfortunately there was construction along Skyline Dr but the delay wasn’t more then 10 minutes and you couldn’t hear it from the spot.

After getting situated we decided to ride our bikes up to Trails End. It was a long uphill ride but the views were spectacular. It took us about two hours to ride up and about 15 minutes down. I forgot to start my GPS but I’m pretty sure we hit 35-40 mph, it was amazing. The next day we went back up to Trails End to do some hiking. Again the views were stunning, much like the Tetons but with a lot fewer people. The forest can be difficult to access so it’s mostly backpackers in the area and even then the trail-heads are usually down long gravel roads. Luckily not the case on Skyline Dr.

However the next day we drove about an hour from 191 to 352 and finally to 650 to get to another trailhead where you can hike some of the CDT(Continental Divide Trail). 650 is a 10 mile gravel road that runs along the Green River all the way to green river lakes. There are boondocking spots all along both 650 and 600 also, with many on the river. From there you can hike the CDT to views of Flat Top a stunning mountain with a…… flat top. The view across the lake and on to Flat Top is on the cover of the map for this ranger district if that tells you anything. Speaking of maps, whatever you do, do not buy the official map for this ranger district. It was next to useless Benchmark Wyoming book had much(much!) more detail. None of the trails in the wilderness area were on the map?? Also be aware that the maps at the trailhead list the trail numbers but on the trail they have names?? Anyways we were able to find our way despite all of that.

I will definitely be coming back to the Wind River Range, I still haven’t done the hike to the Cirque de Towers. It was too cold to go without getting a new sleeping bag for Victoria (I ended up buying a used Western Mountaineering bag in Moab for $150!). If you like to hike or backpack this has to be one of the premier areas in the country. Plus since it’s a National Forest we can take our dog with us. Yes she can hike 10-15 miles a day in the mountains no problem.

Up next Dinosaur National Monument.

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Grand Teton National Park

After Yellowstone we continued south into Grand Teton National Park. The easiest way from West Yellowstone was actually driving through the park again. The roads are easily navigated by even the largest rig thankfully. We had originally planned to stay in a campground for a night near Jackson since we had already been boondocking the past five days and needed to dump, fill up, and shower. However the first park we called charged $110 a night! We checked several other and the cheapest was $80 a night. Even the National Park was $40 a night for no hookups and $70 with water. I don’t care where your campground is, we’re not paying that. We ended up paying $4 each to shower in Yellowstone and paid $10 to dump and fill up on water at a campground in town.

Luckily someone on the Boondocking & Free Camping USA Facebook group had a spot they recommended that was down Antelope Flats Rd just across the border of the National Park into Bridger-Teton National Forest. I also spoke with the district ranger and there are spots along Gros Ventre Rd, both dispersed and a large boondocking National Forest Campground. Both spots were listed in The Days End Directory and it mentioned that the view from antelope flats was an amazing, clear view of the Tetons. That clinched it for us.

They were right, the view was simply amazing. By far the best view of any campground we’ve stayed at. There were around seven sites, half of them would fit large units. There were also several dispersed spots if you continued past the campground. Unfortunately we didn’t see those until after we’d already setup camp and it wasn’t worth it to me to move for a slightly better spot. It was very easy to get to, the road is paved for the first four miles or so and then a well maintained gravel road for the last mile. Just be sure to stay on Antelope Flats Rd as you have to turn to stay on it. We were there for labor day weekend and even then there were spots available every night. We were literally feet from the National Park and 15 miles north of Jackson, which has a real grocery store.

After we got setup we went for a walk past the dispersed spots and then up a trail to a peak for a fantastic sunset. The next day we went for a hike to Taggart Lake which was also simply amazing and then went and stocked up on groceries($200+++!). The next day we hiked into Cascade Canyon which was so beautiful I would put it right up there with the hike into the Grand Canyon. What makes the Tetons so scenic is that there are no foothills to block your view. These huge 13,000 ft + tall mountains rise straight up from the Jackson Valley floor at 7,000 ft. They are famous for their steepness but none of the trails we were on were actually that steep, but then we weren’t trying to summit either, lol, just walk into the valley between these monsters.

The last day we decided to go for a kayak trip down the Snake River to take in the beautiful Tetons from another perspective. We were able to do the same as before and left our bikes at the takeout and then road back to the truck so we didn’t need a shuttle. However it still cost us $25 as the permit to boat in the National Park was $10 and they required a $15 AIS sticker which you could purchase online. They checked for all of this as you come through the gate and they will check your boat for invasive species. It was still well worth it if you consider what going with a raft company would cost. Although there are no real rapids within the Park the river can still be quite tricky as it will split into multiple channels and only one will be deep enough for even a kayak. This has the potential to be pretty dangerous as even with the water being very low we had about a 6 mph.

We also drove to Granite Creek which was an hour and a half ride from where we were camping. It was worth it though. It’s a natural hot spring high up in the mountains. They actually built a pool on the hot spring with a deck and everything. It was $3 a person to get in but man did the water feel good. It’s in the 90’s in the summer and varies a bit with the snow melt. People also come out here on their snowmobiles in the winter and since there is no runoff in the winter it gets up 112! There were a ton of boondocking spots all along the 10 mile gravel road to the hot spring. I would recommend simply pulling up for a day or three rather than drive like we did.

Yellowstone may have the more unique environment with all of it’s volcanic features but Grand Teton beats it on shear beauty. Especially if you can stay in the same campground we did. The hiking and kayaking is fantastic, if a bit crowded. We were there for Labor Day so that certainly doesn’t help. Even with the crowds it was well worth it and we will certainly be back. Enjoy the pictures!

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Sequoia National Park, CA

One of the experiences unique to California I was most looking forward to was seeing and hugging the giant trees out here. Yes I said hug. I’m a tree lover and proud of it! I was more choked up seeing my first Sequoia than my first sight of the Grand Canyon. It is humbling to stand next to such a huge living thing that has been alive for 2000 years and survived so many storms, fires, and…well, humans.

Tim had planned to boondock along forest service road 14S46 but to our dismay it was not going to work. We drove up a couple miles up a very narrow, very windy road before deciding to turn around, luckily there was a spot to turn around. We attempted calling the National forest district office for advice but the guy was absolutely no help, saying he had no idea about the condition of forest roads (you don’t know if the roads in your district are open or not? Really? -Tim) and places to disperse camp (Every other ranger has been extremely helpful, He probably wasn’t a real ranger, just answers the phone -Tim). It wasn’t until after we paid to stay at Azalea campground and talked to the National Park ranger did we realize that we could have disperse camped at any of the turnouts along 180. Azalea campground is very nice don’t get me wrong but it sucks paying $18/night for no hookups. We arrived at the campground after dark because of our attempt to boondock. Tim was having trouble backing in the fifth wheel because he couldn’t see well. We were both exhausted having just driven the longest driving day, 12 hours on the road. I was on the brink of tears. After finally finding a site in the cold, dark night, I prepared our emergency Ramen noodles dinner and we both crashed.

They next day I felt refreshed and excited to see the biggest trees in the world. First we checked out Big Stump Trail, a short 1.5 mile trail that takes you to see about 5 Sequoia stumps (hence the name) cut down a long time ago. One of the tree stumps, named the Mark Twain stump, was cut down for educational purposes. You may have seen the cross section of the tree on display at the Museum of Science and History in New York. There were so many huge trees on the Big Stump Trail, the first one is a mere 50 feet from the trail head. Sequoias can live up to 3000 years old. When they start growing the young trees boost into the sky about 300 feet. Then they quit growing tall and they grow wider and wider, up to 40 feet in diameter. Even after they fall they don’t die. Their wood is highly resistant to decay and therefore in a way they continue to live after death, providing nourishment to the other trees. General Grant is the second largest tree in the world. He is fenced off to help him keep growing. Apparently foot traffic around the giant trees compacts the soil, making it harder for them to grow. General Sherman is THE largest tree in the world and he is in the park too.

After visiting General Grant, we drove to King’s Canyon, about an hour from Azalea campground. The hour goes by fast as you wind your way into the canyon. We stopped a few times along the way to see waterfalls and take in the views of the canyon. We parked at Road’s End and hiked to Zumwalt Meadow, an easy 3 mile hike. The lovely green meadow is surrounded by granite canyon walls. You can’t help but to stare up open-mouthed at the thousands of feet towering above.

The next day we learned some bad news of the possibility for snow. When we woke up it was cold and gray. Then an ominous fog rolled into camp and we decided to get the hell out of there. I was disappointed because we were supposed to hike the Redwood mountain grove and see General Sherman. But since General Sherman was an hour south of Azalea campground, we knew we couldn’t do it. We had to leave and play it smart. If it was going to snow we didn’t want to be stuck up there in our fifth. At least we had a blast the one day we spent out and about, and I’m glad I got to hug a Sequoia (another item off my bucket list). We will be back to see you one day Sherman!

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Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Whelp, I’ve slashed off another item off my bucket list. Before I go into the details of the awesomeness, let me tell you about where we camped. Man I’m glad we have the means to disperse camp, because the campgrounds around here are pricey and fully booked! We camped right outside of Tusayan in the Kaibab National Forest. We drove up Forest Road 302 a mere ¼ mile before we found a bunch of nice options to choose from. It was the perfect spot, only a 5 minute drive to the entry gate of the Grand Canyon National Park AND we were able to pick up wifi and cell service since we were so close to town. The only thing, (as there always is one thing) were the helicopters constantly flying to and from the airport. They make quite the business from paying customers who want to see the Grand Canyon by air. However it wasn’t a big deal because we spent the days out and about anyways.

When we approached the gate there were 5 lanes filled with cars. It felt like going into Disney World. Once again our America the Beautiful pass got us in for free, otherwise you have to pay $25 per car/7 days. The park attendant hands you a worthless map and you proceed to the visitor center. I say it’s worthless because it doesn’t give any detail about roads or trails. They pretty much herd all tourists to park at the visitor center and utilize the buses to get around. I guess this is efficient to prevent traffic jams within the park. At the visitor center there is information about the trails and which bus to take to get to the trail heads. The trails range from easy paved ridge walks to extremely difficult. Tim and I agreed on the Bright Angel Trail to Plateau Point. A 12 mile round trip classified as extremely difficult with a projected 8-12 hour finish time.

So now the climatic moment of my first view the canyon. We took the blue bus to Bright Angel TH. As I ascend up the hill, my eyes eagerly focus ahead for the first glimpse, my foot steps carefully approach the railing and then….it’s there, stretching to the horizon. I initially had to hold on to the railing to fully take it all in. It was so beautiful it didn’t feel real, it seemed like I was looking at a large beautiful painting on a projector screen. After a few moments I said, “okay lets go” and we descended into the canyon.

Down, down, down we go, passing by heavy dry-mouth breathing, red-faced hikers of all ages and sizes coming up. I started to dread the return trip. I pushed the thought behind me and focused on my footing. Two hours later we reach the campground where we had lunch in the oasis. Beware of the squirrels! They are cute indeed but they are very aggressive. While Tim and I snacked on Cheeze-Its, they creeped up and stared, expecting us to throw one. Tim had to stomp to make them run away, otherwise I’m sure they would of jumped us. After lunch and evading the squirrel attack, we proceeded to plateau point. It…was….hot…. No shade, no water, be prepared if you plan to do this hike. It was very rewarding as you get a spectacular view of the roaring Colorado River. They are plenty of opportunities for cool pictures if you are brave enough to stand on one of the rocks that jut out into the canyon. Ascending the canyon was a grueling 3000 elevation gain. It took us 8 hours to hike the whole trip. I must say this was probably THE most difficult hike I’ve done.

The next day we were both sore and exhausted so we did the easier South Rim trail. It’s paved, easy, has many awesome viewpoints of the canyon, BUT – this is where all the tourists come since you can access the trail from the visitor center. If you walk a mere 100 feet from Mather Point, the tourists thin out significantly. Dogs are allowed on the South Rim Trail, so Marilyn got to enjoy the view too.

We have officially hit our one month anniversary for full-timing (que applause). We’ve had a few hiccups, but we are still truckin’ to Seattle. Next stop, Sequoia National Park.

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Tonto and Coconino National Forest, AZ

 

I combined these forests into one post because if you look at the map, they border each other, yet are separated for some reason I don’t know. After a nice visit at Tim’s Grandparent’s home in Tuscon, we took the scenic highway 77 up to highway 188 to Theodore Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto Basin. Highway 77 was a lovely route to take to get into Tonto National Forest. One tall, looming thing stands out in the landscape of Arizona, the Seguaro catcus. The large, Gumbi-like cactus stands as tall as a grown man and grows multiple arms. Since it’s a National Forest, we could of dispersed camped anywhere for free but because I wanted to be by the lake we stayed at Bermuda Flat’s campground for $6/day. We literally pulled the fifth wheel right up to the edge of the lake. We kept the windows open to hear the sound of the water breaking on the sand and to feel the occasional cool breeze. The only thing I didn’t like about the site by the lake was the bugs. They were not the biting kind of fly but they swarmed all day and night anywhere sheltered by the wind. I celebrated by 31st birthday here and was happy to get cell service so I could receive happy birthday calls and messages on Facebook. We spent two nights here before heading to Coconino National Forest.

At Coconino we only stayed one night because we were anxious to get to the Grand Canyon. From Highway 3, F.R. 132 is called Crimson Road, so we passed it initially. We drove quite a ways up the gravel forest road 132 and found a nice little open patch in the woods. Once we started up the narrow gravel road we were dedicated. Doing this with a car or truck is not a big deal, but when you are towing something there is a slight worry in the back of your mind, will I be able to find a spot to camp? Will I be able to turn around if I can’t find a spot? We told ourselves that next time we would pull over and unhitch the trailer so we could scout out a spot a little easier. Since we arrived early, we had time to go for a hike to see Priest’s Draw, a large exposed rock that is popular for bouldering. Bouldering is when you climb up the rock a couple feet without ropes. We saw several people bouldering, carrying with them crash pads to place under the rock for when/if they fall. We also saw a bunch of chipmunks, which triggered me to sing Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas songs pretty much the whole time.

There wasn’t too much going on in these places, hence the short and sweet post. They were means to get to the Grand Canyon, on which I will extensively report next time! Thanks for reading!

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Gila National Forest, New Mexico

After having our LP blue flame heater installed in El Paso, we were ready for our first attempt at boondocking. (The reason we needed this “Blue Flame” heater for boondocking when we already have a furnace is because the furnaces that are built into RV’s use a lot of electricity to run their blower. When we’re boondocking it would quickly burn through all of our batteries. The link below is the one we purchased. -Tim)

What’s cool about staying in a National Forest is you have the option to boondock where ever you want. The park rangers call it “dispersed camping.” The first night at Gila (pronounced He-la), we stayed at the sparsely populated Mesa Campground for 15/night for water and electric hookups. Tourism doesn’t pick up until May in this part of the country since it still gets really cold at night in April, hence why we needed the LP heater. We decided to go ahead a pay for one night so we could fill up our water tank to prepare to boondock. The next day we went to the ranger station north of Mimbres to inquire about our options for dispersed camping with a large fifth wheel. The ranger suggested going up road 150. When we approached the road there was a sign warning proceeding with vehicles over 20 feet in length. After contemplating a few minutes whether to go back to the ranger’s station to ask him again or just go for it, we decided to go for it. It turned out that he was right. We easily made it up the gravel road to our sweet spot on a little plateau off the road. We had an almost 360 degree view of the forest. It was a little windy since there wasn’t much tree cover, but the old Yellowstone held up quite well against the gusty wind. To get the trailer leveled was a bit of a challenge. Up until now, we hadn’t really needed to try and level it. At first we tried to use those plastic orange levelers, but after a couple attempts and breaking one or two of them we determined that trying to back onto them with double axle wheels on rocky ground wasn’t going to work. The orange levelers worked fine on the front two legs and we ended up using wooden 2×4’s to level the wheels. If anyone has advice about this please comment below.

The next day, we drove over to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. It’s a scenic drive with lots of places to pull over and marvel at the mountains and cliffs. When we arrived we realized dogs are not allowed on the trail to the dwellings, so Marilyn had to wait in the car. One lady couldn’t help herself and brought her Boston Terrier in a bag. It looked ridiculous with only it’s head popping out of the bag. As the tour guide explained the dwellings, the dog obnoxiously whined and eagerly licked the woman’s allowing hand. It was only slightly distracting. We hadn’t planned on doing a tour but when we got to the dwellings one had just begun so we merged in with it. It was interesting because the tour guide pointed out things I wouldn’t have noticed. On the way to the dwellings I noticed a canyon ridge that I thought would be awesome to hike. When we drove up to it on the way back, I told Tim to pull over. It was the first off trail hike we have done. I was constantly looking for rattlesnakes or arrowheads. I thought to myself how the Apache would of probably used the ridge for hunting, taking advantage of the high ground. It was awesome because I’m sure not many people have walked down that ridge and seen the views of the canyon from that perspective.

On our departure, we decided to take a different route leaving the forest. Since we had to drive out of the way to head to Mesa campground to dump our tanks we decided instead of going back the way we came we would make a circle taking 15 South, thinking we would save time. Boy was I ever wrong. We ended up going down an extremely steep and treacherous road that took 2 hours to go 20 miles. It was stressful on both of us. We had to pull over twice to let the transmission fluid cool. (Lucky I had purchased an OBD II connector that let me view our transmission temperature on my phone or tablet, along with other important data, super useful. The one below is what we have, it’s only for android but there ones for IOS also. It works with most cars made in the last 20 years or so. -Tim)

 

Our lesson learned?? Be more specific when asking the ranger on what roads to avoid. Poor Oso (our truck).

 

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What is “Boondocking” and what do you need?

Two roof mounted panels
My Two 100 Watt solar panels mounted on the roof of our fifth wheel.

So before we left I had some additional equipment installed to allow us to boondock fairly comfortably. Your probably wondering what boondocking is. It basically camping without the usual hookups you get if you stay in a developed camp (Water, Electric, Sewer). Boondocking opens up where you can stay tremendously including National Parks, National Forests, BLM Land, and even Walmart parking lots if necessary. In most National Forests and BLM lands and many other types of wilderness you are allowed to camp any where as long as you are off the road. This allows you to not only save money(it’s usually free) but also gets you out of the sometimes crowded and loud campgrounds. There are also many “Primitive” campgrounds in these parks that allow RV’s but don’t have hookups. Being able to stay in those can be a real boon when the regular campgrounds are booked up.

The first items I had installed were two 200 watt solar panels along with a MPPT solar charge controller. This allows us to charge our batteries while camping without an electric hookup. This is important if you enjoy such things as lights. Another option for this that a lot of people go with is a generator. However they are loud, need regular maintenance, and have to be watched while running. The solar panels on the other hand need almost no maintenance (A wipe down periodically), are completely silent, and are fully automatic. The disadvantage is of course that they only work while the sun is up and to match the capacity of a large generator you would need a LOT of solar. Instead we plan to ration our electric “budget.” I do have a very small generator my dad gave me for backup if we have several days of overcast but we are not relying on it.

The panels I had installed were purchased as a kit from Amazon(there is a link below if your interested). The reason I chose to go with two 100 watt panels was because we currently have room for two batteries. A rule of thumb is to have one watt per amp hour of battery storage. The price on solar panels has come down drastically in the past few years, they are as much as a quarter the price now. This makes it so anyone who has an RV or a sailboat ought to have at least a panel or two.

I also choose to go with an MPPT charge controller versus a PWM because although it is slightly more expensive it is also quite a bit more efficient (as much a 25% in cool weather). They have kits with both types available on Amazon.

Solar panels are the number one item people add to their RV to prepare to boondock. Without them you would be limited to your battery capacity, usually only a day or two, or you could just forgo electrics all together. Considering we have slides that require electricity going without wouldn’t be fun and we want to have the ability to spend up to a week out enjoying solitude. We won’t be doing much boondocking till this summer as we are only spending a day or two in each spot so we can make it out west in a reasonable amount of time. Anyways, if you have any questions about our solar panels, fire away.

Check back in a week or so for part two where I’ll discuss what two other items we had to have before we left to be ready to spend some time outside of developed campgrounds.

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