Archive for category Boondocking

Ultra Mania and Utah Bliss

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Words to live by

September 23-October 31

Last year just after the Arizona Ironman, I asked Jeff if he was ready to take a break from full Ironman competitions. It’s a huge time commitment to train for, which is especially challenging during RV show season.That, and it is a very expensive sport. To my delight shock he decided to take a break from long distance triathlons. At least until he ages up into a new age group in a couple years!

But as an athlete, when one goal or bucket item is crossed off, there are dozens more to follow. For Jeff, the next challenge is a 100-mile ultra trail run.

I know. I know. There is a collective “whaaaaaat?” whenever he shares his goal.

To think that a 100-miler is any less training time is a mistake. But when you can train on beautiful wooded trails and forestry roads around pristine alpine lakes, it does provide “get lost in the scenery” moments that you just don’t get riding your bike on life threatening city streets or swimming laps at a local pool.

So when Jeff heard about the Stagecoach 100 race from an Arkansas friend, he thought it would be a perfect race to enter.

The Stagecoach 100 is a 100-mile trail run from Flagstaff to the South rim of the Grand Canyon, two of our favorite places! It is run on the Arizona trail and follows the historic stagecoach line that tourists took to reach the Grand Canyon in the 1890’s.

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Out for a practice run on the Arizona Trail

The course starts in Flagstaff around 7,500’ of elevation and climbs to nearly 9,000’ before descending into Tusayan at 6,600’. There is about 7,000’ of climbing overall and must be completed within 31-hours.

Since this was Jeff’s first year to attempt a 100-miler he opted for a two-man relay, putting Jeff’s leg at 55 miles and friend Jason’s leg at 45 miles.If this went well, then he was going to sign up for the Javelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, Arizona the following month.

After a week of rain and snow on Humphreys peek, race-day could not have been more perfect weather conditions. An abundance of sunshine, cool temps and golden aspens kicked off the race.

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All smiles at the start…Sam thinks he gets to go too!

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Beautiful run through Aspens

I don’t compete in these long distance races, preferring half marathon trail runs. As a spectator I get to witness the days journey for a lot of athletes. The excitement and nervous energy at the start followed by the real struggle, pain and doubt somewhere in the middle of the race. And at the finish, total elation, outpouring of emotion and collapse.

It’s so inspirational that it makes the laziest of couch potatoes start to think that they too could attempt such a race! Me included!

After seeing Jeff off at the start, I loaded up the RV and drove to Forestry Road 688 just south of Tusayan. What I really LOVE about the West is that there is no lack of free camping spots around great locations. This FR is within 6 miles of Grand Canyon Village on the South rim. The road was amazingly groomed with plenty of private camping spots for big rigs and decent cell coverage.

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A pot of gold campsite…for free!

The Stagecoach 100 is not a spectator friendly course, so there was nothing I could do but stuff my face with chocolate and take a nap wait 15 hours in eager anticipation, imagining Jeff’s struggle and drudging out 55 miles with him in spirit!

The heartburn for Jason and I was trying to find the transition point on a spider web of unmarked forestry roads after dark. After 2 ½ hours of driving we somehow managed to find the transition 30 minutes after Jeff had checked in.

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Found an aid station…just not the right one!

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Finally!

It was 10:30pm, and after 15 hours Jeff was ready to be done. He handed off the last 45 miles to his friend and we made the 2-½ hour drive back to the RV. Jason finished the race the following day. I’m so proud of Jeff and Jason. After the pain has worn off they both are ready to challenge themselves to run a full 100-miler.

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The Arkansas Travelers

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The legendary Jim Walmsley

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Got the buckle!

We stuck around the South Rim for another week, and just for grins, Jeff decided he wanted to do another double crossing of the Grand Canyon before we left.This was partly a test to see how his legs felt for the Javelina.

With tired legs from his Ultra just 6 days before, he headed down the South Kaibab Trail, summited the North Kaibab to turn around and head back to SK. He was so exhausted on the return trip that he lay on slabs of rocks three different times to sleep. He did persevere but pushed his body to its limit casting doubts on his goal of Javelina.

Before we left the South rim we stopped into the Bright Angel Lodge for dinner. When we were finishing up we noticed an odd glow coming from the Canyon. I grabbed the phone and ran outside to witness the most spectacular rainbow. When we saw waiters and cooks running outside with cameras we knew we were witnessing something special.

The rainbow illuminated the clouds to a  fiery red glow. Just about every spectator there was crying, including me. It’s one of those moments you realize you will only see once in a lifetime! It was stunning!

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After enjoying the South Rim we drove to Las Vegas where Jeff had to fly to Louisville on business while I stayed with the RV at the Oasis RV Resort.

Once he returned we hitched up and headed to Kanab, Utah for Trail Fest. Trail Fest is a three-day trail running festival. Day 1-Zion. Day 2-Bryce. Day 3-North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Once back at camp you are free to participate in seminars, movies, food trucks and music.

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Trailfest 2016, Kanab Utah

This was the first year of this event, with home base out of Kanab. Tents are provided or park your RV on site. Showers are available at the community center. Shuttles picked up 400 runners each morning and dropped them off at the days designated trailhead.

Jeff and I were too late to register for this wonderful event, so we volunteered to help set up and direct parking. Because we volunteered we got credits towards a future trail event.

While runners were out on their trails, Jeff and I hiked in Bryce Canyon. Our favorite hike was the 8-mile Fairyland Trail Loop. This is a moderate hike with hoodoos galore. It’s one of those hikes that you have to force yourself to stop taking pictures to get through. I love this place and can’t wait to spend more time here!

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After Trail Fest we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Actually, we boondocked on National Forestry land in the town of Fredonia, Arizona 45 miles north of the North Rim. Besides hiking the Rim2Rim, we have never explored the North rim. We really enjoyed our stay. Nights were in the 30’s with daytime highs in the 50’s.

The only draw back was that it was hunting season, so we had to be careful where we got our runs in.

I had read about the pancakes at the little gas station in Fredonia, so we stopped and had breakfast before driving to the North rim. The pancakes lived up to the hype, but our waitress was…odd. We got to talk to several hikers that were either getting ready to start their Grand Canyon Rim2Rim crossing, or had just finished it.

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After breakfast we drove to the North rim to check out the views. The lodge was already closed for the season so we didn’t get to look around there. But what a wonderful little cabin community! Compared to the South Rim there are less amenities and less people.

A couple days later Jeff heard from his twin brother that he and our sister-in-love were on vacation at the South Rim. So what does a guy do when his best friend is across the big ditch? Why he hikes the Grand Canyon overnight to have breakfast with him.

While Jeff was hiking in the dark down the North side he stubbed his big toe. Actually, he broke it at mile 7 and then hit it a couple more times just to add to the misery. Kind of hits you in the crouch don’t it?

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He finished the 15 miles across, had breakfast and jumped on the 8am shuttle back to the North Rim. His broken toe made the decision to not enter the Javelina Jundred.

We were hoping to leave the North rim and hike the Narrows at Zion National Park, but we lingered too long and had to drive straight back to Las Vegas to work the SEMA Automotive Show.

Utah is stunning and it left us wanting A LOT more.

We will have to catch you next spring Utah!

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Flagstaff and The Fearsome Four

 

Flagstaff AZ

Sam back on the Arizona Trail

August 21-September 21, 2016

After climbing to new heights at Mt. Whitney Jeff and I had about a week before needing to be in steamy Phoenix for business travel. We wanted to camp where we could get a break from the heat just a little longer, so we headed straight for Flagstaff, Arizona.

We’ve been camping in Flag off and on for the past year, one of our favorite locations. There is an abundance of free forestry land to camp in with endless trails to run, hike or mountain bike just outside your door. This and being close to town makes us feel like we live in the community. Flag is definitely familiar to us now and there is no need for GPS to get around town any more.

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A delightful sunny spot amongst the trees

Not only was the 70 degree temps sublime, but Jeff has been training for the Stagecoach 100. Stagecoach is a 100 mile ultra trail run that starts in Flag and ends at the IMAX theater at the Grand Canyon. Jeff is running a relay with a buddy. 55 miles for Jeff and his friend Jason running 45. Since the race was just 4 weeks away some high altitude trail training was in order.

We camped at a new boondocking site on FR6051 near Snow Bowl on the North side of town. The road was a bit rough, but we were able to wedge our modest 32’ into a nice spot for maximum solar gain. There are endless forestry roads here with several short spurs that connect directly to the Arizona Trail. So getting in our trail runs was a piece of single track cake!

Oh Arizona Trail, how I love thee!

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One of the first things we usually do when getting to a new location is to see if there are any running events happening during our stay. We have done this in Moab, Chico and Whistler  among others, and it keeps us motivated to get out and exercise on a consistent basis. Without the motivation I would struggle with the RV-15 (think freshman-15) and bedsores!

One of the things we learned about is the Flagstaff Fearsome Four Challenge. Four peaks, 34 miles, 10,307 of elevation over 2 days. Sure…why not! As part of Jeff’s ultra training this challenge was right up his ally.

Here is how the challenge works. Hike or run Humphreys Peak, Kendrick Peak, Mount Elden and O’Leary Peak in any order. If you accomplish this challenge under 15 hours (not including driving time) in a 24hr period you are honored with the status of “Ultra” runner. Well then. Lets get to it!

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Kendrick Peak

Things that go bump in the night…what was that noise?

Jeff started at 1am at Kendrick Peak. Besides being scared by some sort of large animal in the woods, this was pretty uneventful. Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona and most challenging of the four, was next. Jeff ran into a couple of trail runners that run Humphrey’s 9 miles in under 3hrs, twice as fast as I hiked this beast! It had snowed on this peak the day before, so some of the trail was still covered.

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Summit of Humphrey’s Peak

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Rugged trail

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Snow covered trail

After a brief refueling of bacon and a nap at the RV it was on to Elden and O’Leary’s peak. Sam and I joined Jeff for the final two hikes. Though Elden is a short 4-5 miles round-trip, it is very rocky, technical and steep. We were glad to be hiking this one in the daylight!

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Third peak in the bank!

Heading further north we finished with O’Leary’s. This trail was a well-groomed forestry road all the way to O’Leary’s lookout, where we took in sunset views before racing back down the mountain to finished after dark.

Jeff did an amazing job coming in under 15 hours for the Fearsome Four and we celebrated with some late night BBQ!

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Number four…O’Leary Lookout!

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Racing the sun

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Steapest section at O’Leary Lookout

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After dark finish!

The next day we packed up and headed for Phoenix where we jumped on a plane and flew to Dallas. The Dometic show vehicle needed to be transported to Elkhart, Indiana for the RV industries open house.

A stop over in Bentonville, Arkansas was in order and we stayed for two weeks. This gave us a chance to check on family and our beloved Beaver Lake cabin.

I tell ya, when I sit on that porch swing overlooking the Lake, it’s hard to think of ever leaving! I love the smell of fresh lake water, hearing fish flopping in the early morning hours, swimming in water so clear you can scuba dive. I love that I can lace up my shoes and go for a run on lake roads that only a few locals travel. I ended up with 5 of the neighborhood dogs on one of my runs, which helped with missing Sam on our trip.

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The view from our deck

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Well hello humidity! Where have you been?

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Getting in a Saturday morning run with friends

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Quick visit with two of our Guatemalan students in AR on Walton Scholarships to John Brown University…so proud of them!

Arkansas is a beautiful place to call home for sure and I always shed a tear when we leave. But the road calls, and we must go and off to Elkhart we went.

We arrived over the weekend so that we could visit with some wonderful friends. The open house went well and we headed south with the RV to Louisville before flying back to Phoenix. It was a hard pressed 3 week trip and we were glad to get back to our dog and our RV.

With only 3 days before the Stagecoach 100, we were rushing again to get back to Flag for the race. So after landing at 6:45am, we picked up our dog and were on the road with the RV by 9am, and parked in the woods by that afternoon.

Holly moly…that was a tiring trip!

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Getting High on Mt. Whitney

Mono Lake

Full moon rising over Mono Lake

After leaving Seattle we had three weeks to make our way to Phoenix. Our working travel schedule gave us a deadline and unfortunately we were headed into the belly of the hot molten volcano in the middle of summer. 106 degrees here we come!

We made quick stops in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, Redding, CA and Reno, Nevada on our way to Mono Lake, CA.

I had read about some great boondocking at Mono Lake on the eastern side of Yosemite. This really would be our last stop at any elevation (6,378’) in order to avoid the southwest heat. Also, when we were in Yosemite in May, we never made it to Tioga Pass. So stopping at Mono Lake would give us that opportunity.

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Quick stopover in Ashland, OR

Well, that was the plan anyway…

Last year about this time, Jeff asked me a question about doing something epic, challenging or scary and I blurted out that I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state. A week later I had bagged my first…Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff, AZ. at 12,633ft.

Ever since then I have been researching the highest peak of each state that we traveled in 2016. Unfortunately, we have been traveling the states with the highest peaks overall that have been snow covered and required ice axes, crampons, repelling equipment, permits, guides, tents, backpacks, etc. MUCH more equipment than what we have.

So when I read about hiking California’s massive Mt. Whitney at 14,505ft, the highest peak in the contiguous US and it’s accessibility in late summer, I knew California was an attainable peak.

And look. It just happens to be down the road from Mono Lake! Change of plans…we are hiking Mt. Whitney!

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Getting an early start…just not early enough!

The Mt. Whitney Trail Head starts at Whitney Portal at 8,360ft via the small town of Lone Pine, CA. A permit is required for this hike and the online permit system said that there were no permits available. Learning from our experience at Yosemite we stopped in at the Forest Service center just south of Lone Pine and easily picked up a permit and mandatory “WAG Bag” (Waste Alleviation and Gelling-Bag) for the next day.

Everything I read about this hike said that this VERY STRENUOUS hike could be bagged in one very long day (12-18 hours), although most people take two. Its 22 miles round trip with 6,100ft of elevation gain, topping out at 14,505ft.

Since Jeff and I had spent the better part of the past month at Sea Level, we knew that this was going to be quite a challenge in elevation and distance. One I was not completely confident in completing. But I knew that what goes up must come down and I could turn around at any point in the hike if it got to be too much for this land lubber.

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Walk this way!

The morning of our hike we got off to a late start, leaving the Whitney Portal TH at 6:30AM instead of our planned 5AM. Apparently we didn’t do enough research because most hikers leave around 1-3AM for this hike. For me, this was mistake #1!

Jeff tends to futz with his equipment, shoes, GPS and phone A LOT longer than I have patience for (sigh) and I headed off on the trail to get a jump. Jeff hikes much faster than I and I knew it wouldn’t take long before he would catch up with me.

What is really hilarious now is that Jeff had read that some folks were getting Verizon Cell coverage on the top of Mt Whitney, so his plan was to get to the top by 10AM for a conference call.

GEEZ! WHAT ON EARTH WERE WE THINKING?!?

I started at the TH and quickly passed the 6-10 informational boards that described the tenacity needed for such a hike. No need to read those of course…we have a conference call to make!

Immediately the trail started with a moderate incline. The sun was up just enough that no headlamp was needed and I made mistake #2 by leaving it in the truck. After an hour on the trail there was a beautiful sunrise that was enhanced by the smoke from the San Bernardino fires that were burning out of control at the time.

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Lone Pine Lake

After about 3 miles I reached Lone Pine Lake. At this point Jeff still had not caught up with me and I grew a bit concerned. Come to find out he took a wrong turn at the beginning of the trail and got on the rugged Mountaineer’s route to Mt. Whitney. He noticed his mistake after about a ½ mile and turned around. That does tend to happen when you hike and post selfies on facebook at the same time!

Jeff finally caught up with me and it was clear that it was going to be a challenge to get to the top before the 10AM conference call. So I sent him ahead to try and make it without me holding him back…with our water filter. Mistake #3 (at least for me).

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After Lone Pine Lake the nice smooth trail quickly changed over to a rockier surface. Footing became a bit more of a challenge as trees thinned out. I passed Outpost Camp with its gorgeous waterfall at a little over 10,000ft. There were a lot of backpackers here stopping to acclimatize on their 2-3 day summit push.

“Gee…Maybe I aught to look into some overnight equipment, scratching my head!

I hit a long patch of switchbacks after Outpost Camp.

In my quick glance lengthy research of this hike I remembered reading about a section of the trail called “the 99 switchbacks” that came after a campground.

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The trail turns rugged

I got pretty excited because I new that the 99 were around mile 7. “Wow, I’m making great time”! I asked a fellow hiker coming down if I was on the infamous 99. Imagine my surprise when she told me, “ Oh no. You have quite a way to go before you get to the 99”.

About this time I saw a trail marker that said Mile 4!  I. WAS. CRUSHED!

By now my heart had been pounding in my ears for almost 3 hours. The elevation had reduced my hiking to 45min miles. THIS WAS GOING TO BE A LOOOONG DAY.

The trail switched from dirt and rocks to granite stair steps. I rose high above pretty Mirror Lake and Meadow. After another 1 ½-2 hours I finally reached Trail Camp at 12,039’.

Trail Camp is located on the shore of Consultation Lake. It could have been on the moon as far as I was concerned due to its barren landscape and granite spires. The camp was full of backpackers as well and by now I’m thinking these people are geniuses for breaking this hike up into several days!

I stopped here for a snack and contemplated the 99 switchbacks that were now staring me in the face. That’s 2.2 miles of switchbacks climbing 1,738’ to Trail Crest. I’m not going to lie…I thought long and hard about stopping here and just calling it a day. But after eating some food and catching my breath I decided to give the 99 a shot.

Surprisingly, the switchbacks were set at a low grade, which was much appreciated at this altitude. After what seemed like 999 switchbacks I finally rounded a corner and was hit with an amazing view to the west. Granite rising up, alpine forests and lakes below. My eyes had trouble taking it all in. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now.

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Reaching Trail Crest at 13,600′

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What’s around that granite spire?

I made it to Trail Crest at 13, 800’!

The Mt. Whitney summit is 2.5 miles from here and a mere 845’ of elevation. But these are the most difficult and most draining 2.5 miles of your life…so I’ve heard.

Once I reached Trail Crest I was for sure going to turn around. But after I sat for about 20 minutes and ate some food and got inspired by the beautiful views I started wondering what was just around the corner.

The trail from here took a dip and I really thought hard about having to make up the elevation I had already climbed. But the trail drew me in and I pressed on, “just a little further”.

The trail from Trail Crest is brutal. BRU.TAL!!!

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The trail is in there somewhere

I scrambled for the next mile over unstable rocks, angular slabs, shear drops and technical boulders. After an hour I sat down for a break and saw the Smithsonian hut on the summit off in the distance. By now I was exhausted. The narrow single track trail was closing in. I was having moments of panic as my mind flashed back to my broken wrist less than a year ago.

I asked another hiker how much longer until the summit. When they responded, “about 2 hours” I was finished!

By now it was 12:30pm. I had been hiking 6 hours with 2 more hours to go. I did the math and figured it would take me 4 hours just to get back to this point on the trail. My heart sank realizing I was going to run out of water and day-light, without a filter that was with Jeff and headlamp that was securely back in the truck.

It killed me to be this close and have to call the hike. Just 1.5 miles left to the summit. For me, it had to be over!

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Jeff perseveres! Highest point in the lower 48!

About this time I met Esther. She was making her way back down the mountain after summiting. Wisely, she had left with her husband at 3am.

They had started this hike a few days before, but her husband Joe wasn’t feeling well and they turned around. This morning they started off at 3am again and again Joe didn’t feel well. He encouraged his wife to carry on so that one of them would make it. And that she did!

We started hiking together from here, retracing the technical trail back to Trail Crest. We both moaned at the section where we had to climb in elevation to get there, commenting about our pounding heads.

Down the 99 we went, past camps, meadow, lakes and waterfalls. All the while talking about our lives of adventure and travel. I learned about her amazing two daughters and could hear the affection she had for her husband of many years.

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Second half of the battle is getting back down!

Our knees and quads were wearing down, but our time together made the trip so much better. I learned she and Joe take off their real estate business months at a time to travel. Check out their very well written blog here.

We arrived at the TH not a step too soon at 5:30pm, as the sun was going down. I got to meet Joe and instantly noticed they have a relationship like Jeff and I. Those rare relationships when a husband and wife actually like each other, have the same life pursuits and miss each other when we are not together. I can appreciate a happy couple!

I had gotten a text from Jeff that said that he had summited around 2pm, four hours after his missed conference call.

Joe and Esther were kind enough to give me a ride back to my RV Park in Lone Pine, knowing that Jeff would not be down for another 3 hours. I left the keys hidden in the truck so he could drive himself home.

Even though I missed reaching the summit I couldn’t be more proud for reaching 13,000+ feet and hiking 20 miles.

Thanks Esther for getting me down that mountain!

Mt. Whitney, I will be back! But next time I will leave earlier and not plan on making any calls!

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Westerly view from Trail Crest 13,600′

 

 

 

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Critters and Clingers

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Silver Reef, Leeds Utah

After leaving Moab, Jeff and I headed north to Salt Lake City for a day of business. We checked in to the Springville/Provo KOA just south of SLC. I can’t believe I am going to say this, but we were looking forward to some peace and quiet after Moab in a KOA of all places, and it delivered.

We were surrounded by snowcapped mountains right our front door. While we have done well to not experience winter on our travels so far, we got a little flavor of it during our stay. We had rain, sleet, snow and wind. The cold damp air chilled us to the bone and made us thankful that we have only participated in winter 4 days rather than 4 months.

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View out our door at the Provo KOA

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Getting in a quick trail run before leaving our 4 days of winter!

Time to head south towards Zion National Park.

Zion National Park was on our radar for two reasons. 1. Neither of us have been there and 2. There is an Ultra Trail Run that fit into our schedule on April 9th.

Since we were arriving a week before our race we decided to camp near St. George, UT. We read about Silver Reef on Campendium in Leeds, UT in the Dixie National Forest. Free dispersed camping on National Forestry land with designated campsites and good connectivity for work is just our style.

Though this is considered dispersed camping it was “camp in designated campsites only” and we were fortunate enough to snag the last site open. WOW…what a find! Bright spring green vegetation and freshly sprouted cottonwood trees against the backdrop of the red rock canyons. Throw in a babbling creek and gobbling turkeys and we were on sensory overload!

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Now that’s a campsite!

Jeff and I were pinching ourselves at such a wonderful campsite UNTIL… I heard a something at 4AM that sounded like a raccoon INSIDE our camper, munching and scampering around. Jeff on the other hand can sleep through a parade, so I had to wake him up to have him investigate. I love a man who will take on ferocious beasts in the middle of the night in is underwear!

Imagine my surprise when I saw a big scary… mouse run across the camper! That’s it! We are moving!!!

He (the mouse, not Jeff) had been snacking on our bananas and Lara Bar I had out on the counter. Who knew mice like bananas. Avocados? Not so much!

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You dirty rat!

This is the first time we have had a mouse inside our camper.

In 2013, we had a mouse outside making its home in the end cap of our Travel Trailer (that I thought was a raccoon too). That’s when we put out one of those sticky pad mousetraps with a piece of dog food on it. That seemed like a good idea until Sam, not being able to resist his dog food, tried to eat his kibble and ended up having his face stuck to the mousetrap!

You learn something new every day folks!

We went into operation, “kill the dirty rat” and set out traps all over the camper. By 11:30pm we had caught our mouse! YEA…problem solved. I could shut my eyes knowing that some little varmint wasn’t going to snuggle up with me or poop on my pillow in the middle of the night.

But within 30 minutes we could hear movement again and had caught mouse #2. Dang…two mice…in our house!!!

But wait, there’s more! By morning we could hear a third invader stuck to another trap. OMG there were 3 mice!

The next night we set up a trap in a shoe box with a hole in the side outside the camper by our tires to try and catch any additional mice before they got inside. No invaders inside the camper but we caught a 4th in the shoebox overnight!

I’m not sure if we parked right over a rat hole, but all was quiet after that. Peace and harmony was restored. YEA!

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Sam inspecting the carnage…that he slept through!

That is until we had an invader of another sort.

We have heard of this phenomenon from other dispersed campers. One minute you are in private solitude, miles apart from your next neighbor. The next minute someone is parked so close you can smell what they are having for dinner. That my friend is what is known as “a clinger”!

Yes, there are people who will move right in on your designated campsite just because it is big enough for two and then apologize because “there were no other sites open”. Instead of moving on like any normal respectable person would do, they encroach on your space and then proceed to run their generator at 6:30am.

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Clingers

I put clingers in the same category as those who decide to put their jacks down, set up their satellite dish and put out the mat and lawn chairs at a Walmart parking lot.

Despite our inconsiderate invading “guests” we did have a fabulous time at Silver Reef.

There are miles of places to run, hike, ATV and mountain bike as our camping road connected to the Red Cliffs Recreation Area. All this and only a 15-minute drive to St. George.

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Silver Rim Trail steps from our front door

I needed to get in a 10 mile run so I headed south to the Red Cliffs not knowing where I would end up. I just happen to pop out at the delightful Red Cliffs Campground.

Red Cliffs has only 11 sites with a 25’ max RV length and no hookups. While I was running the loop a camper told me about “the pools”, so I started down a trail right from the CG and ended up at an amazing find! Canyon pools spilling from one level to the next, creating a water oasis in a dry parched land.

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The red cliff pools

What a treat!

With hiking trails, well-maintained gravel roads and incredible scenery we will definitely stay here again. We will just bring extra mousetraps and a can of patience when we do!

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Ahhhh…serenity!

 

 

 

 

 

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Migration South

Sedona

It’s been a while since I posted on my blog. My last entry was about our epic hike at the Grand Canyon back in October. I started typing my next post when something went drastically wrong leaving me unable to keep typing!

After Jeff and I left the Grand Canyon we headed back to Flagstaff where we dispersed camped at one of our favorite spots by Lake Mary. The alpine forest, miles of forestry roads to get lost on and hiking on the Arizona trail are some of my favorite reasons to camp here.

We did try a new location just north of Flag after calling the Forestry Department. “There are plenty of camping spots up there”, they said. “Good access”, they said. But after an hour of narrow roads and only two camp spots that were impossible to get in to, we decided to “go with what we know” and pushed on to Lake Mary. Trouble was, we were up a creek without a paddle. Or in RV’ing terms…down a narrow road without a turnout! After carefully backing up a 1/2 mile we finally swung the 5’er into to weeds to get turned around.

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Contemplating how to get this thing turned around

I’ve found the most challenging parts of dispersed camping is that you never know what you are getting you and your rig into.

One persons opinion of “plenty of clearance” is usually nowhere close to the reality of our specific rig. If someone has wedged a 30,000lb forty-foot motorhome in a spot, then I have a bit more confidence in their recommendations. But NEVER take the word of a non-RV’er unless you want to find out what serious heartburn is like.

Lake Mary works out well for a Triathlete in training. The pool at the college is an easy 10 miles away and Lake Mary Rd is a major thoroughfare for cyclists and runners. Perfect for Jeff to continue some high altitude training for the Arizona Ironman.

Arizona Trail

The Arizona trail just steps from our campsite

While Jeff trained, I hiked a portion of the Arizona trail just steps from our camping spot.

The Arizona Trail is a National Scenic Trail that runs from the border of Mexico to the Utah border, traversing the North/ South length of Arizona for 800 miles. It was officially opened December 16, 2011.

The section I hiked was near the Lowell Observatory and Marshall Lake. It was not particularly scenic with primarily flat hiking through cattle fields.

Sam dog is a great little hiker as he follows the trail very well. If I come to a part where I’m not sure where the trail is I just follow him…he knows every time. But he did step off the trail briefly and ended up with a big cholla ball stuck to his front leg. When that happens he tries to keep going because he HATES when I pull those dang things out. He hollers like you wouldn’t believe and comically when I pulled this one out to his great displeasure it flung out and stuck his back leg, doubling the experience. Once we start moving again all is forgiven and Sam stayed on the trail.

We decided to pull out of Flagstaff a day early since wet weather was coming in and we were on soft ground with low batteries. So we pulled up the jacks and headed to Sedona.

There is free dispersed camping available west of town on Forestry Road 525. We camped here last year and learned if you travel about 5 miles back on the washboard roads you are treated with some spectacular views and close hiking trails. We had some great days of sun and got the batteries charged back up to 100%.

Sedona 2015

Scene out our front door

Sedona 2015

Sam tearing it up and turning a nice shade of Sedona red

Sedona is incredibly beautiful and is one of my top 5 places to see thus far in our travels.

Hiking is spectacular in Sedona, but it is also very popular. If you are looking for a get away from it all experience you will have to travel a little further out of town. But what I love the most about hiking here is the sandy red soil contrasted with the green scrub bushes, Junipers, Arizona pines and Pinon Pines. Mix that in with the scent of toasted pine needles on the trail, red rock views at every turn and warm sun and you have yourself hiking nirvana!

After paying a $5 day use fee Sam and I set off on Soldier Pass Trail. This trail is a great loop with incredible views of the red rock formations, slabs and the city. We hiked the trail counterclockwise; since I have hiked this trail clockwise a couple of times before.

Sedona 2015

Trail dog Sam leading the way

The initial accent takes to you to some red slabs with wide-open views. It’s a great spot for a picnic and photos before heading up natural stairs towards Brin Mesa. At the top of Soldier pass the trail flattens out and turns from red to a light sand color. I wanted to take the Brin Mesa tail for an out and back, to log some additional miles.

The Brin Mesa trail takes a steep decent back down the other side of the mountain. I always laugh at myself after descents like these because my mind automatically thinks about having to hike back up. Like the Grand Canyon  my mind blows up the imagined accent to be much more difficult than it actually is. Then I’m always surprised when I get to the top wondering if I still have “the hill” to go. Silly self!

I mistakenly thought the Brin Mesa trail would actually take me to a mesa. But once I ran into a forestry road, my turn around point, I was informed by other hikers that the actual mesa was off some other offshoot from Soldier Pass. I’ll have to catch that one the next time.

Back on Soldier pass, Sam and I started down the west side of the mountain back into red soil. It was getting hot by now and my two bottles of water were starting to get low. Thankfully we reached more slabs on this part of the trail. The slabs have some natural pools that form from bowl shaped indentations in the rocks. These pools had collected fresh water from recent rains, which Sam found refreshing for consumption and wading in, leaving the remaining water in the bottles for me.

Closer to the west side Soldier Pass Trailhead near “The Sinkhole” it gets pretty noisy from jeep tours and ATV’s that are allowed on the trail here. We jumped off Soldier Pass at this point and took the Jordon trail heading east back to our parking lot.

Sam found another pool that was pretty murky and large and waded in to cool his dogs. Problem was it was very deep. To both our surprise he disappeared underwater only to bob back up sputtering. He wasn’t too thrilled about going scuba diving but he was super frisky after that. I guess his bath really cooled him down.

Sedona 2015

Sam cooling down in a shady spot

We ended up hiking 8.5 miles over 3 hours…what a great time!

After a week in Sedona rain and snow moved in. It was stunning to wake up to a ring of white snow on the red rocks at the higher elevations. But to maintain our shorts and flip flop temps we moved on to Phoenix/Mesa…. where things turned very interesting!

Flat Iron

What the heck!

 

 

 

 

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Flagstaff Boonies and Peaks

Flag 2015

Welcome to 7,000 ft…catch your breath!

Comment: Im having a problem with my font and spacing the last couple of posts..so bare with me until I figure things out.
After an amazing time in Albuquerque, Jeff and I have made our way to a favorite boondocking site at Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff, AZ. It’s 5 miles from town, has great connectivity and so much space you can’t see your closest neighbors, except for the invited ones.
We were joined by our friends John and Becky who we met at the Xscapers rally in ABQ. We hit it off and wanted to spend more time with them and they were wanting an opportunity to boondocks. So we both ended up at Walnut Canyon.
Boondocking is spacious here, but its downfall is the difficulty of getting INTO the sites. Weather worn ditches and road grating make it challenging for even the smallest and nimble of rigs. Jeff and I had found the only site we were confident we could get into.
As a result, it was the only site our friends could get into as well. But we didn’t mind! When you travel with kindred spirits cozy campsites are easy to endure!
Flagstaff is a great town and has a bit of the “it” factor for Jeff and I. Even our dog Sam loves it here. The ease of getting around. Great swimming pools and cycling abound. And oh the hiking!
That brings me to something tough. Something I have never shared.
You see. I have had a secret thought for a while now and wasn’t sure I wanted to verbalize it. If I say it out loud then there is no way of backing out of what I’ve thrown out there. If I say it out loud, then something would have to be done about it. If I just keep the secret in my head, then my fears could prevail without anyone knowing. No expectation, no disappointment!
I’ve spent a lot of years operating in such a way, so that my self-inflicted perfectionism wouldn’t be let down.
But that all changed when we got to Flagstaff and Jeff asked a “simple” question. “What do you want to do in 2016 that gets you out over the tips of your skis? Something that challenges you and possibly scares you?”.
And then it came out.
“I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state”.
There. I said it and there is no going back!
ABQ

The trail calls and I must go!

I’ve always enjoyed LOVED hiking. Being out on the trails is my THING. The PLACE that fills my heart and soul with joy. My chest feels like it will burst open as I breath in mountain air. I love the smell of the forest. The smell of dried pine needles baking in the sun. I love the sound of the wind pushing it’s way through the trees, the resistance of the leaves creating a gentle whoosh. My mind empties as I push up and up the mountain. And the views! Oh the views from the top. Nothing can compare.
I come alive on the trails.
But the Highest Peaks? That’s another story. When I hike I can choose trails that are within my known limits. I know that I can finish and enjoy the journey. But the Highest Peaks? I don’t get the choice. To make it a goal to hike them is to commit myself to challenges that exceed my self-limitations.
Flag 2015

Agassiz Peak from Humphreys Peak Trail. San Francisco Mountains.

Well, here we are. In Flagstaff. And I just found out hat the highest peak in Arizona is right at our back door. Humphreys Peak smack in the middle of Flagstaff just staring me in the face saying, “did you said something…out loud?”.
And there was nothing I could do about it but to accept the challenge. Squash my fears and climb up that 12,636′ mountain.
We couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day. Clear skies, cool air and aspens in full yellow fluttering glory.

Jeff, Sam and I left Humphreys Peak TH from the Arizona Snow Bowl following a smooth trail that took us through a field of glowing aspens. But the smooth trail was short lived as we quickly entered a hole in the tree line and the trail quickly turned rugged and rocky. It was an ankle turner almost the entire way and Jeff rolled his and launched himself over the side of the trail, only to be stopped by a small tree. That. Was. Close!

Up and up we went, scaling boulder fields, loose sandy gravel and roots. Lots and lots of roots. The higher we went, the steeper the climb, the thinner the air.
Mt Humphreys

Navigating the rough trail

We reached the first “false summit” and doubts started flooding my head. My leg muscles were on fire, my chest was heaving from lack of air and all I wanted to do was call it good and start the slide back down.
But, I had said something out loud and there was no turning back.
With the aspens far behind we pushed on to the second and third false summit. With the final peak in sight we managed to make the final push, and Jeff, Sam and I had summited our very first Highest Peak! Mt. Humphreys. You have been concured…along with my doubts!
Mt Humphreys Peak

View from Mt. Humphreys with aspens far below and controlled burn in the distance!

I am so glad I didn’t turn back. I am so glad I didn’t miss those views, the smell of pure clean air and feel the wind gusts push me around while I read the sign: Humphreys Peak. 12,636. I had made it to the very top!
WHAT A FEELING!
I wish I could say that the hike down was easy, but the rugged terrain made descending even more technical on the way down. More ankle turns and a fall reminded me that getting to the top is only half the hike.
After a total of 6 hours we were again poking through the hole in the trees and we were greeted to a fine display of a sunset turning those same morning golden aspens to a fiery orange glow.
Mt Humphreys

Sunset from Mt Humphreys TH set off by a controlled burn in the distance

I was warmed by the sun and by the feeling of accomplishment.
I don’t know how many High Points I will be able to achieve in my life, but I will take this first with me. To remind me to press on, even when I don’t think that I can. Arizona is considered one of the easier western high points. If that is the case, then I have my work cut out for me.
Maybe I should keep my big mouth shut next time!
And if my husband asks a simple question about a challenge again, I think I will say, “take a soak in a hot tub in all 50 states”. Yea. That’s what I’m going to say!
A soak in a hot tub! OR…a nap!
Sam

This is how we roll…me driving and the boys sleeping!

Up next? The Grand Canyon!

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The B-line to Albuquerque

ABQ

Sunset from the road heading west

We made a B-line to Albuquerque to take in the splendor of the Balloon Fiesta and IT IS SPECTACULAR!

From Dumas Texas we made a 2 hour drive to Ute Lake State Park to camp for two nights. This is a dry, barrow campground overlooking the very nice Ute Lake. Evidently this is a great spot for birders and fisherman alike. The lake is shallow with a lot of reeds and grasses along the banks. What is brown and desolate by day turns to an incredible glow of oranges, yellows, blues, purples and pinks when the sun hangs low.

The sites are packed gravel, super long and have great separation. Each site has a covered patio with picnic table, fire pit, grill and lots and lots of goat head stickers. Sam enthusiastically jumped out of the camper ready to explore his new surroundings and was stopped in his tracks with paws full of stickers.

If it were not for the goat heads we would have stayed a bit longer. But after two days we decided to move on.

Our next stop was just 20 miles down the road in the little town of Tucumcari, New Mexico. Tucumcari mountain is an isolated mountain in a sea of brown dessert that was a landmark back in the 1800s for those traveling west from Arkansas to California.

We camped at the nastalgic Cactus RV Park, one of those original destinations back in the hay day of Route 66.

Tucumcari New Mexico

Tucumcari Mountain…a landmark for wary travelers heading West

Tucumcari banks on those who follow old Route 66 as a bucket list travel trip. Though the town is a bit weathered and tired, The Cactus RV park had charm. On one side of the unimpressive office is a vintage looking “motel” face with the look of old New Mexico brick and stucco with a courtyard RV parking lot of crushed gravel.
The sites are maticulously groomed with lovely shade trees on some of the sites. Though the sites are fairly close together the trees offer defined seperation, giving the impression of space. And for $24/night (includes tax) for full hook ups, you can’t beat the price. Don’t come here looking for amenities because you will not find them.
From their website, “This is a BASIC OVERNIGHT PARK with 30/50 AMP, working WIFI and CABLE TV, and easy PULL-THROUGH spaces.  This is a SATELLITE FRIENDLY RV Park. We are mostly an adult RV Park.  We do not have a pool, playground, game room, laundry, showers, or restrooms.  To those people who expect too much, we say that, “you have the pockets of a pauper and the expectations of a prince.”‘
Would I stay here again? Absolutely! It’s convenient to Hwy 40, clean and quiet. What more could you ask for an overnight stay.
After two nights it was time to make our last push to Albuquerque, arriving two days before the big kick off, on a Thursday.
We pulled in around 1:30pm at the “General” campground just south of Balloon Fiesta Park. There was no traffic on the highway nor pulling into the campground. Lots of folks were here already, but most would be pulling in Friday afternoon.
This is dry camping, so be sure to have empty holding tanks and all the water you can carry. The General campground does have a third party provider who will pump your tanks for $25 and fill you water for $25 if you need it.
ABQ

Sandra’s Mountains from our ABQ campsite

This will be our first boondock camping with the new rig which meant Jeff had to get to work at connecting the new solar panels to the batteries. Before we left Arkansas we had just enough time to mount the panels on the roof and put the batteries in their assigned compartments. But we had no time to connect anything. And, our solar controller was on the slow boat from china…so we didn’t even have all the parts.
Fortunately for us Technomadia had an extra solar controller that they let us borrow until ours arrives here in ABQ. So up on the roof Jeff went to connect the panels to the combiner box with the help of our ABQ neighbor who is an electrician with some really nice tools.
As of day 5 with no hook ups we are generating power, still show 95% full on our water, 0% on our gray and 10% on our black.
Boon docking life is good!
ABQ

Be sure to check your shoes. You never know what you will find in the desert!

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